Closer Look – Photograph of a tailor, Mr Collett

As a way to make our collection more accessible we have decided to share some of our objects here on the blog and give you a little highlight and history surrounding the object. To make it interesting we used a random number generator to select the accession number of the object for us. This way you will get to see a wider variety of objects. So please enjoy today’s randomly selected Closer Look:


1992.1156 – photograph of tailor, Mr Collett, whose business was in Hill Street, Trowbridge, Wiltshire about 1890.


Tailors were very important during the Victorian era, even more so in a town like Trowbridge where the woollen cloth industry was so vital and popular. Tailors made clothes for both men and women. Though many garments came mass produced in factories (though nothing like the scale of the fast fashion industry of today) not all garments were made this way. Coats, weskits, breeches, stays, and gowns were custom made-to-measure. So, no matter what a person’s social or economic status, everyone was a potential customer of a tailor.

This image shows one of the many tailors operating in Trowbridge during the late Victorian and it is a great picture for so many reasons. First it shows that when it comes to taking photos, nothing much really changes – this picture is clearly posed as the tailor has a garment in his lap that is already sewn, he isn’t actually doing anything with the scissors! Photos took anywhere from 1 to 15 minutes to take depending on which process the photographer used, so it is no wonder that Mr Collett was sat in a pose that was so easy to maintain. Another thing we love about this picture is how Mr Collett is sat. Those of you who do yoga may have heard of the ‘tailor pose’ or ‘tailor position’. This term originated several centuries ago, when tailors used to sew all clothing by hand. Back then, tailors often sat cross-legged (criss cross applesauce) on the table across from their sewing machine. This prevented any cloth or material from falling onto the ground.

In the image we see a few of the tailors tools – his scissors, a tin box with what looks like tailors chalk in it and a round tin which likely contained pins. Tailors used a great many tools, most of which are very similar, if not identical to what modern tailors and hobbyist sewers use today. In our collection we have some great examples of the kinds of tools Mr Collett would have used. Some of these are pictured below but we also have: tailors chalk, yardsticks, clothes brushes, flat irons, pattern weights and even sewing pattern books.

2007.32 Tailors shears
2007.32.2 Vincent Square right angled ruler showings inches and metric
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