Menmain_large

Readers, as a very visible man who sews, I am often asked the question, Why don’t more guys sew? We know a lot of fashion designers and nearly all tailors are male, so why aren’t there more male home sewists?

My answer is always, well, some men do sew. But even I know that the number is very small compared to the number of women who sew.

Having grown up male in the United States, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that most men don’t sew and probably would never consider it. Here are some of the reasons (in no particular order) and maybe you’ll have some of your own to add.

First, let’s define terms. I’m talking about home sewing. If you follow fashion you know that the majority of the best-known designers are men. This has been true for a long time and probably comes out of the men’s tailoring tradition. There are more and more exceptions with every passing generation, but currently, at least, women’s (and men’s) fashion is still dominated by men.

So with regard to home sewing, why are there so few men who do it (or are public about doing it)?

1. Throughout most of the last century, sewing was taught in high school home economics classes. It was part of a standardized curriculum for girls. Boys took shop. Simply put, sewing was not considered masculine.

2. Nearly every book, old or new, about sewing, is written for a female audience, including the ones written by men. I have never seen a sewing book written exclusively for men who sew (perhaps this could be an untapped niche!). Illustrations are of women’s bodies and discussion of garments focuses on a woman’s wardrobe with a few exceptions (there’s sometimes a chapter tucked in the back about sewing for men and children).

3. The marketing of the home sewing industry has exclusively targeted women. This includes everything from sewing machines ads, pattern ads, promotional ads for new fabrics, etc.

Photobucket
Photobucket

Sewing machine companies understood who their market was. They didn’t advertise in Field & Stream, Sports Illustrated, or — Heaven forbid — Boy’s Life!

4. The big pattern companies created few commercial patterns for men and hence there was little for a man to sew if he were interested in making clothes for himself. The majority of patterns for men continue to be pajamas, boxer shorts, and bathrobes. These are items that women can sew for men (i.e., their husbands, sons, and boyfriends) relatively easily. They aren’t garments (most) men are going to be sewing for themselves; many men don’t even wear those things!

5. Due to many of the reasons listed above, there is a stigma attached to sewing for men, the same stigma that exists for any activity generally considered feminine. These include ballet, figure skating, playing with dolls…you get the idea. We still live in a society where gender roles are narrowly defined and the person who tries to experiment with them becomes an easy target of others’ ridicule. Simply put, men don’t have role models for sewing — if they did, things might be different. Of course things have changed somewhat, due in part to the success of TV shows like Project Runway and with an incremental relaxing of gender roles. Still, the stigma persists, though perhaps it’s less overt.

Inevitably we have to consider homophobia, since many highly visible men in fashion are gay. Fear of being labeled gay in our culture makes it even less likely that a man who isn’t gay (or even one who might be) is going to venture into the fabric store and rifle through the cotton shirting.

6. The sad truth is that, relative to the population, few people sew for themselves anymore, period. The home sewing machine industry has contracted dramatically and no longer advertises in mainstream publications. Clothing has become relatively cheap and home sewing has become a niche hobby, arguably growing more popular among young women (and some men), but much smaller than it was only a generation ago. Remember too: most women now work out of the home and men always have (we’re talking the last hundred years); free time for leisure activities like sewing is limited.

I attended the American Sewing Expo in Novi, Michigan in 2009. My friend Brian and I were two of only a handful of men in attendance. There was nothing offered at the Expo in the way of workshops or booths catering to the male sewer.

Photobucket
Photobucket

On BurdaStyle there are just a handful of men who are active; same goes for sites like Pattern Review, or readers of my blog, Male Pattern Boldness. (The mechanics of sewing does seem to interest a fair number of men and so much of sewing is about measuring, cutting, and construction. It’s not all that different to carpentry!)

7. Finally, we all know that sewing takes time: time to learn and time to put into practice. How many men are willing to commit the time it takes to learn to sew when the payoff is a pair of pajamas? Let’s face it: it will always be easier, if not cheaper, to get your wardrobe needs met at the Gap than by your own hand — man or woman. Sewing is a labor of love and not many men are feeling it. That said, I’ll be teaching men’s clothing construction starting in May at Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn and while the classes I offer won’t be exclusively for men, I’m hoping to attract some men to the class. We’re starting with boxers, but we’re working our way up to jeans and shirts. Classes meet one evening per week and run for four weeks.

