A Brief History of Custom Tailoring

Being an art form that reflects our worldviews and individualities, fashion will never lose its relevance. The history of tailoring is almost as old as the history of mankind. Today, creating a handmade, unique clothing item is generally seen as a sophisticated craft and a luxury. A few hundred years ago, however, every garment was made by a tailor and thus a part of everyday life. Let’s take a look at how custom-made clothing has evolved over the centuries and how technological advancement and mass production have changed the value of handmade clothing.

Custom tailoring used to be associated with men’s wear and finds its origin in 18th century England, more precisely, in Saville Row in London. Bespoke tailors created individual suits, coats and shoes for those who ordered them. As sewing machines were not invented until the end of the 18th century, all clothes had to be sewn by hand using individual methods and patterns. These patterns defined the tailors’ signature and were to be kept a secret from the competition. Ready-to-wear and mass-produced items did not exist yet, which is why people from all classes bought handsewn, made-to-measure clothing. The creation of a single piece required a lot of effort and could take weeks to complete, but the final product would impressive with the finest craftsmanship and perfect fit.

The Industrial Revolution had a dramatic impact on work structures and brought about lasting change in the textile industry. Sewing machines allowed the mass-production of clothes and the improvement of sewing techniques. The high demand for soldiers’ uniforms called for efficiency rather than sophisticated handwork and detail. In the course of the 20th century, the quality of factory-made clothes became comparable to the fine handwork of tailors. Thus, ready-to-wear clothing started to replace traditional tailoring, and custom-made pieces became a luxury that was not necessary anymore and only few people could afford.

Nevertheless, history tends to repeat itself. Today, handmade products are increasingly considered a refreshing alternative to unsustainable mass-production. Advertised in popular fashion magazines and displayed on red carpets around the world, custom tailored items are currently experiencing a comeback and are popular with designers for both men’s and women’s wear. Professionals rely on the traditional techniques from 200 years ago, combined with modern, high-quality materials and transparent production. The possibility to own a unique piece that perfectly fits your shape and style meets the pulse of time and is right in line with the idea of body positivity.

A useful side note: Contrary to popular belief, the terms made-to-measure and bespoke tailoring are not interchangeable. While made-to-measure refers to the process of adapting a pre-existing pattern to a customer’s individual body measurements, bespoke tailoring is the creation of an original design and pattern made according to the customer’s measurements, ideas and wishes. The distinction between the two terms has, however, become subtle, since made-to-measure sometimes also involves multiple fittings and takes the customer’s ideas of cuts and fabrics into account.