Tailoring is one of those unique crafts that has been around for hundreds of years, and still maintains its relevance as a go-to service for many style-conscious professionals. From the meticulously hand-crafted garments of the 18th century to today’s red-carpet mainstays, tailoring is – and has always been – an essential service for the discerning fashionista.
Let’s take a look at how this creative field has played a key role in history, how technology forced it to evolve and why it’s still such a valuable secret weapon today.
A Noble Craft
Before sewing machines were invented, all clothing was made by hand. As you can imagine, this was mostly by necessity, although tailors embraced this by each having their own secret patterns, which they considered their own signature and closely guarded from competitors. A bespoke tailor was highly regarded during this time, and it was seen as not only an essential, but an artful and noble, line of work. Almost everyone – from the lower class to the upper class – had their clothing made to measure, as ready-to-wear items weren’t available yet.
This was a painstaking line of work, as even a simple outfit could take weeks to make. Having said that, the quality of handiwork was exceptional, and each tailor kept his pattern secrets to himself and took immense pride in both the fit and quality of each piece of his work. Talk about the slow fashion movement!
The Industrial Revolution Changes Everything
In 1790, the sewing machine was invented, dramatically changing the textile industry. Suddenly, the number of individual fittings could be reduced, and the mass-producing of outfits began. Machine-based clothing manufacturers began to pop up, starting with a French company that mass-supplied soldier’s uniforms.
Even back then the concept of “department stores” existed, and 19th century London, for example, had large warehouses where tailors worked around the clock.
Military uniforms had to be made in large numbers, so the tailoring industry was forced to learn to be effective and efficient when it came to mass production. Bespoke tailoring, however, became something of a higher-class service, sought out by those who wanted a truly unique fit and has the money to spend on it.
As sewing technology evolved, it became possible to buy ready-to-wear clothing that looked and felt comparable to tailored items. In the 1900s, tailoring was no longer a necessity, but it became somewhat of a luxury for the truly discerning man or woman. As you might imagine, bespoke tailoring began to decline with the rise of factory-made clothing, so it became somewhat of a niche occupation.
In the 1970’s it declined further, with the rise of more casual clothing and the accessibility of clothing in a variety of colours, patterns and textiles.
Tailoring in Today’s World
The trends of the world tend to move in cycles, and the craft of tailoring is no exception. Today, bespoke tailoring has made a sizeable comeback and both men and women are embracing the benefits of clothing that’s made to measure, especially the executive crowd. Celebrities openly talk about their red carpet styles and praise not only the designers they peruse, but the tailors responsible for making each fit unique.
Believe it or not, the process of tailoring hasn’t actually changed that much since the start of the 20th century. Even with the addition of sewing machines, cutting and creating garments by hand is still a delicate and personalized process, and making a bespoke suit can take over 50 hours from start to finish.
The increasing popularity of men’s style magazines – like GQ and Esquire – have also contributed to the popularity of bespoke tailoring, and people are suddenly noticing the subtle, yet significant, difference a custom-crafted suit can make. The rise of the body positive movement, which has both men and women embracing their unique shapes and curves, also means more business for the bespoke tailoring industry. A subtle tailoring job, either on a suit jacket, a designer dress, or anything in between, can take a style to the next level and is a great way to give a trendy look your own signature.
Opting for a made-to-measure outfit – or even something off-the-rack that has been professionally altered – is still the best way to ensure you have an outfit that’s entirely unique to your style and shape, and made to help you look and feel your best.