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Nov 10, 2011

"Why are there so few men's patterns?"

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  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?

What do you think is missing?

Jump in!


  1. Such an interesting post and I pretty much agree with you. My OH is interested in clothing and always pesters me to make him things too, but I have enough 1940's/50's mens patterns to do any number of things with!

  2. Good post. Interestingly enough, I went to JoAnn's yesterday and opened the Winter Simplicity catalogue and on the first few pages were new men's patterns. Go figure!

  3. OK, Beverly, I checked out those Simplicity patterns. WHO is Suede? (I must be really out of it.)

  4. I agree. There are always various historical clothing pattern companies. Reconstructing History has a slew of men's patterns, some which could be worn now. I have the Norfolk jacket pattern, and am gearing up courage to tackle it.

  5. Great point, Avery. There are many historical mens clothing patterns out there for men.

    The Reconstructing History site is an excellent resource.

  6. I think I've come to the opinion that there are enough men's patterns for the market. Supply and demand, you know? Also, and I hope this doesn't come out wrong (let me know if it does! you can even delete my comment, Peter!) but I feel like men have been catered to for so long in every other market that it's hard for me to get too worked up about a lack of products for men.

    Personally, I feel there aren't enough patterns for cats. It's really hard making ear holes in baby bonnet patterns, you know?

  7. Great post! While I haven't done any sewing for guys, I do think it would be great if pattern companies could offer more patterns for them and have it be economically feasible. It seems like most men's patterns today are costumes because that is something that can't be easily purchased. It does seem like most of the modern styles of men's clothes could be made with vintage pattern finds. Although I must agree that I think having more current outerwear patterns like you old Vogue (and the new one) would be great.

    Also, Suede was a contestant on Project Runway a couple of seasons back. He now has his own pattern line with Simplicity, and I think it is great that he is releasing some men's patterns along with his designs for the ladies. I like how he uses the same pattern for two different styles on the envelopes - hopefully inspiring more people to sew up some men's patterns.

  8. Ha, ha, Gertie. Maybe you can adapt some of the patterns for dogwear ;-)

    Seriously, Peter, you've spelled out all the reasons why there are fewer patterns for menswear. And then there's this post from Pattern Junkie, which always makes me crack up when I get to her last photo ...

  9. One of my friends made a pattern for Utilikilts... all I have to do is get my husband's measurements... and that's going to be challenging.

    Or, why sewing for men isn't popular. They won't play!

  10. Jan, that Pattern Junkie post is hilarious.

    I would sacrifice one of Gertie's cats to get my hands on Butterick 3327.

  11. Peter,
    You look very spiffy in your coat. I like!

  12. I wouldn't know who Suede was either, except he was just on 'Sew it All' on PBS a couple weeks ago. Apparently he was like a somewhat avant guarde designer contestant on project runway and ever since that episode, I see his name everywhere. Not really my taste, but I can see the appeal of his designs.

  13. I despair at my man.
    He HATES shopping for clothes. Wears the same type of sportswear he had when I met him 25 years ago. Has no palette to speak of.
    I up the game by out-glaming him with retro makes and vintage finds - he's oblivious and lets face it, it's an easy sport.
    Now ... there could be some mileage in golf attire. Anyone know of any vintage golf pants patterns? Club cosies?

  14. I want more men's patterns because my sweetheart is just outside the sizes readily available in men's RTW - they 'fit', but with an asterisk. I'm starting to think there's a serious market need for fashionable 'plus-size' men's clothing. (note: fashionable. most (all?) big and tall stores don't count.)

    And I LOVE sewing for him - he's an awesome recipient and wears everything I make. In fact, he told me that while he has never felt comfortable in RTW clothes (because they never quite fit right), he feels really comfortable in mine.

    So I humbly disagree with Gertie on this one - the more young people come to sewing, the more we'll want to dress our fellows up in our love :)

  15. Men's clothes are so inexpensive, relative to women's, that I can't justify the cost of sewing for them. My oldest is hitting his teen years and shooting up like a weed, and I just bought him a new coat for $40. A nice, all-weather coat with a hood, waterproof exterior and fleece lining. It would cost me more for the materials to make something like that. Compare that to my coat shopping experience, where the cheapest coats are nasty and still at least $60. Men's clothing just doesn't fluctuate in quality as much.

  16. SeamsterEast@aol.comNovember 10, 2011 at 3:48 PM

    RTW men's shirts come in essentially three sizes, M, L, and XL. However, because men come in various sizes, RTW shirt makers drop the shoulder/sleeve seem way off the shoulder and down the arm to make one size fit more men buyers.

