I want to know if Americans use the expression "rag trade" the way the English do to describe the clothes business. I'm also interested if it is used with a derogatory connotation or not.

It seems to me that the English use it in a slightly deprecatory way but at the same time it has something of an "insider" element to it. So for example someone I met that was quite successful in the clothing industry introduced themselves saying "Oh I used to be in the rag trade"...as if it was something quite insignificant and at the same time it was obvious they were actually quite proud of their involvement in the business.

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    It's called either the fashion industry or the garment trade, like the part of New York City that is largely focused on what you call "the rag trade" is called "The Garment District." – user361733 Sep 18 at 21:50
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    Pre-1880s (before the invention of the Kraft process) there was an important trade in rags since they were the primary raw material for making paper. I wonder whether the slang in Britain has to do with the long pedigree of the actual rag trade in that country. By the time that the fashion industry really took off in the US, maybe there was no longer any important trade in rags, so the slang didn't carry over. That's my theory. – jlovegren Sep 18 at 22:39
  • What has your research revealed? – lbf Sep 18 at 23:07

Apparently this is a nickname that is currently in use in the US. I found this out by googling

rag trade New York

I found http://www.stylistico.us/location/ which states:

Not only is NYC home to some of the biggest names in the rag trade etc.

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