Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Your Clothes May Be Beau Brummell-y"

The first time I remember hearing the name Beau Brummell is in the 1980's musical Annie - the lyrics of "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" use the term "Beau Brummell-y" to describe a dapper wardrobe. (Of course I had no idea to what it referenced when I was 7 years old, I only figured out the wordplay several years later.) I assumed when starting this blog that anyone interested in Regency Men's Fashion would understand the reference in my title, but I'm realizing now that with the current Austen obsession ("Mr. Darcy" this and "Mr. Knightley" that), a little background on Brummell might be useful here.

During the social and political upheaval of the late 18th century in Europe, overdone fabrics and frippery went out of style (who wants to look like an aristocrat when they're all getting their heads chopped off??) and fashion was simplified. Women's fashion took its cue from Classical ideals, and for men, country clothing became the new trend in town. Breeches and stockings were out. Brightly colored brocade coats were out. Now men wore long trousers and a dark woolen coat (exquisitely tailored, of course) to be fashionable.

1805 Caricature of Beau Brummell
Beau Brummell made a name for himself with high society as a leader of fashion, right during this major turning point for men's clothing. He did not invent the new fashion, but he dictated the right and wrong way to wear it. He determined that the effect should be subtle and elegant, and worked hard to make it look easy and natural. He employed various tailors and hairstylists to help achieve his desired look, and would spend hours dressing and went through piles of cravats every day. The Prince Regent himself watched Brummell dress to learn the tricks!

Miniature Portrait of
Beau Brummell

The male mode of dress developed during the early 19th century has set the tone for menswear to this day. Even in this age of jeans and t-shirts, no man's wardrobe is considered complete without a tailored suit of dark wool. And luckily for me, it's easier to convince a guy to dress "period" in a coat and trousers than a doublet and petticoat breeches!

There are some great resources if you want to learn more about Beau Brummell and his cohorts - Wikipedia, of course, and lately I've also been enjoying reading An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England. I missed Beau Brummell: This Charming Man but want to see it someday!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pattern Corrections and Second Mockup

After fitting the first mockup of Chris's Regency coat, I took the mockup apart to trace off the pieces.

Front Body
Here you can see the neckline pinned to correct the droop, and the new armhole that I sketched in based off of where I clipped. You can also see the waistline dart - I tried to pin out the same "banana" shape that the pattern from the Cut of Men's Clothes has, but that doesn't make sense to me for sewing (the outer side of the dart will be longer than the inner side), so I'm going to modify that to a regular fisheye dart.
Tailcoat from The Cut of Men's Clothes
Note the Waistline Dart

Second Pattern with Adjustments after fitting

I forgot to take pictures of the pattern before I modified it after the 2nd fitting, so here's a combined picture. One thing I'm a little concerned about is the neckline shape after I picked up the Droopy Front in the first fitting. See how small it is now? That's different from both the Tidens Toej pattern and the Cut of Men's Clothes, but I'm going with it for now.

Here's the second mockup - looks a little nicer! I'm only making minor adjustments here - reshaping the side/back seam little more, adding 1" to the body length.

You can see that Chris is wearing more Regency-esque clothes under the mockup than the first time round (Collared shirt, vest/waistcoast). It's best to do that every time, but crucial as you get further in the project. It's hard to tell if you have the right silhouette if the undergarments are wrong - that goes for men as much it does for women.

Second Mockup - Back
Second Mockup - Front

Monday, September 13, 2010

First Mockup

For my first mockup (and probably the second and third), I sewed only the front and back pieces for the basic fit. No sleeves, no collar. I didn't really have any idea what size this pattern was, and some major adjustments might be necessary, so those things would just get in the way.

Luckily, the coat is a little small for Chris, but not too bad. I'd say this pattern is probably a good 36" chest. Chris wears a 37"-38" jacket, and we needed to open it up at the armholes and reshape the back, but it wasn't too terribly small on him.

The biggest correction needed on the front is the angle of the bottom edge. It droops down and needs to be picked up to be horizontal. I'm not going to just cut off the bottom edge to form a new angle - that would push the whole piece off-grain. Instead I pick up the front in the neckline, and I'll reshape the neckline & collar later (see why I didn't attach the collar yet?).

