In the world of textiles, tailors, dressmakers and custom sewers work behind the scenes fashioning different types of fibers, textiles and cloth into industrial goods, household goods, consumer fashions, accessories, costumes and other wearable goods used by businesses and consumers. In addition to creating custom pieces of apparel, tailors and dressmakers make alterations and repairs to clothing as required by customers. Custom sewers also work in factories, shops and production environments where they work on large-scale custom sewing projects that benefit others. Tailors, dressmakers and custom sewers use hand tools, specialty sewing machines, embroidery machines and sergers to piece together various raw materials and fibers – from thread and cloth to wire and rubber – into useable goods for a wide range of other industries.
- A majority of dressmakers, tailors and custom sewers learn their craft through on-the-job training opportunities.
- There is a large amount of international competition for jobs, however, as consumer demand increases, there will be more jobs.
- Dressmakers, tailors and custom sewers are likely to be more in demand as the job force ages and causes many to retire.
- Job opportunities are most plentiful in metropolitan areas and for those in close proximity to the raw materials such as cotton.
- Dressmaker, tailor and custom sewer occupations are ideal careers for those who wish to be self-employed.
- Earnings are lower than average for entry-level custom sewers and seamstresses, however, for top-level tailors and dressmakers who work with prominent fashion houses and department stores, pay levels are significantly higher.
Work Environment for Dressmakers, Tailors and Custom Sewers
While individual work environments for dressmakers, tailors and custom sewers may vary due to the wide range of demands in this industry, these settings are somewhat similar in the actual work performed and the commitment to the craft as a whole. Dressmakers and tailors are most often found in specialty shops, dry cleaners, department store fashion departments and in high fashion companies. They may work in comfortable surroundings in a shop or studio or work hands-on with clientele taking measurements and making hand alterations. Custom sewers may work anywhere from small private sewing shops to large factory sewing and upholstery centers. The job requires a great deal of sitting, walking, lifting and repetitive use of the hands and feet. All sewing professionals work on average eight-hour shifts, with work weeks ranging from 20 to 50 hours.
Education, Training and Licensing
Dressmakers, tailors and custom sewers can begin work as early as age 16 in most regions and are not required to have a high school diploma, although it is preferred by many employers. Students who wish to get into sewing as a career should focus on studies in home economics, art, mathematics, business and science to get a well-rounded education that will prepare them for this work. For those who wish to go on to own a business, some vocational or college education in business administration would be helpful.
Custom sewers are most often trained on the job to perform the variety of tasks needed to measure, cut, piece together and sew textiles and fibers into useable goods. They must have excellent hand-eye control, manual dexterity, physical strength, and have good reading comprehension and an eye for detail. Tailors and dressmakers also learn on the job, but should have several years of experience involving other types of sewing, fashion design and art, so a college degree in fashion and design is a good way to gain this knowledge.
Tailors, sewers and dressmakers most often learn from studying under other more experienced professionals. This is an informal type of apprenticeship that has been passed down for many generations within the custom textile industries. Inexperienced sewers may train for one to three years before they are skilled enough to work unsupervised or do freelance work. Many tailors and dressmakers do custom work from their homes and have little to no supervision and a great deal of creative freedom, learning as they go.
Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook and Earnings
Dressmakers, tailors and custom sewers held 26,450 of the total related jobs in the U.S., according to the most recent research published in May 2009 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
BLS expects employment in this field to grow 5% from 2008 to 2018, which is slightly above average for all occupations. This above average growth is due to the ever-growing need for new consumer and commercial goods related to textiles and fibers. In addition, due to technological advancements in textile development, costs to obtain fibers and produce different types of textiles have begun to decrease, which appeals to the industry as a means to manufacture more and cheaper products. Freelance dressmakers and tailors are in high demand as consumers want custom pieces for special events and to make their clothing last longer.
The BLS reports indicate that the average annual wage for tailors, dressmakers and custom sewers was $28,300 as of May 2009. The middle 50% earned approximately $26,640. While the lowest 10% of inexperienced sewing professionals earned an annual income at or below $17,330, most likely due to self-employment or part-time work, the top 10% earned high incomes of $41,920 or more per year in 2009.