Looking the Part

The Tailor of Gloucester at Work circa 1902 by Helen Beatrix Potter 1866-1943Some people just look like tailors. I tell you they do. They absolutely do. And from day 1 at Newham, there has been a cluster of boys (yes, I’m sad to say, not a single girl!) whose look has simply screamed, collectively, ‘WE BELONG ON SAVILE ROW!’.  These boys are every inch the dapper stereotype. They are discreet dandies – bedecked with tiny sartorial flourishes: bow ties, sleeve garters, round, tortoiseshell spectacles…. they have the lot.   And I have to admit, they look bloody brilliant – even if they look a little LOT at odds with their current surroundings at Newham. Whether it’s intentional or not, these boys look as though they have been plucked from the depths of 1932, and plonked back down in that unsavoury, uncivilised and largely unsatisfactory world: London 2014. And oh! How ill at ease they seem with Fate’s choice to land them in the loud and obnoxious surroundings of an East London College! Jolly unfortunate if you ask me. Ah well boys… location isn’t everything… yet.

Anyway, the crux of the matter is, they look THE PART. They look great. They look like tailors. And I definitely don’t. And, if we’re to believe Matilda’s father, Mr Wormwood…..

“Appearance is 9/10 of the law”


And who wouldn’t believe this man?

My penchant for cropped knits, waist belts and old floral prints may well mark me out as a fan of all things gloriously vintage, but an obvious tailor, I am not. And sometimes this vexes me. So imagine my delight and surprise when I discovered the real trick behind the authentic air of the Boys-Who-Look-Like-Tailors. Clothing helps, yes. Being of the male variety helps too (not that I’ll let that deter me…PAH!). But the biggest helping hand in making these chaps look the part comes from how they sit down to work. An odd thought, I know, but hear me out:

In the Western world, given a task that requires concentration and little to no movement, most people would choose to sit at a table. This is a cultural norm and, as such, is how I have worked thus far on my tailoring projects at Newham. Sitting on a chair, working from a table. Oh what a tedious and blinkered creature of habit it transpires I have been! And an unobservant one too, as you are about to find out.

You see, it totally failed to arouse my curiosity that those Boys-Who-Look-Like-Tailors were not sitting on chairs. For some reason I never questioned why they chose to sit on the tables rather than the seats provided. I never clocked that the familiar stooped silhouette that these boys had adopted was a sight only ever seen during my visits to various tailoring houses on Savile Row. I never even tutted at their incessantly crossed legs, that cursed seated position so ardently avoided by any young lady seeking to stave off the dreaded Varicose Vein. Oh no. I was quite happy minding my own business, plodding along, back straight, legs smooth, sat on something designed to be sat on. A perfect vision of ergonomic success. But I didn’t look like a tailor. And they did.

In fact, so unobservant had I been, so preoccupied with dress and gender in my study of ‘the look’ and so keen to preserve my body for years to come that it felt like the oddest request in the world when, at the start of week 3, V demanded that we all complete our hand sewing tasks sitting on the tables, legs crossed, crouched over our samples of wool which themselves should be balanced on a knee. It was only when doing so (in a state of some discomfort and anxiety for the future of my lovely legs, it must be said), that I peered around at my fellow students and realised… we all looked the part.

 NB. Although I am delighted to have found the key to looking like a tailor, as far as I am aware, the origins of this look derive from a severe lack of space in the traditional workshop rather than there being particular evidence that  hunched, varicosed persons who have permanently numb derrieres produce a finer padding stitch or sew button holes more quickly than their healthy counterparts. I am, therefore, only adopting this positioning on a part-time basis – when friends, family, tutors and generally anyone who I want to impress is watching me. At all other times, I will be sitting on a sumptuous, feathery cushion, work laid out in a delightful manner on the table in front of me, shoulders back, chest out, happy in the knowledge that, when I want to look like a tailor, I can jolly well look like one.


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