The revolt of the tailors

1798 marked the year the Brazilian profession of ‘alfaiate’ - or ’tailor’ - transcended humble craft and entered the public’s imagination. The close of the 18th Century & its relevance to Brazilian tailoring can be better understood when seen through the prism of the Portuguese colony's struggle for independence. 

Brazilian Tailoring

In fact, Brazilian history has been more vociferous about a hirsute - and wonderfully named - romantic protagonist of an earlier event in the region of Minas Gerais almost a decade before 1798.

In 1789, gold mining was on the wane in Brazil - 'Minas Gerais' pithily translates as 'General Mines' - and the gold miners faced increasing difficulties in fulfilling tax obligations to the Portuguese crown as gold became less plentiful. When the regional captaincy could not satisfy the royal demand for gold, it was burdened with an additional tax on gold, called a derrama.

Sebastiao Salgado Mines

The recent revolution in the United States and subsequent independence from Great Britain, along with the enlightenment movement in Europe, was fuelling sympathies towards emancipation in much of the New World. This combination of internal and external factors created a zeitgeist of independence in the wealthy mineral region, led by an assortment of intellectuals, military officers and clergy - almost all from the middle or upper class.

The most virile of this coterie was Joaquim José da Silva Xavier. This bearded dragooner, with his hair worn alla nazzarena, was better known as Tiradentes - or ‘Toothpuller' - on account of a previous career as a dentist.

The Minas Gerais Conspiracy for independence - or Inconfidência Mineira - was planned for the day of the collection of the derrama tax in 1789. In a twist of fate that is eerily familiar in a modern Brazil awash with corruption charges, the plotters were sold out by a co-conspirator in exchange for personal tax breaks from the crown. Tiradentes managed to flee but was eventually arrested and, on April 21,1792, was hanged and quartered. Today, April 21 is remembered as 'Tiradentes day’ and remains a public holiday. 


But it was the independence movement of the north-eastern city of Salvador in the captaincy of Bahia that put tailoring on the tips of tongues at the very end of the 18th Century. Unlike the Minas Gerais movement, the Bahian Plot - O Conjuração Baiana - was driven by the working and lower classes. Once again, the trigger was an augmenting of taxes in the Bahian captaincy.

On the 12 of August 1798, several of the more fervent members of the movement distributed seditious pamphlets at local churches and street corners demanding the abolition of slavery, the proclamation of a republic, the lowering of taxes, the opening of ports, an end to prejudice and general wage increases.

Sidewalks of Riol Martin Munkacsi

Within 24 hours, the revolutionaries were rounded up by the authorities and savagely executed and dismembered, with their body parts put on public display to serve as a warning.

Importantly, many of these martyrs were tailors by profession and the conspiracy soon became nicknamed ‘The Revolt of the Tailors’. Brazil's independence from Portugal would finally arrive just over two decades later in 1822. So began Brazil’s relationship with tailoring.