Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Becoming a tailor/cutter today: How do I become an apprentice?

In the past couple of years, I've received more than a few messages, comments or emails from folks interested in becoming a bench tailor, i.e. someone who can cut and sew garments. More specifically, they're interested in becoming an apprentice to a working tailor. I don't have much original advice except to approach the best tailors in your city about your enthusiasm, experience and perhaps most of all your dedication in putting in the time and effort to become a tailor.

Obviously it will pay to do your homework too. I recently came across this AskAndy thread that does a great job of assembling recommendations and references from working tailors and cutters. The thread also touches on an interesting distinction in patternmaking between industry or factory production v. bench tailors.

Let me also post another useful thread on the soft tailoring exponents of the English tailoring firm of Anderson & Sheppard. Too often it seems we have tailors who work only in the structured shoulder / stiff chest paradigm or the soft, drapey shoulder / soft chest paradigm. I personally think that a bench tailor who can inhabit both worlds and understand when to apply which paradigm will stand apart from most tailors working today and quite possibly take the next big step in bespoke tailoring. Innovations often come from hybrid milieus in which someone who knows a specific tradition or practice extremely well is then able to pivot and take a different slant on received wisdom.

Related posts
- The next generation of tailors: Mutually assured succession


Andrew Lee said...

i know Brioni and Kiton run their own "schools".

Unfortunately the cut off age for Kiton is 21 y/o.

sleevehead said...


In your other comment, you mentioned apprenticing in Boston or NYC. In Boston, there's Rizzo Tailor (do a Google search on rizzo tailor boston for more details).

In NYC, you'll find more bespoke or bench tailors: Raphael, Nino Corvato, William Fioravanti, Leonard Logsdail, Cheo, Vincent Nicolosi. There's also Mr. Ned, a lower-priced bench tailor.

You could also try the numerous made-to-measure shops in the NYC area like LS Men's Clothing.

Your third option is to investigate cut-make-trim production houses that fulfill made-to-measure orders from domestic retailers. In NY state, there is Adrian Jules (Rochester), Martin Greenfield (Brooklyn), Giliberto Designs (Garment District, NYC) and Rocco Cicciarelli (Long Island City, Queens).

John Daniel in Knoxville, Tennessee may be the largest CMT house in the US. I remember reading an article about their efforts to bring in experienced tailors from overseas. In the Midwest, Oxxford probably has the biggest factory operation. I believe Samuelsohn is the largest in Canada.

Other CMT houses in the East Coast include English-American Tailoring based in Maryland.

Most of these have websites, so do a quick online search for their contact info and start calling them up! I think you'll have to make a basic decision whether you want to work in a CMT setting or a bench tailor setting. Hope that helps, good luck and keep me posted!

Fatto a Mano said...

Samuelsohn is actually one of the smallest, but certainly the best, in Canada. Regarding a tailor's ability to make different shoulders and silhouettes, I quite agree with you. I have slopy, narrow shoulders and wide hips- a structured rope shoulder balances things out a bit. Someone who had linebacker's shoulders should wear something much softer. But most bench tailors learned that there is ONE method of doing things correctly, and even if they were to admit the need to do another for a particular client, they often don't know how, not having been exposed to other methods of making. One advantage of learning the trade on a factory floor, if you can manage it, is that many factories are required to do many types of shoulders and silhouettes; we need to be very versatile in order to accommodate our clients. But definitely, the way to go is either to apprentice with a bench tailor or working in a better factory.

sleevehead said...

Thanks for the correction on Samuelsohn and for your observations on the potential advantages of a factory setting. I agree that being exposed to multiple construction methods would be a great advantage.

Based on what I've seen, most bench tailors seem to prefer making just one type of shoulder or silhouette (or perhaps only know how to do one type). This implies of course that not every tailor's cut is the best one for every customer. So the burden is really on the customer to know what looks good for him.

Anonymous said...

I tried the askandy link and I couldn't for whatever reason post my question.

I already am a personal shopper for men's clothing, I do this as a hobby really. I'm a lawyer already but this hobby of mine gives me so much joy. Seeing a well dressed man gives me such huge satisfaction.
However, I really want to become a bespoke tailor, I sketch/draw very well but I don't think I will be thoroughly satisfied becoming just a designer; I want to be complete like ozwald boateng and D&G. I have no prior experience with cutting or sewing. What do I do? Where is the best place to learn bespoke tailoring? England or Italy? I would also love to supervise the making of shoes and bags.

I would very much appreciate advice.

sleevehead said...

Anonymous, your interest and passion are impressive. However it's a long road ahead to be an all-around tailor who can sew, cut, finish and assemble a jacket or suit. Traditionally, tailors started to learn how to sew when they were children and then spent 7+ years learning the tailoring craft.

My suggestion is to go to an open house at one of the several fashion schools (such as FIT, Pratt in NYC) and see if you're better off focusing on the fashion design angle rather than the construction side of things.