Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Tailcoat of Uncertain Execution

So, I looked at a LOT of pictures before beginning this tailcoat for my fine fellow. I have never really made any kind of coat for a man (beyond a jerkin for Ren Faire), and was terrified to try it. To prepare myself, I researched paintings, contemporary cutting diagrams, extant museum pieces, and fashion plates. In fact, I fastidiously avoided beginning the pattern because there was just so much research to be done. The excuses I give myself.

And then, in the end... I had to make up the coat in less than a week. Really, a few nights. And I just hoped enough research had sunk in so that whatever pattern I spit out would be moderately authentic, because I had no time to carefully deliberate over my patternmaking. 

My primary reference for drafting the pattern was Men's Garment's 1830-1900: A Guide to Pattern Cutting and Tailoring. The first tailcoat pattern draft in the book is for a coat circa 1830, but it looked like something that I could tweak slightly into a moderately accurate pattern for my desired time period (1800-1810). Another GREAT reference was an article posted on the Regency Society of America forum (post is here, actual article is via ingentaconnect), The Clothing of a Georgian Banker, Thomas Coutts: A Story of Museum Dispersal, authored by David Wilcox. There are a couple oddities about Thomas Coutts clothing, but I find those to be most interesting (sometimes, when researching reproduction clothing, I think it is easy to limit oneself to only attributes commonly found in extant clothing/research. However, clothing then, as now, was just functional - it was edited and altered to serve its purpose best.) The clothing documented in the article is mostly for an older Mr. Coutts, so it must be taken into account that he may not have been on the forefront of fashion, even if his wardrobe is dated close to 1810. 

Observe below, the differences between the 1830 (R.I. Davis) pattern, and the 1810 (Thomas Coutts) pattern.

Pattern detail from The Clothing of a Georgian Banker, Thomas Coutts.
Pattern being drafted (ignore the armhole mishap - I used 1/8 scale as a reference at one point, instead of 1/4 scale. It was fixed after a little confusion.) from R. I. Davis's Men's Garments 1830-1900.

Differences between earlier vs. later patterns: (I also compared these to a couple Norah Waugh coat patterns, one of which is too early and one of which is too late for my period - why is there nothing available for 1805-1815? I had to imagine the progression between patterns):
- fit: early patterns have a lot more straight lines, late patterns are pretty curvy. By 1830 they are starting to hug the body pretty snugly. 
- waist seam: early patterns have none (and very little shaping, although I think I could get away with a fish dart at the pocket for 1810), whereas late patterns have evolved from a slight fish dart at the pocket to a full-blown waist seam, nipping in at the waist to create a bit of a flared skirt. Maggie Waterman wrote a great article about when the waist seam on Regency coats appeared (as well as a stout defense of well-researched costuming!) on her blog Serendipitous Stitchery, (article here).
- armscye: I noticed that on some patterns (namely the Coutts and Norah Waugh patterns) the armscye is very large and round. But on the R. I. Davis pattern, it's fairly narrow and close. Observing extant garments, the armholes appear to always be pretty closely-cut to the front-shoulder and underarm, and cut 'round closer to centre-back than modern coats. Maybe the large-looking armscye is just a proportion thing that I am not understanding. Maybe the R.I. Davis pattern would look correct if I raised the underarm seam, rounding out the shape of the armscye. But I didn't worry too much about that. As long as it looked right post-fitting, I determined to not fuss. 
- length: coats around 1810 tended to be shorter (above back of knee), and around 1830 they tend to be longer (solidly mid-knee).

 I busted out (fiercely quickly) the first pattern, using Kenny's measurements. Once the pattern looked about right, I laid it flat on muslin and traced around it with red marking wax. Pins didn't enter into it. I had Kenny cut out the pieces with really wide, haphazard seam allowances, and then I stitched the pieces together by just matching the marked lines and stitching down them. My teachers would possibly have cringed. But, I was able to make a mock-up in an evening, and make all my pattern adjustments!! It worked out.  

Kenny looks like such a hobbit in this picture. His breeches are not hemmed and don't have buttons holding them in at the knee, so they are kind of flapping out and making him look squatty (need to remember this picture for future hobbit costumes!) We decided that the coat needed to a) be cutaway higher, and b) re-angled at the opening - the angle of that opening is old man angle, not a chic young gentleman angle.

My sweetie-pie! He let me drag him away from his desk multiple times to re-try things on. He still smiled at me for pictures. I surely do love him.

