Date of Award

December 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Cecilia Van Hollen


Apprenticeship, Clothing, Craft, India, Labor, Tailoring

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation is about Jaipur’s tailors, making custom-crafted clothing for individual customers in a rapidly changing and globally fashion-informed India. Indian-crafted clothing and textiles are a source of pride domestically and have long been used and admired throughout the world. So how is that India’s tailors, the people whose knowledge, abilities, and hard work form the backbone of this industry, receive so little thought or recognition? Although tailors are a seemingly well-respected and integral part of shaping Jaipur’s cultural landscape, my inquiries often revealed that tailors and their labor are popularly characterized as mundane. While considerable attention gets paid to India’s rich craft heritage, and its influence on contemporary Indian fashion design is celebrated, I find that tailors, as highly skilled craftspeople and the creators of desirable fashion, are rarely acknowledged and even less understood, particularly by those who depend on them.

Based on thirteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Jaipur, Rajasthan, this dissertation demonstrates how India’s vibrant tailoring traditions and contemporary tailoring practices are a versatile cultural form that relies heavily on the knowledge and participation of an often overlooked, low-paid, and arguably highly creative and influential human-powered labor force. At a time when mass-produced readymade and branded clothing is increasingly available and attractive to an aspiring middle class, I seek to illuminate the unrecognized expanse of tailors’ craft as practiced daily within the creative constraints of satisfying the desires of their customers. I also examine the challenges tailors face in commanding the recognition and value that their labor deserves. These often stem from deeper limitations rooted in the uneven power dynamics of gender, class, caste, religion and educational background. By focusing a microethnographic lens on tailors and the everyday processes of their making, I seek to magnify the nexus of craft as a form of labor, status, and value. I also offer an intimate view of some of the material conditions and social relations of production that structure the human experience of work––and the ways inequalities inform the meanings and values of work––within the confines, opportunities, and extensions of global capitalism.


Open Access