Tailoring Books

In 2014, I decided to retrain as a tailor in service to the trans community, in order to redistribute inaccessible knowledge freely to people who could not afford it. I promptly found out that I was a person who could not afford it - neither the courses, nor even the materials and time. Consequently, I have done very little sewing - but a lot of reading! Only now am I in a place in my life where I have the time and space to sew, but still can't really get professional fabrics. I've given up on trying to fund in-person education, which is clearly never going to be within my economic reach.

Here's the result of those researches. There ARE books out there on menswear, some better than others. I feel strongly that anyone with the time and inclination can teach themselves to tailor adequately.

If you are on a low income, be assured that many of these books can be located online through nefarious means - the vintage ones in particular; drop me a line if you need assistance, as some of the obscurer ones I collected from tailoring forums and they may not have made it to the open web yet.

A whole suit is a scary, pricy undertaking, and I've found a better route is to get a charity shop suit that's too big for you and then "up-tailor" it - adjusting it to fit, and improving on the details. Traditional tailoring starts by attempting to fit just by looking and measuring, but also bastes the garment together with the intention to continue fitting and adjusting once the garment is in 3D and can be seen on the wearer. I find that a lot easier than trying to fix all problems at the flat paper pattern stage and then execute the garment in one brilliant dash. So having a pair of 2nd hand grandpa trousers to work with speeds up that process for me, and grants a lot of confidence.

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Instruction Manuals

Classic Tailoring Techniques (newest ed)

Robert Cabrera

Photo-guide showing step by step how to make a trouser, waistcoat, and suit jacket. Very good, reassuring, and recommended by the (pretentious and unreassuring) people of the professional tailoring internet forum. The newest edition contains photo instructions for shaping fabric with an iron, and you should buy it if you possibly can. Older editions are around online, but without this detail. Recommended.

Practical Tailoring

J.E. Liberty

Similar to the Cabrera, but written in the 1930s. Step by step tutorial book, with diagrams and clear text. I've not explored it fully myself, but it seems sound on a skim read

Vintage Couture Tailoring

Thomas von Nordheim

A solid read. I've never used it much, but the information is sound. Far fewer pictures than the Cabrera, and relies more on summary paragraphs than the Cabrera's "Step 43b: turn by 90deg and baste" instructions.

How to Make Men's Clothes

Jane Rhinehart

If you've tried suitmaking in the past, you will have been told by every source available that it is a Mysterious Skill only for the Initiated and Advanced and you are good for nothing but pockets. This is, of course, nonsense: you can learn anything with practice. The fewer men in hobby sewing means there's been less pressure and call to have tailoring explained and revealed. However, if the women's hobby can freely offer advice on corsetmaking - a potentially dangerous skill requiring precision-fitting and metalworking tools - then it's Nonsense that we cannot be trusted with expensive wool and some tailoring shears

Rhinehart makes this point in her opening chapter, introducing herself as a home-sewer and dressmaker who wanted to learn to make suits - i.e. the same sort of person that you likely are - and wants to demystify the skills for others. I've not explored this one myself, but my friend (a better sewer than me) rates it very highly.

This is a vintage book, and you might struggle to find a 2nd hand copy. Here's an online version.

Couture Sewing Techniques

Claire Shaeffer

I value this book. It's for confident sewers, who want to upgrade their projects with little tips and tricks, based on details the author learned from various couture workrooms she visited. The chapter on couture suit-making is very short - a few pages - and the focus is essentially on womenswear, so this book is less valuable than others if your only focus is suits. However, it's a bit of a swiss army knife of a book: you never know when you'll need just that little detail. I learned slip-basting from this one and use it all the time, i.e.

Bespoke Cutter and Tailor Forum

For many years there was a forum for tailors. they shared many vintage pdfs as well as advice from their working lives. Tragically, the forum went down with very little of it preserved. Also, the tone of the forum was...shall we say, discouraging to non-professionals. Some of the community has moved to this new forum, and my experience of this space is that it is happier - though less active. Worth checking out, but don't let anyone dent your confidence.

Tailoring Suits the Professional Way

Clarence Poulin

Vintage book, around online. My memory of the book is that professionals think it is good and I thought it was alright, but I liked it less than other options.

Clare Shaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide

Clare Shaeffer

Great book for your shelf. Each chapter offers advice on needles, ironing, pitfalls, for particular kinds of fabric. Old-fashioned, by which I mean: really comprehensive and clear. Superior to The Fashion Designer's Textile Directory by Gail Baugh.

Patternmaking & Fitting

Patternmaking for Fashion Design

Helen Joseph-Armstrong

Pattern cutting is the art of making the pattern pieces, which is separate from the skills to sew a garment. In most people's opinion, beginners should start from someone else's pattern; and i've found i do even better than that at adjusting someone else's ready-made garment to my style and taste.

