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A dressmaker is a person who makes custom clothing for women, such as dresses, blouses, and evening gown. Also called a mantua-maker (historically) or a modiste.

History of dressmaking

The Oxford English Dictionary first records dressmaker in 1803. Throughout the nineteenth century and until the rise of ready-to-wear, most women who did not make their own clothes at home employed a dressmaker, who copied or adapted the latest clothing ideas from Parismarker, Londonmarker or other fashion centres, based on printed illustrations called fashion plates.

A dressmaker is often professionally trained. Many learn in an apprentice role, under the tutelage of an established dressmaker, while some learn in formal school settings. Still others learn through years of trial and error. Dressmaking methods involve measurements, a trial garment, called a "muslin" or "toile", and several fittings.

Today, custom dressmakers fill a niche between haute couture and ready-to-wear, and are often employed for one-of-a-kind special occasion dresses, such as wedding gowns and prom dresses. Custom dressmakers also create clothing for clients with unique needs, such as performers, artists, disabled or wheelchair-bound, wearers of prosthetic devices, vintage or fashion-forward aficionados, and historical reenactors. They can also recreate, redesign, and reinvent existing garments (such as updating a great-grandmother's gown for modern day use). Some have very specific specialities, such as embroidery, reweaving, and restoring garments. Some are designers who can create a garment entirely "from scratch", and some require a pattern or an existing garment to use as a guide.

See also

Other Notable dressmakers

Related terms

  • Dressmaker as an adjective denotes clothing made in the style of a dressmaker, frequently in the term dressmaker details which includes ruffles, frills, ribbon or braid trim. Dressmaker in this sense is contrasted to tailored and has fallen out of use since the rise of casual wear in the mid-twentieth century.

  • Mantua-maker, in the eighteenth century a maker of mantuas, or in general a dressmaker.

  • Modiste, a maker of fashionable clothing and accessories, with the implication that the articles made reflect the current Parismarker modes.

  • Sewing professional is the most general term for those who make their living by sewing, teaching, writing about sewing, or retailing sewing supplies. She or he may work out of her home, a studio, or retail shop, and may work part-time or full-time. She or he may be any or all or the following sub-specialities:

  • A custom clothier makes custom garments one at a time, to order, to meet an individual customer's needs and preferences.

  • A custom dressmaker specializes in women's custom apparel, including day dresses, careerwear, suits, evening or bridal wear, sportswear, or lingerie.

  • A tailor makes custom menswear-style jackets and the skirts or trousers that go with them, for men or women.

  • An alterations specialist or alterationist adjusts the fit of completed garments, usually ready-to-wear, or restyles them. Note that while all tailors can do alterations, by no means can all alterationists do tailoring.

  • Designers choose combinations of line, proportion, color, and texture for intended garments. They may have no sewing or patternmaking skills, and may only sketch or conceptualize garments.

  • Patternmakers flat draft the shapes and sizes of the numerous pieces of a garment by hand using paper and measuring tools or by computer using AutoCAD based software, or by draping muslin on a dressform.

  • A wardrobe consultant or fashion advisor recommends styles and colors for a client.

  • A seamstress is someone who sews seams, or in other words, a machine operator in a factory who may not have the skills to make garments from scratch or to fit them on a real body. This term is not a synonym for dressmaker.

  • Sewist is a relatively new term, combining the words "sew" and "artist", to describe someone who creates sewn works of art, which can include clothing or other items made with sewn elements.


Deckert, Barbara: Sewing for Plus Sizes: Design, Fit and Construction for Ample Apparel, Taunton, 1999, Appendix B: How to Find, Select, and Work With a Custom Clothier, pp. 142-143.

Picken, Mary Brooks: The FashionDictionary, Funk and Wagnalls, 1957.

Kirke, Betty: "Madeleine Vionnet", Chronicle Books, 1998.

Butterick Publishing Company: "The Art of Garment Cutting, Fitting and Making", 1894.

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