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Jan 22, 2020

Modeling the Eighties Jacket + How Much Did This Actually Cost?

Ta da!

My jacket is finished and here I am wearing it.

As you can see, while the style has an Eighties retro feel with those padded shoulders, it's not overwhelming, at least not to me. A number of people have mentioned that it reminded them of the iconic Members Only jacket (below). 

Aside from the color there are a few minor similarities, but the Members Only jacket was nylon I believe, had knit cuffs and waistband and military-style epaulets on the shoulders.  It also had slanted welt front pockets and a welt breast pocket.  Also there was that iconic snap band around the collar, like a racing jacket.  My jacket has none of those things.

Still, you might argue that, like the Members Only jacket, my jacket is military-inspired, but you could say the same thing about almost any article of men's outerwear from the last century.

As you can see, I opted not to put a button on the pocket flap; the jacket looks more elegant without one.  I did add two buttons on either side of the waistband for that tab.  If I want to cinch the waistband I can simply move the tab to the second button, but it looks better as-is.

I am very happy with the way this jacket turned out and am looking forward to wearing it regularly when the weather gets a little milder.

So now I'm going to do something I don't think I've never done on this blog before: tally up the cost.

Outer Fabric (2.5 yards @ $6/yd) -- $15
Lining Fabric (from my stash; don't recall what it cost, I'll guess) -- $10
Thread -- $2.25
Shoulder pads -- $2.50
Buttons -- $3 (pack of 12; I used all 12)
Buttonholes done at Jonathan Embroidery -- $9
Pattern purchased on Etsy (which I could use to make other garments) -- $11.42

I get $53.17

In short, this jacket was not inexpensive to make: pattern included we're north of $50.  I could definitely have saved money by doing the buttonholes myself or by using fabric scraps for the lining instead of the Mood cotton flannel.  The buttons themselves were quite cheap since they came in a pack of 12 and the fabric was extremely well-priced (and there was plenty of it).

I was recently reminded, based on the comments from my recent Instagram post of a jacket I saw selling on Amazon for less than $20, that nearly all of us sew clothes because we love to, not because it's the cheapest way to clothe ourselves.  Last fall, I wanted to replace this parka I'd been wearing for the last 5 years and I wasn't in the mood to make another one just then.  So I went on eBay and found a very nice second-hand J. Crew jacket in a similar style which I picked up for less than $30, shipping included. I couldn't have bought the fabric, zippers, snaps, etc. for a custom one for less than that.  The J. Crew jacket is serving me well but I feel absolutely no pride in wearing it.  It's functional, nothing more; there's no heart connection.  I hope to make another parka soon.

That's it, friends.

BREAKING NEWS: There's a new vintage sewing machine in my life, if you can believe it.  I'll be posting more about it soon so stay tuned.

Happy sewing, everybody!

All photos by Michael Hanko


  1. Hi Peter:
    I'm a regular reader but a rare commenter. I agree with you that we sew because we love it and it's rare that it is cheaper to sew it. I would say bras are a place that you might get there - especially if you are re-using a pattern already sewn up....and perhaps women's swim suits, but I would say that's about it. Like many women, I don't fit exactly into a size, so I sew also to get what I want, fitting the way I want. But the personal satisfaction just adds to my joy.
    I love that it is so green where you are! I'm in Alberta, Canada - we've just had a week of extreme cold and now (while warmer) getting 4 to 8 inches of snow!
    Take care,

  2. wow, that looks fantastic, Peter! i can see where people are coming from with the Members Only comparison, but you're right, your jacket is quite different. funny how memory works sometimes, right?

  3. My 'less expensive, more effort' sewing trick is buying used and altering. So my materials cost is usually nothing over $10, and hours and hours of seam unpicking and thinking and rethinking. I shudder to think what I would charge Alterations Me for what this costs. Like Jodie's previous comment, I get what I want and it fits me, which doesn't happen in RTW as is.

