The cutting and sewing of cloth to make clothing.
|Historic area of significance|
|Area currently practised|
|Origin in the UK|
The knowledge and art of tailoring – of cutting and sewing cloth – developed slowly and gradually in Europe between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first reference to the word ‘tailor’ gives the specific date of 1297; and certainly by that date tailoring guilds, as well as those of weavers, and cloth merchants were well established in Europe.
In the Middle Ages clothing was regarded as a means of concealing the body. But with the Renaissance came the accentuation of the human form and the loose robe of the medieval period, made from one or two pieces of cloth, was shortened and tightened, and eventually cut, pieced, and sewn together in attempts to bring into prominence the contours of the human form. This was the birth of tailoring.
These attempts at re-constructing the human body in fabric called for a growing expert skill and division of labour. Soon the cutter (the one who makes the pattern) and tailor (the one who does the sewing) joined other craftsmen as important members of the community. Until this time the cloth had been the distinguishing feature of garments, and the wearer took most of the responsibility for the design and, in most cases, the actual production of his own clothes. But little by little, the tailor took on equal importance with the weaver, and gradually came to overshadow him. Master tailors in the growing towns eventually became responsible for the clothing needs of society, and the art and science of tailoring became a highly specialised, complex, and jealously guarded craft.
The past hundred years have seen huge changes in fashion and the art of tailoring: sewing machines have hugely sped up production, new fabric technology has history produced more comfortable cloths; and fashions have adapted to more leisurely, climate-controlled lifestyles. But tailoring is still, and likely to remain so, an art.
It’s difficult to summarise the techniques used by tailors as they depend on the type of garment involved. But tailoring in general relies on moulding and shaping a garment so that it fits a body type as well as providing support by interfacing, interlining and lining the garment. There are different schools of tailoring with different cuts and styles and with the centres of those bespoke schools historically being London, Vienna, Milan or New York City.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- Since the 1970’s with the change of fashion towards more casual and fewer suits being worn the demand for tailoring services decreased significantly
- Because of a smaller number of tailors, bespoke tailoring is now seen as a more premium rather than everyday service with its costs much higher comparing to factory made ready-to-wear clothes
However, there still is a steady interest in tailoring for those who see it as an investment that offers a higher garment quality, is sustainable compared to fast fashion options and is there to stand the test of time.
- Bespoke Apprentice – the definitive resource for bespoke tailoring for tailors and apprentices supported by the CAPITB Trust, an independent charity providing support and funding for people employed or about to be employed in the British clothing industry.
- Savile Row Bespoke Association cultivating the Savile Row tailoring tradition and heritage
- Tailoring Academy
- Fashion and Textile Museum
Craftspeople currently known