But we can have some particular shape needs. This is my preferred patternmaking book out of all the ones I've read - comprehensive, clear, reassuring, nice diagrams. I preferred this to Aldrich, and to a couple aimed specifically at men.

The Art of Cutting and Fitting

J. King Wilson

Short 1940s book explaining how to adjust a suit to fit. It's based on simple principles, rules of thumb, and observing wrinkles on garments - and has some great diagrams. I like this book a lot, it's been the most useful to me. I do have other texts showing comprehensively how to adjust every concevable flaw on paper, but Wilson's method works best for the way I think. For example, he has a table with "Effect > Cause > Remedy", with each row being the order in which you fix fitting problems (because fixing problem 1 may well also fix problem 2).

Fitting and Pattern Alteration

Elizabeth Liechty, Judith Rasband, Della Pottberg-Steineckert

This expensive, weighty textbook was not worth the price. It shows you 88 figure variations, complete with what it'll look like on a woman's toile, how to fix it on paper, how to fix it by pinning, etc. You would think this would be ideal - a sort of recipe book for solving problems. However, I just can't get my brain into their vibe, which tends to over-complicate and confuse me. I prefer Wilson's approach.

Also, to stress, this book suggests you make a woman a skin-tight cotton garment and observe body variations - fix them - and then use that garment as a basic pattern to make other garments from. Wilson discusses fit problems you will observe in the suit garment specifically. The tradition in tailoring is to work with the 3D suit object as you go - for example, fit then make then fit the body of a jacket, and only then fit then make then fit the sleeves. This is better for my way of working.

i spent a lot of wasted time on "trans people should make a fitting toile, and then use that to adapt paper patterns to their shape, with this simple handy universal tool". It was a bad solution (for me!) because every garment fits differently, every fabric behaves differently. I'm happier with a more freeform approach of starting with a garment and adjusting it to fit. And because the toile method and measuring methods led to kinds of body obsessions/body shape flaws/numbers on a tape measure flaws obsessions which were NOT good for me. In contrast, sewing a more-or-less correct suit with temporary stitches - seeing it on me - focuses my brain on "does this look good" instead of "i can get this Objectively Correct if i just think about the numbers".

The Art of Fitting by Reuben Sytner

Reuben Sytner

vintage-yet-evergreen book on how to fit suits, by and for professional tailors, with lots of pictures. If you're new to sewing then I think the amount of information here will be a bit overwhelming and distracting. Highly recommended by professional tailors, and having skim read it, it seems written in a clear way with good photo-diagrams.


How to Read a Suit

Lydia Edwards

Photo-guide from the 17th to 19th century on changing men's fashions, with images of clothes from museums labelled with their key details and put in historic context. The book on men's historic fashion we've all been waiting for. A fantastic read.

A Very General Guide to Vintage Sartorial Style (webpage)

Ethan M. Wong

Vintage suit collector's photo guide to trends in suits from the 1920s-1960s. I love this post, it's enabled me to sharpen my eye to details in films. Spotting the nuances of 20thc suits can be kinda tricky! He also has a post on the 60s and 70s

Esquire's Encyclopedia of 20th Century Men

Esquire Magazine

Some hero liberated this out-of-print book from their local library and scanned all the pages for upload. Lots of pictures from vintage fashion advertisements, plus commentary text. To my eye? more than a little dysphoria-inducing, because of the kinds of yearning men's vintage adverts prompt in me.

The Art of the Tailor

Robert Doyle

My own personal "check every few months to see if its been pirated" holy grail. This long-out-of-print tome isn't an instruction manual, but is an attempt to comprehensively document skills, drafts, traditions, styles, and all the rest, plus bits and bobs from various historic tailoring manuals (which may be less valuable now the internet has made them available to us more easily). The author was uh Somebody who worked as a teacher for a fancy sewing school. I judge this not to be a beginner book, but absolutely grab it if you find it affordably. Not having read it, I can't be sure what's in it!

The Internet archive

I've made various attempts at cataloguing the Victorian tailoring books on this site, and my judgement is: don't bother. Most don't have any how-to-sew details, and the how-to-make-patterns information is really variable in quality. You'd be better off 1. learning how to sew suits and patternmake from modern resources; 2. get good; 3. use your skill to look at a picture of a garment you wish to copy, then copy it. For a skilled tailor, that should be no challenge, and is a better use of time than trying to make sense of a wacky old text for like, the cred.

However, if you can find books from the 1930s to the present day on the archive (or elsewhere), these tend to be evergreen.

Making Victorian Costumes for Men

Sil Devilly

A nice book. Takes you through sample projects from the 1840s to the end of the century, with lots of photos and step-by-step advice. The target audience is perhaps a theatre-costume maker: the goal is an adequate costume, rather than a perfectly tailored couture garment. I recommend you combine this book for the basics of garment-making, with the Cabrera for the little details, if you want to sew historic clothes.

