What do you think of when you think of sewing?
Probably something like this, right?
What about sewing at the professional level? You know, like a seamstress.
Probably something like this?
But what about a step above that? A true master craftsman. Like a professional tailor…
Maybe that brings to mind something like this?
Something strange happens when a job generally associated with women is done by men: Women are left behind, while men are considered the masters of the trade.
Think about it. Nurses can do many of the things doctors do, but it’s often assumed that women will be nurses and men will be doctors. It wasn’t that long ago that all women were expected to know how to cook, and still today there are those who insist a woman’s place is in the kitchen. And yet … many of the most famous chefs are men. Though things are changing slowly, there is a clear gender divide that’s pervasive across many industries.
There are numerous social and societal factors causing this in every trade, but among them is the socially constructed idea that a “master,” someone who’s dedicated a huge portion of their lives to perfecting a single trade, is a man.
Which is why it was pretty big news when master tailor Kathryn Sargent opened a shop on London’s historic Savile Row.
As the first-ever woman to do so, Sargent has made some very significant history.
“It feels wonderful to be on Savile Row, and like a real sense of achievement,” she told The Guardian.
Savile Row is a street that, for 213 years, has been known for its traditional tailoring for men.
Shops there have dressed everyone from Winston Churchill to Fred Astaire to Elton John.
Historically, the tailoring industry has been largely male-dominated, with young boys entering the trade at a very young age. In the early 1800s, when women first started to enter the industry, they were met with great hostility.
Men at the time thought that having women present would undercut the great skill and dedication necessary to become a tailor.
In “Well Suited: A History of the Leeds Clothing Industry,” Katrina Honeyman writes:
“Many men, but not all, dreaded women entering the trade and viewed them as instruments of capitalist deskilling. The economic problems facing the tailors in the 1830’s resembled those of radical artisans in other trades, as subcontracting systems undercut the craft strength of the skilled man and intensified gender hostility.”
Times are changing for the better, though. According to Sargent, a majority of the newly qualified tailors last year were women, and the industry is becoming more diverse.
Sargent’s shop, which dresses both men and women, has helped tear a hole straight through the fabric ceiling.
“I am thrilled to be making history,” Sargent told The Guardian. “Although for me being a woman is incidental, I am a tailor first and foremost. There’s more and more women coming through now and doing the training.”
Every time there’s a “first” like this, it changes our perceptions.
Achievements in diversity and representation are important not just for the individuals who earn them, but for how our society views the world.
Tailoring might be a niche trade that most of us never even think about, but for an entire generation of people, it just went from looking like this…
…to looking like this.
And that’s pretty cool.