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Tailoring Career Information: Becoming a Professional Tailor

Research the requirements to become a tailor. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in tailoring.

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Do I Want to Be a Tailor?

Traditionally, tailors design and alter men's clothing. However, some may choose to work on both men's and women's clothing. Individuals require a basic understanding of sewing and textiles before becoming professional tailors. They might be self-employed or work for department stores, bridal shops or other specialty stores. Standing and bending for long periods of time might be required. Tailors who are self-employed may spend significant time seeking new clients.

Job Requirements

Most tailors learn their skills on the job by working with more experienced tailors. Workers may enhance those skills by attending postgraduate tailoring and alterations classes. The following table outlines common requirements to become a tailor as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Common Requirements
Degree Level No degree is required to pursue this career
Experience Apprenticeships under experienced tailors are available but rare; informal training while working for a tailor is usually sufficient
Key Skills Attention to detail and customer-service skills, ability to operate and use sewing equipment and tools

Step 1: Take Introductory Sewing Courses

Introductory sewing courses provide students with knowledge about fabric choice, pattern selection and how to use a variety of basic sewing tools. Junior colleges and community learning programs tend to offer sewing courses for beginners, as well as courses for intermediate and advanced sewers.

Several colleges offer certificate programs related to tailoring and sewing. Some programs are designed for basic alterations, but other programs are intended for those who want to specialize in areas like tailoring men's apparel. Coursework in these programs cover apparel alterations, traditional tailoring, contemporary tailoring, sewing tools and fashion entrepreneurship.

Step 2: Learn to Use Tailoring Tools

Most tailors use tools associated with alterations, such as measuring tapes. Different types of measuring instruments allow tailors to take very specific measurements. For example, tailors use a regular measuring tape for body measurements, but often use short rulers to mark buttonhole spacing and clothing hem-lengths on fabric. Special rulers, such as a French curve, help tailors make alteration adjustments on angled seam lines.

Other essential tools that tailors must learn to use include sewing machines, sergers, cutting tools and other sewing notions. Sewing machines allow tailors to quickly sew pieces of fabric together to make custom designed outfits, whereas sergers bind fabric edges to prevent the fabric seam from fraying. Cutting tools, such as scissors and trimming shears, are used to cut fabric, trim loose threads and to make special alteration cuts. Sewing notions include hand-sewing needles, thimbles, thread, safety pins, straight pins and almost any other small, non-mechanical sewing tool.

Step 3: Work with Professional Tailors

Even after taking alterations and sewing courses, entry-level tailors should work with professionals before attempting to start their own tailoring business. The BLS reported that many tailors get their start in the industry by apprenticing under experienced tailors. Experienced tailors can provide real-world training that many college programs can't replicate. Additionally, working with established tailoring companies allows entry-level tailors to learn about industry-specific business operations like managing clothing orders or methods of design by working with fashion designers.

Success Tip

  • Develop a portfolio. In order to find employment, it is essential that an aspiring tailor have a portfolio showcasing his or her work. The portfolio can contain samples of clothing the tailor has altered as well as samples of original pieces the tailor has created, if applicable.

Step 4: Choose a Business Strategy

After receiving initial training and gaining a few years of experience, tailors often have to choose a business strategy of either working with an established tailoring company or starting a tailoring business. Those who work with established companies tend to focus more on customer care, designing outfits and making alterations. Tailors who start up their own businesses perform all the duties of a regular tailor but they also run their businesses, which includes creating marketing campaigns, finding new clients, hiring additional workers and dealing with budgetary concerns.

Success Tip

  • Join a professional organization. Joining a professional organization, such as the Custom Tailors and Designers Association, can provide tailors with a variety of resources to help further their careers. These resources can include access to continuing education courses, professional listings, marketing resources and networking opportunities.
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