In 1675, Louis XIV established the Parisian seamstresses’ guild, the first independent all-female guild created in over 200 years. Guild members could make and sell women’s and children’s clothing, but were prohibited from producing men’s clothing or dresses for court women. Tailors resented the ascension of seamstresses to guild status; seamstresses, meanwhile, were impatient with the remaining restrictions on their right to clothe women.
The conflict between the guilds was not purely economic, however. A 1675 police report indicated that since so many seamstresses were already working illegally, the tailors were unlikely to suffer additional economic damage because of the seamstresses’ incorporation. Moreover, guild membership held very different meanings for tailors and seamstresses. To the tailors, their status as guild members overlapped with their role as heads of household, and entitled them to employ as seamstresses female family members who did not marry outside the trade. The seamstresses, however, viewed guild membership as a mark of independenc the patriarchal family. Their guild was composed not of family units but of individual women who enjoyed unusual legal and economic privileges. At the conflict’s center was the issue of whether tailors’ female relatives should be identified as family members protected by the tailors’ guild or as individuals under the jurisdiction of the seamstresses’ guild.