The Hebrew word for "tailor," חַיָּט, first appears in mishnaic and midrashic literature. Tailors are mentioned more frequently in the Talmud (Shab. 1:3, 11b; BK 10:10), and Jewish tailors were to be found in Muslim countries at this period, but rarely in significant numbers. Almost every Jewish community had its own tailor whose presence was necessitated by the obligatory ritual commandments such as *sha'atnez. The Church was also interested in enforcing the wearing of special Jewish garments. Moneylending entailed some knowledge of tailoring since it was necessary to keep pawned clothes in good repair. Although both Church pressure and moneylending were absent in Islamic countries, tailoring on a small and medium scale became an important element in Jewish society. In *Yemen entire Jewish villages subsisted on weaving and tailoring until 1948 (S.D. Goitein, in: JSOS, 17 (1954), 3–26). The main obstacles to Jewish tailors in medieval Europe were raised by the guilds, who continuously tried to restrict their activity to producing their own distinctive clothing for Jewish clients alone. However, in Christian Spain, where there were many Jewish tailors as the Christian guilds were comparatively weak, the rulers often intervened on their behalf when their livelihood was threatened by the encroachment of local guilds and authorities. In 1489 Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain annulled an ordinance enacted in *Burgos which prohibited Jewish tailors and other craftsmen from plying their trade outside the Jewish quarter. The connection between tailoring and the trade in *secondhand goods and old clothes, which had to be repaired and resold, was most clearly in evidence in Italy, especially in *Rome, where a Jewish tailors' guild existed from the 15th century and between one-quarter and one-half of the Jewish community was engaged in various branches of the clothing trade in the 16th century. Bernardino Ramazzini (1633–1714), an early authority on occupational diseases, noted that many Jews suffered from weak eyesight, legs, and lungs, caused by repairing old clothes in poorly lit and badly ventilated rooms. Many Italian cities tried to prohibit Jews from refurbishing old clothes because this often provided a springboard for the prohibited manufacture and sale of new garments. The nexus of tailoring and trading in old clothes remained important in Italian Jewry until the 20th century.
Jewish tailoring in central Europe, as elsewhere, was conditioned by sha'atnez laws and the tie with the repair and sale of used clothing, but it grew in scope wherever conditions became
In *Poland-Lithuania tailoring was one of the first crafts plied extensively in the 16th and 17th centuries and the earliest in which independent guilds were formed by Jews. Their ranks were reinforced by the embroiderers and cap makers, almost exclusively Jewish crafts. Jewish tailors were soon locked in fierce and often bloody competition with their Christian competitors, particularly in *Lublin. Riots were often provoked by artisans who accused Jews of selling ready-to-wear clothing or of selling to Christians. In *Warsaw in 1795 there were 74 Jewish tailors supplying custom-made garments and 53 tailors and 36 sellers of ready-to-wear clothing. The number of tailors in other cities was also large: *Vilna had 88 in 1765 and Lublin 90 in 1759. In *Poznan province they were particularly numerous: in the late 18th century 48 of the 50 tailors in *Krotoszyn were Jews, as were 32 of 51 in *Leszno (Lissa), 31 of 46 in Ostrow Wielkopolski, and 56 of 57 in Rogozno. In the *Pale of Settlement tailoring both at home and as an itinerant craft in the villages became the mainstay of a growing section of the impoverished population of the shtetl. The life-style, songs, and folklore of the amkho sher un ayren ("the simple people of the scissors and ironing board") became in Yiddish literature the expression of the joys and sufferings of Jewish workers. This way of life was carried overseas in the mass emigrations to France, England, and the U.S. (see below). In Poland in 1931, 504,570 Jews constituted 44.1% of all those active in the clothing industry; these were fairly evenly divided into employed manual and white-collar workers and home workers. About 52% of the independent employers in the clothing industry were Jews, though most Jewish firms were small or medium sized. Polish antisemitic policy in the 1930s compelled them to adopt new forms of work and organization.
