Tailoring in the Twentieth Century

Bond Street, Savile Row, and St James's Street in the fashionable West End of London have been the center for elite, traditional tailoring since the turn of the eighteenth century. However, tailoring spanned the whole class spectrum, from tailors with royal warrants to immigrants working in the warehouses of the East End.

One of the most important shifts in Savile Row tailoring was the transition from a more traditional client base of British gentry and aristocracy to a more international, clientele including American financiers and eventually Hollywood celebrities. Though Savile Row rose to prominence in the late eighteenth century, dressing such figures as the Prince Regent and dandy Beau Brummel, in the twentieth it created the movie wardrobes of Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, and Roger Moore. Though many American stars sought the cachet of Savile Row, there were very talented tailors in the United States. In Harlem, the exaggerated shapes and bright colors of the zoot suit were launched by stylish young black men in the mid-1930s. When the War Production Board tried to curtail this "antipatriotic" tailoring because of wool rationing in 1942, race riots ensued. In Britain, there was a brief revival in elegant Edwardian tailoring after World War II, when so-called Teddy Boys—working-class men who spent large sums on their wardrobes—adopted it. In 1960s London, fashionable men's goods were democratized in the "Peacock Revolution," which saw the center of fashion gravitate toward Carnaby Street and the King's Road—along with Cecil Gee, John Stephen, John Michael, John Pears, Michael Rainey, and Rupert Lycett Green. One of the most important figures in the rejuvenation of menswear was the celebrity tailor Tommy Nutter. He created unique suits for both men and women, including suits for the Beatles, Mick and Bianca Jagger, and Twiggy.

In the 1980s, Italian tailoring began to receive more attention on the international fashion scene. With their "unstructured" suits, designers such as Giorgio Armani catered to a desire for more informal, lighter weight garments for both men and women. At the turn of the millennium, the Italian tailoring firm Brioni dressed the British movie icon James Bond, played by the actor Pierce Brosnan. In Britain, a new generation of designers combine the flawless cut and construction of traditional tailoring with the flair of haute couture. Ozwald Boateng is an Anglo-Ghanian whose work displays a dazzling sense of color and who prefers to describe his work as "bespoke couture." Alexander McQueen, who trained for a short two years on Savile Row, also incorporates tailoring's emphasis on structure and materials into his couture womenswear.

Though it represents a very small part of the contemporary menswear market, custom tailoring still has pride of place in the wardrobe of the sharply dressed man. Whether it applies to computer software or kitchens, the expression "tailor-made" still carries positive connotations of individualized, customized service. In the clothing trade, as long as the suit remains the classic form of formal attire, tailors will elegantly dress their clients. These may include men whose bodies may not fit the norms of the ready-made clothing industry, as well as royalty, businesspeople, or celebrities who turn to the tailor for a classic or innovative suit of clothing made to their precise measure.

See also Armani, Giorgio; Cutting; Savile Row; Sewing Machine; Suit, Business.


Breward, Chris. The Hidden Consumer: Masculinities, Fashion and City Life 1860-1914. New York and Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1999.

-, ed. Fashion Theory 4, no. 4 (December 2000). Special issue focusing on "masculinities." Chenoune, Farid. A History of Men's Fashion. Paris: Flammarion, 1993.

Garsault, M. de. L'Art du Tailleur [The art of the tailor]. Paris: Académie Royale des Sciences, 1769.

Giles, E. B. The History of the Art of Cutting in England. London: F. T. Prewett, 1887. Luchet, Auguste. L'Art Industriel à l'exposition universelle de 1867 [Industrial art at the 1867 World's Fair]. Paris: Librairie Internationale, 1868. Walker, Richard. The Savile Row Story. London: Prion, 1988. Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men's Clothes, 1600-1900. London: Faber and Faber, 1964.

Alison Matthews David

TANNING OF LEATHER It would not be an exaggeration to call leather the first human industry, since the wearing of animal skins goes back to the beginning of human existence. Before early humans mastered the art of weaving, skins from animals slain for food (with and without the fur) were utilized for garments, footwear, headgear, and protective clothing, as well as a host of practical applications, and were linked to warmth and to humans' very survival.

Before domestication of cattle and pigs, skins of deer and wild animals, as well as wild sheep and goats were dressed. Paleolithic cave paintings depict figures wearing skins and furs, and excavations at these sites have revealed an active leather industry. Flint instruments, including knives, scrapers, and awls used for removing flesh, have been found in addition to wooden poles and beams used for beating and draping hides. Later Neolithic and Bronze Age sites have yielded leather dagger sheaths, scabbards, shields, footwear, and jerkins of a sophistication that indicates that leather manufacture was mastered early in human history.

As humans learned to domesticate cattle, horses, sheep, goats, and pigs, the availability of raw materials for leather production swelled. Uses of leather by ancient peoples included all types of clothing, belts, thongs, footwear, headwear, gloves, ties, bags and vessels, armor, sheaths, packs, seat covers, saddles, animal trappings, tents, and even sails for ships. Excavations of Sumerian peoples at Ur of the Chaldees brought to light extraordinary leather tires used on wooden wagons. In the early 2000s, the Masai women of Africa were clad in cloaks and petticoats of leather, which harkened back to the earliest years.

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