A couple issues here: drag lines from the side-back neck (probably needed to slash+spread the front neckline close to the shoulder seam - maybe - armholes confuse me), tight across-front chest (I did slash+spread a little bit into the lower front armhole, which, now that I think about it, addressed my patternmaking qualm about the armscye being too narrow!).  The sleeve looks weird. But I was really trying to set it as far into the body as possible, like the extant examples I've seen! I don't think it looked to weird on the end result (but I still haven't examined those pictures, so we'll see...)

These sleeves are SO long (which is pretty authentic). Now that I am looking at these pictures, I could have possible re-angled the sleeve when I set it in to help with the awkward back-bulge at the armscye. Got a couple unattractive drag lines going on there. 

No collar! Totally should have put the collar on for the fitting. I hang my head in shame. But it would have taken me another twenty minutes to draft correctly, and I did not have that kind of time. This bit me in the bum later. 

Skirts are too long. Unfortunately, I forgot to trim them when I stitched up the coat (a lot of stitching happened in the car on the way to Louisville, so that was easily overlooked.) Will have to go back and fix that!

Here you can see that I started to pull the armscye back toward the CB/shoulder. I brought it in by roughly 2". That wrinkle under his arm? Could not figure out how to get rid of it without restricting movement. I have seen this bulgy wrinkle in quite a few plates and paintings, though. I assume it is inevitable with the high, tight armscye (although... I probably should have rotated the sleeve a little bit, might have helped). Observe how I pinched in the fish dart; I totally forgot to mark and execute that in my hasty construction of the actual coat. Yet another thing to go back and fix. 

Now I really want to see pictures of the actual coat on Kenny again. Have to get those photos from my mom, and then I'll dissect them here. 


  1. Oh my goodness! You were on the way to Louisville? Did you go to the Jane Austen festival and I TOTALLY MISSED THIS AMAZING COAT YOU DRAFTED FROM MAGIC?! This is truly, TRULY impressive. I love the front of the coat - its just more of a French style to have it slightly more rounded like that but I agree, this handsome gent here needs to show they did back in the Regency, men's coats were "cut to reveal all below the waist!" Classy, right? I wonder if I can draft this to fit my own handsome gent. Suggestions? The magic of men's wear is totally lost on me..And drafting.

    1. Ya, we went to the festival for the first time and I loved it! We'll hopefully be coming again next year - I heard a couple rumours that the International Jane Austen Festival would be in Louisville next year, do you know anything of that?

      Suggestion would to be... just dive in and start drawing/draping! I prefer to drape things (things make more sense on a body than a table, lol), but the book I used (R.I.Davis's Men's Garments 1830-1900) is pretty explanatory - you just have to make sure you write out what is scale (one half-of chest measurement, I think), and then half, quarter, and eighth scale. And then make sure you use the right one where called for, haha, as I clearly did not around my armscye.

      Also, I made my first coat out of linen. I would suggest doing that, too - wool coats have all that tailoring, which means you are more devastated when one or the other pieces doesn't fit somehow (hey, it happens). And linen is super-forgiving. I lined mine in cotton, which kind of defeats the point of linen as far as authenticity goes, but it made the process a little gentler.

      If you DO decide to try drafting this for your Doctor(?), let me know if you run into any problems! Hopefully by then I'll be on the second round of this pattern and will have worked out any kinks.

    2. You are a saint my dear! And of course right after my post I saw that you were prepping for the JA festival and then remember seeing you guys (i think?) it was a flurry of chaos and bedlam.

      Thank you so much for all of your awesome suggestions..I did make him a coat combining two patterns and it was probably the most evil frustrating thing I have ever done, I think having something custom will really help me! Wish me luck, it will likely have to be next year because in about two months we are getting married! (aie!!)

      Also, I know that they are having the big nation wide meeting in two years (The AGM its called) but that means it wont necessarily be a fair : (. Boo on that mess. I will keep up updated, though!

    3. Hehe, yes, we did meet ONCE! I pounced on you in the flurry on the way back from the promenade. We'll meet again. ;)

      Also... GETTING MARRIED!! So exciting! I hope that the next two months are stress-free for you! Getting married should be awesome, because being married is awesome, so best of luck for the next eight weeks. And the rest of your life. Haha, sometimes weddings take over the world and then your life suddenly resets afterward. It'll be good.

  2. Abigeal- I was recently looking for an 18th century authentic men's dress. I searched the web and found cheap replicas, drummer boys, circus costumes and the like. Then I found this website and read that you were a fashion designer. Would you be interested in a commission for such a red tailcoat? At least I would like some advice on this costume idea...

    1. Hi J.(?)

      Unfortunately, I am not able to do custom work at this time. I am sorry! However, if you search for a similar tailcoat on venues like Etsy, you may be able to find a maker who would be willing to make a custom tailcoat for you (A.J. Machete and Sons has some similar options).