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Nov 13, 2013

Inspecting Two Ill-Fitting Men's Coats

I spent most of today gearing up for my pea coat project.

Most of this involved perusing tailoring books and blogs (primarily Mainely Dad's), to figure out how I want to tackle this project.  I'm trying to psych myself for what I fear could be a challenging week ahead.

I also inspected two old, soon-to-be-discarded coats Michael and I own, to see how they're put together.  I love to examine commercially made clothing and I learn a lot about clothing construction in the process.  I know there's a school of thought that says if you're going to aspire to nothing more than ready-to-wear techniques, buy ready-to-wear.  I can understand that way of thinking but it isn't mine.  Most of the ready-to-wear I've owned was decent and made to last -- maybe not decades, but certainly many years -- and I'd be happy to be able to create something as professionally finished.  (Perhaps women's clothes are more flimsily constructed since women's fashion cycles are so much shorter, ergo the RTW standard is lower)

This German loden coat is Michael's.  It's a melton wool topcoat and boy is it big, even when worn over a suit. And long.

A few design details:

Pulling up the polyester lining, you can see that the front interfacing is fused.

The corners of the pockets are reinforced with something that feels like Swedish tracing paper.

A piece of ribbon holds the pocket bag to the front seam -- a nice touch.

The armholes are reinforced with stay tape.

This topcoat isn't fancy and Michael plans to donate it to a coat drive this winter, but it's interesting to look inside it.

Coat #2 is something I bought from H&M in the days before I knew how to sew.  Yes, I sometimes indulged in fast fashion.

It's a Size 36 -- normally my size -- but too long and boxy on me and way too stiffly constructed for comfort.  I haven't worn it in years but Michael still dons it occasionally.  I think it cost $100 which is not very much for a men's wool coat, but it was a bad choice in retrospect.  It does have a lot of pockets and even a little inner tab to keep the back vent from flying open -- a nice touch.

The collar is cut like a men's trench coat collar.

Ill-fitting coats like these make me glad I can sew,  but I also recognize that even lower-end men's ready-to-wear often has design details that are lacking in most men's outerwear sewing patterns.  A good example is that the Japanese pea coat pattern includes no inside pockets and just two outside pockets, when most commercial pea coats have four.  So if you are aware of these details and want them in your clothes, you have to draft and add them yourself.

I hope to start cutting my fabric tomorrow.  I think I have all the supplies I need on hand already, except for buttons.  The journey begins.

Readers, when you sew clothes do you aspire to haute couture quality or are you satisfied with a standard RTW-level of construction and flattered that someone might think you bought it at Target or Kohl's?

Is an industrial standard good enough for you?

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. I sew clothing for fit, comfort and color. I discovered long ago that I could do it right and fiddle with a garment for months, losing any desire to ever wear it and possibly outgrowing the garment, or I could slam it together and gratify my whim.

    1. Exactly! I don't need my clothes to outlive me. ;)

  2. It's pretty simple thing to me, really just whether a sewer likes to hand sew or not. Haute couture is hand sewing but it's just a method of construction and not a virtue, machine work is just a good and beautiful as long as the garment is well made that's all that should matter. Comparing haute couture to machine sewing is really apples and oranges, it's like trying to say that painting is a more legitimate art form than photography. I like and do both.

  3. I'm currently aiming for RTW level but have a long-term goal of higher-end craftsmanship. I really enjoy the process, even though it's difficult at times and I love having something that I made myself with my own specifications. I'm pregnant again and most maternity clothing is of a really low quality, so I figure almost anything I make will be better than what I can buy!

    P.S. Is Michael going to start his blog again?

  4. There are certain industrial techniques that are for efficiency and/or cost. I am still learning from RTW techniques, but strive to move beyond that learning from others and modifying techniques to my liking.

  5. I guess I'm aiming for good RTW quality, and I'm okay with that. I'd like a little better fit than I often get with RTW, and it's nice to be able to choose my own fabric/colors, etc. But I just want to make things that I like, and enjoy myself. Of course I want to do the best job I can, and continue to improve, but I haven't got a lot of illusions I'll soon (or ever) reach haute couture levels. I don't think I have that kind of time.

  6. I'm with Temporary Mouse up the top. I sew things because I want to wear them, not as a personal challenge. I'd get bored with it way before I finished it if I was using haute couture methods.

    Having said that though, I do use some higher end techniques sometimes, like bound buttonholes, hand picked zippers and hand finished hems. It depends a bit what I'm doing...

