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Jun 21, 2013

What Does "Tailored" Mean?



If I had a dime for every time an MPB commenter said something like, "I'd love to sew men's clothes but I don't have the tailoring skills" or "I lack your wicked tailoring skills," "I can't tailor," etc. -- I'd have a jar full of dimes!

I have a hunch what they're talking about (anything finished like a commercial men's garment) but then again, what does the adjective "tailored" actually mean?  I wasn't sure, so I looked it up.

Here are the most common definitions I found:

1.  (of clothes) Smart, fitted, and well cut.

2. (of clothes) Cut in a particular way: "a poorly tailored suit."

3. Simple, trim, or severe in line or design: a neat, tailored dress; tailored curtains.

4. Made by a tailor; custom-made.

I think nearly all of these could define any garment that's made to fit a particular person, i.e., all garments we sew ourselves.  Yes?  No?  Maybe?

OK, most people wouldn't consider this nightie -- which looks like something Eva Gabor wore in "Green Acres" because it is -- to be a tailored garment.


But even a muu muu or pegnoir has to fit the wearer and I'm sure this one was fitted to Eva (no doubt by costume designer Jean Louis himself).

Anyway, I think what comes most immediately to mind when we think of tailoring is men's suits.





But a man's suit requires the same skills that go into a woman's suit.




And surely, this Yves Saint Laurent shift dress is a tailored garment too:


As are these "Name That Pattern" rejects:





So is making a shirt pocket tailoring?  How about a collar or a cuff?   A double-welt pocket?

Can stretch knits be tailored?  I'm confused!

In closing, readers, what do you understand by the term "tailored" and do you apply it to all the clothes you sew, or just the ones that are highly fitted or require hand sewing or multiple layers of interfacing?

What does "tailored" mean to you?

Jump in!

40 comments:

  1. When I took a tailoring class, the term referred specifically to the process of jacket construction: welt pockets, bound buttonholes, interfacing, shoulder reinforcement, collars, lining, hand hemming, etc. Nearly all of the students were women making women's jackets and coats.

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  2. I think there might be a very slight difference in thought between the terms "tailored" and "tailoring". In the primary examples you've given, the garments are definitely tailored to the individual - and can certainly be considered "couture" - but when I think of "tailoring" I think of traditional hand-stitched men's suits - pad stitched canvas instead of interfacing, and so on.

    Of course, that's just me, and I'm sure others have a different idea of what it means to them. Which is one of the problems of ordering garments online, where you might not know exactly what you're getting because of the confusion of terms such as this.

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  3. Maybe French can provide a hint. If you receive vocational training in France for sewing you can choose between 2 specialities for women's clothing : tailleur (tailored) and flou (blurry?). You find the same categories in the Couture Houses. Flou covers all "soft material", dresses, shirts, etc. and Tailleur is about making lady suits (pants suits, skirt suits, etc.).

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    1. I'd translate "flou" as unstructured, flowing, or soft.

      Delete
  4. Tailoring is usually associated with men's traditional suits but I think that it can include women's suits as well.

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  5. I'm going with "fitted to the particular wearer" for my definition. I believe it's that extra step beyond just cutting out a pattern and sewing it together. It's making sure the finished garment is specific to it's recipient. But, that's just my thoughts. Can't wait to see if you get as many answers as comments. Lane

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  6. Peter, I love your blog I always laugh and learn something and at the very least have something to chew on!

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  7. I'd go with the same jacket and suit definition that some others have already detailed but I still think of it as in my reach. We may not be great when we first start out but how else are we supposed to get better?

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  8. Well Peter I've had people say to me, "Your clothes are so tailored to fit." But to me it has always meant all that inside work done on a jacket or coat. Back in the 50's when in HS we took 'tailoring' and learned to make a blazer with the hand work all inside the jacket.

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  9. I learned to sew, at home, from a home sewist (my mom) at the age of about 8 years old. I continued to sew (a lot) at home through high school and into college. I grew up in the Midwest. Then I moved to NYC (at the ripe old age of 19).I began working through the Ladies Tailoring Program at F.I.T.
    What a relvelation. My teacher was an older Italian man who certainly did not learn to sew from my mother.
    What I learned in those classes was totally, completely different from what I learned from my mother and from reading patterns.

    Today - I use a nice hybrid of what I learned from sewing at home and what I learned in those classes.

    I would certainly NOT consider what I do 'tailored' or 'tailoring'. That is an art form - right along with Couture sewing.

    And I don't think that any one technique makes better clothes than another. If you don't have goot fitting or construction skills no amount of tailoring is going to make your garment better.
    Cindi

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  10. To me, "tailored" means close-fitting garments that are made to fit (or altered to fit) a specific person. By definition, ready-to-wear is not tailored, although if it fits perfectly, it can look tailored. An off-the-rack suit becomes tailored when it is altered to fit the person who will wear it.

    So, by my definition, jeans and t-shirts can be tailored if they're made to closely fit a specific person. Eva's muumuu, although custom made, is not tailored since it would fit about 75% of the female population.

