A Chat with a Ladies’ Tailor: 1888

The exquisitely-tailored jacket of a Redfern riding habit, c. 1885-86 http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O117401/riding-habit-jacket-john-redfern-sons/

The immaculately tailored jacket of a Redfern riding habit, c. 1885-86 http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O117401/riding-habit-jacket-john-redfern-sons/


He Discourses on High Art in Woman’s Dress and Mysteries of the Wardrobe.

“It is a good deal more trouble to fit a lady than you would imagine,” said a fashionable ladies’ tailor, as he sat in his elegantly furnished office and motioned to his servant to bring a chair for his visitor, “because, you see, ladies are very peculiar. I have been in this business for years, and have had dealings with every kind of lady in this country and in Europe. How are ladies measured? Well, first they take off their outer waist, leaving their neck and arms bare. Then the fitter measures them from the collar to the waist in the back, the width of the back is taken at its widest and narrowest parts, the front from the base of the throat to the waist, next from the arm to the waist, and then the size of the throat is taken. After that we take the measurement of the bust, waist, and hips. That done, the inside length of the sleeve is taken, and the circumference of the biceps. The measure of the skirt is next taken, up, down and around. Then we have three fittings—first in the rough, second with more perfect linings and lastly when everything is completed.”

Plate 55 from a book on cutting garments for ladies, c. 1901

Plate 55 from a book on cutting garments for ladies, c. 1901

“Who does the fitting?”

“Men and women. Some ladies will be fitted by none but men. They don’t seem to like women about them. Some don’t like the idea of wearing so few clothes and allow men to handle them. Fitting is a rather embarrassing thing at times, let me tell you. Then women’s vanity keeps a great many from allowing men to fit them, especially where the figure is not well rounded. Most of the ladies wear skin-tight web undergarments, which show all the outlines and yet are not immodest. Good fitters practically command their own prices. They work only during the seasons, which are very short here, and they make $4,000 to $5,000 a year. They are born fitters, just as men are born poets and orators.”

“How do you ‘make up’ a poor figure?”

“That’s an art. For instance, a lady will come who is as thin as a rail, with no bust, no arms, no shoulders. We have to use cotton wadding to supply her deficiencies. That’s where a good fitter comes in. A bungler would make her look lumpy, but an artist in his line turns her out a model. Then suppose a big fleshy lady comes along. She has an immense expanse of breast. Of course that must be broken. We usually break the bodice into four lines by a rever of the same cloth. Your eye can only travel from one line to the other, and before it has passed around all of them the mind forgets to notice the expanse. A perfect plain bodice is very trying, except to a perfect figure. In that event, of course, it only sets it off. It is not often I advise plain fronts, so few can stand them.”

Sacramento [CA] Daily Record-Union 18 August 1888: p. 7


Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is curious, is it not, how much the patterns resemble diagrams either of the solar system or of the London Underground. They come from a 1901 book by a Mr Charles J Stone, entitled, New superlative system of cutting ladies’ garments, based upon a scientific, sure and simple method giving the correct proportions for each type of form of every size, with variations for all kinds of disproportionate shapes and forms.

Note the assurance in the very title of the book. This was not an author given to self-doubt. If one is going to dress like a man, the author seems to say, one must conform to proper, male, scientific standards. As for simple—well—Mrs Daffodil gives an excerpt explaining plate 55.

Explanation of Plate 55

Explanation of Plate 55


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


3 thoughts on “A Chat with a Ladies’ Tailor: 1888

    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      There are those who say that women cannot be tailors because they cannot mentally rotate objects in space. There may be a certain amount of truth to that assertion, although Mrs Daffodil knows several young needle-trades persons who are quite accomplished at it.



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