There is no truth to the rumor that my GGG uncle, Andrew Sedgwick, a haberdasher from Devonshire, England, made Abraham Lincoln’s top hat so that President Lincoln could store important papers and notes for speeches inside. He did, however, make cummerbunds for military officers heading out to India, providing them with instructions to wear the cummerbund upside down so they could use the pleats for storing messages.
Being a tailor was hard work but much better than working in the coalmines. The tailor traditionally sat cross-legged on a table pushed against a window with the sewing in his lap. The reason for this was that windows were very small and the work needed the best light. My great grandfather told me that the tailor, sitting in his window on the table, saw most of what was going on outside and became something of a local news reporter. His shop was always warm because his iron was always hot and ready to use so people would often come in for warmth and gossip. Sitting cross-legged helped keep his work clean and allowed him to lay his pressing board across his knees. The pressing board was sometimes called a donkey, and the iron was called a goose due to its goose-necked handle. The iron was heated on a little charcoal heater.
In the 1800’s, if a father was a tailor (haberdasher), the first son was also a tailor while a second son often
became a shoemaker. My GGG grandfather was the 3rd son, and, living near the sea, decided to become a sailor. His travels took him around the world where he discovered wonderful fabrics that he brought home to his brothers. Using this fabric and their individual skills, the three of them moved from making and retailing small piece-goods to becoming cloth merchants who ran a manufacturing and wholesale import and export business in addition to owning a number of draper’s shops.
My GGG grandfather continued to handle the distribution in overseas trade, in spite of meeting his future wife in New York and immigrating to the United States. His son did not follow in his father’s footsteps, opening instead a private racing stable in New Jersey where wealthy patrons would come by a special train from New York City for a day at the races. His father’s clothing business success increased as he designed many of the elegant and fashionable outfits for the race goers.
Our interest in clothing seems to have skipped the next generation until my grandmother became a high fashion model and Vogue cover girl. My mother returned to our ancestral roots by attending the University of Exeter in Devonshire, England. She, too, did some modeling but later spent more time taking me to modeling jobs when I was a child. My favorite activity was spending hours in clothing stores with her. I would pass the time pretending to be a mannequin until she tried something on and I could pass judgment on her choice. It seems that my destiny was set by my haberdasher ancestors to restart their business once again.