    I can, therefore I do?

    Enough about me: I get a very nice Eisenhower jacket feel from your jacket. If you needed a closure for the breast pocket (which would have an underside button if it were original issue), you could sneak in a magnet. This style is a good profile on your frame, "ya look sharp, fella!" Positively snappy!

  4. I spent so many years fighting with clothing that being able to make things that actually fit is well worth my time and the materials.

  5. My experience is you can't beat the price of factory made clothing until you get into high end fabrics. I understand total labor time to factory sew a pair of blue jeans is less than fifteen minutes. And factories buy denim in massive quantities wholesale. Then computer laser cut the cloth for max speed and minimum waste. BUT custom-made jeans cost upwards of 20x to 50x times what a pair of Levi's 514's cost off eBay. Do custom jeans looks better? Of course they do. At high price points, sew-it-yourself is far less costly. Now, a strange inversion happens. MEN's high price-point clothing makes a man look like he has "style". WOmen's high price-point clothing makes a woman look -- to most people -- she has a "man of substance" in her life (which causes her to be ignored by potential lovers if indeed she IS looking for a new partner). THE advantage of home-grown clothing for man OR woman is the FIT. Even $1/yd cloth, made into well-fitted clothing, looks better than anything bought off-the-rack in store or eBay. FIT of clothing to make it most alluring, however, is usually not a concern to most people already in a Relationship. Unless they have a customer-facing commission job such as a real estate agent or interior decorator.

  6. My nephew has an end table of black walnut hand-made by his grandfather of scraps of wood collected over a year's time. It took the man over fifty hours to make the end table. Buying it in a high-end furniture store would have cost over two thousand dollars. Nice indeed, particularly if one likes two thousand dollar end tables.

  7. I don't think $54 is a lot of money for a well fitted quality jacket. I think we should stop comparing our hand made goods to places like Target, Walmart, Forever 21, H&M and even JCrew, Old Navy, the Gap or Anthropology who use cheap labor and cheap goods. Our items are designer goods with quality fabrics and the best sewing techniques. You should be comparing it to a jacket that costs $150 to $300 and then there is sooooo much value! You did a great job on this as usual!

    1. I agree with Carolyn. Also, and this is meaningful for me — nobody has or will ever have one like mine. I love that.

    2. Thank you, Carolyn! I guess since I don't shop at high-end stores (window shop maybe) I don't think of their prices when I compare costs.

    3. Another reader here who doesn't usually comment! I studied design and have been sewing all my life. The best way to understand the value of the clothing and garments that you make is head off to Bergdorf Mens and try on the most gorgeous jackets that you can find. Thom Brown, Zegna, Armani, Raff Simmons, your pick. And then look at how that jacket is actually made. I have been in many a factory in China in the lower price categories and the workmanship is by no means the same as a designer piece. Designer garments are built to last, with construction details that add to their longevity. No only are fit and fabric better thought out, the construction is such as to increase wearer comfort, which in turn increases the aesthetic value of a garment. That's why, for example, those groovy Studio 54 outfits from Halston look so glamorous on Bianca Jagger! Stop looking to Target, etc for inspiration and justification for your beautiful work! Its time as a society that we start to appreciate beautiful things, which take time to produce. Cheaper and faster isn't better.

    4. Yet another long-time reader, who rarely comments:

      Peter, that jacket is going to take you to around town, to P-town, and perhaps to a fog shrouded morn in a town near a bay. Classic and so well made - color me impressed.

    5. I think you underestimate the value of your jacket - no comparison to the $20 on Amazon. More realistic to compare it to Nordstrom's (at least) where similar jackets are $200+ on sale and they aren't even custom tailored! Your work is an inspriation.

    6. Another reason for not comparing cost to cost - besides the low cost labor used is how much longer my garments last. For example, I have noticed that my home-made work shirts which generally run me 30 Euros to make (on average)the collars don't start to wear nearly as fast as my store bought (mid to high end store)shirts. This figure needs to also be included in calculating true cost. Love your blog. Ron from Germany.

