Have you ever wondered about hiring a professional to sew or create clothes? If you have, you may have gotten overwhelmed by the number of different titles in the sewing industry. Some people call themselves dressmakers while others may use titles like sewists or even seamster. So, Seamstress vs Tailor, what’s the difference? And does it really matter?
A seamstress sews garments using precut fabric and may take on some alterations or repairs. Tailors work with finished pieces, making alterations to customize the fit or style for a specific person.
The two professionals may have similar skills but they are quite different. While there is some cross over, knowing the differences can help you get the job done right the first time. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the differences in tailors vs. seamstresses, so you can select the correct professional for your project.
Seamstress vs. Tailor: Key Points
A seamstress is specifically a female role. If you are talking about a male seamstress the proper term is seamster. Seamstresses often create custom clothes from scratch, and may alter items. They may also work with accessories like hats more than other apparel professionals.
A tailor used to be strictly a men’s profession. However, today the title of tailor can refer to anyone who modifies clothes. Tailors primarily alter existing garments, hence the term “tailoring”. Most often this is to make the garment fit better and may fix damage to clothes such as patching a tear or darning socks. They often take measurements and work with special attire like wedding dresses and suits. In addition, they frequently make alterations to items like button-up shirts and jeans.
What’s the Difference Between Tailor and Seamstress?
The main difference between a tailor and a seamstress is if they create clothes or alter them. Seamstresses focus on creating custom garments. Tailors, on the other hand, specialize in customizing premade items.
Skills and Job Duties
Tailors and seamstresses know how to sew by hand and with machines. Both can rip out and tuck in seams and hem garments. They may also have more specialized skills such as embroidery and beading.
Seamstresses often know how to embroider by either hand or machine. Tailors may also embroider but it is less common. Depending on their skill level, they may know how to do very intricate designs. However, if you are looking for someone who does extremely detailed embroidery, you are looking for an embroiderer.
Another important skill that both seamstresses and tailors share, is the ability to take measurements. They both work to refine clothes to your needs, so they must be able to take measurements. This allows them to make perfectly fitting clothes or modifications that complement and fit you.
Apparel professionals also have other special skills and duties depending on their niche. For example, tailors who work in a bridal shop will be skilled at tailoring multiple layers of fabric and working with lace, satin, and similar materials.
Seamstresses and tailors use sewing machines as well as basic straight needles, threads, and scissors. They may also use curved or hook needles, crochet hooks, and knitting needles if they work with other materials. However, scissors, thread, and a needle are the bare minimum for most apparel professionals.
They often have specialized equipment like irons, presses, steamers, sergers, embroidery machines, and long arm machines too. The equipment they need and use varies depending on their specialty, experience, and budget.
Historically, apparel professionals may have apprenticed to learn their craft. While that is still an option, it is not as common in many developed nations. Most often they are trained at official academies or are provided with on-the-job training.
The training received can vary from a college degree, a certificate program, or simply a few hours of hands-on work. Due to the nature of their work, seamstresses often have more training than tailors. If you are looking for very basic tailoring, such as applique, some individuals may have no formal training at all. However, they likely have life experience instead. If you are looking to hire someone for such a job, make sure to ask to see examples of their work and if they have any other qualifications.
Traditional training consists of in-person classes, but online courses are increasing in popularity. Tailoring academies, such as Bespoke, often offer both online and offline options. Because of this, professional and unofficial training is becoming more accessible and affordable. If you are looking to receive official training as a tailor or a seamstress, make sure your program offers a certificate or similar option.
Seamstresses and tailors tend to work in department stores, boutiques, factories, or dry cleaners. For example, many bridal boutiques have an in-house tailor. However, it is increasingly popular for them to be self-employed and work from a storefront or freelance from their home.
If you are looking for an apparel professional, you can usually find one through word of mouth or a quick internet search. Likewise, bridal boutiques or haberdasheries can usually recommend a professional.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average income for custom sewers is $32,150. Despite being skilled laborers, most seamstresses and tailors make less than $15 per hour. Seamstresses and tailors in the performing arts industry tend to make the most, averaging $45,820 annually. Some apparel professionals are moving to work out of their homes to reduce overhead fees. This is potentially good if you are looking to hire a quality professional but do not have as much to spend.
