Author of "Every Way 0f Earning a Living," " Our Sons and Daughters," etc. Continued from page 2168, Part 18
Talking to a well-known dressmaker who has had a very wide experience upon this subject, I was much amused to hear her say : "There are two classes of dressmakers. The first I call dressmakers, the second 'dress-spoilers.' "
As the object of readers of these articles is not to become " spoilers," we may dismiss that section with a word of sympathy for those who have been unfortunate enough to entrust good material to them, and turn our attention to the distinct class of dressmakers.
Probably few other professions have grades so clearly defined, the reason being, of course, that the work runs in patches, exactly according to the distribution of wealth, which is, with perhaps the single exception of brains, the most unequally distributed thing on earth.
For present purposes it will be convenient if we divide dressmakers into the following grades - namely :
Grade A - those who, working in country villages, make a dress complete for 7s. 6d.
Grade B - those in the poorer suburbs of towns, who make for 10s. 6d.
Grade C - members of the nomadic tribe, who visit clients in their own homes at 2s. 6d. a day and food.
Grade D - the great army of middle-class dressmakers, who charge 15s.
Grade E - the " better-class," who charge anything over ĢI is.
1. In which grade has she received her training ?
2. In which division are her circumstances - financial, education, personality, etc. - most likely to make her successful ?
3. Has she more possible customers in one grade than the other ?
Of course, if the idea be only to put up a brass plate and depend upon the chance work of an immediate and small personal connection of people who are more or less personal friends, these points need not be seriously considered, for one's personal friends are naturally drawn from the grade in which one lives.
But, for those who are going to set up in business in the fullest sense, these points must be carefully considered before the start is made. It does not follow, for instance that a "middle-class" person could not cater very successfully for a first-class clientele, providing she has natural aptitude for that work.
That 7s. 6d. for turning out a dress complete is not a high figure will be apparent to all, but in villages the price usually runs at that figure. The outfit at the start will include a sewing machine, a dress-stand, tailor's goose, irons, skirt-board, table, and a wardrobe or cupboard. The village dressmaker will probably have served her apprenticeship with "another village dressmaker, where a couple of years' training will have fitted her for her work. When starting, she will lose neither time nor opportunity in spreading the news around through every available channel both in her own village and those surrounding. She will have to work hard, and her income will not be large even though she supplies all the Sunday frocks in which village maidens on bright sunny days so happily disport themselves; but there will be a livelihood to be made, and the cost of living will not be as great as in a town.
The equipment in this case will be much the same as for the last, and the work generally much of the same order. There will, however, be considerable competition, and therefore, the better the training, the more likely is the young dressmaker to make a successful career. The larger the field of her personal acquaintances the better, and she must not be above taking every possible advantage of making known the fact that she is starting in business.
Some dressmakers go out to work at the homes of their clients for a charge of 2s. 6d. a day, making a dress in about three days. For the widow with children who has started on her own account, or for the woman with an invalid husband, this plan has many advantages, for she gets her meals without the trouble of putting aside her work to cook them, and, working six days a week, she will make 15s. a week, all of which is clear profit. If the dressmaker is a good hand, her name will soon spread among a set of clients, who see that this method of getting a dress made has many advantages, both as regards cost and otherwise. Her success will depend much, too, upon her personal adaptability to the ways of her various clients and their households.
The training which will have been undergone by anyone starting out in this grade will probably be somewhat as follows :
At the age of 15, or maybe 14, she will be apprenticed in a good house, probably paving a small premium and receiving a small wage of 2S. a week for two years. At the end of that time the apprentice will have become an improver, at 8s. a week, a position which she will have left later for that of an assistant, earning from 9s. to 16s. a week, according to her proficiency.
If she is a good fitter, the rate will be higher, and certainly, if she has determined that ultimately she will start in business on her own account, she will take pains to become a good fitter.
With a training of this kind she should do well in " Grade D." She should start in a private house or shop, where she has good floor space, not overcrowded with furniture, but so arranged that her clients may find no difficulty in surveying themselves satisfactorily in long mirrors, of whch there should be at least two. These mirrors may be picked up very cheaply secondhand, and are an essential part of a dressmaker's stock in trade.
First-class and complete training combined with business experience are the qualifications needed for this grade. Capital wall be required, for credit may have to be given. Good businesses have been established in provincial towns, with clienteles of the best county residents, but no dressmaker should venture into this grade who has not had a first-class training or who is unacquainted with the ways of the circles in which her future clients move.
A shop, with windows artistically draped, will be necessary; the words "Madarme" and " Robes " are sure to be part of the signs of the establishment. The situation chosen must be in the best part of the town, and everything in connection with the establishment must have a general appearance of high quality. The workrooms will be entirely apart from reception and fitting rooms, both of which will be well appointed.
It is, of course, not easy to secure a connection in this grade, and the methods adopted to do so must vary with the circumstances of the case. In some of the better class parts of towns and suburbs there are still opportunities, but the dressmaker must take care that she does not risk her capital upon an expensive but ill-chosen establishment, for which there is in reality very little demand, and for which she herself is not altogether fitted.
After the consideration of these grades, the reader will have touched upon all the essential points, and it will remain for her only to see that her first step towards opening up her own business is taken in strict accordance with her own particular character and circumstances.