The History of Fashion in the City

Our City Together

Silk Street, Hosier Street, Cloth Fair: all reminders that the City of London was once a centre of the fashion and textile trade. Now a days we associate the City with banking and finance, yet these place names remind us that much of London’s wealth stems from the trade in wool and fur and from the production of stockings and gloves.

Six of the Great Livery Companies can trace their origins back to this trade. The Haberdashers originally produced and sold what would now be referred to as accessories; the Skinner's dealt in fur and the Drapers in wool and cloth. The four portraits below are of Lord Mayors whose Livery Halls were connected with the manufacture and sale of clothing.

A collage of four images each displaying a finely dressed variety of older gentlemen. They wear elaborate black top hats, red silk robes, large ornate jewelled necklaces and frilled neck ties. Each man is pictured alone in what appears to be a painted portrait.
Top Left: Sir Allen Cotton 1624- Draper, Top Right: Sir John Musgrove 1851- Cloth Worker, Bottom Left: Sir Claudius Hunter 1811- Merchant Taylor, Bottom Right: Sir Richard Levitt 1699- Haberdasher

The Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors' were originally known as the Fraternity of St John the Baptist of Tailors and Linen-Armourers. Linen armour was the protective padded clothing worn either beneath or as an alternative to a metal plate.  By the time Sir Claudius Hunter became Lord Mayor in 1811, the Company was no longer simply an association of City tailors. It had received a second royal charter in 1503 and its new name was a reflection of its members growing involvement in both domestic and international trade.

Having once tried to disassociate itself from its medieval origins, the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors' now celebrates its links to the tailoring trade. In 1974 it launched the Golden Shears award;

"to encourage the training and education of tailoring in young people, to the highest of standards and to further the links between the tailoring trade and the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors'." - Robert Bright MBE, Co Founder of the award.

Dubbed the Oscars of the Tailoring World, last year’s competition was won by Rachel Singer, with a double-breasted overcoat, cut from an off-white flannel teamed with a six-button double-breasted jacket in a Prince of Wales check and flared trousers of phenomenal movement and fluidity. I wonder whether Sir Claudius Hunter would have approved.