Uncorrected Jacket Front - note the tight armhole
and the drooping front

Close-up of the Drooping Front correction.
The pencil arrowmark at the top edge
 is to remind me to fill in that angle.
I also clipped the armhole to fit better,
as it was tight and needed to be reshaped.
Less Droopy now! Plus the grainline is running
 the right direction. Whew!

The back looks a little messier, but it's really not. I'm pinching a little out of the back princess (are they called princess seams on men?) and extending the armhole a little, so I had to add an extra piece of muslin to draw my new armhole seam. There are a couple other little issues (like the back neck - see the wrinkles?) but I'm going to deal with that on the next mockup. Big stuff first.

Back View
Interesting thing about these coats - see that seam going across the back shoulder? That's the shoulder seam. It's so far back it almost looks like a yoke. Why did they do it this way?

Also, coats in the early Regency period didn't have sideseams or waistline seams, so less body shaping was possible. (Waistseams started to be added around 1820, and sideseams were around 1830.) Like I mentioned before, I'm not adamant about perfect period accuracy on a hobby costume reproduction, but this is important information to know because the patterns don't make much sense unless you have this info.

Because Chris likes a good fit, I'm going to deviate from the Tidens Toej pattern and add a horizontal fisheye dart at the waist. (I should really find out what Tidens Toej means...) This simulates the effect of a waistline seam. The coat from the Cut of Men's Clothes has the waistline dart, that's where I got the idea.

Side View shows the waistline dart, pinned to fit

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Getting Started: Pattern for a Tailcoat

After all digesting all that research, it's time to get a pattern going!

My top 2 choices came down to the Tidens Toej pattern and the tailcoat from the Cut of Men's Clothes (see my previous post for links to these resources). These two patterns fall in the period we want (1800-1830), and seem to be the most historically accurate - I'm willing to take shortcuts some places, but I don't want to deviate too far too fast.

I chose to start with the Tidens Toej pattern for a couple reasons - I like that you can see the actual garment from which the pattern is taken, and it comes with a grid already on the page! It's the little things that matter in life. 

I scaled up the pattern using the scale of 1 box = 2" square. I used pattern paper/aka alphabet paper/aka dot paper, which has 1" markings, so I made a 2" grid for myself and just freehand drew the pattern, using the grid as a guide. 

First Pattern scaled up, Terrible overview

This is actually easier than you'd think! Just get the approximate shape of each line in the box. It's just a starting place, so don't worry about making it perfect.

Collar, Close-Up and Upside-Down. Note the 2" grid.

Next, true up the pattern. This mean making sure all your seamlines are the same length by "walking" the pattern pieces. Put one piece on top of the other and wiggle them along the seamline to check the length (pattern paper is slightly transparent in order to make this easier). This method is faster and more accurate than measuring the seamlines. Check the front and back at the shoulder seams, sideseams etc.

Last, add seam allowance - I add 1/2" all around for mockups because that's easiest for me to remember while sewing, but for the final version I'll do 1/4" at the neckline (for the ease of sewing the tight curve) and 1" at the major seams (for potential alterations).

Back, with 1/2" seam allowance all around
EDIT: I forgot about to mention the grainlines! One thing that really confused me was the grainlines on the pattern. If they follow the grid, then the Center Front would be off-grain. So I changed the grainline so that the CF is on grain and the bottom edge is on the crossgrain. I'm not sure if that's right or not, but it's what I did.
Front Body - arrows indicate new grainlines

Next Up: First Mockup
**plus I promise to take better pictures. It might be nice to actually see what I'm talking about! :)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Inspiration and Research

My initial research on this Regency tailcoat project takes two paths - first, looking at the period in detail and finding inspiration images, and second, finding construction resources (books, sewing patterns, etc.) to help recreate the look. This list is by no means comprehensive – it’s just the resources I’ve found to be the most helpful so far. Please comment on any other men’s Regency resources you’ve found!

