14.4. Milliners, dressmakers, seamstresses, shirtmakers

These girls and women had a very difficult life (except for a few who worked for fashion houses, or in houses of the richer class). They had to work very long hours – up to 18 hours daily – in the work-rooms; the government inspectors and doctors said that they had never seen in other industries such long hours (“The protracted labour described above is, I believe, quite unparalleled in the history of manufacturing processes”) . They often suffered from extreme exhaustion, curvature of the spine, or partial blindness. Many were only 14 to 18 years old. 

(Ralph Barnes Grindrod, The Slaves of the Needle: An Exposure of the Distressed Condition, Moral and Physical, of Dress-makers, Milliners, Embroiderers, Slop-workers, &c, William Brittain, and Charles Gilpin, London, http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-slaves-of-the-needle, 1844)

(Children’s Employment Commission, Second Report, 1843; Millinery and Dress-Making, pp. 114-122) 

Those who were in a workshop had to work two years of apprenticeship without wages (only bed and board), then one year without pay as “improver”, then as “first hand” they received 10 shillings a week; after two more years, if they were very competent, they might be promoted to “second hand” at 20 shillings a week. 

(Dr. William Ord, The Sanitary Circumstances of Dressmakers and other Needlewomen in London”, 6th Report of the Medical Officer of the Privy Council, 1863), quoted in http://www.victorianlondon.org/index-2012.htm, Clothing, Dressmakers)

Those who worked on their own, usually in garrets, had very low incomes, as they were competing against the totality of girls and women in the industry. Many had recourse to prostitution. 

See for a complete description of the working conditions and wages: Mayhew, 1850, Letter VI to XI, and Letter LXXV to LXXVI . There are a number of very distressing situations of poverty.

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