Life of a tailor in Italy

As a nation state, Italy has emerged only in 1871. Until then the country was politically divided into a large number of independant cities, provinces and islands. The currently available evidences point out to a dominant Etruscan, Greek and Roman cultural influence on today's Italians.
Post Reply
GeneTree
Rookie
Rookie
Posts: 49
Joined: 03 Aug 2014, 05:34
Location: California

Life of a tailor in Italy

Post by GeneTree »

I was reading "Life of a shoemaker in Italy" in this forum. I searched for life of a tailor in Italy and found nothing.

My wife's grandfather and two uncles may have been tailors in Italy. At the very least they had learned cutting and sewing skills related to tailor. Would there be some people who could help with this topic? The time frame in Italy would be the very late 19th century to the very early 20th century in Southern Italy of the province of Catanzaro.

Thanks for you help.

erudita74
Master
Master
Posts: 7374
Joined: 27 Aug 2012, 20:26

Re: Life of a tailor in Italy

Post by erudita74 »

The link to the Life of a Shoemaker in Italy that was posted on this forum came from an entry written by someone for his or her own personal research. I've searched the internet and, like you, have not found an equivalent written about the Life of the Tailor in Italy. However, I have done research for you specifically, and put together the following, which I probably will have to post on this forum in sections, due to the number of characters exceeding what the forum allows in a single post. I hope this entry gives you some insight into the lives of your wife's ancestors, who were tailors in Italy:

Part I

The craft of the tailor has existed since ancient times, but the occupation in Italy only dates back to the early Middle Ages, when tailors’ guilds also existed in many major European towns. Catanzaro, which you mention in your post, had many tailors, as it was in that area that the silk industry in Italy came into existence in the eleventh century, when the city was first introduced to the breeding of silkworms. In some instances, tailoring was even a profession that had family origins and was passed down from generation to generation. There are no tailors in the southern Italian and Sicilian ancestries of either my husband or myself, but my one grandmother’s sister married a tailor who had emigrated from the town of Calitri, in Avellino Province, to the Bronx, New York, where he continued his trade and owned his own shop. His father, however, had been a shoemaker.

One aspiring to be a tailor typically started out as an apprentice, working for a master tailor, sometimes even as young as ten years old. In the time when child labor laws were not yet in effect in Italy, or pre 1886, the hours that a young male apprentice would spend with the master in his shop were extremely long, even as many as twelve or thirteen a day, beginning at eight in the morning, and not ending until eight or nine at night. The law of 1886, however, prohibited children under the age of twelve from working more than eight hours a day, but it did not place a limit on how many hours a thirteen year old, for example, could work. Also there was no regulation concerning children working on Sundays and holidays. As to the monetary compensation an apprentice received, it was minimal, if even anything at all. Some apprentices even had to pay a specified amount up front to a master tailor, in order to have the privilege of being trained by him.

When the apprentice first went to work for the master tailor, he was more of an errand boy and was only given simple tasks such as sweeping up scraps of fabric. Then he would be taught basic sewing skills and learn the secrets of cutting, which the “master tailor” would pass on to him without the need for, or use of, of any written manuals. The apprentice would learn to gather the seams, make buttonholes, and sew hems. Even though he would learn the secrets of cutting, the cutting operation was normally almost always done by the master tailor, or by someone who had already mastered this skill, but then only under the master’s strict observation.

The apprentice basically learned by watching, and the learning process was therefore gradual, and structured in such a way, as to refine the apprentice’s manual skills. He might, for example, be given one part of the tailoring process at a time to perform and master. So he may have had to learn different kinds of stiches needed to make a jacket, all done by hand, one stitch at a time, or he may have had to make only the neck of the jacket, only pockets, or only trousers. The sewing machine, although it did make its debut around 1850, never really made its way into the realm of men’s tailoring in Italy, although there were some bigger tailor shops which added women to their workshop floors to work on the machines. For the most part though, sewing was done by hand, as not only did that insure that the tailor could create a garment which better followed the outline of his client’s body, but it also insured that the fabric he was using did not become stressed.

