Kippers: The Female Tailors of Savile Row

I often get asked about our name: Kipper & Chalk.

The chalk bit is easy, it’s a tailor’s best friend.

But what do fish have to do with tailoring?

According to tailoring folklore, a kipper is a female tailor; so called because when they first started working in the workshops of Savile Row, they would work in pairs to protect themselves from unwanted advances by randy old tailors.

Or even just from the rumours which might swirl if they were alone in the all-male environment. Because for centuries they were all-male environments.

Tailors started to congregate around Cork Street and Savile Row as early as 1790 but it wasn’t until 2012 (222 years later!!!!) that a woman finally had her name above the door. The first woman on Savile Row was Kathryn Sargent and she is still, to this day, the only woman to do so.

(There are other female master tailors but they have all opted for gender neutral names and none of them occupy any of Savile Row’s 30 shops.)

It isn’t that there is no history of women in tailoring. Women had often helped their husbands but mostly at home, one trouser maker told me his mum used to hand serge (overlock) the trousers which his father made.

The trade has come a long way since the days of the “well-dressed drunkard with an English accent”* but there is still a lack of women on the shop floor, with most working in the basements as coat and trouser makers.

But there are more and more female apprentices and under-cutters coming up so who knows, maybe one day Savile Row will be awash with kippers.

 

 

*Ripped and Smoothed by Richard Anderson, a wonderful account of bespoke tailoring from the inside.

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