In the middle-ages probably no tailor was as lucky as the fairy-tale tailor who ended up marrying the king’s daughter. In fact, in France, centre of fashion for centuries, as a tailor you were particularly unlucky. Why? Because
unlike other professions French tailors lacked a guild that could have regulated their craft and protected their interests! The French Revolution (1789) when Napoleon wreaked havoc in Europe in the name of democracy, liberty and brotherhood only to crown himself Emperor a few years later finally abolished the guild system and now at least everyone was equally bad off.
In other places in Europe, the strict rules of the guilds eradicated any uncomfortable competition between tailors, strictly regulating the number of tailors in a given place and ensuring that no-one who was not an accredited tailor would think about entering the business. Each tailor had to go through a long apprenticeship and only the most skilled ones could pass the Masters examination that allowed them to design and cut the patterns and sell clothes. Journeyman, aspiring tailors who had passed their apprenticeship but not their Masters examination (yet), were confined to sew and iron clothes.
And then around the 12th century something changed: along with the cotton fabric, came the Renaissance and a new idea of clothes developed: body-shaped clothes. In fact, some like to say that was the birth of “fashion”.
But apprentices were by far not the lowest in the hierarchy: they were helped by male seamstresses, badly paid menial laborers who worked “stored away” sitting cross-legged on the sewing tables to save space in the crammed and dark workshops.
At least in Germany, endless parodies have been shaped by this image of haggard figures sitting on tables sewing feverishly, their eyes
ruined from working in dark rooms hidden behind thick glasses. The story of Max and Moritz and Tailor Buck by Wilhelm Busch (German caricaturist and poet) is a definite must: here the first lines as a teaser (translated by the Rosetta Project).
Through the town and country round </p ALIGN=CENTER>
Was one Mr Buck renowned.</p ALIGN=CENTER>
Sunday coats, and week-day sackcoats,</p ALIGN=CENTER>
Bob-tails, swallow tails, and frock coats,</p ALIGN=CENTER>
Gaiters, breeches, hunting-jackets;</p ALIGN=CENTER>
Waistcoats, with commodious pockets, -</p ALIGN=CENTER>
And other things, too long to mention,</p ALIGN=CENTER>
Claimed Mr Tailor Bucks attention.</p ALIGN=CENTER>
Or, if something wanted doing,</p ALIGN=CENTER>
In the way of darning, sewing, </p ALIGN=CENTER>
Piecing, patching, -if a button </p ALIGN=CENTER>
Needed to be fixed or put on, – </p ALIGN=CENTER>
Anything of any kind,</p ALIGN=CENTER>
Anywhere before, behind, -</p ALIGN=CENTER>
Mister Buck could do the same,</p ALIGN=CENTER>
For it was his life’s great aim.</p ALIGN=CENTER>
you’ll find the rest of the story (including fantastic illustrations) here.