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  11. When I lived in Australia a co-worker would fly to Hong Kong twice a year to have her clothes tailored. This meant to me, and to her, that her clothes were made to measure to fit her. So they basically were a perfect fit. All her suits, jackets, pants and skirts were made by a tailor. She even had a shoemaker make her shoes. So I would think anything that fits your body shape well.

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  12. It sure does depend on who is using the word. On Project Runway, I heard Michael Kors say a silk charmeuse fitted jacket proved the contestant had superior tailoring skills. She was able to interface & shape the garment and nothing showed through to the outer side.
    But then there is common usage, and it's just another work for altering a garment.

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  13. To me it refers to a set of skills rather than a garment itself

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  14. As many others have said, I think it now generally refers to a custom, closely fitted garment. Placed in historical context, it seems to mainly refer to the menswear tailoring craft, although it may have also been applied to women's versions of men's tailored garments. Research project!

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  15. I think of tailoring as those set of techniques that structure and shape a particular garment in a particular way. I think jackets are the quintessential tailored garment because there are so many different techniques used to make one, as opposed to a skirt which might only need one or two techniques. I don't think fitting, while important, is specifically a tailoring technique; though, in order for a shaped garment to look right, the fitting has to be done really well. Same thing w/ alterations; a tailor might have great alterations skills, but that doesn't mean that alterations are specifically tailoring.

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  16. I think "tailored" means different things to different people because it has evolved into a catch-all term for particular construction techniques, styles, fit (made to measure, bespoke) etc.

    I believe James Bond thinks it means "custom-made" (at about 0:55 sec)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPNPXym2_Sg

    Spud.

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  17. To me, like some of the others, it means custom made. But it also can mean a method of construction that involves substantial support within the garment giving it a measure of structure. It can also mean a kind of style. Tailored garments (lapels, etc). So like many words in the English language, you have to derive meaning from context.

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  18. i see you have a patter for a Nehru jacket; that was a style which actually made the rounds for a while. i thought it was very attractive, myself, and they should make a comeback...they certainly don't look any more ridiculous than any seventies look and much better than those baggy bum falling -down pants!

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    1. Yes, I'd love to see an evening Nehru ensemble. So Chic.

      Delete
  19. What I have come to understand tailored to mean in the sewing community is that a garment had details like you mentioned - cuffs, plackets, collars, welt pockets and they tend to be fitted vs. just picking a size and hoping for the best.

    You have mad skills man.

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  20. "But a man's suit requires the same skills that go into a woman's suit."

    I got to disagree with you on this Peter, making a man's suit requires quite some special skills of tailoring, as compared to a woman's suit. A man's suit has many hand sewn pieces inside (paddings etc), and is much more difficult to make than woman's suit which is more or less a flat garment unless it has some shoulder pads in. But one could call a woman's suit tailored too as long as it is made to fit, rather than made with an already existing pattern.

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    1. I must disagree with your disagreement.

      http://www.blogforbettersewing.com/search/label/tailoring

      Delete
  21. My grandfather was a tailor. He taught me tailoring (garment construction and fitting) and cutting (garment drafting using the tailors square).

    I learned to draft using measurements of the client, shirts, pants and jackets (the last two items when made from the same material created a suit) and then how to fit all these garments to accommodate the client's form.

    Then I learned how to construct all these garments. A skill set that is exacting and unforgiving. This skill set requires the tailor to master a set of skills from knowledge of the behavior of different fabrics to the construction required to make a jacket or a pair of pants.

    Today when I sit down to make a suit (pants and jacket) I will do most of the the work by hand. There are literally several hundred steps and each must be executed precisely and efficiently. My grandfather would say that a jacket should look "As it was part of the man always and never touched by human hands."

    When one thinks of what this means it means that your design must compliment a client's form and not fight with it, not try to make him something he is not. And when you make that jacket, when your done it should look as if the angles had constructed it.

    I remember how my first suit looked when I finished it. I was beaming. My grandfather said to me when I finished "Forty more years kid!"

    This week I just finished a tuxedo jacket. As I was putting the last buttonhole in the right sleeve cuff I realized that it was just about forty years since I heard those words and then I realized that I've just about got the hang of "tailoring".

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  22. I recently purchased "Vintage Couture Tailoring" by Thomas Von Nordheim, and he gives a brief history of tailoring which began in the Middle Ages and involved structured garments made from fabric and wadding stitched together. I think we have come to use the word tailored to mean something well fitted, as opposed to the beautifully made garments produced by a tailor who has trained for years to master his trade.

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    Replies
    1. I bought that book last year. It's great.

      Delete
  23. Tailoring means taking material and shaping it by steaming, easing, contouring, interfacing, interlining, reinforcing, fitting, re-fitting and constructing structured woven garments. It is material not gender specific.
    A chiffon dress may have many of the same elements but it is not tailoring, it is couture.

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  24. "Tailoring" is semantic...many different meanings have come about over time. One of the most prevalent meanings of the word today was once *always* called "Alterations". There is even a heavily promoted online class now about "Learn to Tailor your Garments"...which in that context is a study on how to alter RTW.

