Tailors and tailoresses

Tailors and tailoresses

A Tailors' Society was formed in Melbourne in 1866 but collapsed in 1869 due to financial difficulties. It was re-founded in 1870 as the Tailors' Trade Protection Society.

The Tailoresses' Association of Melbourne was formed in 1882 and organised the famous Melbourne Tailoresses’ Strike of 1882-1883:

On Tuesday 5 December 1882, having just been informed that their piece rates were to be reduced even further, 300 or so women employed at Messrs. Beath, Schiess and Co. put down their work and walked out into Flinders Lane […] Before the proposed reduction, a trouser hand such as she could make 25 shillings a week, but only if she took home extra pairs at night. On the new rates, she would have struggled to make 20 shillings. Another employee at Beath and Schiess told the Age a similar story: before she had been able to earn no more than 24 shillings a week, working 14 hours a day. The proposed reduction would bring her ‘down to eighteen shillings or one pound at the most’, and this for ‘working from half-past eight in the morning to half past five in the afternoon with half an hour’s interval for lunch and three to four hours work in the evenings at home’. Another woman, employed as a coat hand, anonymously told the Age how six weeks before, the firm had tried to reduce the price for a coat from four shillings and eight pence to 4 shillings and tuppence. In this instance the workers had ‘refused to accept it’, and they had only taken threepence off instead. ‘We submitted to this’, she admitted, ‘but [when] they said that they would take off another threepence, then we struck’. (Thornton)

The Tailoresses began meeting with the Tailors' Trade Protection Society in 1905. The Pressers' Union, which formed in 1884, amalgamated with the Cutters' & Joiners' Union in 1902 to form the Victorian Clothing Operatives' Union.

In 1907 these groups combined to form the Victorian Branch of the Federated Clothing Trades Union of the Commonwealth of Australia. As elements of the trade incorporated into the union, it changed names to the Federated Clothing & Allied Trades Union in 1922, the Amalgamated Clothing & Allied Trades Union in 1924 and the Clothing & Allied Trades Union of Australia in 1947. In 1992 this became the Textile Clothing & Footwear Union of Australia

The Noel Butlin Archives Centre holds 13 deposits of clothing trades records from various unions and branches, dating 1866–2005. There are also records relating to clothing manufacturing within several Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union deposits.

Boot trade employees

The Australian Boot Trade Employees' Federation was registered federally in 1908 following the earlier registration of the Adelaide, New South Wales, Queensland and Victorian state-based unions. The Union existed independently until the 1980s when imports began to affect the footwear and clothing industries. In 1987 it amalgamated with the Australian Textile Workers' Union to become the Amalgamated Footwear and Textile Workers' Union of Australia, and in 1992, a further amalgamation with the Federated Clothing and Allied Trades Union created the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia

The Noel Butlin Archives holds 11 deposits relating specifically to boot trade employees, dating 1885–1993. There are also records relating to footwear manufacturing within several Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union deposits.


Danielle Thornton. 'We Have No Redress Unless We Strike': Class, Gender and Activism in the Melbourne Tailoresses' Strike, 1882-83 [online]. Labour History, No. 96, May 2009, pp 19-38.