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Haberdashery is not a commonly used word, and where it is used may change the definition. In the UK, a modern haberdashery usually sells needed items like buttons, thread, or ribbons, and on occasion, a store specializes in selling window draperies. In the US, people use the term to refer to men’s clothing stores or men’s departments in stores that sell accessories like gloves, ties, watches, and hats. This is more often called a men’s accessory department, and many in the US are unfamiliar with the term.
Initially, a haberdashery sold all kinds of accessories, something like a medieval five and dime store. Shoppers might find things like buttons, thread, or ribbons, commonly called notions, but such a store might also supply its customers with swords, musical instruments, or simple household items. A description of one in England in the 16th century refers to a number of things in stock: drinking implements, Jews’ Harps, birdcages, mousetraps, and shoehorns. In the US, this assortment of items might be sold in a dry goods store instead.
A haberdasher also has multiple definitions. He may be someone who works in a haberdashery, owns one, or makes the items sold in one. There are few true specialists in men’s accessories. A few employees of exclusive men’s stores may define themselves as haberdashers by trade.
Haberdashery is an odd word, somewhat fun to say, but its origin is unknown. Some suggest it comes from the French English word, hapertas, which translates to "wares" or "pretty wares." It is suggested that hapertas may have referred to a specific type of fabric that is now no longer made.
Anyone who has ever worked in a men’s clothing or accessory store in the US may have once been a haberdasher, according to its current US definition. The list of haberdashers in the past includes some interesting people. The late talk show host Johnny Carson was briefly a haberdasher. James Cook, the famous 18th century British explorer also spent a short period of time as one.