My tailor, Russell, recently lent me the tailoring book he was passed by his old boss at Kashket’s, the military tailors, when he retired. Dan and Russell still use it for reference on particularly unusual jobs like riding britches or certain coats.
The book has no cover (the picture here is of a rather smarter edition). Its front is merely the beginning of Chapter 1 – Some Problems of the Tailoring Trade, by F. Chitham (Director, Harrods, Ltd.). Through good fortune and no doubt some decent treatment, this front page has survived without mark, despite the lack of a cover. And the back of the book is merely page 274 – the end of detailed descriptions on how to cut a West End Morning Coat.
The book therefore has no title. But through a little research, I have discovered that this is volume one of The Modern Tailor, Outfitter and Clothier, by A A Whife. Whife was the technical editor of The Tailor and Cutter, a trade magazine that was published from the 1850s until the 1960s. Volumes two and three apparently go into clerical dress, court dress and women’s wear. Which is probably why Russell only kept volume one.
The fact that this is only the first volume also explains why there is no index. A reference system would seem to be indispensable for a guide like this, which aims to teach cutting in no small detail.
On page 162 one can follow the instructions for a pattern of the ‘coat-frock’, which though full in the back as we consider a frock coat to be, has a belt that cinches in the waist. There is one alternative pattern, on the following page, but this is for a coat-frock with “Magyar shoulders; short sleeves; square neck; gathers on hips.”
As I read my way through this guide, expect occasional blog posts on interesting patterns and points. To start with, though, Mr Chitham’s introduction. It begins with the cheery note that “the Growing Competition to which the trade has been subjected … is the greatest problem of all, and is peculiar to the bespoke tailoring trade, in that it is a competition which threatens the very existence of many hundreds of persons engaged in the business.” The decline hasn’t stopped, really, since he wrote that a century ago. Though there are fewer hundreds threatened today.
He goes on to recommend that tailors should not become too specialist, yet should concentrate on one ‘class’ of trade: “it is impossible to make a ‘cheap’ suit today and a ‘good’ suit tomorrow.” Some houses that have pulled back from ready-to-wear should perhaps have learned their lesson here.
And finally, Chitham thinks it absolutely necessary for salesmanship that “every tailor should be extremely particular about his personal appearance, in order to create a favourable impression. He must also cultivate a pleasing manner.” I’ll have to show Russell that bit…