Prior to the twentieth century dressmaking was a necessity in the homes of most, or the work of tailors for those who could afford their services. Dressmaking fabrics tended to be functional and affordable or exotic and expensive, with the upper classes importing fine silks and heavy brocade fabrics from all corners of the empire and beyond.
During the First and Second World Wars, dressmaking fabric, like many other commodities, was hard to come by. With resources directed towards uniform production, clothing was rationed from 1941 and the ‘make-do and mend’ philosophy meant clothes were often created from older garments or textile items. The fashion of the day reflected the scarcity of dress fabric, with skirts and jackets becoming close-fitting and tailored. It was not until the 1950s, with fabric becoming more readily available, that full skirts with layers of petticoats emerged onto the fashion scene. Colours and patterns became bolder and brighter as the western world shed its post-war austerity, whether women bought their clothes off-the-peg or used these delightful new fur fabric to make clothes of their own.
The 1960s saw wide use of man-made fabrics that were cheap to manufacture, available in designs that reflected the era and were easy to wash. This was soon replaced with a new love of natural fabrics such as cheesecloth, denim and pretty, printed cottons, leading to softer, less structured clothing for women during the 1970s.
Different fads and fashions have risen and died during the last few decades, but a recent trend has seen a return to dressmaking – now certainly as a pastime rather than as a necessity. Women (and men) are turning to this craft, choosing their own fabrics and notions to create their own one-off pieces. Such renewed interest in dressmaking has refuelled the production and availability of fantastic new fabrics and seen a quest for retro and vintage materials, thus securing the future of dressmaking well into the twenty-first century.