The standardization of textile pieces for readywear ended the era of structured clothing

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


Women used to have pockets. That “used to” has to count back 150 or even 200 years, and those pockets were often a separate garment, either worn underneath and accessed through a slit in the dress, or worn around the hips overtop, rather than built into the dress directly — but regardless, “it has pockets!” as a joyous surprise is a modern invention. (Men’s pockets were also separate pouches if you go back far enough; but going back the same 150-200 years, they lived in the waistcoat and the mandatory jacket; if breeches had pockets they were behind the falls and so, I suspect, not used as much in public.)

The 1880’s brought the 1940s brought the slow arrival of mass production to clothing — not of the textiles, which started much earlier, but of actual clothes. Before this era, clothes were made either at home, or they were made one at a time. (In a quiet resonance with today, this was done in part by women who worked almost entirely from home, only travelling to the workplace to pick up new work and drop off what had been completed).

In retrospect, fashions changed mostly decade by decade rather than year by year, but they changed dramatically. The fashionable silhouette of the 1860s looks nothing like the 1880s, or the 1910’s — so different, in fact, that for women the foundation garments were completely unrelated entities: the crinoline of the 1860s is nothing like the bustle of the 1880s. A person who can cut and sew can sew an incredibly wide range of different things; why not play around?

But with the advent of mass production in clothes factories, the whole layout of the factory floor was based on specific pattern piecing. Each station makes only a few operations on each garment, and garments flow from one station to the next. To completely change the construction of a garment means a radical overhaul of the whole assembly line.