    That makes for two things immediately. Cheaper RTW shirts because only three sizes fit all, AND the shirts are baggy enough across the shoulders so a guy seldom might break a shirt trying to lift something heavier than normal when he might have been sweaty just a tiny bit from lifting other heavy things.

    Every man has broken a shirt at one time or another (I've seen men break office dress white shirts), so this is considered an advantage.

    Men's pants (except flaunting, snug-'em-in-tight jeans) come in various waist sizes, with virtually all pants "freedom fitted" through the butt. This also reduces the chances of breaking a pair of pants by sitting down/getting up wrong. Men's pants are "vaniety sized" (meaning actual waist size is greater than listed size) starting with pants oh about size 35. Inseam on pants is easily adjusted by any tailor/dry cleaners.

    Styles change slowly to almost not at all. Men express their individuality in a class sort of way, i.e. higher quality fabric goes with "higher quality" men and men's lifestyles.

    All that said, I find there is a dramatic difference in the way and number of women taking a second glance (not enough, btw, not even hardly enough) by how I dress, particularly in casual situations. A very nice, good quality cotton shirt (i.e. Brooks Bros style) draws far more looks across a wide age range than shirts of say K-Mart cotton. And, a tight knit shirt (Polo style or long sleeve) draws maybe half the number of looks (not enough looks anyway) and then mostly from women in the 20's and 30's, and sometimes 40's WITH a far more steamier look in their eyes than the cotton shirts, even of high-end fabric.

    In making a shirt, I find the difference between a low-end cotton/poly blend and a very high-end cotton or linen shirt is only a few dollars more material cost (cotton is going through the roof right now), while the time/effort is the same. (And, I can place the shoulder/arm seam at the width of my shoulders.)

    However, I know of no style changes I can make which might make a difference. Material quality and fitting are my only choices.

  17. I'll be bookmarking this post! It is very difficult to find RTW for my husband. he's 6'5 and about 280... I've searched the local stores and did not find his size. Had to drive an hour away to find one shirt and one pair of jeans that fit--that was all the store had in his size! I'm working towards sewing dress shirts for him (eek! all those button holes!). I'm not sure I can turn out something he'd want to wear just yet, but a few more projects for myself and I'll be brave enough to try a men's shirt. I have yet to find appropriate fabric for a men's shirt too! Solid colors are the only thing I've found that he'd wear--pretty boring though.

  18. When people complain about how casual work dress has become I have to say men are the culprits. I work for a software company and most of the men dress like they went clamming before work. It's a race to the bottom.

  19. Excellent post, although I will say my husband always has his hand out wanting me to make him something. I make all his underwear because he got accustomed to a European cut when he lived in Germany, and Jalie makes a pattern that absolutely let me modify to what he wanted. I also make many of his shirts, because we have such a hard time finding the right fit in RTW. The shirts are more for dress and casual dress. He has always receptive to my sewing, loves the goods he gets. Honestly though, I have been able to modify a few patterns for his basic needs, with an occasional new one.

  20. I think there's an OK amount of men's patterns. But what there is a serious lack of is YOUNG men's (teens or early 20s) patterns. My 19-year old is not going to wear a trench or a toggle coat.

    Thanks for the shout out! :-)

  21. Your toggle coat is fabulous and I would love to be brave enough to try that Vogue trench coat. I have a big fear it won't fit properly.
    I would also like to find a store in Manhattan that has a good selection of patterns. I miss Patterson Silks that was on 14th street. Anybody in the Garment district have patterns?

  22. Peter:

    I really love the toggle coat! It reminds me of one of my own "Woulda coulda shouldas." That was back during the '70s, when I bought an absolutely smashing Vogue Designer pattern for a Valentino topcoat. Back then, Vogue even gave us guys a few couturier patterns. I wish that effort could be renewed.

    I never made the topcoat, feeling my skills weren't up to it (and they weren't), and by now the pattern would have, ahem, shrunk (I'm decently svelte for my age, but my age is getting up there). Perhaps one day I'll learn to re-draft patterns and can make it. Greige Melton cloth was what I had in mind back then, and I still think it's the best choice.

  23. I have sewn shirts for an ex (when we were together)... and the other men I've sewn for were young Masters (kids clothing). Other than that my experience is that they only want socks mended and car seat covers sewn.

  24. a la Gertie: I sew for my dog more than I sew for men.

  25. It's not always easy to get the commercial style waistband/fly front/pocket reinforcement for home sewing, and fashion fabrics aren't geared to men, either. I've had a very hard time finding a soft cotton to make men's boxers and good flannel for pj bottoms, at least in anything my guy would wear. You're exactly right about men only wanting to wear what they already wear. Most are very unadventurous.

