Essential Reading: The Tailor & Cutter
adapted from Eric Musgrave
Friday 10th of February 2012

Vintage copies of The Tailor & Cutter magazine are keenly sought by aficionados of fine menswear. The British title was the most celebrated publication for the bespoke trade and its attendant suppliers, establishing a worldwide reputation from 1866 until its closure in 1972. The magazine was a fascinating amalgam of a technical journal, an industry news magazine, a style publication and a society gossip sheet of the well dressed, and was central to a remarkable business that promoted expertise in cutting and tailoring and trained generations of craftsmen across the globe.

The man responsible for the extraordinary reputation of The Tailor & Cutter was a passionate Scotsman called John Williamson. In January 1866 he produced in Scotland The Tailor, the first incarnation of the magazine, which called for social reform to improve working conditions in the industry. By the time he relocated to London later that year, he saw the potential for a journal to provide regular communication and technical information. Backed by one Angelica Patience Fraser, in September 1866 Williamson launched two publications, The Tailor and The Cutter, but these were soon merged into one.

He wrote in 1869: “Our mission is to put a superior class of literature dealing with the science and art of the trade into the hands of every tailor.” In the densely packed pages of the early editions, information and education were key ingredients, backed by detailed patterns for cutters and lengthy discussions about the merits of particular cutting systems and techniques. By 1903 the reputation of The Tailor & Cutter was so well known that Beatrix Potter had a mouse reading a copy on the cover of her book The Tailor of Gloucester.

Happily for modern-day readers, the magazine featured from its earliest days illustrations of the latest fashionable styles. From the start, these often exquisite engravings were for sale so that tailors outside the capital could show their clients what cosmopolitan trendsetters were wearing.

In an early – and slightly impertinent – example of unofficial celebrity endorsement, some T&C illustrations from the Victorian era featured the likenesses of British and European royalty as well as well-known personalities such as Benjamin Disraeli, W E Gladstone and Charles Dickens. The T&C was also an early adopter of photography, although this expensive process was used only sparingly in the first years of the 20th century.

In 1884 the magazine described itself as “A Journal of Art, Science and Trade”. In 1932 it added that it was “The Leading Authority On Clothes”. By 1945 this had been significantly amended to be “The Authority on Style and Clothes”.

From 1945 the title was given fresh impetus by a new editor, the appropriately-named John Taylor. With no prior knowledge of the trade, Taylor embraced the cause of correct dressing and fine style with singular enthusiasm. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the magazine flourished, drawing nearly 20,000 subscribers. The ads of the post-1945 era are as fascinating as the editorial – many regular names still flourish, such as Dormeuil, Harrison’s of Edinburgh, Lear, Brown & Dunsford, H Lesser, Porter & Harding, and Dugdales of Huddersfield. Such ads offered modern eyes an extraordinary insight into the size, breadth and variety of the tailoring supply trade in that era. From Irish Handwoven Tweeds to Livery and Uniform Cloths, and from the Hoff-man Klear-Buk Press to the “Atmospheric” Gas Stove, everything that a tailoring firm might require was advertised in the T&C.

Taylor made the T&C less focused on patterns and technical features and more about matters of style and contemporary social life. As a complement to the trade title, in 1950, Taylor conceived and launched Man About Town, an early example of a modern men's style magazine, so The Tailor & Cutter was an inspiration for a line of consumer magazines that leads right to The Rake.

The end for the T&C came in 1972, a few years after Taylor departed for another company. The rise of ready-to-wear and the drastic reduction of the UK tailoring trade meant there was no commercially sized audience for a regular publication.

In 2010 financial contributions by Savile Row Bespoke, Scabal, Dormeuil and the UK Fashion & Textile Association enabled The Gallery of Costume in Manchester, England to complete the binding of its archive of The Tailor and Cutter. This superb collection, which is regularly viewed by academics and students, comprises 116 volumes covering the years 1868 to 1969.

Taylor’s right-hand woman, Marie Scott, is still involved in promoting fine British tailoring and good living through her site.

For further enquiries on the T&C archives, you can visit the Manchester Galleries website, or phone +44 (0) 161 224 5217.


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