Inspiration & Period References
After spending some time trolling the internet, we found this image on Wikipedia. It's listed as "Portrait d'un artiste" ("Portrait of an Artist") by French painter Michel Martin Drolling, from 1819. My husband, Chris, likes this look best of anything we looked at. (I'm going to start calling him by name because saying "my husband" every time is going to become tiresome!) He specifically mentioned that he likes the double-breasted jacket, with the low front drop, and the turned back cuffs. The shape of the waist - nipped-in - also reminds me of the 1930's jacket silhouette that he's so fond of. Wikipedia suggests that the sitter in the portrait was wearing a corset – luckily, Chris is a slim guy, so no corset's necessary for him. Whew - that would be *quite* the blog entry!

Portrait of an Artist, Michel Martin Drolling, 1819
Strictly speaking, this look is probably too casual for an evening ball, but at most historical recreation events there is quite a bit of leeway for interpretation. I feel that's it's more important to feel comfortable in your clothes than to be "just-so", so if Chris wants to wear a green coat instead of blue or black, skip the hat, turn back his cuffs and leave the coat unbuttoned, I think those are all good things. To me, that's when it stops looking like a costume and starts looking like clothing.

Other sites & books I've found valuable in researching the proper Regency look are:
Wikipedia Entry on Regency Fashion
Oregon Regency Blog: Outfitting the Regency Man
Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion
19th Century Fashion in Detail by Lucy Johnson - mostly women's clothes, but there are a few beautiful men's coats, photographed in detail. I highly recommend this book and its V&A companions.

Construction Resources

Reference Books/Websites:
Tidens Toej Regency Suit - not only do they have an actual suit to examine online, there is a free PDF of the pattern
The Cut of Men's Clothes: 1600-1900 by Norah Waugh -  contains images, descriptions, and scaled patterns - including a scaled down pattern from a 1825 tailcoat
Men's Garments 1830-1900 by R.I. Davis - Written for theatrical costumers, this book takes historical fashions and simplifies them a little for modern users. Contains scaled drafts, but the earliest pattern is an open front tailcoat from 1830, so it doesn't meet Chris's double-breasted requirement.

Commercial Patterns:
There are a few commercial patterns available for Regency tailcoats, but I’m a little hesitant to try them. The two primary companies that I’ve come across are Reconstructing History and Rocking Horse Farms – I’ve never used patterns from either company, and I haven’t found many (any?) favorable reviews of these patterns. Plus I think the illustrations and photographs are terrible – completely uninspiring. Still, I’m having a little trouble figuring out the proper construction of the tails, so I might wind up purchasing a pattern for construction reference if nothing else. If you have experience with either pattern, please comment!

Pattern Reviews:

Costume Diaries:
Wearing History Blog – Although her blog posts don’t go into detail, the Wearing History blog has been been a helpful starting place for me, as resources on making regency tailcoats are few and far between…Plus the finished coat is beautiful – probably the best Regency tailcoat I saw at last year’s Jane Austen Evening. Excellent fit, construction, the whole nine yards. (I'm trying to not let her statement that this coat "nearly killed me" intimidate me too much!)
Victorian Tailcoat Construction – this coat is a slightly later period, but I’m hoping the detail of the photographs will be helpful in figuring out the tail construction

**Whew! Finished this monster post, and now hopefully I can start sharing some of my actual work!**

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Jane Austen Evening 2010

Last year I discovered a lovely event near us called the Jane Austen Evening - you dress up in Regency period clothing, drink tea, and dance the historical dances. This particular event has been happening for almost 20 years now, and is stronger than ever from what I hear. I signed up for it, and my wonderful husband was willing to join me. (I made sure they had plenty of cookies - I can usually get him to go places that have cookies.)

In the weeks prior, we attended dance lessons and I made a "gown" to wear. Since it was our first time attending, we didn't want to spend money on clothes for him until we knew if we wanted to continue, so he wore a vintage 1930's tux. 

Jane Austen Evening, Pasadena, 2010
We loved the event - lots of dressup goodness for me, and lots of cookies for him. So we're going back next year, and the year after that, and after that, and so now he needs a tailcoat. And breeches. And a cravat. We have none of these things, and I sew very slowly, so it's a good thing we have many years for this project!

I'm going to use this blog to document putting his costume together. My new year's resolution this year was to learn tailoring, so after procrastinating all year I'm throwing myself into this huge project. I doubt it will be finished in time for the 2011 Ball, but I'm hoping that this blog will help keep me focused on making progress.

And hopefully soon the awkwardness of this first post will be happily buried under many weeks of posting. :)