    So then essentially, there are many meanings of Tailoring, countless sub-categories under that broad title....that like Like many terms, have evolved colloquially.

    In my case, I am a Classically Trained Tailor. What does that mean to me? 6+ years of strict rules and grueling training. What does me being a Tailor (with a capital T, haha) mean to my clients? They are willing to pay a higher price ;)

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    1. I saw that class offered on Craftsy. When I saw what it was the name made no sense to me. As far as I'm concerned using tailoring in that way is hype, the way some people call any level of sewing "Couture."

      Delete
    2. Here.here. Its the same way seamstresses are now are calling themselves tailors because they think they can make some alterations to a suit in order to attract unsuspecting customers. Ask them if they Will make me a suit, their reply in most cases is that I should find a tailor. Most baffling rationale.
      And degradeS the the huge scope of what a tailor has achieved and mastered Over decades it takes to finally call yourself a tailor and be looked upon by other tailors as such- a master
      In mainstream language, it's become a catch all, literally to troll as many customers as possible. Unfortunately, not All the same results. So be weary of tailored RTW (oxymoron), tailored clothes (altered), tailoring services (alterationist/ seamstress), Online made to measure ( really RWT's, these people have not seen your body nuisances or quirks) etcetera.
      I see what comes through my shop, and the truths that are unveiled when I start to unstitch.
      If you want know, find a real tailor. Most are willing to share and pass on skills. Even if you only go to them with alterations, but you'll pick up some insights From a master's view point
      -"pocket_maker"

      Delete
  25. From Project Runway I'd always assumed that tailoring was the opposite of draping. When Michael Kors told Wendy Pepper that she "could tailor charmeuse" I got the impression that it could apply to the cutting out of pattern pieces and fabric rather than draping a garment on a form. How about a post on draping?

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    1. He probably meant that she was good at using the charmeuse is a style that was "hard," streamlined, or structured, not flowy, which is how charmeuse is often used.

      Menswear patterns are not draped. They are prepared through the flat pattern method. They are drafted on paper, cut out in muslin and then fit on a form.

      Womenswear patterns can be made through the flat pattern method or draped.

      Delete
  26. Pad stitching, establishing collar roll through hand stitching, hair canvassing and pressing, pressing, pressing until that fabric rolls, molds, and curves around the body. That is what tailoring means to me. I immediately think of jacket construction, male or female. Then I feel a headache coming on and lie down with a cold cloth on my head.

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    1. :-)

      I have taken the first level menswear Tailoring class at FIT. This is a class that focuses on making one pair of trousers with a great of hand work. It is open to people who aren't Menswear program students and there were quite a few people with tailoring experience, as well as some Menswear students who wanted to learn more about that kind of sewing, which unfortunately, is rarely cost-effective today. You can't take it unless you've taken the FIT Menswear sewing class, which teaches precision sewing on industrial machines.

      The next level, which keeps getting canceled, focuses on various techniques used on vests and jackets. The third and last level is jackets. A professor there told me that they had to split up the last two classes because it was simply too much work for many students and they had to repeat it.

      Tailoring is not that easy. At least if you want to do it well. From the little I've done it's really cool.

      Delete
  27. For me tailoring means customizing a 'look' based on the client's measurements and making a garment that fits perfectly. Men's clothes in general are better constructed than women's (based on my female friends opinion and my own experience). Menswear is typically all about the tailoring and fit. Simon Crompton is the king of the minutia of tailoring details.
    http://www.permanentstyle.co.uk/

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  28. The Yves Saint Laurent dress arguably is a tailored STYLE, it is not tailored in CONSTRUCTION. I've seen someone make a Mondrian-style dress like that. It's an A-line dress with a fabric made from patches and piping, or the patches could be applied to an under fabric. It has facings and a lining. That dress doesn't even look like it has shoulder pads.

    Tailored clothing fits more closely to the body and is structured. The structure is created by building up layers of material, usually including haircloth canvas. Better clothing has more hand stitching because hand sewing provides more control and is softer than machine stitching. It does require a great deal of expertise.

    Both couture and tailoring at the highest levels offer patterns made from scratch from the client's measurements. For men's tailoring, it's called "bespoke." In America and some other places there's a cheaper method in which you can get a basic pattern modified, which is called "made to measure." If you have close to "ideal" proportions, MTM may work fine. If you have special fitting issues, you'd want a pattern made just for you.

    If you're interested in Tailoring, look at:

    --the books by Roberto Cabrera and Stanley Hostek;

    --read the Cutter and Tailor forum, which is run by professional tailors. They provide many bibliographies that are most helpful.

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  29. Forgot to add that in some countries tailoring students train for nine years before being considered even minimally qualified.

    I've had teachers who started learning tailoring at the ages of 9 or 13. That generation is dying out.

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  30. I named my own blog tailoring just because in my research it seemed that "tailor" means a man sewing, whereas "seamstress" means a woman sewing. Although there also seem to be other definitions of the word as you mentioned. I just wanted to make it clear what I was doing, and also sort of as a goal - to actually become good enough to do a precise fitting, despite being a total newbie today...

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