Sewing: 18th century vest

Well… it took me most of the summer to make this vest. I think I cut out the pieces in March or April, intending to have it for an event in May. Then I was out of sewing machines for most of the summer, as one after the other conked out, and other projects took priority. I even did some of the sewing by hand.

The linen came from Fabrics-store.com, and I’ve had it in my stash for forever. Originally it was going to be a coat with gores, but then part of the yardage got turned into my Dr. Strange-inspired “sorcerer’s vest“. And I think I’m going to make a long vest or waistcoat for myself in what remains of it. That’s been a popular style among many of my clients, far more than the haori or men’s Japanese-style top I’ve also frequently made.

This garment is also unusual in that I chose to cut three pieces for each main panel; there’s a second linen piece sewn to each of the blue linen pieces of the shell of the garment, in unbleached linen, to give extra weight and body and drape to the fabric. These had to be hand-basted in place while the blue was wrong-side up and flat on the table, and it was a serious nuisance. However, from watching bespoke tailors at work on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, it’s clear that you get better results from these sorts of conscious decisions on manufacturing men’s garments, rather than just winging it.

My friend F, who works in an academic program’s costume shop, once took me by the lapels when I said that a garment was just a costume. She said, dead serious, “Costumes. Are. Clothes.” My friend T is fond of saying that all clothes (intentionally outrageous or staid, clowny or serious, formal or uniform or casual) are a form of drag — as in, drag shows, drag kings, and drag queens. We all came into the world naked, and what we wear shows us and the world who we pretend to be. Their reminders remain a powerful guide to a hidden truth — that clothes are part of the way that we shape ourselves and the world. It’s part of the magic by which we shape reality.

I’ve come a long way since the days when I urged readers to neglect not the robe — but clothes remain part of the way that we show who we are and how we plan to be in the world.

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