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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica


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(Fr. tailleur, from tailler, to cut, Lat. talea, a thin rod, a cutting for planting), one who cuts out and makes clothes. Formerly the tailor, or cissor, made apparel for both men and women, and not merely outer garments, but also articles of linen and the padding and lining of armour - whence the style "Taylors and Linen Armourers" applied to the Merchant Taylors Company of the City of London in their earliest charters. But the word is now generally limited to those who make the outer (cloth) garments for men, and less frequently for women, though a phrase such as "shirt-tailor" is occasionally met with. In modern usage, too, it commonly has the implication that the garments are made to the order, and to the measure, of the individual purchaser, as opposed to ready-made clothing, which means articles of apparel manufactured in large quantities in a series of stock or standard sizes, such that any purchaser may expect to find among them one that will fit him with more or less accuracy. The clothing trade was originally confined to goods of the poorest grades, but it has come, especially in America, to include articles of good, though not of the first, quality. It probably first came into existence at seaport towns, where, to meet the convenience of sailors returning from long voyages and requiring their wardrobes to be replenished at short notice, the "outfitters" kept stocks of ready-made garments on sale; but it made no considerable progress until after the middle of the 19th century, when the introduction of the sewing-machine brought about the possibility of manufacturing in large quantities. Its development was attended with gradually increasing subdivision of labour and, to a large extent, with the disappearance of the tailor as a skilled craftsman. The first step was for a garment, such as a coat, to be completed by the joint efforts of a family. Then followed the "task system," which in America was the result of the influx of Russian Jews that began about 1875. Under it a team of three men, with a "presser" and a girl to sew on the buttons, divided the work between them. Payment was made by the "task," i.e. a specified number of garments, the money being divided between the members of the team in certain proportions. Often several teams would be run by a contractor, who naturally selected the cheapest workshops he could find and packed them as full of workers as possible; and when through stress of competition he had to accept lower prices the plan he adopted was to increase the number of garments to a task, leaving the pay unaltered. The result was the introduction of many of the worst features of the "sweating system," the workers having to work excessively long hours in order to finish the task, which in some cases meant as many as twenty coats a day. In the "factory" or "Boston" system the subdivision is still more minute, and as many as one hundred persons may be concerned in the production of one coat. The amount of tailoring skill required in a worker is even further reduced, but the premises come under the regulation of the factory laws. The factory system has also cheapened production in a legitimate way, because it has enabled mechanical power for driving sewingmachines, and also expensive labour-saving machinery, to be introduced to an extent not economically possible in small shops.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Tailor'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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