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Feb 17, 2020

The VEST of Everything


Readers, until last week I had only ever sewn one men's vest (above), which I created as part of a men's pattern drafting class I took at FIT three years ago.

For some reason vests have never been part of my wardrobe.  By the time I started buying suits, they didn't come with vests the way they did many years before.  And when I thought of casual vests, something like this (below) usually came to mind: they just didn't have positive associations.


Fashions best forgotten...

But in preparation for a piece I'm writing for the Threads blog later this month about vests, I began to dig a little deeper.  I realized that in my vintage pattern stash I already owned nearly a dozen vest patterns.  In the 1950's and 60's in particular, men's sports jacket patterns often had a vest pattern included in the same envelope.  Occasionally they'd be combined with shirt patterns.  Later on, more vest-only patterns were released, probably when men started wearing vests without jackets.





Western-inspired patterns often included a Western-style vest.



I'm interested in the more traditional vests, the ones with an Ivy-style feel.  So far the ones I've examined are all drafted slightly differently.  Sometimes there are just front and back pieces, plus a pocket and welt, like in Simplicity 8368 (which I've used multiple times to make jackets) and which dates from 1969.



McCall's 5051 from 1959, on the other hand (below), has twelve pieces.  These include a front facing, a back waist facing, and two different size welts.  The construction is also much more complex and the fronts are fully interfaced with hair canvas (while Roberto Cabrera in his book, Classic Tailoring Techniques, recommends using a woven fusible for the fronts).  One thing that sets this particular pattern apart is that it has no darts (most vests have two in front and two in back).



I've constructed one vest so far, using vintage Butterick 2125 (below), probably from the early 60's.  This vest pattern had eight pieces.  It's the only one I've seen (so far) with a neck facing.  Since this was largely a test, I used only fabric scraps: soft indigo denim for the fronts and front facings, plaid flannel for the back (left over from my recent 80's jacket), and a "Home Sewing is Easy" Alexander Henry quilting cotton remnant for the lining.  I picked up some inexpensive shank buttons in the Garment District since the vest really calls for them.






I've very pleased with the way this vest came out and as you'll see (eventually), it also fits well; I may actually end up wearing this thing.  I plan to make a couple more vests this month as I'm very in-vest-ed in this vest exploration. It's fascinating to discover the different designs and construction techniques.

In closing, do you ever sew -- or wear -- vests like these?   If you make (or have made) them, do you have any tips to share?

Have a great day, everybody!

30 comments:

  1. I always enjoy that you share all these vintage patterns. One caught my eye: Butterick 2125 with the guy in the gray blazer, red plaid vest - I do believe he's smoking! lol I've never the models do that on patterns before. Oh the times have changed.

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    1. Oh, yes, men were often shown smoking on these vintage sewing pattern illustrations -- pipes even more than cigarettes!

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  2. Peter, as far back as when I was attending FIT, I made lots of weskits, which are square cut, v-neck, sleeveless. pullover vests...with a separating zip under one arm...I was working in a department store, putting myself through school, in an area of the store where I did not need to wear a jacket, but looked nice with a shirt & tie...they were perfect...even back then, I drafted my own pattern...made some with matching pants & some of odd fabrics like wool double knit & velvet...

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  3. Love your vest adventure. I made my first classic woven brocade vest in the 1980s. My first go at bound buttonholes & welt pockets. It was my go-to outfit for giving presentations until the fabric started fraying about 10 years ago. It still fits but it is too worn to wear anymore. I was happy to discover a remnant big enough to make another last year, as dispite searching here in Oz and overseas this sort of fabric does not seem to be available anymore. At the time it was an enormous extravagance, costing me about $27/m at a time when my income was about $100/week, but it turned out to be a great investment.
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/133l9fs8RfvwHhccBO8hPURrweFnZGEkg/view?usp=drivesdk

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  4. What is the difference between a vest and a waistcoat?

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    1. Whether you're in North America or not, I suspect!

      I'm in the UK and all of the above, including Peter's very lovely version, are waistcoats. A vest is something very different!

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    2. Tee shirt, worn as underwear. Just as "pants" are underpants in the UK, a "vest" is an undergarment.

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    3. Waistcoat is such a classy term for it
      And opens up a whole new way of googling for inspiration

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    4. What we call a vest in the UK (a sleeveless top worn as underwear), is a 'wife beater' in the US. Horrible term.

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    5. UK (and Ireland and possibly Australia/NZ?) vests are also strappy/sleeveless t-shirts in all colours worn in hot weather by any gender or age. I also wear the colourful kind under dresses that show more cleavage than I feel comfortable, which I suppose counts as underwear, but otherwise "vest as underwear" makes me think more of small children and old men!

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  5. I have been making vest for many years. I like to upcycle vintage kimonos, especially those with metallic threads that I purchase at a local Japanese antique store. The fabric width is only 12" wide, so your front pattern ideally should be no wider, but you can create a side panel if necessary. I like using Bemberg rayon for the linings and back she'll. I use Japanese 1/4" wide silk ribbon to stay the edges. For buttons I like to make covered buttons from the same fabric, and I don't use any metal hardware for the back belt. My belief is that metal can cause unnecessary wear and tear on the fabric, and a simple knot is the best closure for a back belt. Finally, where to turn? Most RTW vests are turned at the lining side seam and hand stitched closed, and tailored vests are turned at the back neck facing. I like to turn at the back hem, then closing with an edgestitch across the entire back hem. Could you use any of these tips?

