The second part of our costumes for Riley’s Farm was making an 18th century ensemble for my husband. I had never made men’s 18th century garments before so this was entirely new territory for me. To be honest, we had a heck of a time finding readily available information about accurate civilian menswear from the 18th century. But in the end, I think my husband’s outfit came out rather well!
This was a join venture for the two of us. We consulted each other, and did our own research. It was definitely a collaboration. And my friends very nicely chimed in and answered all our newbie questions. My husband wanted something cool (it gets VERY hot in the area the event was), and he needed something practical and outdoorsy. No silks and fancy fabrics this time around!
Again, we searched online and on Pinterest, and here’s some of what stood out to us.
1780s Brown linen suit from Augusta Auctions
1780s man’s wool coat made from sturdy brown wool tweed from vintagetextile.com
We scoured for months for a suitable fabric, and finally settled on a brown twill denim. I’ve heard it was possible to have 18th century garments for denim, though primarily for working wear. So we just went with it, since it’s the only fabric we found that we liked and seemed heat tolerant.
For this we started with a Regency shirt I made my husband, since I knew I wouldn’t have time to make him another shirt. The shirt was from Kannik’s Korner and came out beautifully but was very labor intensive with all the hand sewing and the little thread buttons.
We bought all J.P. Ryan patterns for the vest, breeches, and coat. We didn’t have time to even start on the coat, so that will be another time. But I had heavy modifications on both the breeches and the vest we used, so the photos are not indicative of what you can make from the J.P. Ryan patterns straight out of the envelope. Unfortunately,they just really didn’t work for my husband’s build and figure type, though I have heard others have had good success.
The breeches were very time intensive. We did not modify the front of the breeches, except in length. They used a LOT of hand finishing and fussy construction. I really do not suggest you attempt these if you are not an advanced seamstress. They were hard.
Welt pocket in progress.
More breeches progress.
Buttons and hand done buttonholes.
And still sewing, and still sewing, and still sewing those blasted breeches! Ha.
We had a significant amount of trouble with the fit of the legs and the rear of the trousers. I know that period trousers have “poufy butt”, but these are exceptionally poufy. In the end, I went on a wild goose hunt online and in books and finally found a reference, in French, to the “correct” cut of breeches, and even in the period it seems that most breeches were cut so that they twisted on the legs. That was EXACTLY the problem we were having! Too tight through the leg, and they twisted. The period cut is very strange and bowed, so what we ended up doing was completely redrafting the back trousers and then cutting them so that the center back was on grain and the back leg was on the bias, and we reduced the fullness at the rear significantly. Previously, the leg was on the straight (or close to straight) of grain, and the back was on the bias. Changing this made the fit SO MUCH BETTER across the leg, and allowed for a lot more movement and less twisting. The front of the breeches still tries to twist a bit, so if we ever do this again, I may try altering the grain line on the front as well. Unfortunately, I did not document this well in pictures and in writing, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it. And speaking to others who know the period better than I do, apparently both ways were “correct”, but the way the J.P. Ryan breeches are drafted with the grain line is more common- at least here in America. The method I found in French worked better for us, though. I believe it was from Diderot, though the reference I found was in the Cut of Men’s Clothes book. Ah ha! Here you can see what I mean about the grain in Figure I, piece 2 (that’s the back breeches) http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k108876j/f71 and I believe this might be part of the description (see culotte) http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k108876j/f21.tableDesMatieres
On to the vest, and although we do not have progress pictures (we were running out of time), we did need a significant amount of alterations to the vest as well. J.P. Ryan mentions that the pattern was drafted for a “barrel chested Irishman”, and my husband is not Irish, but Italian in heritage, so we needed quite a bit of fit fixes. Most noticeably, we needed to redraft the center front vest in order to get a period curve. We also needed to add to the shoulder, and we found the back of the vest was cut straight, with no curve for the spine, and yet with no ties. We ended up cutting it straight after all, and will add ties later to fit it in to the back more. Also, we had problems as nearly every photo my husband studied had thirteen buttons on the vest. We counted the pattern illustration and were so glad the vest had 13 buttons! But when we transferred the markings over the the vest (as we kept the spacing after we redrafted the front), there were more than 13- actually more like 15 (or more, I don’t remember off hand), so there was a lot of grumbling and trying to get rid of chalk lines on the part of my husband. It was still a good base for us, however, and was better than drafting something up from scratch. But we did do a substantial amount of changes to get it to look like what we wanted.
My husband did nearly all the buttonholes by hand, which he had never done before, he made the vest pockets, and he covered nearly all the buttons himself. I did a lot of the machine sewing, fitting, drafting, and finishing. But between the two of us, we made it happen! And my husband styled and trimmed his hat himself, and I think it looks exceptional. Not too narrow like so many of the tricorns we see!
We still have the coat to make and a wig to style for him. Someday!
Not too bad for a couple of newbies to 18th century menswear :)
Have you made 18th century menswear? What are your favorite resources? We’d love to know!