Smoking & Drinking: cherished industry traditions

I visited my friend Thomas Mahon on his blog The English Cut today (I use the term “friend” loosely as Mr. Mahon deigns to acknowledge my existance) and I’m delighted to note that across the pond, the trade shares some striking resemblances as exemplified by his posting on how to spot a drunken tailor.


According to Mr Mahon, cutters and tailors tend to drink heavily and while he makes no mention of smoking, we do a lot of that too. In fact -and until quite recently- one of the unmentionable memes of the trade was that you did not -or should not- trust anyone who didn’t smoke. Seriously. Some still feel that way -often vendors- those who continued to smoke quite heavily in and out of their booths at the previously annual Mecca-trek (The Bobbin Show) in Atlanta. This in spite of copious signage advising criminal penalties for non-compliance. In fact, if you needed a cigarette, all you needed to do was find some guy missing a finger or two and he’d happily help you out -the folks missing fingers came up through the ranks having cut their teeth figuratively -or fingers literally- on the cutting table. Drinking was always an issue of moderation although the minus-appendage-guys (all of them shameless flirts) were often good for a snort from a hip flask. However, most vendors and attendees were able to postpone alcohol consumption having finagled an invitation to that evening’s YKK party (YKK always threw the best parties).

Reading The English Cut is interesting; I can find terms that are unknown to the newest generation here but that are still in widespread usage within the trade, such as “canvassing”. Canvas refers to a coarse horsehair fabric used to stabilize portions of a garment such as collars and the like. On this side of the pond, the term canvas evolved to refer to interfacing -as that’s what canvas is- to the extent that usage of the term “canvas” has become an identifier of one’s longevity in the industry. Old school uses “canvas” to refer to any kind of interfacing. This is the reason why interfacing pattern pieces are identified with a letter “C” rather than the letter “I”. The red stripe running along the edge of the horsehair goods could be an explanation for why the pattern color code for canvas is red. Actually, I just made that up. Let’s see how many “experts” pick up on the red stripe thing, pushing the manufactured myth til it becomes a part of that landscape.

By the way, I wasn’t supposed to tell you about the smoking thing because it’s kind of embarrassing to the old-timers in the biz and I was supposed to be writing about Thomas but I’ve flogged this topic for all it’s worth except for a ‘skiffle’ -remind me sometime to tell you about a ‘hangar fix’, another time honored industry tradition.

Oh -and speaking of zippers- American & Efird is the zipper and thread resource I’d recommend for DEs. This company has made major financial and organizational commitments to filling small orders for anyone who wants to buy the company’s products. The link for U.S. producers is here.

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6 comments

  1. Kathleen, I believe you might have stumbled across the key, missing piece to understanding the decline of manufacturing in America. If we could just get back to the exuberant, glorious days of smoking, drinking and shamelessly flirting on the job, the next generation would be more enthusiastic about a career in manufacturing. What do you think?

  2. Mike C says:

    Oh -and speaking of zippers- American & Efird is the zipper and thread resource I’d recommend for DEs. This company has made major financial and organizational commitments to filling small orders for anyone who wants to buy the company’s products. The link for U.S. producers is here.

    I’ll second the recommendation on A&E. Great company – very easy to work with.

  3. Jay Arbetman says:

    Fortunately on the sales side, we never drank much. We were too stoned to sit up at the bar.

    Seriously, if I was not at my usual post at Woods (restaurant and bar in the garment district vintage 1986) at 5:01 PM, they knew I was dead.

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