Readers, have I left anything out? Why do you think more men don’t sew?

What would have to happen to change things?

Jump in!

~Peter

When native New Yorker Peter Lappin bought his first sewing machine two years ago to hem a pair of thrift store jeans, little did he know he was initiating a journey that would bring him fame and fortune. While awaiting his fortune he stays busy writing “the world’s most popular men’s sewing blog,” Male Pattern Boldness, and now contributing to BurdaStyle.

“For more than twenty years I’d lived on the edge of the Garment District without even knowing what a seam ripper was. Now I rip daily!”

169 Comments

  • Dscn0826_large

    Mar 31, 2011, 07.36 PMby ruthw

    You do mention that you were brought up in the US and it is noticeable that a large number of those male fashion designers you mention were NOT brought up in the US and originate elsewhere. The way I see it is that this “problem” is only really a “problem” in affluent societies where people buy imported clothes made by people living elsewhere working for what seem to be much lower wages. So sewing is a hobby.

    Where I live this isn’t so. Quite the opposite. Loads of men are tailors and so are women (same word used for both male and female – no “dressmakers” here). There is almost no such thing as “home sewing” here. It is definitely a profession and the lower wages thing is not really a problem either because like the wages the cost of living is less. You can earn a good living sewing and so there are not so many “hobbyists”, more professionals. Also, by the way, because a large proportion of the working male population works in textiles, it can have no connotations about people’s sexuality.

    Of course, all this means that, unlike on the web, “hobbyists” are not the experts. People who have been sewing for one or two years being ‘teachers" or "experts’ would provoke both laughter and incredulity inTurkey. I am the happy little exception here, the hobbyist, and I am happy to bumble along learning alongside the bloggers because i don’t want to go to serious tailoring classes. They’re just TOO serious about it here!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 31, 2011, 10.24 PMby Peter Lappin

      Great to get the Turkish perspective, Ruth. It’s a fascinating contrast to the way things are here in the USA. Thanks!

  • Dodo_large

    Mar 31, 2011, 07.12 PMby lila-1

    i think that if there were edgier and more varied patterns for menswear available more men would sew. I tried to teach my boyfriend to sew and he was interested for a while, but as you said its a lot of work to learn and eventually he decided it wasn’t worth it to make a satchel and pyjamas. Its really REALLY hard to find interesting menswear patterns, even when you trawl through vintage stuff ebay.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 31, 2011, 10.24 PMby Peter Lappin

      I agree, Lila, though I do enjoy sewing vintage men’s patterns. I think for really great stuff though you might have to learn how to draft your own. That’s my next hurdle.

  • Missing

    Mar 31, 2011, 06.41 PMby rebaanne

    GREAT article, and great comments from everyone! I am also coming from a unique perspective: my dad taught me to crochet, was proud of it, and also taught my younger brother who was also quite proud of his after-school hobby growing up. My partner is a male nurse and feels stigmas in that area as well. I believe part of the reason to explain the male home sewist / designer paradox (as well as the home cook / chef, flutists, knitting, crocheting) is that by becoming an expert, a male can validate the cross-over into a traditional female craft. Of course there are tons of other reasons — this is more of an observation.

    Gender roles are reinforced every day by everyone – male and female alike. In regards to bodicegoddess589’s comment, STOP sewing for the guys, and instead teach them. Then they can borrow your sewing machine. I would much prefer that a guy shows my how to fix my car if it is a simple fix (and if I’m willing to learn) than roll their eyes at me, fix the car without comment, and silently reinforce stereotypes of women in his mind. Make the guys fix their own clothes — I bet they would enjoy! Kudos to those male sewists out there!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 31, 2011, 10.27 PMby Peter Lappin

      Great comment, rebaanne! I think it probably still takes courage for a man to decide to study nursing. (That used to be considered a joke.)

  • Naburdaprofil_large

    Mar 31, 2011, 06.24 PMby janul

    Lol, these ads are great! I love that one with the woman who gets the sewing machine for Christmass! That one with Nupron is also fun :). I´m sorry that mu husband doesen´t care about fashion much… He just dosen´t really mind what he´s wearing (I´m not very fashionable either, but I wish he cared more :). It´s right about China, as juebejue noted, and I saw a great film about a chinese tailor, who made clothes for a young prostitute – it´s something pretty sexy about a man making clothes for a woman!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 31, 2011, 10.27 PMby Peter Lappin

      Interesting, Janul. I never thought of it as being sexy but perhaps it is!

