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There have not always been shopping malls. Purchasing mass-made, generic clothing has only become commonplace in the past 100 years or so. Before that, most people went to dressmakers when they needed new clothing.

Today, women are the most frequent visitors in dressmakers' shops. These skilled artisans make dresses, coats, suits, skirts, and pants according to patterns. They measure the client, and consult with them about the desired fit and fabric to be used. They usually have patterns on hand, and look them over with the dressmaker, who selects a style or look they'd like. Some clients bring their own patterns to the dressmaker's attention, and request a garment be made from that.

The dressmaker then alters the pattern to fit the client, and cuts out the fabric. Unlike a tailor, who creates patterns, styles, and original designs, dressmakers tend to stick to established sewing guidelines. They may recreate another garment that the client brings in - perhaps a favorite pair of pants they've outgrown, or a jacket with a permanent ink stain they'd like recreated--in a stain resistant fabric this time!

Some dressmakers also repair clothes, sew on buttons, and hem pants, dresses or skirts. They may also work for large clothing manufacturers, and create pieces or put final touches on clothing for mass-sale. Dressmakers often work by hand, or with single-needle sewing machines and hand irons. They are skilled, with excellent eyes and hand/eye coordination. They know a lot about textiles, and which fabric will work for each pattern. They also know which styles look best for which people, and which patterns are more easily alterable.

Dressmakers are a dying breed. Not many people sew nowadays, and the tiny stitches and the sharp, clean hem-lines of hand-made clothing are often only found in the musty racks of second-hand stores. Still, someone will always be out there, making personal, stylish, and well-fitting clothes for a few lucky people who remember to use a dressmaker when they're looking for a new garment.
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
Median Salary:
Highest 10% of Earners:

  Interests and Skills  
In order to work as a dressmaker, one requires good eyesight and manual dexterity. They should sincerely enjoy sewing, have an interest in creating something from nothing, and enjoy making other people happy. Dressmakers have a tendency to be interested in fashion, have excellent communication skills, and be polite, tactful, honest, and good communicators. Finally, they enjoy working with their hands.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Look over sewing patterns with customers and help them to select the right one
  • Recommend appropriate types of fabric
  • Measure customers
  • Alter parts of patterns to improve the fit or change the style a little
  • Create clothing by hand and with simple machines
  • Ask customers to try garments on and make any alterations
  • May handle any administrative duties
  • The typical day for a dressmaker mostly involves working with clients, measuring, sewing, picking stitches, and re-sewing sections that don't fit as well. Dressmakers who are self-employed will spend some of each day advertising, as well as looking after the business side of things. Dressmakers may travel around the community if they work for themselves or a dressmaking agency to do fittings with the clients.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Dressmakers work in factories making garments for mass-sale, in custom order shops for unique clients, and in dry-cleaning or clothing repair shops. They work for theater and opera companies. They also work on staff with retail stores, looking after alteration requests. They area also often self-employed, working out of their homes or a small office.
  • Their place of work and their schedules depend on where they are employed. Those with factories or clothing stores may work regular hours with weekends and evenings free, but those who work on their own or with theater companies may have to work longer hours in the event of a rush or large order.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Dressmakers may become tailors, or open their own dressmaking and tailoring shop. They may look for work with retail stores, theater companies, clothing manufacturers, department stores, dry cleaners, or designers. They can even become clothing designers, fashion consultants, or work in textile art, fabric printing, or open a shop to sell fabric and sewing notions. They can also work for museums or historical societies, creating costumes for the staff or working with displays.

  Educational Paths  
Dressmakers are generally avid recreational sewers, who take their high school home economics training to a new level. They may apprentice under an established dressmaker, or take tailor courses or home science courses at college or university. Some design or tailoring courses cover things like advanced sewing, pattern making and altering, fit, textiles, and design.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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