Victorian clothing and sweatshops: Why children used to make clothes

Find out why and listen to the podcast episode below!

Victorians – especially the wealthy ones, loved fashion.

Today you can go into a shop and pick a shirt off a hanger, ready to wear. There was no such thing in Victorian times.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that sizes were standardised – before then, if you wanted a dress or some trousers they would be made to your exact measurements.

In Victorian times every piece of clothing or footwear – or headwear – had to be made by hand.

Click here to find out more about Victorian jobs!

The fabrics and materials used were different before the Victorian era. If you were poor you would wear linen or wool, spun and woven by yourself, or your family. The rich enjoyed silks and velvets, often brought from abroad at great expense.

This changed as cotton began to be imported – everyone loved this versatile new material.

The new cotton mills and factories were producing fabric in greater quantities than ever before and so it became cheaper to have new things made by a tailor or seamstress.

Click here to find out more about Victorian jobs!

This meant there was plenty of work doing “piecework” or dressmaking, for those who needed the money.

Where the work was simple and repetitive it was a simple enough job for a child to do with even babies and toddlers weaving straw into braid for bonnets.

Even if a child was attending school, work like this, done at home was a good way to add to a families income, and so it was work unaffected largely by changes to the law protecting children at work, which was most concerned about dangerous employment such as factories and mines.

Poorer women would make clothes for themselves of course and it’s unlikely they enjoyed as many new garments, but even still, they would have tried to copy the styles of the rich and famous – just as some people still do today.

Kids in The Past

Discover what life for children was like throughout the ages


Dan and Bex have found a book that transports them back to Victorian Britain!

They’re exploring all the grim and nasty jobs that children just like you had to do in the past, from picking up poop to popping up chimneys.

english_landscape_blackReally? Kids Did That! is supported by The National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.


Explore all the free Fun Kids podcasts!

Download a series to listen to on your phone, tablet or in the car!


Add a comment