  26. I'm so glad i had daughters; sewing for boys and men isn't as interesting and in my case not as appreciated (OH has no interest)! Even though my daughter's have grown, they're still happy for me to sew for them. Especially since i can make that $120 skirt that miss19 saw on an online catalogue for less than $50 :)

  27. Very thorough post! Analytical and to the point, IMO.

    As you may remember, I sew my own (men's, obviously) clothes. Maybe it's not just the lack of patterns that nags me but just that the patterns that are there are all so mainstream, if not dull.

    The white coat is a beauty however - so I'm encouraged to take another look at those Vogues. They are not so common in Europe (at least where I live), that's why I never came across them I guess.

    What I miss is the creativity that (some of the) female patterns have. But I guess that's just a marketing issue. Plus that the dullness can disappear instantly when you creatively modify a pattern (there's the artist in me again).

  28. Obviously, I am one of the few men who sews clothes for himself and also wears them. From my perspective, the currently available choice of men's patterns is just awful. When you see all those oversized old-fashioned 80s and 90s styles you loose all your motivation before you have even started... Therefore, the only remedy is to draw your own patterns which is much easier than one might think.
    Of course men's fashion changes over the years - at least here in Europe. Do you really think the clothing industry would miss any chance to push new products into the market?
    Apart from fashion and better fit there are many more reasons to sew your own clothes whether you are a man or a woman.
    To me, Gertie's comment definitely comes out wrong. If you go to an average department store in Europe still about 90% of the stuff sold there is for women! I always thought one consequence of female emancipation is that men are no longer able to neglect their bodies and clothes as they traditionally were used to...

  29. Peter thank you sooooo much for your great post!! I bookmarked all of the sites you listed. I have also written both McCall's and Simplicity about their almost non-existent offerings lately. I think all of the companies should maintain a selection of classic styles that people can work with. It's been years since they've had a simple polo shirt pattern! I'm so fed up that I'm trying my hand at learning pattern drafting.

    I figure that if someone like Anya can win "Project Runway" with no real pattern drafting skills, I sure as hell could make a polo shirt pattern!!

    p.s. to Gertie,what breed of cat do you have? My spoiled 'brat' is in my lap as I'm typing this and would plant her fangs in my hand if I even thought about dressing her up! LOL!!!

  30. Like some of the sewers above, I buy men's patterns and definitely sew for an appreciative audience. My SO has unusual proportions, and has worn ill-fitting pants his whole life. The first time I made him some (carefully altered) boxers and they didn't bind in uncomfortable places, he was completely sold. Now I make a variety of things for him, and he appreciates both fit and finish very much.

    I'm not sure there's necessarily less variation in the male figure, if you're actually *trying* to fit it.

    Also, I have to admit, I fairly regularly use the men's patterns for myself, though I'm female, because that's my style preference, and the fits (especially in burda) suit my body.

    Thanks for the pattern resources--there were a couple that were new to me.

  31. Thanks for the wonderful post and links, Peter. I sewed for my father when he was with us, for my little nephews, and now for my husband, who loves my shirts and wears them till they fall off. I love the menswear fabrics and wish we had more classic patterns for short women; but I take pride in my workmanship and enjoy it all the life of the garments since I am also the washerwoman and the presser. Some encouragement for the shirt-phobic out there: you can't do any worse than RTW, and the more you do the easier it gets.

    One of my favorite projects is creative lined winter robes. The RTW ones that we can afford tend to be cheesy, but I can make beautiful robes and we are so much more comfy and attractive in intimate clothes that fit!

  32. I agree there are not enough mens patterns around and what there is avalable can be quite dull and boring. Yes we can modify a pattern (if we know how, as yet I am not that skilled)but I think it is also true there is not enough choice in fabric for mens clothes. How many cottons do we see plain, floral or if pattern , it still has a girlie twist to it. I am lucky enough to be with a chap who has loud taste in clothing. I have used the same pattern many times now in lots of different fabric. Not many men will wear loud tattoo style shirt, pyscodelic or even a werewolf/mummy print as everyday wear. My old punk will. Its a shame guys are not encouraged to 'dress up' unless they at at a vintage 'event' or a convention. I have come across many comments in blog land on the vintage dress/ jeans,legging, tshirt style. But this is also true for guys, maybe they dont want to be part of the jeans/tshirt style ether, some may just want to play dress up like the rest of us.

  33. Great post Peter. It's a lame choice for men. The solution is to avoid the store bought patterns altogether. I recently bought Winfred Aldrich's Metric Pattern Cutting for Men. Create our own blocks, modify our own patterns and let the pattern companies be damned.

