I've read a few articles lately about guys who sew. Or rather, guys who DON'T sew. Gertie explored this topic on her blog last October, and it generated a huge number of comments. Someone even mentioned me by name, as an example of a guy who sews and sews well.
Why don't more guys sew?
Having grown up -- and still being -- male in the United States, it doesn't surprise me in the least that most men would never even consider sewing.
Here are some of the reasons, in no particular order.
First, let's define terms. When I refer to sewing here, I'm talking about home sewing. It's obvious to anyone who follows fashion that the majority of big-name designers are men. This has been true for a long time and probably comes out of the men's tailoring tradition. Of COURSE there are exceptions, perhaps more and more with each passing generation. But currently, at least, women's (and men's) fashion is still dominated by men.
So let's get back to home sewing. Why are there so few men who sew, or at least admit to it?
1. Throughout most of the Twentieth Century, sewing was taught in high school home economics classes. It was part of a standardized curriculum for girls. Boys took shop. Sewing was not considered to be part of the masculine realm. Remember this instructional film from 1948? Johnny aspires to be an architect. Betty aspires to make pretty dresses so she can have the "know how" look.
2. Nearly every book, old or new, about sewing, is written for a female audience, including the ones written by men. I have never seen a sewing book exclusively, or even inclusively, written for men who sew. (Perhaps this could be an untapped niche product!) Illustrations are of women's bodies and discussion of garments focuses on a woman's wardrobe with a few exceptions (there's sometimes a chapter tucked in the back about sewing for men and children).
3. The marketing of the home sewing industry targeted women. This includes everything from sewing machines ads, sewing pattern ads, promotional ads for new fabrics, etc.
Sewing machine companies understood who their market was. They didn't advertise in "Field & Stream," "Sports Illustrated," or -- God forbid -- "Boy's Life!"
4. The big pattern companies created few commercial patterns for men and hence there was little for a man to sew if he were interested in making clothes for himself. This problem has only gotten worse. The majority of patterns for men continue to be pajamas, boxer shorts, and bathrobes. These are items that women can sew for men (i.e., their husbands, sons, and boyfriends) relatively easily. It isn't clothing men are going to be sewing for themselves. Many men don't even wear those things.
5. Due to many of the reasons listed above, there is a stigma attached to sewing for men. It's the same stigma that exists for any activity generally associated with girls/women. These include ballet, knitting, figure skating, playing with dolls...you get the idea. We still live in a society where gender roles are clearly defined and the person who tries to experiment with them becomes an easy target of others' ridicule.
Of course things have changed somewhat, due in part to the success of TV shows like "Project Runway" and with an incremental relaxing of gender roles. Still, the stigma persists, perhaps more covertly than overtly.
6. Finally, when we wonder why men don't sew, aren't we really talking about why straight men don't sew? Most of the men I know who sew are gay, and my hunch is that most straight men sense this as well (just turn on "Project Runway"). Homophobia in our culture makes it even less likely that a man is going to venture into Mood Fabrics and rifle through the cotton shirting.
The sad truth is that few people sew for themselves, period. The home sewing machine industry has contracted dramatically and no longer advertises in mainstream publications. Home sewing is a niche hobby, arguably growing more popular among young women, but much, much smaller than it was only a generation ago.
I attended the American Sewing Expo in Novi, Michigan last September. My friend Brian and I were two of only a handful of men in attendance. Most of the other men looked like husbands who'd been dragged along for the ride. There was nothing offered at the Expo in the way of workshops or booths catering to the male sewer. What might those even be?
On Pattern Review, other than Brian and me, there are only a handful of men who are active and a few of them primarily review and/or discuss vintage sewing machines. The mechanics of sewing does seem to interest a fair number of men -- anything that involves oiling and adjusting motors (ha ha). I know there some younger men active on Threadbanger which, I sense, tries to appeal to a (hip) male audience.
The last thing I'll say, and it won't be news to any of you, is that sewing takes time: time to learn and time to practice. How many men are willing to commit the time it takes to learn to sew when the payoff is a pair of pajamas or a slightly passe pair of cargo pants?
Let's face it, it will always be easier, if not cheaper, to get your wardrobe needs met at Banana Republic than by your own hand.
Sewing is a labor of love, and it's a love not many men share. Could we cultivate that love today? Do we even want to?
I'm interested to hear what people have to say about this topic. I cede the floor.