This article examines the evolution of New York City from a low‐end, high‐volume apparel manufacturing hub to an international fashion capital. Drawing on evolutionary economic theories of path‐dependence, it argues that New York City’s initial specialization in ready‐to‐wear apparel has shaped its subsequent development as a mass‐market oriented industry. At the same time, however, it shows how key institutional actors were able to alter the industry’s course of development at critical historical junctures by nurturing and promoting their own local design talent. As such, the article’s investigation into New York’s ascendance as an international fashion center challenges the dominant interpretation of path‐dependence in regional development theory and practice. It contends that industries are not held captive to past choices and illustrates how an industry’s origins can shape but not over‐determine its economic development trajectory.