What’s the difference between a tailor, a dressmaker, seamstress, or alterations specialist?

Do you know the difference between a tailor, a dressmaker, a seamstress, or an alterations specialist? Well, one thing they do have in common is these roles require specific skills that enable them to work with clothing – whether that’s creating something from scratch, adjusting, fixing, or transforming pieces.

Today, these terms are used interchangeably and you’ll find most establishments offer a cross-over of services. So if you’re trying to do a Google search to find someone who can make, fix or re-imagine your clothes you may want to try a range of keywords. To make your search a little easier, I have recommended some useful services in London at the end of this blog.

Roberta Style Lee BLOG What's the difference between a tailor, a dressmaker, seamstress or alterations specialist? | Woman at machine sewing

What does a tailor do? 

Blue Tailored Jacket | What Does A Tailor Do? | Tailoring

Historically tailors were men who made suits for men. Today, a man or woman can be a tailor. The role of a tailor is to create bespoke items of clothing, which may mean they make the whole garment from scratch or work as part of a team where each member focuses on an element of the design and build according to their specialist skills.

A tailor’s work usually focuses on creating new items of clothing for clients. However, many tailors offer alteration services for garments that they may not have originally made. 

What does a dressmaker do? 

Dressmaker taking woman's measurements | What does a dressmaker do?

Historically, dressmakers focused on making clothing for women. These pieces were usually dresses with specific bespoke design features such as ruffles, bows, and interesting hemlines.

A dressmaker would be involved in creating the dress from the design stage to making the patterns, cutting the fabric pieces, and sewing them together.

A dressmaker’s work usually focuses on creating new items of clothing for female clients. However, many dressmakers today offer alteration services for garments that they may not have made originally. 

Today, a man or woman can refer to themselves as a dressmaker, the terms are more fluid and interchangeable. 

What does a seamstress do?  

Woman altering clothes with a sewing machine | What does a seamstress do?

Historically, a seamstress would have been a woman who made her living through sewing. A seamstress will typically be well versed in all the skills required to cut, stitch, mend and elaborate/decorate anything made of material, or she may specialise in just one or two areas.

Seamstresses are often considered a female version of a tailor, and can also create their own patterns, and create a piece from concept right through to delivery of a wearable garment. 

Today, a man or woman can refer to themselves as a seamstress, the terms are more fluid and interchangeable.

What does an alterations specialist do?  

Woman altering a black and white jacket | What does an alterations specialist do?

An alterations specialist is equipped with the skills and equipment to carry out high-quality repairs, restorations, and alterations of ready-made clothes (or pieces previously tailored and passed on to someone else). This can involve, mending rips, broken zips, taking in or out the seams, changing buttons, adjusting hemlines, altering the colour and adding new embellishments. 

An alterations specialist will usually sit in-house as part of a larger company that tailors clothing. You’ll also find that many dry-cleaners offer alterations and repair services.

When opting for an alterations specialist, be sure about their level of technical skill before handing over expensive items, as the ‘quality’ of an alterations expert can vary considerably. Ask what experience they have and see what other companies use them. Just bear in mind that the more skilled and experienced the alterations team, the more expensive the alterations and changes to your clothing will be.

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Recommended Tailoring, Repair & Alteration Services in London:

  • The Reclaimery is a London-based brand that also doubles as a social enteprise. They work with fashion brands and individuals to transform current clothing items into new collections and styles. I have personally TRIED & TESTED their services with some of my own pieces and I can confirm they were fantastic at fixing and transforming my clothes into new pieces.
  • The Restory specialises in restored luxury items, such as belts, bags and shoes and is perfect for giving new life to your well-worn investment pieces. I haven’t used them yet, but I do hope to get a belt and some shoes transformed by them in the near future.
  • Distinctively Me is a womenswear brand that makes pieces that are tailored to fit you perfectly (you can select a pattern that already exists in their showroom and have it in your choice of material, colour and accents (such as buttons, zips, size of lapels and shoulder pads). I have been to the studio in Hampstead, and also styled some of their pieces in a shoot. I can confirm they are really well made and offer a affordable yet luxury service. I haven’t used them yet for anything bespoke, but I do hope to get a balmain inspired blazer made soon.
  • The Clothes Doctor is an online service that also operates in London that can repair items, or have them adjusted and reimagined. They also sell a range of sustainable laundry care products to help you take care of your cashmere and silk items at home. I haven’t used them yet, but I know of others who have had a good experience.
  • BLANC is an award-winning, eco-friendly dry cleaner in London that uses quality, natural cleaning products. They don’t operate in East or North London though, so this is for those that live on the other side of the river! They also offer tailoring alterations and repairs. I haven’t used them, but I know of others who have had a good experience.

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