14.7. Tailors

The earnings for 1777 to 1795 were 22s. a week, equivalent to 36 loaves; in 1800, 25s., equivalent to 18 loaves; in 1802, 27s., equivalent to 31 loaves; in 1810, 33s., equivalent to 24 loaves;  and in 1814, 36s., equivalent to 35 loaves. 

(The Gorgon, A Weekly Political Publication, London, No. 19, Sept. 26, 1818; Comparative Situation of Journeyman Tailors before and since the last war, pp. 148-151)

The tailors in London had a perfect monopoly. Someone who wanted to have a piece of clothing made up, had to go to a “house of call”, where a tailor would be assigned to his order. Each “house of call” had a fixed list of tailors. 

(Ibid., pp. 157-160)

From 1820 to 1850 at least, the tailors were divided into two different groups, the “honourables”, who did the work themselves on their own premises, at the standard rate of 6 pence an hour, and the “dishonourables”, who gave the work out to men and women who would do the work at a minimum price. Generally the “honourables” did bespoke work, and the “dishonourables” the ready to wear. In 1820 the “honourables” were about 5,000 to 6,000, and in 1850 only 3,000; the “dishonourables” in 1850 were 18,000. The movement “downwards” was due to the increased price competition, the use of women by the subcontractors, and the change from day-wage to piece-rate. 

In 1850, the best part of the tailors earned in theory 30 shillings a week, but due to slack periods, the real average was about 25 shillings; they could live well. The majority, in the informal area, earned about 10 shillings, and a lot of them were in hardship.

(Mayhew, 1850, Letters XVI, XVII, and XVIII)

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