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The nouns haberdasher (naming a person following a particular trade) and haberdashery (a collective noun for the goods traded in) have rather different meanings in British and American English. In both versions of English, they are pronounced similarly, with the 'h-' realized, and the first two vowels like the '-a-' in 'that' and 'had'. In the agent noun haberdasher, the stress is on the first syllable.; in haberdashery, the stress is on the third syllable.

  • In Britain, a haberdasher deals, on the retail scale, in the tools and materials connected with all kinds of needlework, but particularly dressmaking. Haberdashery includes such things as ribbons, and other ornamental addition; threads, scissors and needles; buttons, zips and other fastenings; etcetera. In America these are known as notions.
  • In America, a haberdasher deals with items of male clothing, such as socks, underwear, shirts and handkerchiefs - items one might have expected to find in a men's outfitters in Britain, before the custom of making the selling of clothes more unisex. This sense appears to have evolved from sixteenth century haberdashers retailing caps and hats (e.g. Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew 4.3.62–85). (They also dealt in swords, knives, daggers and spurs.)
    • 'The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers' is one of the livery companies of the City of London. It is known today for its support of education. It currently declares an interest in some 14 schools, of which probably the best-known nowadays are the public schools named after the Company and one of its Masters and benefactors, Robert Aske (1619 –1689). These are:
      • Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, or to its population sometimes HABS, the original school, founded in 1690 in Hoxton, now a part of but then outside the city of London. It moved in 1874 to Cricklewood (Hampstead) and in 1961 to Elstree, its current (2014) location.
          • Old boys (alumni) of Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School are called 'Old Haberdashers'.
      • Haberdashers' Aske's School for Girls began with four sites for teaching girls when the foundation was re-organized in 1873. In 1891, the more ambitious of these schools (in Hatcham) moved to premises further away from the boys, who expanded into the girls' school buildings; the less elevated (in Hoxton) moved to Acton early in the twentieth century. Finally, in 1974, the unified Haberdashers' Aske's School for Girls followed the boys to a related site in Elstree.
Etymological note: the origins of haberdash (an obsolete - and uncommon - noun meaning "petty merchandise, small wares", OED), haberdasher and haberdashery are not at all clear. The Anglo-Norman hapertas, which may be no more than a poor transcription by a Norman scribe of a native English haberdasserie, is not proved to be the origin; nor is the modern Icelandic haprtask ('haversack'), which OED 1898 declares "is not possible". Haberdash appears, from the dates of the sources, to be a back-formation from haberdasher: it is to be understand as 'what a haberdasher does', 'the material with which a haberdasher deals'.