In Germany – except for the production of clothes for Jewish needs and the repair of clothing held in pawn – Jews entered the general field of tailoring as sellers: 41 Christian tailors were employed by Jews in *Frankfurt on the Main in 1611. During the 17th century protests were heard throughout the country that Jewish peddlers were selling new clothes, above all at the *Leipzig fairs and other such *markets. With the growth of cities in the 19th century Jews gradually established stores for haberdashery and the like, then moved into large-scale wholesale clothing manufacture. Between one-third and one-half of the manufacturing firms in the German clothing industry were owned by Jews, and the same proportion of wholesale houses; their share in this trade was highest in Berlin. The production of hats and caps was almost entirely Jewish owned. Various Jewish clothing stores were set up in different places, forming the basis of the later *department stores. In 1644, in Vienna, Christian tailors complained that Jewish tailors were making ready-to-wear garments and employing Christian tailors (A. Pribram, Urkunden und Akten, 1 (1918), 143f.), but in fact Jewish tailors did not become significant until the 19th century. The sale of used European clothing to the Balkans and the Near East, which was centered on Vienna, was managed by Jews. The production of hats, caps, and umbrellas was almost exclusively Jewish, as was that of underclothes, which had been freed of guild restrictions by *Maria Theresa.
Though Jews in France (*Avignon, *Bordeaux, and *Alsace) had long been engaged in buying, repairing, and selling old clothes, this activity declined after the French Revolution. The mass emigration of Jews from Eastern Europe after the pogroms of 1881–83 and 1903–05 and between the world wars brought to *Paris thousands of impoverished Jews who, driven by both experience and necessity, turned en masse to certain sectors of the clothing industry, particularly hat- and cap-making. Since they worked for low pay in "sweatshops" and doing piecework at home, Jews were in the forefront of the unionization of Parisian clothing workers. When 55 Jewish hat makers wanted to found a union in 1892, they had to wait until some of them were naturalized for none of these workers were French. This union remained entirely Jewish
Jews were first connected with the clothing trade in England to a substantial degree as secondhand clothes dealers in the 18th century. At the end of the 18th century there were 1,000–1,500 Jewish dealers in old clothes and even in 1850 between 500 and 600 were still active. They either sold complete garments, or, where these were too worn, cut them up into smaller articles, such as waistcoats. That Jews in this period were particularly concerned with cheap clothing is confirmed by their activity as buyers at the East India Company's auctions of imported cloth, where they seem to have dominated the market in cheap or damaged cloth. Their activity as navy agents (supplying ships with stores at a time when the governments left such matters to contractors) naturally made them suppliers of "slop clothing" for sailors' dress – a connection with the supply of uniforms which persisted to contemporary times. Jews were also prominent in the hat trade, both as sellers and makers.
As the community grew, efforts were made by the communal authorities to cut down the number of hawkers and to apprentice Jewish youth to trades, particularly tailoring, hat-making, and shoe-making. Thus by 1850 *London (perhaps the first large city to do so) had developed an indigenous Jewish artisan class, as well as middle-class clothing entrepreneurs, contractors, and middlemen. By enabling the working classes to buy new clothing in the same styles – although not of the same quality – as those worn by the rich, they began a social revolution. Two firms especially, Hyam, which employed 6,000 people and had a payroll of £200,000 a year, and E. Moses & Son, famous for its advertising techniques, pioneered the new development. These and similar firms supplied outfits for emigrants to the colonies. To supply the needs of these firms small tailoring workshops proliferated, encouraged by the import of the Singer sewing machine in the 1850s and 1860s. The waves of immigrants from Eastern Europe from the 1880s increased the number and concentration of Jews in tailoring. The 1901 census figures of Russian-Polish immigrants show that about 40 out of every 100 men (and 50 out of every 100 women) who were gainfully employed worked in tailoring and 12 or 13 in the boot, shoe, and slipper trades.
Cap-making in London and *Manchester was almost exclusively a Jewish immigrant trade. In Manchester, too, waterproofing had been developed by earlier Jewish immigrants, first in workshops and then in factories, but waterproofing was superseded by the technologically superior rainproof garment. The immigrant tailors had no effect on the bespoke trade; in London, they supplied ready-made garments for merchants and wholesale clothiers and they virtually introduced the ladies' jacket and mantle-making industry to Britain. The principle was subdivision of labor, whereby each operative's task was graded to his skill (or lack of it). Working long hours in small, badly ventilated workshops, the immigrant employees strove to become masters in their turn. This pattern delayed in London and Manchester the introduction of a factory system such as had operated from about 1860 in *Leeds, where at the beginning of the 20th century Montague *Burton adapted bespoke tailoring to factory production and opened a chain of shops for retail distribution. In this he anticipated the Jewish role in the clothing trade of the 20th century with its tendency toward the organization of mass production and of distribution. The Marks & Spencer chain of stores may be cited as an outstanding example (see Simon *Marks and Israel *Sieff). Jews were also active in large-scale distribution in the textile trade, as clothing retailers, and as manufacturers of a wide range of women's ready-made garments. It is noteworthy, however, that Jewish women and girls who before 1939 worked as dressmakers or in tailoring, in the mid-20th century preferred office work. For two centuries, Anglo-Jewry has been connected with the clothing industry. Only the roles have changed: from hawker to retailer, from operative to manufacturer, and from merchant to wholesaler.