If you are working directly with an individual seamstress or tailor, it is common to tip for a job well done. Tipping is especially welcome if it was a large or complex order. However, tipping is not required. If you are working with a company and not an individual, ask the manager before tipping to make sure your tailor gets the tip. Likewise, some companies do not allow tips.
What Are the Other Roles in Apparel Sewing?
Positions in apparel sewing include a wide range of careers. There are sewing educators, quality managers, plus many other options. Some people work in subsets of seamstress or tailoring, or specialize. Dress and costume makers are common examples of this. These people focus on a few specific items and may both design, sew, and sometimes custom tailor the items.
Some specialize in designing and/or making patterns. This could range from fashion designers to people who digitize embroidery designs. With advancements in technology, some people involved in the sewing industry never even touch a sewing machine. Instead, they focus on creating content, designs, and machines for people in the apparel industry to use.
When Should You Hire a Professional to Sew Your Clothing?
You should hire a professional to sew your clothing when you are looking for a well-fitting or custom item. Dressmakers in particular, usually make clothing such as custom-fitted suits, slacks, and shirts or blouses. Contrary to their name, they do not only make dresses but some may specialize in making dresses such as ball gowns.
Tailors are especially helpful if you are looking to spruce up the items you already have in your closet. Some simple tailoring can take most items of clothes from bland to first class. This is because clothes that fit well don’t just make you look better, they make you feel better too.
You can also seek out tailors to fix damaged clothes. While tailors (usually) are not miracle workers, they can fix small rips or tears fairly cheaply. This often keeps dress clothes looking much nicer than an iron-on patch would. Likewise, clothes that have been fixed by a tailor usually stay in good condition longer.
If you want to tailor your clothes but are on a budget, you can also tailor your own clothes. While the quality may not be the same, it is definitely a cheaper option as long as you have the resources.
How to Find a Seamstress or Tailor
Usually, the best way to find a seamstress or tailor is to ask for local recommendations. Ask your friends who they’ve hired to have their clothes made or altered.
You can also ask local Facebook groups or other friends for recommendations. People in sewing or environmental groups are usually the most knowledgeable. It is becoming more popular to tailor clothes rather than throwing them away.
The last option is to search google, yelp, or a similar service for recommendations and reviews. While online reviews can be helpful, word of mouth is usually the best way to find quality sewing services.
Questions To Ask
After you find a seamstress or tailor, ask them a few questions about their services. Here are some questions to ask a potential seamstress or tailor.
- What is their experience?
- What training have they had?
- Do they have examples or pictures of their work?
- When can you expect the items to be finished?
- How will they update you about their progress?
- What is the average price for their work? Why?
These will help you evaluate their skills. It will also help manage both your expectations and theirs.
Communication is important throughout this process, so make sure they can communicate well. If they cannot, you may end up with incorrect design, sizing, or alterations.
If you are looking for someone to create an extremely specific item, you can also find people virtually. For example, if you are looking for someone to create a costume for a play, you can find freelance seamstresses on UpWork and similar platforms.
Pricing is a tricky subject with seamstresses and tailors as there is a vast range.
Things that impact pricing include:
- Time required
- Skill required
- Local rates
In general, expect to pay from around $40 to $75 per hour. If you are not providing the fabric, it will also be included in the final price. Specific jobs such as tailoring wedding dresses will also usually cost more. However, it is often better to pay a premium on specialty services to have the job done right the first time.
Local rates are also an important and often overlooked factor. If you are in an affluent area or somewhere with only a few tailors, the price may be higher. You can potentially negate these costs by looking for apparel services in other areas or hiring a freelancer.
A self-employed sewer may also charge more because they often take more time with each project. Usually (but not always) individuals are easier to work with and will give you individualized attention. When considering working with an individual pay close attention to reviews.
Seamstresses and tailors perform important but different jobs. Seamstresses or seamster normally create new items. On the other hand, tailors primarily alter clothes but may also sew new items. However, they are not the only apparel professionals. From dressmakers to sewing machine technicians, there is an array of sewing professions. Tailors and seamstresses are especially important when you are looking for custom items. The best way to find such a professional is word-of-mouth or internet searches, and remember to ask for recommendations.