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Finding the right fit wasn’t always so easy – The History of Tailoring

No one ever stops to think about the clothing they wear and how different it would be had tailoring never been invented. But why would anyone ever bother thinking about such a mundane topic anyways? The reality is that well fitted clothing being so readily available to all of us is a relatively new reality. For the past few centuries leading up to this point in fashion almost everyone had to consult a tailor in order to obtain clothing that fit their body’s properly. There were no options of small, medium or large sizes, the only option available was to get your body measured so that a tailor could design a garment to match your body type. And before tailoring became a prominent profession in colonial Europe, clothing’s main purpose was to cover the human body from nudity and the elements; fashion wasn’t considered by most people when choosing their clothing.

Tailoring: A brief history

The art of tailoring was developed slowly in Western Europe between the 12th and 14th centuries, with the first reference to the word tailor in the Oxford Dictionary appearing in 1297. As mentioned earlier, the main purpose of an individual’s clothing pre-tailors was to conceal the body. It is believed that the birth of tailoring, and consequently fashion, arose during the Renaissance. The traditional loose robes that were predominantly used to conceal the body were shortened, tightened and eventually cut and sewn together in attempts to display the contours of the human body. Before this transformation occurred the wearer of the clothes was responsible to find the garments and make their own designs. As a result there was a strong demand for customized designs and thus the tailor was born.

tailor history

Tailors were trained to use woollen cloth to mould the clothes to the body without actually duplicating the wearers form. This allowed for tailors to mimic the wearers’ body while also improving on certain not-so-aesthetically pleasing qualities. In England, historically one the most popular spots for this profession, tailors underwent a gruelling 7 year apprenticeship in order to be a professional tailor. This seems a bit excessive for a profession that so many in this day and age take for granted, but the truth is that tailors were very important figures in their time. They were responsible for creating and perfecting an individuals’ appearance through the use of clothing. As Mark Hutter, the current tailor for Colonial Williamsburg puts it, “In any urban environment—Williamsburg, London, Philadelphia, Toronto Tailors—tailors were the largest trade in terms of practitioners. Everyone needed clothing.” (Source: http://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/autumn05/tailor.cfm). Mark Hutter also goes on to explain that a tailors purpose was not only to design clothing and make it fit comfortably, a tailor also needed to have:

  • A solid business sense.
  • A good knowledge of accounting. And;
  • “A polished manner, an ability to put clients at ease, and a certain sense of discretion given the intimate nature of his work.”

These facts about tailoring and required skills make it more reasonable that a tailor had to undergo a 7 year apprenticeship to become a master of the trade like Love Your Tailor.

It was only in the last century that tailors began making clothing that would be generalized to fit certain body types instead of custom fitting every piece of clothing. American tailors in particular were essentially the pioneers of ready-made cheaply produced clothes.  So next time you walk into a store and find your size sitting conveniently on a shelf keep in mind that just over 100 years ago that same piece of clothing would have had to been custom fit by a tailor.

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