[Vivian David Lipman]
Before 1880 Jews from Germany had already become the leading manufacturers of ready-made clothing. German Jewish immigrants had often been connected with the secondhand clothing business in Europe, and many moved into the same occupation upon arriving in America. After the Civil War the market for ready-made clothing expanded among the increasing number of urban dwellers, and the mechanical cutting knife of the 1870s permitted more rapid production of the basic portion of the garment. Ready-made clothing was distributed through secondhand garment merchants, many of whom were German Jews. Some of these men soon began to manufacture ready-made clothing as well as to distribute it. However, it would be erroneous to make too close a connection between the movement of Eastern European Jews into the clothing industry after 1880 and the presence of German Jewish employers in this area. In *Chicago, Bohemian immigrants were the first workers in the ready-made clothing industry. The entry of Eastern European Jews into the clothing industry was primarily the result of their need for work immediately after their arrival in America – a condition shared by all immigrant groups – and the availability of the clothing industry because of its rapid growth in the late 19th century and its particular manufacturing methods.
Unlike many American industries, the garment trades were not mechanized. Manufacturers quickly discovered that
Although the older trade unions in the clothing industry opposed these developments, they represented only small groups of skilled workers, and it was not until the formation of unions such as the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union in 1900 and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers' Union in 1914 that the efforts to organize the immigrant workers achieved any permanent success. These labor organizations, which had a strongly Jewish leadership, were divided on political grounds as moderate trade unionists, Socialists, and Communists contended for control. The dominant tendency was for a mildly Socialistic rhetoric to be combined with trade unionist bargaining procedures. The garment unions also became social and educational institutions, and this contributed significantly to the Americanization of the immigrant membership. As immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe accumulated some experience in America, and a small amount of capital, they attempted to become employers within the garment industry. By World War I East European Jews dominated the ranks of the employers, particularly among the contractors and jobbers where capital requirements were minimal. This persisted until the 1970s, but the character of the work force did not remain ethnically stable. Jewish workers still comprised a significant portion of the employees, but few young persons from Jewish families entered these trades. Thus the proportion of Jewish workers declined steadily as older workers left the industry. Italian workers had become a major group in the needle trades by World War I, but their percentage of the work force also declined as African-American and Puerto Rican workers were increasingly employed in New York City and some of the other metropolitan centers. In addition, as the ladies' garment industry decentralized in search of cheaper labor its ethnic character became more diverse. Thus despite the continued participation of Jews in the garment trades, by 1970 the crucial role of the clothing industry in the lives of American Jews was past.
Tailoring and allied industries developed rapidly in Israel, particularly because of (1) the fast increase in local demand as a result of the increase in population and purchasing power; (2) restrictions on imports, especially in the 1950s and early 1960s, which opened up the market for local manufacturers; and (3) large-scale government aid in financing investments, guaranteeing prices, etc.
Since the market demanded more than it was in the power of this industry to offer, it was in its early stages characteristically a sellers' market. The manufacturers did not endeavor, therefore, to promote new models in order to attract buyers, but were content to copy foreign models. The quality, too, was not always up to the required standard.
In the early 1960s a number of developments occurred, mainly in the policy of the government, which encouraged a change in the manufacturers' outlook and in their general attitude, as regards both fashion and quality. The main change in governmental policy took place in 1962, and allowed for the gradual import of competitive goods from abroad, as well as encouraging more extensive exports. The competition for the local market and the need to export provided an impetus for improving quality, and increasing fashion consciousness and internal efficiency. In relatively few years Israel succeeded in achieving a position in the world fashion industry with a considerable number of products: swimsuits and beach wear, knits, women's underclothes (brassieres, panty hose, panties, etc.), men's neckties, sports clothes, raincoats for men and women, leather coats, etc.
Most Israeli fashions are the work of Israeli fashion designers, and Israel has succeeded in penetrating the world fashion centers of France, Italy, and the American continent. Israel regularly takes part in fairs and fashion weeks both at home and abroad. Sales offices have been opened in the chief exporting countries (e.g., U.S., Germany, France, and Scandinavia). In order to increase exports and ensure the quality of the products, a fashion center has been established by the Export Institute. The center especially tries to increase the manufacturer's know-how, create contacts among importers, buyers, and manufacturers, and guide foreign investors. In the early 2000s Israel's fashion exports reached $670 million a year.
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Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.