Everyone knows that the most important part of tailoring is essentially the fit of the end product, which is the garment. Tailoring is not simply sewing clothes. It’s also the art of designing clothes and making them fit. Actually, the word “tailor” appeared first in the Oxford Dictionary in 1297. It comes from the French word “taller”, which means to cut. In Latin, tailor is sarter, which is their word for someone who fixes and patches up garments.
Tailoring roots back to the Middle Ages when some of the first tailors made armour for a living. They would make linen garments to be worn under chain mail by soldiers to not only add protection but to prevent uncomfortable chafing especially when the armour was too heavy. Because of this, some of the earliest tailors were from Europe. Back then, garments were made from one single cloth and were merely just to cover the body. The style was never a part of tailoring back then.
The Renaissance saw how those single-garment robes began to shorten and tighten to resemble the shape of the human body. Nobody bought clothes back then as they were all made-to-order at home. When people began to notice how personal style was emerging and how clothes with different designs for different body types were becoming more apparent, tailors have improved in terms of skills and creativity. Clothes had become more than just a necessity and had become a symbol of how people expressed their individuality and style.
Tailoring had become a real profession back in the 1100s. Since then, tailoring was taught solely by apprenticeship. Masters would take younger tailors under their wing to instruct them and to teach them their own ways through hands-on experience. They would first learn how to mould the cloth to the shape of the person’s body. After this, they were then taught how to create their own styles and designs.
Shops became symbols of the master tailor’s creativity and signature style. And when those tailors became more popular, their shops had to grow to accommodate demand. This led to how master tailors would take in more apprentices and staff, which were journeymen tailors, to meet the demand of the public. But each tailor had a specific job to do. Some staff members were in charge of cutting and the others were doing the moulding. Then the apprentices were tasked to keep the shop clean.
Because of this kind of a relationship, there were hardly any instructional manuals written for tailors. Everything was learned through experience. However, the first manual ever written was released back in 1796. Several ones would soon follow until E.B. Giles’ History of the Art of Cutting was released in 1889 as an iconic and historic piece of literature.
Now, when you say “tailor”, you generally refer to the person who creates custom clothing for men. Called bespoke tailors, these people created custom made-to-measure clothes specifically for those who order them. These tailors originated back in the 18th century when there were garments that were custom-made and only “spoken for”, which means they were not for sale. England became the earliest home for these bespoke tailors. This gave birth to how tailors developed their own signature styles that match the evolving fashion trends.
While tailoring today is associated more with menswear, it has also become a profession that now caters women as well. Many women’s wear designers have emerged as apprentices of popular and known menswear tailors. For example, Alexander McQueen, who was known for women’s wear, was an apprentice back in Saville Row.
Today, modern garment and clothing construction cuts corners and does not produce precise clothing for financial and practical reasons. That is why the demand for bespoke or custom-made clothing still exists despite the rise of modern manufacturing techniques that no longer rely on human hands and techniques. Those who demand clothes that fit them perfectly are the ones that still give life to the tailoring profession.