  • 6e3656aa7036783b3e4bbc29f34d1029385afafe_large

    Mar 31, 2011, 05.21 PMby wzrdreams

    Hey Peter, I love your blog!

    Your comment about homophobia prompted me to start a mental list the high profile male designers who are hetero; Oscar de la Renta, Ralp Lauren, and Giorgio Armani. … that’s all I can think of at the moment although I am sure there are more.

    I work in fashion and all of our tailors are Italian men, and I am pretty certain that all of them are hetero since they are all married with children and grandchildren. Interestingly, they do all know how to sew and all wear lovely blazers/jackets that they made for themselves 10-20 years ago, but they do not currently sew. All of our sewers are female.

    I agree that most high profile men working in fashion are gay, but I wonder if any of them sew, as designers do not necessarily sew.

    I agree with nealc… YOU should write a sewing book for male sewers, or atleast geared towards sewing garments only for men.

    2 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 31, 2011, 10.29 PMby Peter Lappin

      Maybe I will. ;)

      As far as “hetero” designers, I’m 99% sure you’re wrong about one of them!

    • 6e3656aa7036783b3e4bbc29f34d1029385afafe_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 12.16 AMby wzrdreams

      Hmmm… you know, I may have spoken without authority on Armani… He is the only one I am less than certain about. Now that I’ve done some web searching, I can’t find anything to confirm or deny my initial guess.

  • Missing

    Mar 31, 2011, 05.19 PMby Tonya Richard

    Well, my husband helped teach me how to sew. He just kind of picked it up on his own. He is an excellent carpenter, and like many of you have said, sewing and carpentry are very similar. He still has to help me when trying to figure out measurements, I am math challenged lol He also cooks and changes diapers and other things that some don’t consider to be very manly. I feel very blessed to have such a well rounded man. As a result, my sons are also very well rounded. The two oldest both know how to cook and knit, I taught them that when they were younger, they don’t really do it much anymore at 18 and 16. But who knows, maybe they will pick it up again one day.

    Men who sew, ROCK!!!!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 31, 2011, 10.29 PMby Peter Lappin

      Thanks, Tonya! It sounds like you truly are blessed!

  • Missing

    Mar 31, 2011, 05.14 PMby denise2003

    I love this article! I have known quite a few boys that display an interest in sewing— until they get a little older. I believe that the problem is 90% social. The rest is the fact that there is really nothing out there for men, so why bother? I have noticed the exclusive focus on women in sewing many times.

    I think that this will change eventually. It may not be soon, and it may not be fast, but it will change. There will come a time when men will be able to sew for themselves and not suffer the social consequences. At that point, the women might be complaining about having to wade through all the men’s patterns to get to something that they are interested in!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 31, 2011, 10.30 PMby Peter Lappin

      From your lips to God’s ear, as they say…. ;)

  • Enlarged_hilarity-copy_edited_large

    Mar 31, 2011, 04.59 PMby Testosterone

    Yep Peter, for many people (men and women!), a man sewing is “So gay!”, even though guys like to make stuff. Stigma of being gay, may even have driven some heterosexual men to “sew on the low”.

    Sewing is for the innovative, the imaginative, and the inwardly self-determined.

    That you embrace sewing whole-heartedly, share in an open and non-judgmental manner, and educate us all with humor is filling a vacuum.

    Thank you Peter, for putting it all there.

    2 Replies
    • Photo_1082_large

      Mar 31, 2011, 06.25 PMby Daniel Parker

      haha! sew on the low, love that

    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 31, 2011, 10.31 PMby Peter Lappin

      Thanks, Testy! I love that “sew on the low” idea.

  • Missing

    Mar 31, 2011, 04.51 PMby enyaj42

    Kudos to Burda Style for giving you a platform Peter. I enjoyed the mind-opening perspective and all the comments; especially the ‘time’ reminder and the insight as to sewing being a labor of love ♡ Ahh, now I know why I don’t sew as much as I did 35 years ago ;-)

    1 Reply
  • 8cd1614e48bc4501afea6f52b63c8c49a74eb814_large

    Mar 31, 2011, 04.46 PMby juebejue

    great post peter! My dad used to sew a lot and back in china, there wasnt so much stigma about it being feminine. in fact, people people in the social circle are intensely jealous of my mom and i! :) when their acquantence bought my dad’s used motocycle, their condition was that the motocycle comes with this coat that my dad made for me that i grew out of. when i asked him years later if people thought he was feminine for sewing, he said crafting was a big thing for men back then in china — at the yarn store most people he sees are men who are copying down knitting patterns!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 31, 2011, 10.32 PMby Peter Lappin

      Fascinating, Juebejue! It’s so great to hear perspectives from so many different parts of the world.

