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Be a Custom Tailor: Education and Career Overview

Jul 10, 2020

Should I Become a Custom Tailor?

Custom tailors discuss clients' clothing needs, measure and fit clients, cut fabric, and sew garments to create custom clothing pieces. They may also perform alterations on existing articles of clothing. Many hours spent seated at a sewing machine are required in this occupation.

Career Requirements

Education Level No degree is required; a certificate or degree can expand career opportunities
Education Field Fashion design or related field
Experience Apprenticeships can provide necessary training; professional portfolio
Key Skills Attention to detail and customer-service skills, critical-thinking skills, time management skills, ability to operate and use sewing equipment and tools, finger dexterity, knowledge of design techniques
Salary $33,085 (median salary for tailors, dressmakers, or custom sewers as of 2015)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online, Payscale.com

Step 1: Learn to Use Sewing Tools

Custom tailors use sewing tools such as measuring tapes, sewing machines, cutting tools, sergers, and various sewing notions. Sewing machines enable tailors to sew pieces of fabric together to make custom outfits quickly, while sergers bind fabric edges to prevent the seams from fraying. Scissors and trimming shears are used to cut fabric, trim loose threads, and make special cuts. Sewing notions include hand-sewing needles, thimbles, thread, safety pins, straight pins, and other small, non-mechanical sewing tools.

Success Tip:

  • Take advantage of inexpensive sewing resources. Many free resources are available to learn sewing skills and tool use, including books, free patterns, and instructional online videos. Sewing workshops and classes are often available through local fabric and craft stores for a small fee.

Step 2: Consider Obtaining Postsecondary Education

Formal education is not required to become a custom tailor, however, associate's and bachelor's degrees in textiles and fashion design are available. Pursuing a degree allows students to ask questions, network with professionals in the clothing industry, and practice their design and construction skills. Alternatively, technical colleges and trade schools may offer certificate programs or semester-long courses in sewing and textiles.

Success Tip:

  • Develop a portfolio. Custom tailors can begin developing their portfolios while in school and update the portfolios as they advance through their careers. A portfolio should contain samples of original pieces the tailor has made and alteration work the tailor has completed.

Step 3: Gain Experience

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that aspiring custom tailors can gain experience through apprenticeships or assistant-level jobs by working with a master tailor in addition to or as an alternative to formal education. However, the BLS also found that formal apprenticeship opportunities may be rare.

By working in apprenticeships, tailors gain hands-on experience working with clients, obtaining their measurements, doing fittings, and assessing their clothing preferences. Common alterations include expanding and narrowing the waist and chest of garments, and resetting collars.

Step 4: Develop a Business Plan

Custom tailors can choose to work for an established company or start their own tailoring businesses. Custom tailors working for established companies tend to deal in customer care, designing outfits, and making alterations, while tailors who start their own business also deal with the operations of the company. Self-employed custom tailors may handle budgets, create marketing campaigns, and hire additional employees.

Success Tips:

  • Continue education. Custom tailors can benefit from continuing their education to improve current skills and learn new ones throughout their careers. For example, tailors can take advanced courses covering topics in marketing, sourcing and networking.
  • Join a professional organization. Joining a professional organization, such as the Custom Tailors and Designers Association, can provide tailors with resources to help further their careers. Benefits include access to continuing education courses, professional listings, marketing resources, and networking opportunities.
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