Tailored Trades: Clothes, Labour and Professional Communities (1880-1939)

The Industrial Revolution fundamentally changed the commercial and social landscape of the modern world. During the long nineteenth century mechanized manufacturing, accelerated modes of production and innovative trades and industries created employment possibilities for an increasingly professionalized workforce.

While factory and clerical workers, sales assistants, parlour maids, trade unionists and other members of a newly established workforce faced changing working hours and environments, a radical transformation of clothes and costumes paralleled this revolution in trades and industries. New vocations required new vestments and uniforms. The Dress Reform Movement advocated a more health-conscious attitude toward clothes and garments. Social mobility expressed itself in new sartorial patterns and specific uniforms or dresses became the markers of professional identity and social mobility. The fashion industry with Paris as its centre developed into an influential new market force while the affordability of mass-produced clothing launched the ready-to-wear industry. At the turn of the twentieth century the histories of dress and labour shared many common threads.

Organised jointly by researchers at the University of Exeter and Northumbria University this Research Network funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council investigates how clothes and labour influenced and assisted in the development of professional communities at the turn of the twentieth century (1880-1939). It brings together scholars from across the Humanities and Social Sciences, focusing on topics such as: hand versus mass-production of clothing; design teaching; the Arts and Crafts movement; the Dress Reform Movement; haute-couture and the emergence of the ready-to-wear industry; uniforms and professional identity; the place of women in the new workforce.

Four thematically linked workshops and the concluding network conference 'Clothes, Working Lives and Social Change (1880-1939)' will be complemented by exhibitions, study days and public lectures in the Bishopsgate Institute in London and the People's History Museum in Manchester.

Principal Investigator

Dr Vike Martina Plock
College of Humanities, University of Exeter


Dr Nicole Robertson
Department of Humanities, Northumbria University

Funded by

AHRC logo