  • Missing

    Mar 31, 2011, 04.23 PMby oneka

    One day my 14 year old son walked by when I as tracing a pattern. He stopped, had a look and asked what’s that-I told him it was a schematic. He had a good look at it and seemed interested, then he went back to gaming. I think there is a lot of similarities with a pattern and the instructions to build a k-nex ferris wheel. Maybe the end product isn’t exciting enough.

    My husband use to nag me to teach him to sew (before I had a machine) and now he just hovers behind me while I fix, mend, alter his clothes. He wanted to learn to sew so he could design and make his own goalie equipment. Now it seems like to much work. He is so thorough and methodical he would make beautiful stuff, maybe I should try harder to introduce him to the sewing machine. He is always commenting on the stuff he likes when I’m on Burda—-hmmm, maybe our new date night, it would be great if he could sew me stuff.

    2 Replies
    • Img_9757_large

      Mar 31, 2011, 08.20 PMby nettie

      My husband worked/works in security and had a lot of ideas bout making specialized clothes for men his size. I think most men would like custom clothes but maybe not the work to get there.

    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 31, 2011, 10.33 PMby Peter Lappin

      There IS a lot to learn — that’s the truth.

  • Dsc01808_large

    Mar 31, 2011, 04.01 PMby marloncosta

    Great article Peter. I grew up in Brazil and I wasn`t raised under that stigma. My father lost both his parents when he was really young, he then got a job as a assistant for a tailor. He learned how to sew, cook and pretty much how to take care of himself. He passed all of this things to me. Both of my parents worked and I grew up watching my father cook and clean to help my mom. I believe that being raised that way was great for it made me a better husband today and it encouraged me to do what I love, which is sewing.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 31, 2011, 10.34 PMby Peter Lappin

      You’re really fortunate to have been raised in that environment, Marlon. And it’s great that you’re doing what you love!

  • Image_large

    Mar 31, 2011, 03.42 PMby rifka

    Another great post Peter. I think more men don’t sew because they are simply not introduced to many hand crafts at an early age. With everyone being so busy these days and many schools not supporting hand work instruction in their curriculum, many children aren’t exposed to working with their hands until they are old enough to pursue their own interests. Some, as you have discovered, may not even be aware that they have an aptitude for a particular craft until later in life. Think of the many who may not ever discover their hidden talents!

    My 14 year old son has been knitting for years now and his younger brother already assumes he too will learn one day. For him, the expectation to learn to sew and knit ( from his own thought process) is no different than learning to ride a bicycle, read, or master his own breakfast one day. Even if my children choose to not pursue this interest ongoing, at least they will have some understanding and appreciation for all things handcrafted.

    PS I find that last add you featured, “Give me anything made with Nupron”, especially amusing. My guess is that it was a male iniciated add campaign.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 31, 2011, 10.37 PMby Peter Lappin

      Great comment. When you think about it, that anyone would AVOID learning how to do something just because it’s associated with a different gender, is nuts. And while many adults are busy, most children aren’t. If they took used the time they spend playing video games (and the like) learning a practical skill instead, think how much they’d be able to do!

  • 81fb6fa35e11e1e0e8f5fdf5ceb4948e3bda1de6_large

    Mar 31, 2011, 03.32 PMby joycexi

    I think what you wrote summarize not just the fashion industry but also the food industry. Top chefs are usually male, yet there are hardly any male friends of mine who are capable of churning up a proper dish.

    2 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 31, 2011, 10.38 PMby Peter Lappin

      Interesting…

    • Missing

      Apr 1, 2011, 07.05 PMby mamadden

      Near all my male friends cook and take great pride in it. The kitchen is my husband’s main creative outlet. None of them sew, however, but I think it reflects their interests. They don’t care too much about what they’re wearing but care deeply about what they’re eating.

