Monday, November 2, 2009

Tips on Converting Modern Men's Clothing to Period Costumes

Here are some tips from This Is the Place on converting modern clothing to period costumes (from 2009 training). It would, of course, be more historically accurate to build the clothing from the ground up using reproduction patterns, but this would do for many functions (trek, parades, interpreting at some spots, etc.).

Men's clothing hasn't changed much since 1850-1870 and is easy to alter:
  • Shirts: Cut, or remove if you sew, the collars off of shirts to convert to a collarless, period looking shirt. Almost any color and pattern will work. Stripes and checks were popular in our time frame. Shirts were considered underwear, and are buttoned at the neck and were almost always topped with vests unless the men were working in the fields. For an example, click here.
  • Vests: Vests had no points like the modern vests today. I open up the points and some of the bottom seam, trim the points off, leaving a seam allowance, press the seam allowance up inside the vest and topstitch it down. You can get nice vests with good fabric for a reasonable price at thrift stores and convert them to look period in much less time than it takes to construct a new one. For an example, click here.
  • Pants: Men's pants had no creases down the legs. Pressing the creases with white vinegar will remove them. It might be a a good idea to try it on a small area before using it on the entire garment. Remove the belt loops from modern pants and any labels sewn on the outside. It's probably best not to use pants with pleats at the top, but even that will be hidden with a vest.
  • Braces (Suspenders): Braces were often straps of canvas, or other heavy fabric, crossed and sewn in the back with buttonholes on the ends to button onto the pants. There are six buttons on pants. Two in the middle of each side of the fronts and one on either side of the center back seam. Sew these on securely. They get a lot of wear and tear from the braces. For an example, click here.
  • Overalls: Overalls were worn during this time period. They had buttons on them, not the metal fasteners like the ones today. You could remove the metal loop fastener, make a buttonhole in the end of the strap and use the existing buttons on the front.
  • Jackets: Most modern suit jackets will work if the fabric isn't too slick looking. They were considerably baggier in the fit than the way they are worn today and not as padded in the shoulders. Frock coats were very popular. McCall's has pattern number 8701 that looks great and is very easy to sew.
  • Buttons: Buttons did not have the indents around the outside edge that buttons have today. I turn them over so the back is visible and they look more period that way. Plastic buttons are OK as long as they don't LOOK plastic. Some of the plastic buttons look a lot like bone if they aren't shiny. WalMart has brass and pewter metal buttons that look exactly like the buttons I have seen on authentic period garments. There's an X in the middle of some of them instead of two or four holes. Oyster shell buttons did come into general use here in Utah until around the 1870s. They can be used if they don't have the indent around the face. Bone and antler are other options.
  • Shoes: Shoes also haven't changed that much. About the only ones that aren't appropriate are modern sneakers. Any leather tie shoe will almost certainly look good.
  • Hats: I found period looking hats for reasonable prices at some of the costume shops in town. Cowboy hats with the double crease are not period. They came later in the 19th Century. Straw hats were popular choices in the summer.

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