29 June 2018

In Germany, tailors made women's clothes

For a long time, tailors made outer clothes for both men and women, while female seamstresses and home sewers made linen undergarments. Then in late 17th century France and Britain, female couturières and mantua makers got the right to sew mantuas and other women's clothes. The tailors continued to make stays, stiff-bodied court gowns, and riding habits for women, in addition to menswear.

Similar changes took place in Germany and Sweden too, but the tailors there hung on much longer to the privilege to make women's clothes, so the transition from tailors to dressmakers was delayed for a century or more. In the meantime, tailors in the German tradition continued to develop cutting methods for women's clothes as well as men's; J.S. Bernhardt's two-volume book from 1810‒1811 is the earliest and the most well-known printed example. Sewing techniques also differ between extant garments, depending on if they've been made in a tailor's or dressmaker's tradition. 

Published research

Fashion researcher Pernilla Rasmussen first published her research on the differences between tailors' and dressmakers' cutting and sewing methods in Swedish*), but later she's written an article in English for the anthology "Fashionable encounters—Perspectives and Trends in Textile and Dress in the Early Modern Nordic World" (2014). Her chapter is called "Creating Fashion: Tailors' and seamstresses' work with cutting and construction techniques in women's dress, c. 1750-1830", and you can read it on Google Books.

She discusses several German tailoring books from the first half of the 19th century, where drafting of women's clothes is taught using equally advanced cutting methods as in cutting men's clothes. She contrasts this with Claudia Kidwell's treatise from 1979, "Cutting a Fashionable Fit. Dressmakers' Drafting Systems in the United States", which argues that early cutting methods for women, unlike systems for male clothing, depended on using specialized tools for scaling patterns (Kidwell's examples date from 1842 and on).

In her 20 page article, Rasmussen also discusses a number of period approaches to cutting clothes, and how tailors and dressmakers used different construction techniques which can be studied in extant clothes.

If you're interested in period clothing from Central and Northern Europe, or simply curious about how the making of fashion clothes varied between different manufacturing traditions in the same period, do check out the link above, and read the entire text!

*) "Skräddaren, sömmerskan och modet", Nordiska Museet förlag, 2010

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