Tailor vs. Seamstress or Seamster: What's the Difference?

Updated December 3, 2023

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Close-up of a person with a measuring tape around their neck, at work in a fashion studio.

Creating and constructing well-fitting garments can be a rewarding career choice for creative individuals who like working with their hands. These two professionals work with fabrics and other textiles to manipulate and alter clothing, accessories and other design items. Tailors and seamstresses or seamsters are very similar professions, but the jobs differ in several main areas.

In this article, we discuss the professional differences between a tailor and seamstress or seamster, including their skills, duties and average salary.

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What is a tailor?

A tailor is a professional who adjusts and alters clients' clothing to their specifications or makes new clothes using a pattern or design. They can work for textile and apparel manufacturers, clothing stores with alterations departments, stylists, dry cleaners and wedding dress shops.

Tailors may also work on a freelance basis for clients in their own homes. Tailors often work with fitted or individualized garments, such as jackets, suits and tuxedos, dresses and wedding gowns and other formal wear.

Tailors don’t generally need formal education. Instead, tailors learn on the job by working with more experienced tailors. Tailors with many years of experience are often considered master tailors.

Some colleges, universities and vocational schools offer courses in skills relevant for tailors, such as sewing, fabric selection and embellishments. Most positions require tailors to be at least 18 years old.

Read more: Essential Tailor Skills for Job Seekers

What does a tailor do?

Tailors perform the following duties:

  • Taking client measurements

  • Mending and hemming garments

  • Removing and adding seams

  • Pinning garments

  • Repairing rips in garments

  • Providing time and cost estimates to customers

  • Cutting and measuring fabric and other textiles

  • Sewing garments using sewing machines or needle and thread

  • Fitting garments for customers and recommending alterations

  • Making final adjustments for fashion shows and special events

  • Keeping a record of alterations

  • Following all company policies and procedures

Related: 15 Popular Careers in the Fashion Industry

What is a seamstress/seamster?

A seamstress or seamster is a professional who makes clothes using designs or patterns. They typically need to be at least 18 years old and can work for fashion designers, production companies, theaters and other organizations that need costumes or uniforms.

Like tailors, these sewing professionals may freelance with their own clients on an as-needed basis. Seamstresses and seamsters may earn an associate degree in fashion design or pattern-making to help them be more competitive, as well as potentially earn more..

Read more: 5 Steps on How To Become a Seamstress or Seamster

What does a seamstress/seamster do?

A seamstress or seamster performs many of the same functions as a tailor but may also have specialized skills, including:

  • Measuring and fitting customers

  • Hemming and making other alterations

  • Hand-sewing and using a sewing machine

  • Marking garments and items for alterations

  • Constructing garments and other items out of fabric and other materials

  • Baste stitching

  • Crocheting

  • Petit pointing

  • Tatting

  • Hand-beading

  • Adding closures, such as zippers, buttons and fasteners

  • Placing embellishments

  • Using design templates and patterns

  • Discussing garment plans with fashion designers, producers and costume designers

  • Creating and following client order forms

  • Steaming and pressing garments and other items

  • Repairing fabric rips and tears

  • Communicating project status to managers and customers

  • Following equipment safety guidelines and adhering to company standards

Related: Fashion Designer Resume Tips (With Example and Template)

What skills do tailors and seamstresses/seamsters need?

Tailors and seamstresses and seamsters should have the following skills:

  • Mechanical skills: These creative professionals work with and learn how to use various types of sewing machines. They may also need to perform basic maintenance and repairs.

  • Dexterity: Dexterity is an important skill to gain, as tailors and seamstresses or seamsters need dexterity to perform the small, repetitive motions involved in sewing and altering garments.

  • Customer service skills: Tailors and sewing professionals work closely with customers and must be patient, accommodating and courteous.

  • Communication skills: Tailors and seamstresses or seamsters must be able to communicate effectively with clients and managers to discuss project needs, make recommendations and collect payments.

  • Time management skills: Both professionals must plan their tasks in order to meet client deadlines.

  • Attention to detail: Seamstresses or seamsters and tailors must pay close attention to their project details to ensure they use the proper strategies for delicate fabrics, make appropriate cuts and perform the correct operations to each garment.

Read more: 9 Tips for Improving Your Customer Service Skills

How are tailors and seamstresses/seamsters different?

While tailors and seamstresses and seamsters share many of the same skills and job duties, tailors traditionally focus more on altering clothes that are already made so that they fit their clients properly. Seamstresses or seamsters, meanwhile, follow designs to construct new clothes or other fabric items, like bedding, pillows and curtains.

Tailors rarely create new designs, whereas sewing professionals may work with a variety of other professionals to construct garments like costumes for plays, ballets and musical performances. This requires seamstresses and seamsters to have a broader range of technical skills and a more diverse knowledge of fabrics and other textiles.

Both tailors and seamstresses or seamsters may pursue membership in a professional organization, such as the Association of Sewing and Design Professionals. The Association of Sewing and Design Professionals offers Master Sewing and Design Professional and Master Alteration Specialist certifications.

Read more: 15 Work from Home Business Opportunities

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How much do tailors and seamstresses/seamsters make?

Tailors make an average of $17.93 per hour in the U.S. Their wages can vary based on experience, company and geographic location. According to Indeed salaries, the highest paying cities for tailors are:

  • San Francisco, CA: $25.25 per hour

  • New York, NY: $22.03 per hour

  • Pittsburgh, PA: $20.48 per hour

  • Chicago, IL: $20.32 per hour

  • Tulsa, OK: $16.96 per hour

Seamstresses or seamsters make an average of $16.19 per hour in the U.S. Indeed salaries reports the highest paying cities for seamstresses are:

  • New York, NY: $18.98 per hour

  • Washington, D.C.: $18.62 per hour

  • Los Angeles, CA: $17.86 per hour

  • Jacksonville, FL: $16.45 per hour

  • Austin, TX: $15.86 per hour

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that wages for tailors, dressmakers and custom sewers vary from $10.61 per hour (10th percentile) to $27.64 per hour (90th percentile). According to the BLS, the states with the highest level of employment for tailors, dressmakers and custom sewers (as of May 2021) are:

  • California

  • Texas

  • New York

  • Pennsylvania

  • Florida

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link(s) provided.

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