I don’t go to costume parties and I barely go to science fiction conventions anymore, so I have no logical reason to make hall costume pieces. Call it a challenge?
The ‘Hamilton’ musical brought back tailcoats to public view, though steampunk and vampire costumers have always loved them. I’m also a big fan of the work done at Damsel In This Dress, but I can’t afford their corsets and skirts.
A couple of years ago I found this sage-green Faded Glory eyelet jacket at Goodwill. (Not this exact one, which showed up on Ebay recently.) For those of you who don’t know, ‘Faded Glory’ is a clothing brand most often retailed at Walmart.
It was in my size. The lines were interesting, and the inside construction far better than I expected. I was already planning some kind of tailcoat look for a hall costume. This one seemed like it might save me some sewing time. I bought it for a few dollars and put it away.
Over the next two years I found a similar-toned cotton grayish green striped Martex twin sheet (Goodwill), olive and copper ‘window’ beads (JoAnn), and some bronze colored buttons (SAS Fabrics). All bought on the cheap and put aside.
While scrounging for metallic fabrics for another project this January, I found (also at Goodwill) two long two-tone color change taffeta table runners in copper/sage green. I thought the green shade might be really close to the ‘Sage’ jacket I had stored, so I grabbed them. They didn’t work for the unrelated project…but yay, they matched the Faded Glory jacket.
This is a good image of similar fabric.
What followed was a exercise in sewing madness.
While hammering away at the spring 2018 Tempe Festival of the Arts award ribbons, I was also drafting patterns for the Sage & Copper Tailcoat. The two-layered skirt consists of the twin sheet and the table runners, pieced out to a 105×20″ long panel. I tapered the sheet at both ends to provide a graceful look, but left the table runners as a straight rectangle (because the seams were already done, I am lazy, and I can always pin up the sides.) Raw edges got turned, pressed, and sewn. The two panel layers were joined across the top edge.
The excess material from the table runners became cuff bands on the sleeves, along with a bit of striped sheet.
To create a full swishy skirt, I pleated the panel down to about 34″ wide, enough to hit just forward of the side seams of the Faded Glory jacket. To help accent the back, I added a small pleat ruffle in a similar sage colored linen.
I pinned the skirt to the jacket, hand-basted the seam, then anchored it with machine sewing. (My old Elna machine almost didn’t forgive me, since I was also making it sew leather and denim on the ribbon project.)
The tailcoat still looked unfinished. I cut up more of the Martex sheet into 60×1.5″ ribbons, sewed them into flat cords, and did a floral fold to create four long snowdrop passementerie dangles. I disguised the center seam of each flower with a flat glass olive/copper ‘window’ bead. Those went at the sides and back (flanking the mini ruffle). Here’s some finished detail.
And here’s some shots of the whole piece.
Not long after I completed it last month, the Thrift Store Gods saw fit to deliver (for cheap cheap!) two embroidered trousers in sage green, plus some gorgeous black leather Ecco Hobart riding boots ($200 new, $13 at thrift store). I have a leather hat (yay Goodwill) that can be dyed black and embellished. Back in 2012, I made a bronze and crystal steampunk necklace that would be a perfect accessory.
Hence, one vaguely steampunky outfit, which a reliable outside witness calls ‘Dead sexy’. Total cost including sewing thread, beads, and buttons: under $40 (and the boots were the most expensive part). Plus several years and a bit of basic sewing skill.
If you have the patience and eye for detail, you can craft some great costumes this way.
If you want to make your own pieced-together tailcoat, start with a cool jacket *in your size, that you can wear in your climate*. Look for interesting button, neckline, sleeve, and front details. Look for good inside construction, or at least seams you can reinforce yourself.
Alternatively, if you really like to sew, invest in some period sewing pattern pieces.
Lots of quick-n-dirty costumers advocate trimming down a suitcoat to make a tailcoat, and it works for a straight-line tail skirt. But I like using crop-waist or peplum jacket forms because they give a flattering shaped waistline look, and the attached skirt can be as full as you want.
Look for as close as possible matching fabric for your coat skirt. Think thrift store sheets or fabric warehouses! Your tailcoat skirt has to end up just long enough to hit between the side seams of your jacket or about four inches forward. It can be only thigh-length or reach your ankle. For me, that meant 105 inches pleated down to around 34 inches, with a finished depth at mid-calf.
You can do this by hand, but having a good sewing machine really helps.
Split the sleeve seams up to almost the elbow, if you want to add cuff embellishments. Re-sew them when you’re done.
Use a lot of brown Kraft paper to adjust your patterns, if you use any. Keep tiny clear plastic bags with your properly sized buttons and fabric swatches, so you can more easily match store finds to projects.
And have fun…this isn’t theater costuming on a deadline.