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Women's Tailoring: Genesis and Evolution
Feature: 8/1/2010


here’s nothing quite like a well-designed suit. It’s an instant lift to your working wardrobe and changes your stance, attitude and confidence. Perhaps that is why the suit has become a staple in the high-flying executive’s wardrobe. But the tailored jacket is not just for the office. In terms of trends, women’s tailoring is having a renaissance at the moment. From Balmain to Paul Smith, some of the world’s best designers have recognised the versatility of the jacket and last season’s catwalk shows recognised this fashion must-have.

To celebrate the versatility of women’s tailoring, demonstrate its applications and discuss its future, the V&A organised a special seminar day in conjunction with one of Savile Row’s finest women’s tailors, Carol Alayne and the luxury British brand Jaegar.

It was an interesting and insightful day, which covered many areas of tailoring especially in relation to the evolution of women’s tailoring. Whilst fabrics, materials and styles have changed, the techniques used on Savile Row have remained the same for about 200 years.

For example, three quarters of the stitches of a jacket made on Savile Row are still done by hand to ensure stability and structure. Carol Alayne continues to use a tailor’s cushion (ham) and a clapper (a block of wood to shape the jacket and draw out moisture after pressing) handed down to her by her mentor to create bespoke garments for an exclusive list of clientele.

From collaborating with Jose Levy of Chanel to creating a uniform for the British Olympic Shooting Team, Carol Alayne is an expert in her field and she breaks the art of tailoring down into three different principles; physiology, technique and psychology.

When a client first comes in for a fitting Carol hides the mirror because this makes an assumption on the physiology; in other words, clients tend to alter their natural stance as soon as they see a mirror. For Carol, it’s important to see how a client stands so that she can balance out proportions before moving onto using the techniques to create a bespoke jacket.

Typically it takes 10,000 hours to learn the skill of tailoring. From preparing the first base with loose cotton to cutting the fabric, Carol’s work is intense and part of an entire community of waistcoat makers, coat makers and overcoat makers. Bespoke is based on craft and relationships and ultimately she wants to help build women’s confidence.

The psychology behind her garments lies in the idea that, “women should have the same opportunities in investing in their wardrobes in the same way that they invest in their careers.” They want a uniform that speaks their language and is an escalator for success. Her designs are therefore created for both aesthetic and functional reasons.


Whether Carol is creating a tailored dress or a full two-piece suit, she always builds the piece to last by adding extra marks so it can be taken out or in because ultimately the tailor is responsible for the life of the jacket.
Lilian Bucke, the design manager for women, and Shalina Parti, director of buying for women and men at the luxury British Brand Jaegar, also agreed on the importance of the tailored jacket. They may not deal with bespoke but their design process still follows a similar pattern to Savile Row.

When they begin to design a collection, Jaegar play on their heritage and look back at their archives to inspire the designs of their next collections. Fabric also plays a huge part in the process as Jaegar is famous for using natural fabrics such as fine wool, cashmere, camel hair, silk and angora. They tend to use British and Italian wool in their suit collections and source silks from the Far East.

It is still important that the jacket is produced in calico first and then fitted to a live model just to check the balance. The Jaegar Autumn/Winter 2009 collection is certainly elegant and of a high quality, showing how tailoring has been incorporated into the high street and the wardrobe of modern women.

The corporate wear designer may have different priorities to Carol Alayne but their philosophy is the same. Designing tailored pieces for the office or a uniform is all about creating or reinforcing confidence in the public eye.

As the number of successful businesswomen increases, so have tailors had to adapt to the softer lines of women’s suits. Corporate clothing designers also have to adapt to these ideas when creating a uniform. If a staff member feels good in their uniform and confident then they are more likely to perform well at their job.

From bespoke tailoring to well-designed jackets, Carol Alayne and Jaegar encapsulate the art of tailoring – an art that can be adapted by corporatewear designers to help build a professional and happier workforce.

Author: Rebecca Bryant
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