Sunday, May 1, 2011

The First Tailor

From The Tailor and the Crow, 1911,  Illustrated  by L. Leslie BrookIn 1902 The Tailor (published by the Journeymen Tailors’ Union) republished an article by William George Jordan, one of my favorite writers and a personal hero, entitled “The First Tailor”. I chuckled as I read the article and thought I’d share it with you.

William George Jordan, late managing editor Ladies' Home Journal and editor-in-chief Saturday Evening Post, Philadelphia, writes to the Fashioner.

The first industry in the world was tailoring. The first maker of clothes and the first wearer was Adam. Of this strange character who appears on the pages of history in the dual role of the first tailor and the first customer we have but a brief biography. The meagre details require sympathetic interpretation to make up a complete story. Of his father and mother no mention is made, but the record shows he was destined to be a clothier of some sort, for he was put into Eden to “dress” the garden. We do not know if he obeyed this command, as his biographers do not so state, for, it seems, instead of “dressing” the garden he “dressed”' himself.

His early marriage and the trouble relating to the theft of some fruit with sundry other unpleasant details preceded his work as a tailor. He began in an humble way; just himself and one assistant. He was one of the early settlers in a newly opened country, a land of natural advantages which must soon attract other inhabitants. With a large and increasing population, he foresaw that there must come a growing demand for clothing if he could introduce them and make popular his new invention. He was a pioneer. He had no competition. He controlled the tailoring trade of the world. Thus with the first industry came the first trust.

As he busily plied his needle, we know not what visions of future business and wealth filled his ambitious mind. But never in his wildest dreams did he conceive that his little tailoring establishment, employing only four hands, doing only a local trade and turning out the first custom-made garment, would be the beginning of a ready-made clothing business that in the United States alone gives labor to hundreds of thousands of hands and covers an investment of a great many million dollars.

But of the great wealth that has come from his invention, Adam, like most pioneers, made no money whatever and died leaving his family without a penny. Even his name is not associated with his wonderful discovery, but such is the sarcasm of time, it appears only in the word Adam's Apple, in memory not of his virtues, but of an escapade of his wife

Though even Carlyle has not recognized Adam's sartorial genius, there are some capital points in the work of this first tailor.

He originated the style himself, he was not a petty trader on the reputation of others and imitating their fashions. Even in the names of the garments he was original. The first suit of clothes, in reality, only a girdle or belt, he humorously termed an “Apron.”

It is difficult to determine the season of the year. Judging from the coolness of the suit it might have been a summer style, but as it was just a little after the fall, it was probably early in the winter.

figleafThey were hand-stitched throughout. They contained no machine work or cheap labor. The workshop was in the open air, and although tailored in the sweat of his brow, no sweatshop work was possible.

The material was not of the best, but Adam found no better at hand. Some of the modern tailors, making shoddy garments at shoddy prices imitate Adam who used “leavings.”

As to Adam, the first customer, when he was alone in the world he never thought of dress, but when he came to the realization of himself as an individual and in relation to others he began to spruce up. Courtship led him to beautify himself, to appear well in the eyes of “the only woman he ever loved.” Human nature has not changed much.

With the entry of society, dress began. Perhaps this is why dress forms so prominent a feature in society today.

After eating the apple of knowledge, the mind of Adam was suddenly illuminated as if by a thousand electric lights. A great thought of large practical worldly wisdom flashed before him. He realized that to amount to anything in the world he must make a good appearance. In this he struck a key note of business success.

Surely he needed to keep up appearances. He reflected over his actions for the two weeks prior and then looked at his future. He had been in bad society and had been seen with a disreputable serpent, he had been led into temptation, he had broken the law, he was implicated in an apple theft as accessory after the fact, he had some of the stolen goods in his possession, he was a fugitive from justice, for he was then in “hiding.” Discovery was certain, he was to be evicted from his home and in disgrace had to face the awfulness of actually earning his own living by work. Then, after a mild attack of remorse, he was equal to the situation, and in a manly way accepted it, made himself a suit of clothes in which he could make a decent appearance, and began life anew, with the courage, hope, pride and confidence that comes from the consciousness of being well dressed.

William George Jordan, “The First Tailor”, The Tailor: Official Organ of the Journeymen Tailors’ Union of America, Dec 1902, p2o.


  1. Excellent, thanks for sharing this article by William George Jordan. It certainly does show his sense of humor!

  2. You are most welcome Jon. Another indication of his sense of humor is the book he published entitled "Feodor Vladimir Larrovitch: An Appreciation of His Life and Works." He co-work this with another author and presented it to "The Authors" club in New York as if Feodar was a real person. However, Feodar was a total fabrication. I believe he did this in response to a contemporary fad that worshiped all things Russian. It was even mentioned in a 1944 NYT article entitled literary hoaxes.

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