A2C Crisis

The Access to Clothing Crisis

Access to Clothing[1] is a complex issue that seems almost impossible to effectively address. Some consider it one of our most pressing issues[2]. The well-off continue to be able to afford appropriate clothing for all occasions. The least fortunate amongst us are able to access free or subsidized clothing to be worn during the most important events in their lives. The middle class cannot afford to purchase clothing at all.

To the great discomfort of businesses, restaurants and hosts and hostesses everywhere, most members of the middle-class have given up wearing purchased clothes entirely. Many people now wear home-made clothing that is barely adequate[3] for most occasions. Public policy analysts refer to this group as the self-clothed. Many other people eschew clothing entirely. These are the unclothed.

The Tailor’s Guild is naturally very concerned, being good professionals, and also being faced with public criticism from the best-robed members of society. Tailors have encouraged their apprentices and journeymen to work in pro-bono clinics as duty-tailors. But there still remain far too many self-clothed and un-clothed.

Naturally, this problem has not gone unnoticed. There has been much discussion amongst the great and the good given the fundamental importance of clothing. One approach has been to focus on the modern trend for clothing that is unnecessarily expensive. There is much merit in this analysis as it is difficult to understand why tuxedos and ball gowns have come to be required in shopping malls and bowling alleys. We may have come to require fancier dress than is actually fit for purpose.

Many tailors do not accept that the self-clothed and un-clothed can be making reasonable choices. Clothing is fundamental. Tailors charge fair rates that reflect their training and expertise and which allow them a reasonable standard of living. To earn a living at the hourly rates that the self-clothed and un-clothed could afford to pay would mean working 60 hours a day. Even increasing leverage by hiring more apprentices and journeyman does not reduce the blended hourly rates sufficiently.

The Tailors’ Society is naturally concerned as well. Effective regulation in the public interest requires ensuring Access to Clothing. But it is also important that professionalism be maintained. The tailor-client relationship is highly important. It is well understood that one’s clothing is a fundamental aspect of one’s identity and that tailoring fit clothing requires the exercise of professional judgment taking into account the particular shape and character of the client.

In order to protect the public, it has been thought best to require that tailors own and control all tailor practices. Who but tailors could be trusted with knowledge of intimate client measurements and preferences? Tailors have, understandably, been prohibited from sharing any of their hourly rate revenue with anyone except other tailors. Perhaps for this reason, most tailors practice in sole practice or with several other tailors[4].

Some have suggested that modern production processes and technology could be used by tailors to produce cheaper “off-the-rack” clothing at a lower cost . While some of the large tailor firms have made progress using project-planning tools and by garment process outsourcing, the tailors serving individuals in sole practice and small firms do not have the experience, expertise or the capital to innovate outside of the hourly rate framework. And those in the business and technology world have little interest in tailoring. They cannot invest in tailoring practices and tailors cannot share fees with them.

But all is well. There is no perceived demand from tailors for new practice structures. The importance of clothing to self-identity makes it absurd to think that proper clothing could be designed and manufactured with the assistance of computers, production lines and the like. How could anyone be able to obtain clothing that sufficiently suited client size, shape, personality and intended social usage except from expert bespoke tailors[5] who spend the time needed to do the job.

Members of the Tailors’ Guild and the Tailors’ Society continue to work closely together to address the Access to Clothing issue. Despite new-fangled names like Target, Gap and Lululemon showing up in other countries, it is difficult to imagine how Access to Clothing could be addressed by such radical approaches.

While lawyers and bespoke tailors obviously have entirely different practices, tailors interested in this issue might consider a thoughtful analysis of the effect of regulation on innovation in legal practice by Ray Worthy Campbell entitled Rethinking Regulation And Innovation in The U.S. Legal Services Market as recently reviewed by Professor Laurel Terry in her blog post Creative Destruction and the Legal Services & Legal Education Markets. Lawyers will be aware of the early innovators that presaged change in the legal services market such as Axiom Law, Contract Express, the Co-operative, CPA Global , Legal Zoom, Quality Solicitors, Riverview Law, Rocket Lawyer, Slater & Gordon, Winn Solicitors.

But, there is no reason to think that the market for clothing could or should change as the market for legal services has changed or that innovation is affected by current regulation of tailors.

We must continue to work together to address the Access to Clothing (A2C) crisis[6].


[1] Sometimes A2C for those in the know.

[2] Badum, Badum

[3] Ibid.

[4] Some tailors, who design and sew military, religious or other uniforms for corporate clients, establish larger firms of tailors which allows them to specialize. Some tailors spend their time designing and sewing complicated epaulettes. Others design and sew the elegant designs in beautiful cloth. There are relationship tailors and tailors who ensure that the work of the specialist tailors suits overall client requirements. It is a great challenge to plan and manage the work of so many skilled craftspeople.

[5] Similarly, the suggestion of expanded scope of practice for para-tailors to assist the self-clothed and unclothed is easily rejected. The essential issue is not really not Access to Clothing but rather Access to Proper Clothing. It is not reasonable to think that anything less than expert tailoring could be sufficient given the importance of clothing.

[6] The opinions expressed in this article are not the opinions of the Tailors’ Guild, the Tailors’ Society nor necessarily those of the author.

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