The History of Bespoke Tailoring

June 29, 2012


The history of bespoke tailoring and savile row in mayfair london

Bespoke Tailoring, as we know it today, is the accumulation of many centuries of dedication to the craft of sewing, stitching, cutting and imitating the human form in fabrics. Bespoke tailoring developed slowly but steadily throughout Europe between the 12th and 14th Century. Before the birth of tailoring, clothes were seen purely as functional objects, to cover the body and protect it from the elements. As the Renaissance transformed the world of arts and culture, tailoring became a way to accentuate the human form and contributed to what is widely considered to have been the ‘rebirth of humanism’. Medieval uniforms, which had typically been made from a single piece of cloth, were now ‘tailored’ so that they were tighter and shorter in an attempt to show off the contours of the human body. Tailors changed the way people perceived clothes, they were no longer viewed merely as ‘practical necessities’, but as a form of expression and objects of desire. Tailoring skills became increasingly sought after and created the market of tailoring as we know it today. It was also the beginning of what we now refer to as fashion.


A Prestigious Vocation

Master Tailors soon became solely responsible for providing the majority of their local society’s clothing needs and their empowered role became a sought after vocation. As industry and society boomed, towns grew into powerful cities where fashion was used to portray status and wealth. Countries such as Italy, Spain and France were considered fashion ‘hubs’ and men would travel from all over Europe to have their clothes personally tailored by the very best craftsmen. During the 17th Century fashion was still very much influenced by royalty. King Louis XIV reigned from 1643 to 1715 and Paris became the place for the latest and greatest fashion. It was during this period that styles began to change and masculine attire started to become main-stream. Feminine doublets and cloaks, which had been standard dress code since the 14th Century, were being replaced with masculine fitted coats, vests and trousers, which were relics of what we now perceive to be modern fashion.


The Flamboyant French & The Birth of the Gentleman


Bespoke tailoring in the 19th CenturyWhilst the French reviled in overly flamboyant, decorative silks and pastel satins, which were derived from the French courts, the English were taking a far more practical approach.

In fact, by the 19th Century, glossy black coats and iconic English stovepipe hats and umbrellas were standard elements of mainstream English fashion. The silhouette of the modern English gentleman was born.

The masculine design and subtle detailing of English tailors soon dominated European fashion and London was commonly thought of as the un-official capital of it all. English designed business attire became increasingly popular and the Industrial Revolution further boosted demand. London tailors focused heavily on ‘fit’ and moved away from over the top decoration and fabrics. This emphasis on ‘fit’, and the quest to mimic and improve the human form, meant that good English tailors were highly regarded as the industry’s leaders. English tailors were responsible for promoting the idea of simplicity, and discrete fashion. Perfection was in the cut of the cloth and this would become the holy grail of modern fashion.


The Golden Mile of Tailoring

the origins of tailoring and bespoke tailoring and how it came to call savile row home.Savile Row, in Mayfair, London, was built between 1731 and 1735 and was named after Lady Dorothy Savile, the wife of the 3rd Earl of Burlington. It was originally the used to house British military officers and their wives, however, as British gentry became increasingly concerned with their appearance, Beau Brummell (the epitome of the well-dressed man) patronised the tailors of Savile Row and it started to be referred to as the “golden mile of tailoring”. In fact, it was Savile Row tailors that coined the term; ”bespoke”, when they described cloth as being “spoken for” by an individual customer.


Modern-Day Bespoke Tailoring

Modern-day bespoke tailoring still utilises traditional techniques and, despite advancements in technology, is still seen as a highly-skilled art form as opposed to an exact science. In a world where mass-production and ready-made clothing dominates the world of fashion, the tailor’s role has become increasingly essential. Savile Row is still recognised as the home of bespoke tailoring and it is here that you will find the very finest in traditional and modern bespoke tailoring.



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