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How to Find Colonial Britches at Goodwill

Oddly enough, I needed 19 pair of Colonial britches to go with my 25 Colonial vests. (Because I had much better luck renting britches than vests, not because I let anyone go pantless.) This is very similar to the trick I used for the Oliver! knickers, but they need a slimmer fit and different length. It goes like this:

You will need the following measurements:
  1. Waist, Front/Back Waist

Hie thee off to ye olde Goodwill. Find pants that fit ┬áround the proper waist of your victim. For this, you will need their real waist measurement which will generally be a bit different to the measurement they’re used to buying pants with. This can be a fairly sensitive topic with a lot of guys, so I strongly recommend a) not letting them see the tape or the measurement sheet, b) lying and telling them you’re just making sure you have a size range to work with since, you know, Goodwill and all, and c) reminding them that this is one of those “I am my own dorky gran-paw” areas of history in terms of where you pants end up, and they will not look like a big fat man. (They will look like Humpty Dumpty. It’s just one of those lamentable things. On the plus side, this really does minimize the tummy…) I’m not actually kidding about this.

Before you ask, the larger the pant, the deeper the crotch seam, so there’s not much danger of anything being squarshed in there.

Your ideal pant is a flat front. Pleats will make this trick more difficult.

Once you have your pants, you will need to fit them. Suspenders will keep them sitting up around the waist where they belong. ┬áPin out the excess fabric so that the pant lies close to the leg. (You’re not going to get them as closely fitted as a proper pant for this period should be. You could try, but your victim will be mildly flummoxed the first time he goes to sit down, and you’ll just be sitting yourself up for a barrage of split seams.)

Speaking of sitting, your average modern fellow sits rather differently than your proper 18th century gentleman. I made all of the britches for the show a good 3-4″ longer than they really ought to have been, because I didn’t figure my cast would work out how to sit down without flashing their knees. (Even at that, they’re having some issues with it.) To make sure, put a pin in the pant where you think you’re going to hem them. Then have the actor pop a squat on a chair, and see where the pin winds up on the leg. It was constantly surprising to me. (Also, most modern men who are used to wearing proper pants that are not made of demin will subconsciously do a little tug on the front of their trousers during the sitting process. They will deny doing this – I think they’re really not aware that they do it. If you want to win that one, wait until you can catch them mid-tug.)

Once they’re fit, it goes like this:

pinned trouser
I only fit one side of the pant, and try to keep the taper below the pocket if possible.
hem pin
There's a pin marking the location of a safe hem.
trousers, cut
Whack off the hem 1 1/4" below the pin, straight across. Make a smooth curve 1/2" outside the fitting pins, on the leg and cut.

This is going to work best if you were careful during your fittings, and you kept everything neat at the side. If you’ve got things bunched all up between pins, your life will be slightly less happy.

transferring hem
To transfer the hem to the other leg, you can either a) measure carefully, or b) use the piece from first leg as a template. I like option b, because it's faster.
tranfering side markings
I transfer the side markings with the same trick. It's just easier.
serged edges
I serged all the edges, because I have a pathological hatred of raw edges. If you had to cut a pocket, catch it in the serge.
seam sewn
Sew the seam at 1/2". This is the other nice thing about serging it - you get a 1/2" seam just by running the edge of the foot next to the edge of the serge.
iron on hem tape
The hems should all be lovingly done by hand. I don't have time, but I don't want machine stitches to show, so I'm cheating with iron-on hem tape. It works, it's fast, and it you need to move it you can re-heat the glue with an iron and pry it loose.
hem of trouser
This hem is much to large still. That's ok.
taking out hem fullness
You can remove a lot of fullness by making a little tuck.
This will make a nice little fold-over placket.
buttons and loops
Sew buttons on one side of this pleat, and loops on the other. I use elastic to keep the mending down.
buttoned pants
The loops go over the buttons, with snugs the pant down and gives it a nice, period sort of look.


  1. Laura
    Laura May 27, 2011

    I really love these tutorials on taking modern clothes and changing them up. Erin has been making “pants from pants” as she says for awhile now and doesn’t really want to go back to making things from scratch. Works for Steampunk. Am looking forward to the Frock Coat portion of this…

    • missa
      missa May 28, 2011

      Erm…. I guess I should write that, but I’m afraid you’re going to be woefully disappointed. ;)

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