  34. Interesting post. Home sewing for men is a big, complicated topic. I've collected a lot of pre-1960 patterns for men's clothes, and my perception is that the pattern companies tailored their offerings of patterns for men's clothing to meet their female customers' sewing skills. That is - lots of plain sewing and very little, if any tailoring. The picture becomes even more complicated once women start working outside the home in large numbers and the relative prices of clothing begin to drop.

  35. Sexist attitudes about any recreational activity, such as sewing, knitting and weaving tells volumes about the writer. I am saddened by men or women who make broad statements about the opposite sex without adding any value to the discussion. Pure piffle, and only worth rejecting as immature bitterness.

    I have trouble buying clothes that fit perforce, I make quite a bit for myself. I have a bodybuilder frame and I love textiles. I am undeserved in this regard, (patterns) so I made my own block patterns and shop for great fabrics, tools and cool supplies.

  36. Responding to Debbie Cook's comment: Ottobre magazine ( has a really good range of boys clothing up to teenage ranges -- stylish and modern and very good value for money, in my opinion.

    Thanks for the post, Peter.

  37. mens custom-shirt client list keeps growing and growing every year, so there *are* guys out there who appreciate a custom fit shirt, with interesting details (like asymmetrical band collars, U-neck lines, piping and tuck details, seaming details and interesting pockets, etc). The age range of my clients is 20-80 ;)

  38. Thanks for the article. I've just started to sew and am on my second; a copy of one I'd thrown out previously. I'll probably end up making my own patterns. The retro stuff's nice but I'm already too retro myself to appreciate it.

  39. Very good post!!! And for all you fellas who aren't in the range of the generally available patterns - go to Lutterloh - especially vintage!

    I think if more men sewed for themselves, there'd be more men's patterns. Some time ago,I managed a good sized fabric store near Washington D.C. and we had exactly 3 regular male customers, none of whom sewed their own clothing.

    I almost never sew for the men in my life - 1) they all know how to sew (I made sure to teach them), they have very narrow taste in clothes, and they are more than satisfied with RTW. Why should I spend my limited sewing resources of $ and especially time on stuff they don't really need, want or appreciate? I'd rather knit hats for them: I love to do it, it's fast and they love the results. If I had a fella in my life that was *really* interested, I'd love it and would lavish him with whatever! But I don' I don't. :o)

  40. Since you have a sewing buddy I'd recommend Little black dress how to make your own by Simon Henry. Its great for making classic fitted evening gowns (for Cathy) and cocktail dresses. He also has one on party dresses with classic hollywood style evening wear!

  41. For men, however, I do agree there is a dearth. And I know of Simplicity's Suede says line and Burdastyle's menswear but still...

  42. This is so wonderful. It is my dream to be a tailor. The art of tailoring is a mystery to me and I'm teaching myself. I belong to a faith where the brothers do a lot of preaching and they need suits. I think that is the problem. Men dress to casual. I think if men needed custom suits for work, worship or politcs they would pay more attention to seeking out tailors. The seamstresses in my religion have a lot of male customers and I am trying to break in. But, I have health problems and am home bound so I can't go to any classes. I must learn from books.
    However I will check out the Winfred Aldrich's Metric Pattern Cutting for Men. When I start my tailoring business I won't just work for my congregation but, I think I will seek out men like New York Built. There is nothing like a well built man in a cashmere suit anyway and I know I would enjoy my afternoon sewing for a man like that.
    I have been working with the Lutterloh system myself and it has been teaching me things and I also like the book PatternMaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph-Armstrong fifth edition. It is a school textbook on drafting patterns. And it has absolutely everything in it, men's, women's, kids, swimsuits, coats, even hoods. It will teach you how to draft a pattern so that you can get a job with your new skill.
    This is the greatest blog on the internet for me!
    Thanks Peter

    1. Welcome, Tyshawn, and thanks for the kind words!

  43. hey peter — long time reader, first time commenter here! I love your blog, it's super inspiring. hopefully this is an okay place to post a question: do you know how one might find men's swimsuit patterns from the 30s or 40s? and do you know anything about those suits and what fabric(s) they were made of? thanks & keep being super awesome!

    1. Hi, Ian. I've never seen a mens swimsuit sewing pattern that old, which doesn't mean they don't exist. However, since most mens suit were made of wool knit, you might try knitting patterns.

