The 1871 Census marked the first regularly scheduled collection of national statistics in Canada. It had officially begun April 2, 1871 and as enumerators collected the information from some 3,485,761 individuals, there were many tailors and dressmakers listed.
It was early days in the Dominion of Canada, the beginning of the the Gilded Age in the USA, and just past the midway point of the Victorian era in Britain. In France, it was the Belle Époque and Paris was thought of as the ultimate source for all things luxury, especially fashion, and Charles Frederick Worth, having established, in 1868, (just one year after Canadian confederation), the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, des Confectionneurs et des Tailleurs pour Dame (Chambre Syndicale for Couture, clothing manufacturers and tailors for women) was the leader, his influence strongly felt by woman no matter where they were, and those in Canada were not out of sync by very much. Original dresses and images in fashion magazines made their way across the ocean much quicker than they once had and the customer and the dressmakers and tailors followed what they saw. And here, just as there, the wealthy woman needed a complete wardrobe, one that would include dresses for morning, afternoon, and evening as well as lavish “undress” items such as tea gowns and nightgowns, which were worn only in the privacy of one’s home, and she would turn to her special couturier to provide them. Those lower down the financial ladder could obtain what they needed from local dressmakers and/or tailors, who ran relatively small-scale establishments that catered to their local markets. The new Department Stores, as their inventory of ready-to-wear was still primarily limited to men’s shirts and other fittings, women’s blouses, undergarments and accessories, and textiles by the yard, also had makers on staff, in able to fully meet the needs of their clientele. Many women, not able afford the work of the dressmaker or tailor, made clothes for themselves and for their families, at home.
Many of the tailors, dressmakers, and larger retail businesses followed the example of Mr. Worth not only in his fashion, but by also in the labelling of their clothing, guaranteeing their authorship, and providing a degree of exclusivity and quality. Among the earliest labelled goods in extant in Canada are from the the Montréal ladies’ tailor J.J. Milloy, dressmakers William Stitt and Co, and O’Brien in Toronto and tailor G.M. Holbrook in Ottawa.
As Canada grew, the number of tailors and dressmakers, like most other places in the world, decreased, as mass production took over. The ready-to-wear garment was a less-expensive and less-time-needed alternative, that fit most of the populations needs. Of course the tailor and the dressmaker are still listed in current census’ today, but in much smaller numbers. Will they disappear entirely, or is there still a customer that wants that special exclusivity?