erudita74
Master
Master
Posts: 7374
Joined: 27 Aug 2012, 20:26

Re: Life of a tailor in Italy

Post by erudita74 »

Part II

Before becoming an expert in the necessary manual skills, such as measuring and cutting, the tailor had to have the ability to select the right type of fabric, as tailoring involved not only measuring, fitting, cutting, basting, and sewing or finishing clothes, but initially it involved design. The tailor had to have an imagination which would allow him to create a properly fitted garment for his client which, in turn, would be in the style, cut, and fashion of the time period in which it was being created. He had to have an eye for detail, which individuals sewing ready-made clothes in the textile factories, once the industrial revolution took effect, as between the years 1897 and 1913 in the northern part of the country, did not have to have. He had to know how to take accurate measurements, as the modern measuring tape was not even introduced until about 1800. He would use ribs and cords for measuring the fabric, charcoal to mark the pieces, a tablet for notes, bone or bronze needles, thimbles in bone or bronze and, of course, scissors in various sizes. He even used chalk drawings to serve as patterns for the various sections of fabric to be cut. The earliest tailors used cloth patterns, as paper and parchment patterns were too expensive, and it was not until the nineteenth century that paper patterns became widespread and commercially available. Even though design, fitting, and sewing were extremely important abilities in this occupation, the most skilled aspect of this trade was cutting out the garment from the bolt of cloth. It was the master tailor himself who normally cut out the garments and dealt directly with clients.

In past centuries, the tailor’s clients were male and female members of royalty, the nobility, or simply middle
class land or property owners. His task was to dress these clients with elegance and, in order to accomplish this goal, he had to create models, according to the instructions of his clients. Peasants, or members of the lowest classes, were not his customers in those time periods. On occasion, the tailor was even solicited by the military to provide uniforms for one of its infantry divisions. In that instance, he would be given a swatch of fabric to match. If the request came at a time when the draft was in effect, however, he might have to refuse the work, as he then did not have sufficient male manpower working under him, even though the delivery date of the finished product might be months away. A master tailor was also sometimes asked to design and create costumes for stage and theater, especially after the National Theater in Italy came into existence in 1749.

Tailors in the big cities of Italy sometimes fared better than those in its rural areas, particularly when wealthy individuals on vacation visiting those outlying areas, shunned the work of the latter in favor of that of tailors from the big cities or foreign tailors. Sometimes rural tailors even had to engage second occupations, such as that of a barber, in order to compensate for their lack of work and boost their family income.

Although textile factories have now taken over the primary tasks of the local tailor, there are still many tailors in central and southern Italy who operate their own shops and employ apprentices, in the hope that, when they themselves finally retire, they will be able to pass their businesses down to those whom they have so diligently trained in their trade. These tailors still offer garments for ceremonial occasions and create dresses and suits, as well as repair previously purchased clothes. Even in northern cities such as La Spezia in Liguria which, in the past was swarmed with well-dressed artisans, and had some four hundred active tailors, there are still fathers of couples getting married, lawyers, doctors, and entrepeneurs, who go to the local tailors to have suits, dresses, and other apparel-related items created for them. Of course, the prices of these hand-made items, which may take as many as forty-four hours to create, are extremely high, as compared to those made in the textile factories in shorter periods of time. But the hand-made items manifest attention to the smallest details, which similar items made in the factories tend to lack, and still do not come with the designer price tags that fashions currently seen on the runways during fashion weeks in major Italian cities tend to exhibit.

Today, with industrialization, the tailor might find himself in charge of the individual phases of production in the factories. He may oversee the designer’s design, the pattern maker, and the tailors who cut and sew the fabrics. He may follow the technical aspects of production and all of the economic phases related to the trade. Unfortunately though, the occupation of the tailor is now often included in the category of forgotten crafts.