      This may be of interest to you:

  44. Well, what a can of worms! I'm fortunate that my mom sewed long before I was born. As a recent entry in to home sewing, I possess the basic skills for hand and machine sewing and the ancillary knowledge that go with them. I can fit, though feel bogged down in creating patterns from scratch. There is an excitement about picking the pattern, opening it and exploring it then propping it. I want variety and am beginning a search for vintage. You go boy. Love to see your blog!

  45. I should correct, I meant prepping. I'm a 57 year old male and have sewn for a while, mainly cloaks, kilts and Egyptian "DeMilleesque" headdresses and broadcollars. Sewing seriously for myself now and am impressed by your talent and enthusiasm. When I walk into a fabric store, I'm asked "are you sure you really need four yards?". It's not as bad as it was. I studied art in college. Sewing has added a new dimension.

  46. Hi. First time commenter.

    I now run the sewing shop at my school (I'm a middle school teacher in New England), and I started sewing in part because I was dissatisfied with the price of 'costume pieces' from Renaissance Faires, and the low chances of finding what my girlfriend calls "Comfortable Ethnic Clothing" (CEC) in a double-XL. In consequence, the pattern library I've assembled runs more to costume pieces like shirts and cloaks than to suits and button-down shirts. Also, the wide availability of RTW in my size tends to make my day-to-day wardrobe both full, and boring. The place where I "need" to fill out my wardrobe relative to that RTW abundance is in things to wear to costume parties and such.

    On the other hand, I've made some pieces, like a long, body-hugging jacket, that's partly costume piece and partly semi-formal wear. I'd love to take this costume piece and make it of better fabric and with more finished details (like a lining and full buttonholes), and wear it under more regular circumstances...

  47. It makes a lot of sense not to sew for men. I will grudgingly sew for myself when I can make something well beyond my means for a fraction of the price. (i.e. A $3000 alpaca wool and leather peacoat, for about $500.) I've been sewing practically since I was born, and I studied Haute Couture sewing in Paris. Even there we were told that menswear is extremely difficult. While the techniques are the same, there are a lot of conventions to menswear that if you don't follow them you get a weird looking garment. Topstitching is spaced particular ways for particular applications. The number of different seam finishes that will look right is very limited. Even if something is nicely finished and fits decently well, it can still easily look homemade. Fitting isn't as intuitive as it is for women. Striking the right balance between ease and shape is not straight forward. If you cut a dress a bit too big you can add a belt. If you cut a men's jacket too big you get a zoot suit. The proportions are also incredibly specific. A lapel that's a quarter inch too wide is disco. A lapel that's a quarter inch too narrow is new wave. If your shirt cuffs are just a fraction of an inch too wide you'll look like Liberace. If they're the same fraction of an inch too narrow it will look like you're wearing a woman's blouse.

    Further still, there's the issue of access to fabrics. It's very difficult to find any decent fabrics for menswear if you don't live in or near a large metropolitan area. There are also not a lot of fabrics on the market that are mid-priced for men. You can get Italian cashmere or you can get poly/cotton shirting that's slightly too sheer. Finding fabrics of a solid mid-range (Brooks Brothers-esque) quality is nearly impossible. I think that's more indicative of the sewing public in general than any sort of bias against decent quality menswear fabrics. There just aren't a lot of sewers working on a level between Susie Homemaker and a trained tailor.

    On top of all that, to make practical menswear you really need a serger, and not just any old serger, you need a serger that does a coverstitch. There are workarounds for knit fabrics when sewing for women, but they don't work for men. Things like baby zigzag stitches will just look stupid on a polo shirt, but they'll work fine for a wrap dress. Unless you're doing Savile Row style tailoring you'll also need a serger just for finishing a basic pair of chinos or corduroys. While owning a good serger isn't outlandish, it's a giant expense when you realize that you can get a good (not spectacular, but very solid) quality pair of men's pants for $100. Unless you're making designer quality clothing, you're probably never going to recoup the cost of a nice serger.

    I'm not saying one can't sew for men, it's just really all around difficult. If you want a professionally made looking garment that's also not a Savile Row style suit, it's next to impossible. I really wish there were more menswear patterns out there, especially outerwear, but I totally get why there aren't all that many choices. It's especially disheartening that most of the patterns on the market are so overly simplified to a level where if you actually follow the pattern you'll get a cheap looking garment. (At least include underlinings, decent facings, canvas layers, linings that aren't sacks.) In my mind, unless I'm making something like pajamas, the choices are limited to what's in the Vogue pattern book. It's a sad state of affairs, but it makes perfect sense.

    1. Thank you for this wonderful comment -- I agree with so much of what you say, especially the conventions related to menswear: most mens garments have to look "just so" or they (can) look terribly off.


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