The profession of a tailor was estimated highly in Medieval and Renaissance Europe. It was rather hard to master this trade and open your own workshop but the efforts were totally worth it, because a skilled tailor earned good money and was able to find a good match and get married (as opposed to apprentices who couldn’t even dream about a marriage). What other burdens of life awaited a tailor-to-be during his career advancement? Here are some of them regarding education and job requirements.
The article is based on the video by Natalya Skornyakova:
In the 16th century, fashion got mobility and outspread, not known before. For the first time, the nationality of people couldn’t be determined by his or her attire. Of course, we’re talking about wealthy and high-class people, not the peasants who still wore handmade clothing, traditional for the region. Rich citizens of many counties started to dress according to fashion, which was the same throughout Europe.
But let’s take a closer look at those who created European fashion and made outfits worn by the cream of society. And they are the tailors.
Until the end of the 17th century, there were no female tailors. Like, at all. Why? Because you needed to study about 7 years to become a tailor and, at the time, women simply didn’t get an education. They cooked, raised children, did the chores about the house, and could sew only underwear – chemises, coifs, and the like.
Who did become tailors? Mostly, the sons of craftsmen and younger sons of minor nobility mastered the profession of a tailor.
At first, a tailor took a boy to help with small things, like an errand boy. After 2-3 years of work, he became an apprentice. Another few years he spent traveling and learning from different tailors as much as he could. By the way, an apprentice wasn’t allowed to work without a tailor’s supervision, otherwise, he was fined, and severely.
To become a tailor himself, the young man had to pass a rather complicated exam (theory and practice). He needed to know different types of fabric, the width of them, whether they had prints or nap, etc. Also, he needed to know how much fabric it takes to make a certain garment, what various fabrics to use for certain pieces of clothes. A tailor needed to know how to make sewing patterns and work with them. And one more very special knowledge – he needed to distinguish the fabrics that noble people could use from those for the peasants. The thing is, there was a “hierarchy” of fabrics allowed for different social classes and you couldn’t just pick any cloth you liked to make an outfit.
For you to understand the complexity of this exam, here are a few items a tailor had to know how to make: a horsecloth, various religious garments, knight’s gauntlets, a heraldic cape, and even a tent that could house a horse and a wagon.
But after an apprentice passed the exam and became a practicing tailor, he earned good money. He could open his own workshop, hire his own apprentices, and even was able to get married – no woman would have married an apprentice, but a tailor – hell, yeah!
And the most successful tailors, if they were lucky, could get a position of a court tailor and work only with the royals and nobility. Such tailors often had a specialization – there were furriers, farthingale makers, hose makers, tanners, shoemakers, headdress makers, embroiderers, and so on. This way, they could get much more skilled and experienced in making certain items of clothing.
Good court tailors were valued highly and were paid accordingly. They often worked for one royal family or person for years.
Also, there was an interesting service provided by such tailors – noble people and aristocracy could order clothing to be made as a gift for the royal person. The court tailor had all the measurements and sewed the garment after getting the payment from the nobleman who wanted to make this gift.