July 25, 2015 by Ville Raivio
“The close community of the journeyman tailor was forged through generations of hardship, of long hours, miserable pay and discrimination of all kinds. Taking refuge among themselves, the tailors developed a private language almost incomprehensible to outsiders. Some of their expressions have survived in the daily dialogue of the tailor and his guv’nor.”
— Richard Walker in his peerless The Savile Row Story: An Illustrated History
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Balloon, having a balloon – a week without work or pay.
Bodger – Crude worker. Common to other trades.
Boot – loan until payday. “Can you spare the boot?” – can you give me a loan? Dates from crossed-leg days, when a tailor recorded the loan by chalking it on the sole of his boot.
Bunce – a trade perk, like mungo and a crib (see below).
Bushelman – Journeyman who alters or repairs.
Cat’s face – a small shop opened by a cutter starting out on his own.
Chuck a dummy – to faint. Allusion is to a tailor’s dummy tumbling over.
Clapham Junction – a paper design draft with numerous alterations or additions.
Codger – Tailor who does up old suits.
Cork – the boss.
Crib – large scrap of cloth left over from a job, usually enough to make a pair of trousers or a skirt.
Crushed beetles – badly made button holes.
Cutting turf – clumsy, unskilled working.
Doctor – alteration tailor.
Drag, in the drag – working behind time.
Drummer – trouser-maker.
“Have you been on the board?” – are you experienced?
Hip stay – old-time name for wife.
Jeff – a small master: one who cuts out his garments and also makes them up.
Kicking – looking for another job.
Kicking your heels – no work to do.
Kill – a spoiled job that has to be thrown away.
Kipper – A tailoress. So called because they sought work in pairs to avoid unwelcome advances.
Log, on the log – piecework: the traditional and complex system of paying out-workers.
Mungo – cloth cuttings, which by custom the tailor used to retain to sell to a rag merchant for a little extra income.
On the cod – gone drinking.
Pig – an unclaimed garment.
Pigged – a lapel which turns up after some wear.
Pinked, pink a job – making with extra care.
Skiffle – a job needed in a hurry.
Skipping it – making the stitches too big
Small seams – warning call when someone being discussed enters workroom.
Soft sew – an easily worked cloth.
Tab – fussy, difficult customer.
Trotter – fetcher and carrier: messenger.
Tweed merchant – Tailor who does the easy work: a poor workman.
Whipping the cat – Travelling round and working in private houses: common practice in old days when a tailor would be given board and lodging while he made clothes for a family.