  • Looking_at_you_large

    Mar 31, 2011, 03.09 PMby sunnilj9

    I think it’s so much to do with our socialization, especially here in the States. Having an intensive musical background in flute performance, it’s strange that the same rule applies in that area as it does here. Most flute players are women, yet, the professional world is dominated by men flute players who are very successful. It’s so weird! I can only name a 3 or 4 really successful women flute players, but men, they are like a dime a dozen! All the greats were men! All the texts were written by men!

    I was talking about this issue with my husband the other night and we came to rather interesting conclusion and that’s that even in our somewhat narrowly defined social roles, women and men have different relationships with various arts, crafts and hobbies because they are taught and brought up in different ways. I too find it very strange that there are so many male designers but so few male home stitchers (can’t even say seamstress because it would be seamster?). Maybe it’s because the roles are more narrowly defined here in the States than even in different countries and there are more male designers from foreign countries where the roles are different and not so oddly disproportionate? Strange…. xoxo, Sunni

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 31, 2011, 10.39 PMby Peter Lappin

      Fascinating points about the flute, Sunni. You’re definitely right about social roles and different relationships with crafts and hobbies.

      I usually call myself a “sewist” — which seems to work! LOL

  • 9ea300614a3421df473f4ee5d290dd398b9d967a_large

    Mar 31, 2011, 02.46 PMby bodicegoddess589

    In my case, the answer is simple. None of the guys I know need to know how to sew, because they know they can come to me with their clothing and mending issues. With how much we’ve been getting in to vintage items, repurposing and tailoring, there are more women sewing and chances are, the guys out there know where to look when it comes to finding a seamstress worth her salt.

    Also, I think there need to be more male sewists out there. I want to see “seamster” used as a word more often.

    2 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 31, 2011, 10.40 PMby Peter Lappin

      Stop sewing for ’em! LOL

    • 9ea300614a3421df473f4ee5d290dd398b9d967a_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 04.40 PMby bodicegoddess589

      To be fair, when I was growing up, my dad used to cross-stitch. Just couldn’t center Boy Scout patches worth a darn.

  • Mzl_ljixuoxi_320x480-75_large

    Mar 31, 2011, 01.33 PMby FabricUiPhoneApp

    Knitting and crochet is the same way. I met a man, his wife and family at a Stitches Midwest show a few years ago. He had five or six kids, very traditional, religious man. Anyhow, loves to crochet and he makes garments for his wife. He was proud of his hobby…but I’ll more than a few think that’s odd, “feminine.” As much as I enjoy knitting and crochet, I try to limit the time I do it socially because it’s NOT how I’m going to meet guys. Better to go to ’mobile media meet-ups." I was actually one of four women in a group of about 40 men at the last meet-up. Funny, I was crocheting while I was there. I did get business cards of that, but not future one-on-one meet-ups. Yet.

    1 Reply
  • Missing

    Mar 31, 2011, 12.22 PMby nealc

    I love your posts, both here and at malepatternboldness. I am reading and paying attention, Peter. I would also like to add the general lacking in the marketplace for masculine apparel fabrics. Yes, there are innumerable racks of poplin available just about anywhere thanks to the quilting trend, however, I don’t know that I want a shirt with little trees and owls all over it or cutesy vintage storybook graphics. It appears that men (and women) today have also been pinned into gender specific (assumed, by the industry) fabric prints. Like you said, I have all the pajamas and bathrobes that I need, and that number is none. What I need is shirts; shirts without cutesy patterns or horribly out-dated oxford stripes. Pants and shorts, too; ones that aren’t just khakis and denim or in a weight that feels like it should be my granny’s elastic-waist pants. I live in Ohio, don’t think for a minute that I can just run down the street and grab yardage like that, it requires a specific, long-distance trip.

    I think it would be phenomenal for someone (ahem, looking at YOU) to write a book that focuses on menswear and specifically shuns the boxer/pj/bathrobe!

    1 Reply
    • This is a question
  1. Sign in to add a post

Departments

  • Editors' Pick
  • Fashion & Trends
  • Backstage Report
  • Web Seminars
  • DIY to Try
  • Mandie's Picks
  • Denise's Desk
  • Meg's Magazine Mash Up!
  • Featured Member
  • Competitions
  • Guest Columns
  • Comment to Win
  • Monthly Memo
  • BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern
  • ARCHIVE
  • Sewing & Techniques
Burdastyle

http://burdastyle.com//blog/why-more-men-dont-sew-and-does-it-matter?page=6