  8. Your new jacket looks great!! A beautifully constructed, well fitted, handmade garment doesn't compare to what can be found at low or mid priced retail.

  9. I agree with Carolyn. I am not sure why RTW is always seen as the standard. I love your jacket. The color is good, the style is great on you, the fit is perfect. You captured the best of the 80's, full of fun and style.

  10. That's a nice jacket. I'm always in awe of how good a job you always do. The color looks good on you, too!

  11. You are a phenomenal sewist! Love the close-ups on your handiwork. Thanks for sharing yourself with the rest of us sewists.

  12. I hope your 'new' vintage sewing machine can do the buttonholes for you! Smart jacket.

  13. You are right to note the cost advantage (and the value to the planet) in re-using RTW but Carolyn and the others are also right- the comparison you should make for costing is not with mass fashion, but with high-end RTW or in some cases with couture. And you again are right to note we sew primarily because we love to. It’s a lovely jacket- the fit at the back is especially nice. That style can so often look a bit blousy if the back length or waist width is a bit wrong.

  14. I think Carolyn is right as well. Your jacket is akin to something that can be purchased at John Varvados or other high-end makers. Congratulations on a beautiful job, as always.

  15. Beautiful jacket. But when I saw the back, I sighed in pleasure. I don't think I've ever seen so nice a fit. Thank you

  16. Great fit, great color and great usual your passion shines through and you look so cool in your custom garment. Carolyn is right...think high-end...not Old Navy.

  17. When doing cost comparisons I look at a similar quality garment. So the underwear I made for myself I compare with Thunderpants which are a similar quality. Mine cost way less! My various merino singlets that I made for my boys are compared with the good quality ones, not the ones from The Warehouse (similar to your Walmart). When you do that the cost usually works out in your favour and the clothes last a lot longer too. I've also noticed both my sons reaching for the t-shirts I made over any of the bought ones; that is absolutely priceless, especially considering they're 15 and 17 years old.

  18. I agree with Rachelle's comments about better quality control when you sew your own clothing. I sew for one more reason, fit. Being approximately five feet tall, if I purchased anything off the rack there would be a hefty alternation bill to contend with and would drive up the cost.

  19. Beautiful jacket I recognized the style immediately, I had a MO in black back in the day, and wore it fairly often. I'm glad you left off the epaulets, I never saw the point in them on the MO jackets, other than making more work when you washed and then had to iron the darned things.

    I think your version actually has a more timeless quality.

  20. Well done, as always! What's missing from the equation on cost is your time. How many hours did you put in choosing the fabric, sourcing the notions, cutting, fitting, and sewing? Suddenly it's a very expensive jacket, comparable to designer duds.

  21. The jacket looks great. I think your enthusiasm is delightful.
    I used to make all my clothes but then along came 'long' in clothes and I had the pleasure of going on a shopping spree and finding clothes to fit and therefore didn't sew as much - the only item I still can't buy to fit is shirts so I've been concentrating on making them for some time but I bought a Levi jacket pattern recently, it's been years since I've sewn a jacket but I'm looking forward to the challenge.
    I buy vintage patterns when I can find them...unfortunately they are seldom in my size but I just like them, I have some going back to the 1920s.
    It will be interesting to see what you make next.

  22. Hi Peter! This jacket reminds me one I used to borrow from my father in the 80's. I used it to go to school because of the cool look. It was very similar to yours, just the color was beige an at that time it looked exagerated oversized on me. :) Great jacket!

  23. Lovely jacket Peter, I would love this in Fire engine red. You also could make it reversible? It would make it bulkier though. With the space between those buttons on the waist that won't be too much of a cinch! I love this detail though, I have it on most of my vintage shirt-jacs and have added it to shirts that I have customised.


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