I needed 25 Colonial-looking vests for 1776. Because I wasn’t sure that I’d get round to making a coat for everyone, I wanted vests that weren’t faked out in the back, and I needed them to have structure and to be long enough to cover the obviously modern fly fronts on the britches I was making them. Now, you can’t just trot off to the Goodwill and buy a real live Colonial vest. But you can pull off something passable, if you believe that that there are, in fact, user-serviceable parts inside of a jacket….
In the interest of due credit where credit is due, this idea actually came from my boss. I said I was going to look to rent vests from the college, and she said, “Why? You know you’re just going to end up mangling Goodwill jackets.” I hadn’t actually known that. I’m not sure I would have thought of it, but it made a lot of sense once she said it.
So here’s what you do – head off to your local resale. You’re looking for modern men’s suit jackets – the kind that end just below the crotchel area. You want single-breasted. Ideally, you want a lapel that doesn’t curve at the edge. They need to match the chest and waist measurements of the actor, without a lot of ease. (Your actors will probably complain about this, and tell you that you got them the wrong size.) Don’t believe any measurements you find the suit labeled with, either. They don’t tell you how much ease was added to make the fashionable line of whatever time they were made in. ;)
These are patch pockets, so I removed them. In the course of mangling two dozen jackets, I learned something about patch pockets:
Sometimes, you’ll run into a collar construction that makes no logical sense. Often, it’s old. (One of the jackets I brutalized still had it’s original work order tags in, stating it was made for a Mr. Loresch on 8-2-56. I felt a little bad about what I did to that poor thing….) Sometimes, the only thing you can do is cut it and seal the edges with a zig-zag.
Remember that extra inch of fabric you left yourself when you made your initial cut? Use this to bind off the new edge, wrapping it over the padding. You can do this neatly by hand. I did this for about a third of them, before I came to my senses and switched to a zig-zag over the edge. It doesn’t matter how you do it – just make sure you get all the ugly to the inside… I won’t tell.
Make button-holes all the way up to the neck. You’ll probably need to insert a couple between the existing button-holes as well. You want the spacing to be somewhere between 2″ and 2 1/2″. This would be a bother, if my sewing machine didn’t have a really fantastic one-step button hole feature. I love my Kenmore.
Having the structure inside of the jacket keeps it from going all wrinkly on the body, and it’s close enough to the right line for the stage… The trim at the shoulder isn’t the most period thing, but it hides a rather ugly line of stitching. In a perfect world, you’ll want to fit the vests to each body, so that they stay close near the neck instead of pulling away. I’m not costuming in a perfect world, and the neck action does a lot to hide the problem.
This is a GREAT idea. And you know what Erin says: “What is our favorite kind of sewing? DONE.”
Done is BEAUTIFUL.
It’s funny what a few years of theater will do to a girl… I’ve gone from the land of fuss-towards-beautiful-well-researched-perfection to let’s-just-go-with-it. It’s so funny. I went through all my fashion classes not understanding what “just don’t over-think it” meant, and now, looking back…. Now I usually don’t have time to think a full design through the first time, much less overthink it – it’s sort of pick a direction and run, and trust that it will work.
Did you remove the pockets? I love yur idea and the information about different shoulder pad construction was very interesting.
Thank you, Cindi. I removed all patch pockets and pocket flaps, yes.
Nine years later, and here I am. It’s just past 10PM on a weeknight, my kids all have school the next day. I just got done making and frying THREE DOZEN “johnnycakes” because tomorrow is colonial day in my 5th grader’s classroom. I’ve taken measurements for a waistcoat for him, and I have the fabric. I was going to do something quick and dirty.. But I still have to make a mockup pattern. And assemble it. and I haven’t touched my sewing machine in MONTHS. Which means I need to make sure it’s in working order as it is, and that’s going to be a good half hour or more of time, and that doesn’t include making sure my bobbins are full and I just.. I hit a point of desperation.
Guess who is about to go grab an old suit coat I got from Goodwill last year as my oldest kid’s theater costume and start mangling it?
THANK YOU SO MUCH.
Omg, Kayleigh – that’s a lot! Like, too much. I wish you Godspeed and good luck, and most of all some sleep. Let me know how it goes (or don’t if it means you get to rest).