Thomas Codispoti
Rookie
Rookie
Posts: 28
Joined: 13 Feb 2020, 16:48

Re: Life of a tailor in Italy

Post by Thomas Codispoti »

Thank you for the above writing.
My father, uncle and grandfather were tailors from southern Italy.

There was an excellent show about the life of tailors on Public TV in the US. The show was titled "Men of the Cloth". It reminded me the time I spent in my fathers shop. I highly recommend it.

Thank you again
Thomas

erudita74
Master
Master
Posts: 7374
Joined: 27 Aug 2012, 20:26

Re: Life of a tailor in Italy

Post by erudita74 »

Thomas,

I don't know if the original poster ever read what I had spent my time putting together for him specifically, as he never even thanked me for the time I had spent doing so. So I'm very happy to read that you appreciated my research.

Also thanks for sharing the info about the show you saw on public tv here in the U.S. I had not heard about it. Currently, I don't have access to a PBS station, which is what I believe is what you mean by Public TV but, even when I did, I wasn't aware of the show's existence.

Erudita

Thomas Codispoti
Rookie
Rookie
Posts: 28
Joined: 13 Feb 2020, 16:48

Re: Life of a tailor in Italy

Post by Thomas Codispoti »

You might want to search "Men of the Cloth" on the internet. I think you can purchase a CD of the show...

Thomas

Thomas Codispoti
Rookie
Rookie
Posts: 28
Joined: 13 Feb 2020, 16:48

Re: Life of a tailor in Italy

Post by Thomas Codispoti »

May I copy your post?

AngelaGrace56
Master
Master
Posts: 4934
Joined: 16 Oct 2012, 10:54

Re: Life of a tailor in Italy

Post by AngelaGrace56 »

erudita74 wrote:
08 May 2020, 13:18
Thomas,

I don't know if the original poster ever read what I had spent my time putting together for him specifically, as he never even thanked me for the time I had spent doing so. So I'm very happy to read that you appreciated my research.

Also thanks for sharing the info about the show you saw on public tv here in the U.S. I had not heard about it. Currently, I don't have access to a PBS station, which is what I believe is what you mean by Public TV but, even when I did, I wasn't aware of the show's existence.

Erudita
This looks like a preview to the documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CaiP2tK6MeI

It looks really interesting.

I hope you and your family are keeping well, Erudita. Challenging days!

Angela

erudita74
Master
Master
Posts: 7374
Joined: 27 Aug 2012, 20:26

Re: Life of a tailor in Italy

Post by erudita74 »

Thomas Codispoti wrote:
09 May 2020, 01:17
May I copy your post?
Thomas,
If it's for personal use, then by all means, you can copy it. I have no need for the information that I put together on this topic. I can't find the list of sources (which were either in Italian or English) which I had consulted in compiling the info. If you need that kind of info, you can search the topic, in both Italian and English online, and also on google books.com. I seem to recall that there was even an interview in Italian that I had read online. Normally, I have that kind of info readily at my disposal, but my husband and I temporarily relocated about 6 weeks ago, and most of our stuff, including my books, are currently in storage. Now, due to COVID-19, it could be months, or even a year, before we permanently relocate, and I have access to them. Sorry.
Erudita

Thomas Codispoti
Rookie
Rookie
Posts: 28
Joined: 13 Feb 2020, 16:48

Re: Life of a tailor in Italy

Post by Thomas Codispoti »

It amazes me how few people have any idea what goes into a a tailor made suit. I would watch my and I must admit that I did not appreciate the work, skill and talent that are required. I would watch my dad put 100's of stitches in a lapel so that it fell perfectly.

Good luck on your relocation and stay safe

Thomas

erudita74
Master
Master
Posts: 7374
Joined: 27 Aug 2012, 20:26

Re: Life of a tailor in Italy

Post by erudita74 »

I seem to recall that the author, Gay Talese, talked about the occupation in some of his books, although he was born in Ocean City, NJ, and did not himself follow in his father's footsteps, career-wise. His father, from Calabria, owned a tailor shop there.
Erudita

Post Reply