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Tailors made or repaired clothes. Clothing operatives worked in factories produced wholesale clothing.

Amalgamated Society of Tailors emblemIn the 18th Century tailors were skilled workers that made clothes by hand. During this time the tailoring industry was largest in London where tailors made high quality, made to measure items. There were also journeymen tailors who travelled around the country and stayed at the houses of richer people to make clothes for the whole household.

By the late 19th Century lower quality, mass produced clothing began to be made in factories. The workforce in the factories was varied with skilled, semi and unskilled workers. They were called clothing operatives rather than tailors. From the 1850s Leeds became a major centre of the wholesale clothing industry. In the 1860s the sewing machine was introduced to factories increasing production.

There were also sweatshops where unskilled workers, mainly women, did jobs such as sewing on buttons, making button holes and making pockets and pocket linings. The conditions in these workshops were often dirty, hot and insanitary.

There were several tailors' unions, which at first only skilled tailors were allowed to join. In the late National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers delegate badge19th century the unions were opened up to the clothing operatives in the factories.

To find out more about tailors' unions, click here

Related Object of the Month

March 2015: Tailor's notebook, 1907

Pages from the piece work book of a BrushmakerThis month's object is a tailor's notebook chosen by Lindsey Cole, Library Assistant. Around the time our tailor's notebook was being used a group of middle class reformers organized The Sweated Industries Exhibition, the aim of which was to raise public awareness of the poor working conditions of those within the ‘Sweated Industries' such as tailoring.

Sources for family history in the Library collection

Amalgamated Society of Journeymen Tailors [later the Amalgamated Society of Tailors and Tailoresses]
The following information can be found in annual reports


  Information Dates
Obituaries (members and wives) Name, age and cause of death 1870-1931
Sick pay and benefits Name and monies received 1870-1931
Superannuation benefits Name and monies received 1920-1950
New members Name and age 1920
Branch secretaries Name and address 1920-1926

Amalgamated Society of Clothiers' Operatives
The following information can be found in annual reports 

  Information Dates
Obituaries Name, age and cause of death 1899-1909
Strike and out of work pay Name and monies received 1898-1909
Branch secretaries Name and address 1894-1909


Resources about tailors in the library collection

RH Tawney, The establishment of minimum rates in the tailoring industry under the Trade Boards Act of 1909 (1915) - Shelfmark: J16

History of the Working Tailors' Association, 34, Great Castle Street (no date) - Shelfmark: D15

Henry Phibbs Fry, The distressed needlewomen of London: a sermon by the Rev. Henry Phibbs Fry, A.B. preached in St. Paul's church, Bermondsey, on Sunday, May 12, 1850 (1850) - Shelfmark: S33

Andrew Ross (ed.), No sweat - fashion, free trade, and the rights of garment workers (1997) - Shelfmark: Q40

WDF Vincent, The pocket edition of the Cutter's practical guide to the cutting of all kinds of gentlemen's coats, vests, trousers, breeches and gaiters, overcoats, &c., ladies bodices jackets and skirts, juvenile, livery, military, naval and clerical garments (no date) - Shelfmark: H29

Alfred Gardner, Watch your fingers: an East End cutter's chronicle, 1958-1998 (2011) - Shelfmark: JS43

Tansy E Hoskins, Stitched up: the anti-capitalist book of fashion (2014) - Shelfmark: JS46