Tailors in the Olden Time

Like many others of the workers at various handicrafts, the makers of men's clothing were engaged in pursuing their calling here quite early. They went from house to house, and from village to village, cutting out, fitting, and making garments of all sorts, pants, vests and coats, being usually preceded by the weavers, who from the wool and cotton spun by the ladies of the family wove the material for the use of the tailor. They usually remained at a place long enough to make up a season's or a year's supply of clothing for the men of the household, or to make a wedding suit, or a suit for a journey, or some other special occasion. They made their home with the family until their work was completed.

We can little imagine the delight the coming of the tailor brought to the family, at least those members that reveled in gossip and newsmonging. This was one way, though it seldom occurred, by which news was disseminated before the era of newspapers. Living in the very midst of a family for a week or two, or longer, and having the opportunity, which was rarely neglected, to learn family secrets and the short-comings of its members, he could not help always having on hand a fresh supply of gossip. Moving about among the people continually he heard all the news, whether local or general, private or public.

If these early practices did not originate the term "journeyman," it certainly gave it a meaning which it has not had in more recent times.

In large towns tailors opened their shops, as did other craftsmen, and performed their work in them instead of the houses of their customers, which was a method that benefitted both parties. The first tailor in Essex County who is known to the writer to have had such a shop was Edward Griffiths in Marblehead in 1768. He had come from London.

May 7, 1662, the general court enacted a statute making it a criminal offence for tailors to "fashion or make" clothing for children or "servants under government" of kind and quality exceeding the condition in life of their parents or employers, "contrary to the mind " of such parents or employers. For the first offence the tailor was simply admonished; but if he was convicted of a similar offence a second time he forfeited double the value of the garment or garments that he had made. This, one of several similar ancient customs, has passed away, and with it much of the romance of the olden time.

AHGP Massachusetts

Source: The Essex Antiquarian, Volume III, Number 1, January 1899

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