    So somewhere in between maybe???

  7. I sew to enjoy the process as much as to enjoy the wearing. Sometimes I get caught up in perfection, other times, not so much. It depends.

  8. Go for it!
    Its good that you took a look at the jackets that you are donating to get a few ideas. Michael's jacket pockets that are reinforced is a grand idea to incorporate into the jacket.
    Adding inside pockets would be good. That from your H&M jacket.
    I have learned that you don't have l;to follow the pattern or instructions to the letter. Once you know what you are doing you can expand your design.
    Good Luck

  9. If I lived a different life, I might have to be more aspirational in my sewing techniques, but as it is, the industrial standard is usually good enough for me. That being said, I have found huge variations in quality/longevity in RTW clothing, even from the same stores/manufacturers. Sometimes it has to do with fabrics, other times sloppy techniques (fused hems rather than stitched ones). Sewing my own clothes leaves me with few excuses if something falls apart too quickly.

    On another note, I think a lot of sewing patterns underestimate what kind of commitments someone sewing at home is willing to make. Either that, or they assume that someone with the nerves of steel needed to tackle a men's peacoat project should have the ability to add their own details such as inside pockets if they think they need them. I'm still working on getting up my nerves of steel for a coat for my husband from that current Vogue peacoat pattern. I have all the supplies now, no legitimate excuses left. I hope you can make putting yours together look easy so I can psych myself up.

  10. Oh my, I'm just happy if I, or someone, can wear anything I make in public without being subjected to snickering and worse. I don't care whether the construction technique has its source in haute couture or the factory production line, as long as it meshes with my skill level and the tools or machines I have to use. Unless they have a really keen professional eye, most people aren't going to walk past you and comment on the fact that that collar was hand stitched or machine stitched, or whether the armscye was constructed flat or as a finished sleeve. I think we first see the cut and fit of the clothes, then the fabric, and last of all the construction details, which seems like a fairly reasonable order of priorities. . . ok, maybe some really blatant construction flaw can shout out and distract from an otherwise great combination, but I don't think those kind of mistakes are the subject.

  11. I am more than happy to aspire to RTW levels of finishing - sometimes it's nice to do things better, but the great joy of sewing your own clothes is that you can make that call entirely on your own. Yet another design decision in my hands, not those of some multinational/haute couture house.

    And I've mentioned this before I think but: Starlight Express t-shirt!! Did you get a job lot? I'm sure I've seen at least one other, and I'm jealous. Seriously, showcase them. Just for me :-)

  12. Thanks for these pictures. I aim at good-quality RTW so peeking inside garments helps a lot.

  13. I'm happy if it doesn't look home made. And some rtw clothes do have lovely details.

  14. I'm curious about the extended shoulder thing on the first coat - I'm trying to achieve a similar look for a costume I'm working on. Would you or any of your readers know how I might go about doing this or even what that feature is called so I know what to Google for? It's been bugging me for months!

    And to answer your question - striving for RTW standard is more than good enough for me for most clothes I make at the moment!

  15. Ah. Good morning Michael?

  16. To Kathryn:

    I think the design detail on Michael's coat may be called a "flange shoulder." If you google that term without a garment name ("flange shoulder jacket") you will get information about flange bolts. A quick search turned up this blog post:

  17. Thanks for sharing the innards of your RTW! I'm with you on learning from RTW as well. Even at the lower end of RTW, you can see it was the minimum required. And sometimes even that is more than what home-sewing patterns would instruct you to do. So if cost conscious RTW does it then I'd take it as a sign that a particular step/technique is worth adding even if the pattern instruction doesn't include it.

    In any case, one doesn't always sew simply to get better quality sewn products. Sometimes it's about getting a better fit (which you might not be able to get in RTW due to being a different shape/size than their target market). Sometimes it's about getting one's preferred combination of silhouette, color, fabric, details. You inner pocket example being a case in point.

    And to be honest, sometimes I find much more interesting details in RTW than in sewing patterns. So I see no point in poopooing RTW. (If the fit & color had been perfect, & price lower I probably would have bought the RTW!)

    Having said that, RTW industrial sewing techniques isn't always appropriate for us home-sewers. Sometimes we simply don't have the same type of equipment to work those techniques successfully. Intelligent learning I say!