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    1. Yes, that's helpful, John. I closed the vest I made at the armholes entirely by hand. It took quite a bit of time!

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    2. Peter, the vest (really, everything you sew) is exemplary. Excellent, excellent work. I used to make vests quite often once upon a time. When I did, I would follow the pattern instructions which were to sew one of the sides to the lining in a "circle", as it were: side back seam allowance to it's corresponding lining seam allowance. Here is a link to a YouTube video done by Anita of Anita by Design. This is part two of a vest she made. At about the 14:00 minute mark, she shows how she finishes the vest. Hope that helps.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3KcbsVwBPw

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  6. I used to make lots of waistcoats for my dad before he retired, but of late, only for costume purposes. They are fun to make though! I'm about to embark on a semi-corsetted one for myself. GULP.

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  7. I do believe I had the Simplicity 701 Jiffy vest pattern years ago and made several vests. I quit wearing vest for years. But now I like them again. I need to find a good (rather simple) pattern in my current size.
    I am sorry to say that I have no tips. I wasn't good at clothing construction then, and it is still a real challenge to me.

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  8. I love vests, but have stopped wearing them, having been convinced, somehow, that they are unfashionable. I had a houndstooth hip length vest in the mid to late 90s that I wore constantly to work, feeling put together and comfortable. And my mom made me a gorgeous short silk embroidered patchwork vest that I used to wear for special occasions. There is a class of women’s clothing that can be worn up to a certain age and it looks classic and elegant. Beyond that age it can look simply unfashionable. Vests seem to fall into that category. When I get even older, I’ll stop caring!

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  9. I am looking forward to your Threads article and ...maybe a sew a long...
    My teenage/college age sons have asked for vests.
    One of them picked out a boxy Edwardian style one I got from a magazine years ago. I have no where the instructions are so I plan to wing it.

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  10. It's lovely! I do wonder though about the wisdom of turning a garment on a curved seam. The modern way of turning it in a side seam seems neater and longer lasting. That's just me though. I usually prefer traditional methods.
    In the 90s a film came out called "Four Weddings and a Funeral" that caused a big stir in the waistcoat world. Men who previously would be hard pressed to wear a clean t-shirt wanted to get married in a silk plaid waistcoat. Or a flowery brocade. It was wonderful - I managed a silk emporium at the time and we sold a lot of 0.7m lengths of fancy silks, and made up a lot on commission. I do like a well turned out man! I have made a few for the hubby, the last one being out of embroidered velveteen for him to play Count de Magpyr in a Terry Pratchett production.

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  11. Looking forward to all your vest explorations, as I am planning to make one for my husband this year. Promised it to him last year, but...... I have a Vogue, a vintage Simplicity, and the Thread Theory Belvedere waistcoat to choose from -- they are all different in small but important ways!

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  12. Oh I used to love when my husband wore a three piece suit. He looked so smart. I also wore three piece suits to work, back in the 80's and 90's. Vests just feel so good! And when you take your jacket off, you don't feel like you are half dressed!
    Of course suits are no longer required office attire and we are all so very casual now. But I still miss wearing a suit, and I absolutely adored french cuffs with cufflinks...just sayin

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    1. What were cuff links, but "man earrings".

      I wore sweater vests in my childhood, burgundy and a deep tan-gold. Atop a turtle neck, with bangs, there was just no stopping me. Throw on some corduroy trousers, and I was complete.

      Nowadays, styles are so come-what-may and unsettled, but the comfort in reflecting upon having been a grade school fashion plate is restorative and soothing.

      Why, I even feel like commenting more frequently.

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  13. I make them from time to time for my self and my partner who is a bigger size. It's a simple pattern where you join the front to the back and then join that to a full lining and turn the whole thing inside out and stich the opening closed.
    I do cheat and sew false front pockets.

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  14. I'm sort of surprised vests/waistcoats didn't made a comeback when cell phones did. It would certainly be easier than stuffing yet more in the pants & jeans pockets. Most definitely it would cause much less unkind comment than a man purse in some areas of the country. I made a "flea market" vest to carry cell phone, wallet, tape measure, etc and it was SO much easier than carrying a bag.

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  15. sigh... that should be "when cell phones came along" ungh... need more coffee

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  16. I LOVE waistcoats! They're my absolute favourite thing to sew, and I wear them most every day, unless it's really really hot out. I think I've made... at least 20? I've never made a modern one though, mostly just 18th century ones.

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  17. So interesting! And your vest looks amazing. I have made quite a few, but was perplexed with bust fit. Gail Hazen has good help on that in her book. Must get to making them again. I even like over a sundress, as a small jacket. So many ways to wear them! Cathie!

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  18. Speaking from experience, as one whose mother sewed woven bathing suits for her in the 1960s: Them thangs gits heavy when wet.

    The worst one was the two-piece made from terrycloth. It was adorable, but nearly drowned me while swimming. Also, the metal zip up the back of the panties got dangerously hot when sunbathing.

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    1. Hell. I thought I was commenting on the swimsuit post, lol.

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    2. No worries -- thanks for commenting!

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