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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree October 2018 > A tailor’s life for me

A tailor’s life for me

From bespoke garment-making in London’s well-to-do West End to the poor clothing sweatshops of the East End, Melody Amsel- Arieli investigates the working lives of tailor ancestors


A tailor attempts to make a coat fit his customer when it is much too large (etching by J Cooke after S Collings, 1789)

The art of tailoring, constructing garments from patterns, developed gradually in Europe from the early Middle Ages. This craft as we know it, however, dates from the late 1700s. Though cloaks, capes, doublets, knee-length waistcoats, breeches and coats had long been created by hand, styles were changing. Garments were no longer mere necessities, but fashion, a way to express personal style and status. By the turn of the century, innovations, like the sewing machine, tape measure, and tracing paper, combined with more accurate cutting systems, changed garment construction even more. Moreover, gentlemen began eschewing breeches for longer, loose fitting pantaloons, fancy waistcoats, or tightly cut trousers. Their wives favoured formal, fashionably tailored side saddle riding habits and walking suits.

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