    As for 'haute couture', well, until I actually see real life examples of how they make an average person look magnifique, I'll take that self-promotion with a pinch of salt. Judging 'haute couture' on the basis of professionally modeled & styled runway / editorial examples is misleading. On an average person the 'haute couture' may be no more glamorous than a properly fitted RTW / home-sewn item. I think half the battle is in the confidence & air & grace of the wearer. And a thick skin to ignore all the naysayers. (It helps to turn the table on the naysayers & judge in turn whether you think they actually do look better or not. It sure is easier to criticize others than to outperform them!) But like with RTW, it's still interesting to dissect them for the secret tricks up their sleeves!

  18. BTW, the type of person who can afford 'haute couture' probably isn't appreciating it for the quality, if it's to be believed that a lot of them only ever wear the outfit once. Could it simply be the pleasure of knowing you're rich enough to pay a fortune for a laboriously made garment that you'll only wear once?

    Also, I wonder how many of those garment would actually last long / beyond the first cleaning. Even in high-end RTW, I've read about shoes that couldn't even withstand an afternoon of wearing. Again, maybe part of the appeal is in the beautiful delicacy of the result, the wonton expenditure on a fleetingly perfect moment, romanticism with a capital R!

  19. Looking forward to watching the pea coat construction! I never really thought about my garment finishing standard, but I prefer to do little things to improve upon garments, like better lining than RTW or fancy lace hem tape to finish a hem. Now you have me thinking - I will have to crack open my book on Couture Techniques!


  20. I guess I could say I mostly sew to a RTW standard. At least in seam finishing. I love couture finishes as much as the next seamstress, but life's too short. A serger saves so much time. I do often hand-stitch my hems though.
    I tend to focus on the design and silhouette (of course, drafting my own patterns couldn't really be called a time-saver…).
    Oh, and I'm certain that at (nearly) every price point RTW menswear is finished to higher standard than womenswear. I pay attention to such things and I sometimes shop with my boyfriend. In the same store, a man's jacket may look decently tailored, have nice quality lining with piping along the edges and an inside pocket and be made of a wool blend while all the women's jackets are of a 'trendy' type: synthetic or knit fabric, no actual tailoring, often stretch, no nice details.

  21. I am sad. I aspire to the standards of RTW still. I don't want it to look home made; a throwback to my Mom trying to make clothes for me as a kid. But, as my skills increase, I'm trying to add details that RTW doesn't include. Thanks for all you do to inspire me. Lane

  22. I don't make clothing anymore, but when I did for my daughter and son I really wasn't a perfectionist. For me, it was about the fabrics and embellishments, which were the details. I chose simple designs that were neatly made, and because of the unusual and unique fabric choices always looked expensive. The constructions was neat, but clothing was never made to last. Now that I sew crafts and home projects it is more about sturdiness and strength and neat appearance, but definitely not finicky. I would lose interest if I spent that much time fussing..

  23. I'm a perfectionist by nature, as a quilter I'm a member of the quilt police, seams will match, points must point, but when I made my own clothes I required a standard which was determined by the quality of the fabric used, cheap fabrics to create this years' fashion garment, the look of the season warranted less attention than an expensive coating or fine wool skirt length. I have the good fortune to have had the assistance and advice of my mother who was apprenticed to a tailor at 14, she did my hand stitched button holes and hand stitched finishes.I still take up hems by hand but no longer make my own clothes. Having said that you are beginning to inspire me to sew clothing again.

  24. I'm a perfectionist too - especially in relation to fit. And having made one ill fitting jacket for my husband find menswear really difficult to get right. The geometry is different!

  25. I enjoy wearing my clothes. Now mind you, It's been awhile since I've made anything for myself and am recently re-entering the idea (that's what it is so far, is an idea) of setting up a work room again and returning to designing my own things. Haute couture for so long meant quality and those who could afford it, it was a badge of wealth. But in my opinion, RTW is a badge of practicality and workmanship. At one time, The Gap, for me represented quality materials. I purchased most of my shirts etc and they lasted, for years. I still have shirts from more than ten years ago now from the Gap. They are just an example. But if you look at the Gap quality now, it has definitely slid down the slope and it's material and cloth are not what they used to be. Companies could afford to put those tiny details into their work such as reinforcement at seam junctures etc. I love it when someone asks me where I purchased an item and I can tell them that I designed and made it. I think RTW quality is better than haute couture. RTW is made to last the punishment of a washer and dryer. Haute couture, though some may see it as a sign of wealth, does not last if washed in washer or dryer for very long.


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