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C15th: Tailoring trade - a model for 21st century

Edmund Flower, founder of Cuckfield Grammar School, was a master tailor who will have served an apprenticeship to learn his craft. He was accepted into the livery company of Master Taylors' and ascended the ranks to become 'Master', equivalent to Chief Executive.

Members of the Merchant Taylors' livery company, , would have made the splendid clothes for Henry Vll's courtiers. The materials they used were so fine and expensive that much ingenuity and care was needed in their cutting and presentation.

According to ‘The Tudor Tailor’ a suit would cost a year’s income for many Tudor people. In 1533 just a single a yard of fabric would cost one third of their annual salary of £4. But nevertheless the less wealthy would still use tailors - but clothing took a much larger portion of earnings than it does today.

15th Century Courtier wearing red robes and cap from historical reconstruction specialists 'History in the Making'

Tailoring earned large sums of money for the tradesmen. For example, the greatest fashion innovation in the year 1595 were 'picadills' - these are pointed edges to a ruff (see painting below). They were introduced to England by a tailor called Master Higgins. He made a small fortune by making these and tis resulted in him owning a large estate north of St. James's Palace. Today we call the road which once led to his house 'Piccadilly.' [TC]

Waste not want not

In the 1550s a man might own clothes worth a couple of shillings to a pound. His wardrobe comprised a pair of leather breeches, a coat, a waistcoat, a couple of shirts, stockings, shoes and a hat. [TC]

Because of the expense of clothing their owners would go to the trouble of having stains, spots and splashes removed. Any damage would be repaired, some panels might be replaced, and linings reversed or renewed. Stockings, gowns and other fabric would be re-dyed.

A piccadill worn by Grey Brydges, (c1581-1621)

Silks were created in rolls just 20 to 22 inches wide and this made clothing design very tricky. Scrupulous cutting out was needed, and more sewing was involved. They also became ingenious in using even the smallest of offcuts. These were called ‘cabbage’ and often incorporated into other garments, for example as 'slashed sleeves' that revealed a contrasting layer of ornate fabric. [T]

The enthusiasm to avoid fashion waste is perhaps an example to us all today.


Portrait of English nobleman Grey Brydges, 5th Baron Chandos of Sudeley, wearing a piccadill. Painted by Larkin c1615.

A piccadill or pickadill is a large broad collar of cut-work lace that became fashionable in the late 16th century and early 17th century. It continued its popularity through Queen Elizabeth I’s to Stuart times. Wikimedia public domain image. 

History in the Making. historical reconstruction specialists,

[T] The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing Sixteenth-Century Dress Paperback by Jane Malcolm-Davies (Author), Ninya Mikhaila (Author)

[TC] Tudor costume and fashion by Herbert Norris, 1997

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

Visit Cuckfield Museum, follow the link for details


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