Nettie Rosenstein, born Nettie Rosencrans in Austria, moved with her family to New York in the 1890's. They settled in Harlem, where they ran a dry goods store. Nettie began making her own clothes when she was eleven. In 1916 she married Saul Rosenstein, and three years later, after making clothes informally for her friends, began a dressmaking business in her house.
In 1921 she moved to East Fifty-sixth Street, where she had fifty employees. She switched to wholesaling when I. Magnin approached her about selling her clothes on the West Coast. In 1929 she retired from the business but returned to design for the company Corbeau et Cie. In 1931, in partnership with her sister-in-law Eva Rosencrans and Charles Gumprecht, she began a wholesale business using her own name on West Forty-seventh Street. In 1942 she moved to 550 Seventh Avenue.
In 1937 Life magazine profiled Nettie Rosenstein as one of the most revered American Designers. Lord & Taylor issued Rosenstein an award in 1938. At her peak she designed 500 models per year, preferring to work by draping material directly on the figure. Unusually for ready-to-wear, each of her dresses was made by a single sewer from start to finish, except when special embroideres were needed. Her clothes were sold around the country, but only one store in each city was allowed to use her label; the store that featured her clothes by name in New York was Bonwit Teller. Her prices ranged from $89.50 to $795.00, and her specialty was grand as well as more casual evening clothes.
When Nettie Rosenstein is credited with having invented the little black dress, it is probably due to her early 1940's designs in black crepe and other supple materials that were in daytime lengths, but, by dint of the dressy detailing and bare necklines, could be worn to most evening occasions. These, along with beautiful draping, were a Rosenstein specialty. Besides day-into-evening dresses, Nettie Rosenstein also made suits, which featured interesting blouses, printed dresses with matching gloves, costume jewelry, including pieces made like stylized musical notes or enameled daisies, and pocketbooks.
In 1947 Nettie Rosenstein won the Coty Award.
In 1957 Nettie Rosenstein made a rare foray into sportswear, with maillots made out of Lastex. She withdrew from the dress business in 1961 in order to concentrate on pocketbooks and other accessories, including her fabulous Nettie Rosenstein Odalisque Perfume.