One of the jobs my dad had, some time in the 1930’s, was for the fifty bob tailor. I am sure the title is a mystery. It was a shop selling men’s clothing and the attraction was that they couldbuy a suit for only fifty bob which was quite cheap at the time. A bob is a slang word for a shilling which was the currency of England before everything became decimalised and the shlling was abolished, replaced by pence which has absolutely nothing to do with the politician in America, it is just a name.
So dad had a job, He was not a tailor, but a salesman, although when you work in a shop for a few years selling suits and measuring people up for suits you get the hang of it. My dad was always full of stories about his youth and so I grew up knowing what the fifty bob tailor was. He told me that even Joachim von Ribbentrop was a cusutomer, who was the German ambassador in england before the war. I never checked that story, but dad confirmed that it was not fake news. He, of course, bought his fifty bob suits in one of the West end branches of the shop.
When dad had to buy clothes it was an operation. He would examine every seam, every buttonhole and tell me all the technical descriptions of the suit. It might be double or single breasted, and you got all the information about how the collars were measure out. I wondered how the shop assistants had the patience with him and dad was only a salesman. Of course he knew the tailors in the shop where he worked and learned the facts of tailoring from them.
I grew up in the East End of London and the area around Whitechapel was mainly jewish. They were the owners of the tailoring workshops. It was called the rag trade, but at the beginning of the 20th centuary many people were employed in their tailoring businesses, machinists mostly – the backbone of the the working class employment industry at that time.
My mum was a Hoffman presser, learning how to operate the compicated clothes press for the clothes you bought in the shops. My Aunt Lil was a dressmaker. She never bought a dress, skirt or coat, she made her own. She would even make clothes for me when mum asked her, although I was not too keen on that operation. Of course she made great clothes from the material mum bought, but I had to try them on for a perfect fit when she made them. As a kid I did not really have the patience waiting for her to stick the pins in everywhere to get the fit.
I made my own clothes for many years due to the fact that my figure was not tailor perfect. Today I do not bother and my sewing machine lives in the cellar. Now and again I might use it for a small repair job, but otherwise I do not bother.