Tailoring knowledge has traditionally passed down from master to apprentice, with little written down. Tailors had their own secret methods of construction, and were not keen on other tailors gaining this knowledge. Sadly, this has led to there being very little information available on tailoring today. Most books published were cutting manuals, with the authors touting their ‘perfect’ systems of drafting. There are a few books available on tailoring methods, but the modern ones often lack details, or present only one method of doing things, while the older books are becoming exceedingly rare.
I was lucky enough to get hold of a three volume set of The Modern Tailor, Outfitter, and Clothier, by A. A. Whife. Whife was the technical editor of The Tailor and Cutter, a fabulous trade magazine that was published in the latter half of the 19th century, and up until the 1960s.
The edition I have is the fourth edition, from 1949. It’s quite interesting and informative, with chapters ranging from ‘Some Problems of the Tailoring Trade’, and ‘How to Start a Career in Tailoring’, to trouser, waistcoat and coat making. In between are chapters on how to draft almost any type of garment you can think of, as well as how to fit them properly. And that’s just the first volume.
The second volume has chapters on Clerical Garments, Court Dress, and Colour in Menswear, as well as whole sections on women’s clothing and military uniforms.
Finally, the third volume contains information mostly on the wholesale trade, which I haven’t read in depth yet. It also contains chapters on ‘Clothing as A Career’, ‘How to Start a Business’, and ‘Salesmanship for Bespoke Tailors’. This volume also contains a huge index for all three volumes, as well as an in-depth Glossary of Technical and Trade Terms. All in all, it’s definitely worth getting this set of books if you are serious about tailoring.
I also found a postcard in the book, from 1950. One side has an advertisement from Fenley Park Clothes, Inc looking for someone to carry their line of all wool ready made clothing. Fenley Park Clothes was a New York City business, according to the address. I’m not sure if they are in business still. On the reverse side is some more interesting information. It’s addressed to Franklin Merchant Tailor, 8(1) St Paul St., Rochester, NY. I wonder if this was the original owner of these books. Has anybody heard of them? It’s neat to think that a tailor all those years ago was using the very same books that I have.
Here’s a photo of the address side.
In the future, I would like to post some content from these books as it becomes pertinent to what I am working on. And while at the moment I work on mostly 19th century clothing, I’ve found that this book is of great help. It’s almost like going into the future to gain knowledge on the 19th century ‘present’. Combined with thorough research of 19th century garments, these volumes should help me get even better clothing made.