Readers, thank you for your tremendous response to yesterday's post about my tour of The McCall Pattern Company. I just know we're going to see this office turned into a live-action, Pirates of the Caribbean-style indoor cruise attraction. But please, don't throw nuts at the seamstresses; it makes them sick.
In your comments yesterday, many of you had questions about the relative dearth of in-print men's sewing patterns, and I wanted to touch on this topic today, as it's one I've thought a lot about over the last two and a half years. Believe it or not, the topic even came up during my visit to McCall's, initiated when Vogue Patterns Editor-in-Chief Kathy Marrone asked me why I was crying.
Friends, let me give you my own take on the situation, based on what I've learned talking to other people who sew, people in the pattern industry, as well as my own subjective experience.
Let's start with a fact: relative to the number of in-print women's patterns out there, there are very few men's clothing patterns available to the home sewer today.
I would argue that this has always been true, but that it is simply more pronounced today, when there are fewer patterns available for either sex. Pattern companies never turned out as many men's patterns as they did women's.
Here are some reasons why:
1) Men's clothing is simply not as fashion-oriented as women's. Men's clothing styles change more slowly and often imperceptibly. Many men are still wearing the same types of shirts, pants, and outerwear today that they wore decades ago.
2) Men's workplace fashion has become more casual over the decades. Many men can wear khakis and a sports shirt to the office, and they can wear the same ones year after year after year. Forget about sewing, they don't even have to go shopping.
I read this post recently on Debbie's blog and I think it speaks volumes about how differently women feel about clothes than men, though of course there are exceptions.
3) Most home sewing is done by women, sewing for themselves. They do it because they like to sew, because they can provide themselves better fit than RTW, and get more bang for the buck. They also enjoy the craft/art of sewing. It's fun. It's culturally sanctioned. In turn, they create a market for new patterns.
From among this group of women who sew, some want to sew for their husbands, boyfriends, fathers, sons, etc. But based purely on anecdotal evidence, many of the male recipients of these sewing projects are not even particularly receptive! Readers comments, particularly during sew-alongs, suggest that many of the men in these women's lives are a fussy bunch, and will not wear a shirt that's too slim-fitting, or boxers that aren't exactly like the Hanes brand (or the very pair) they've been wearing since 1980.
4) Men's bodies come in fewer different shapes and sizes, so men have an easier time finding ready-to-wear clothes that fit. They don't need custom-sewn clothes. Since men wear separates, the shirt doesn't have to be the same size as the pants, or vice versa. Men's clothing styles are also much more forgiving. We aren't expected to wear pants that accentuate the curves of our butt -- not that there's anything wrong with that -- and if our armscye seams hang two inches off our shoulders, well, you can argue that that's a style too.
I think if you ask most men, you'll find that they don't particularly care about their clothes, provided they look neat (enough) and don't stand out. Culturally, men are not judged by their appearances to the same degree that women are. We don't have to look fashionable or stylish. Or young. Or thin. Rightly or wrongly, this means men don't have to care about clothes or sewing.
5) Few men sew and fewer still sew clothes for themselves. You'll find some reasons for this outlined in my early MPB post, Why Johnny Can't Sew.
6) Based on all of the above -- and probably other reasons that don't come to mind but perhaps you wish to add below -- the potential market for commercial men's patterns is radically smaller than that for women's patterns.
Pattern companies are for-profit businesses. They track the sales of every pattern they produce, month by month (I got to see how this is done at McCall's, and it's fascinating). Profit margins aren't huge. Think of how many people only buy patterns at 99-cent sales at JoAnn's. In-print patterns have to earn their keep, so to speak. It's amazing how many people's labor is involved in producing a pattern, and nobody works for free.
7) While the Big Four pattern companies don't have a lot of men's patterns in print, they do have some. Vogue, for example, has V8720, a new men's trenchcoat pattern. I love this, and it could have come right out of the J. Crew catalog. You can see the other Vogue in-print men's patterns here.
Kwik Sew has a wide selection of men's patterns, including ten in-print men's shirt patterns, none of which are scrubs or pajama tops. You can see the Kwik Sew selection of shirts (and other patterns) here.
Jalie is a Canadian pattern company with a good selection of men's patterns in print. You can see their selection here.
Burda has more than twenty in-print men's patterns. You can find them here.
Finally, I learned to sew shirts using a fantastic Margaret Islander video (Shirts, Etc.), and the Islander company also makes mens patterns. Take a look!
When I led my shirt sew-along last spring -- 185 members! -- we used Colette's Negroni pattern. Very hip and vintage-inspired. You can purchase it here.
This is clearly not everything available in men's sewing patterns today, just what came to mind as I was writing. If you can recommend other in-print men's patterns, please do!
A good place to purchase patterns online is Pattern Review.com. Members receive discounts.
My Own Experience
As you know, friends, I am something of a cultural scavenger, a dumpster diver, a gleaner. For many reasons, some no-doubt warranting psychoanalysis, I prefer the old to the new. I love vintage patterns.
Vintage patterns are easy to find on sites like eBay and Etsy, which successfully fill my particular niche in the pattern market.
I would definitely be inclined to purchase (new) a men's outerwear pattern like this out-of-print Vogue, which I used to make my toggle coat last year. There are not a lot of good outerwear patterns out there, vintage or otherwise.
I would love to see this pattern re-issued. I bought mine from Paco Peralta on Etsy, and he had to ship it all the way from Barcelona!
I also like the way vintage patterns fit me: shirts in particular were cut slimmer, both because men were slimmer years ago, and it was more fashionable in, for example, the Seventies, to wear a close-fitting shirt, even in Middle America.
Anyway, friends, I hope you'll find this post useful, and I invite you to add anything you think I've missed.
Do you sew men's clothing -- or want to -- and wish the selection were greater?
I'm a native New Yorker and sewing fanatic! I started sewing in 2009 and today make all my own clothes using vintage sewing machines and vintage patterns, in addition to sewing for private clients. Welcome to the warm and whimsical world of Male Pattern Boldness, where the conversation is sewing, style, fashion, fabric, and more!