Cutter’s Practical Guide (Underwear volume)

W.D.F. Vincent

See below

The Victorian Tailor

Jason MacLochlainn

I loathe this book, it's a trashfire. I am uh, unconvinced that the author has ever actually made a suit or has any actual research expertise in historic dress

One example: he includes a period trouser draft for you to use, unedited. Isn't his editing it the point of a modern book...? We are all capable of googling for the original...? Having spent months working with the original, it contains significant flaws which a modern author should have fixed (he hasn't). MacLochlainn knows this because he sold his article about trouser drafting to an online historic fashion magazine, and commenters informed him they had tried the draft and it contained errors. He assured them this would be fixed before the book. It wasn't. Has MacLochlainn ever successfully made a pair of trousers from this draft...?

Additionally, his tone repeatedly lets you know you have no hope of ever sewing a suit; it's the role of the author of a teaching book to give you the skills and confidence. The final chapter informs you that you could never sew a suit jacket, and so shares only a couple of hints for the professional suitmaker to give their garments a historic twist. Everyone else must wait until his second book (never published), because "by that time students of this book will be ready for it". This torpedos the usefulness of the book for sewers who ARE ready for it - with or without his permission - as well as for have-a-go amateurs who will only learn by trying. And if you're here to make a Victorian Gentleman Costume, you're bang out of luck: your costume must remain incomplete.

Strongly expect positive reviews of this book are by people enthusiastic for the Idea of there being more menswear books, not its reality. Here, have more negative reviews!


I spent a long time on shirtmaking pre-T and hated every moment of it because - it turns out - no shirt can make you look like you're on T, it's underwear, it's shapeless, it reflects your shape. Don't make the same mistake.

FYI, tailors don't make shirts. So books and resources marked "for tailors" will generally have nothing on the subject.


David Page Coffin

Coffin is an amateur shirt-nerd who reverse-engineered expensive shirts to figure out tricks of the trade. Consequently, he writes as an amateur to other amateurs in a way that's conversational and pleasing: he's aware of what you don't know and what you want to know, and tells you. Lots of "i ran into this common beginner snag and here's how I fixed it", like how to iron huge pieces of fabric well in a domestic setting, or do a neat French seam (you have to buy a special foot). Do NOT be fooled by the book's horrible taste level in shirt photographs. I learned so many little tricks from this book. Diagrams aren't great, and take a little decoding; but the techniques are great when you crack them. And anyway, it's basically the only one available.

Coffin has released several other books on shirts, as well as a VHS tape and a craftsy course. The other books take you through shirts in his collection, and focus on the little details - how to swap out one cuff style for another, say. To me, these are less useful, as someone on a tight budget. But he comes across as a simply lovely person, with a huge enthusiasm for the subject and an enthusiast's desire to share it all with everybody, and again - he is essentially The Guy when it comes to writing on men's shirts.

Onishenko Shirt pages

Gary(?) Onishenko

A reassurring set of clearly laid out pages on making a shirt pattern, picked up from a tailoring forum. The source might be "Fundamentals of Men's Fashion Design". They turn up everywhere on Pinterest, but here - have the whole set.

Cutter’s Practical Guide (Underwear volume)

W.D.F. Vincent

Bless this book, a rare old tome on shirt-making; and bless Costumer’s Manifesto for uploading it and the Wayback Machine for saving it. I've saved every page into a quick download folder for you, here.

A late-Victorian/early-Edwardian era guide on making shirts and other undergarments, including a measurement system, diagrams, and notes on fabric and making up. Their sack shirt is similar in style to the 1907 one – full hip, rounded shapes, and shown first due to simplicity. It then shows how to adapt the sack back shirt to include a yoke, more popular but also slightly more challenging. This book also contains a number of different fronts, notes on fabric and fit, collars and cuffs, and some bonkers sports drafts where the shirt loops around your leg to keep them in place. Plus aprons, bath robes, pajamas, smoking jackets, football shirts, boiler suits etc. In short, read the book in full – it’s an essential resource. And as the author of this very book acknowledges in his introduction, books on shirtmaking were very rare – true in the 1890s, still true now.

Vincent is the first and most notable author of really good "how to make men's patterns for beginners" books; he also edited tailors magazines of the period. His books are a variable bag. For example, his trouser draft is broken. In my opinion, it's better to learn modern tailoring and then use those skills to give garments a 'victorian twist' (including a flick through details from Vincent) than try and start from Vincent and work forward.

However, Vincent's shirts-and-undies book is very very useable - perhaps because these garments are straightforward and fairly unchanging. Well worth a skim read.