Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Early 19th Century Boys Fall Front Trousers

So we are going to Heritage Days this year as early 19th century citizens. And we will bivouac on the rendezvous side and David desires to wear his linen tail coat and go fishing. We have always visited the rendezvous before, walking over to that side of the lake from the Civil War camps, but we have always been outsiders looking in. This year we will be in. It will be different and casual and hopefully not too hot.

David and I and the baby already have things to wear (Anne is wearing the olive voile gown of Malach's toddlerhood) but I procrastinated dreadfully in making the boys something to wear. Namely because I wasn't exactly sure what they should wear. The older two are at awkward ages (almost 7 and almost 6) so they aren't really little anymore. Malachi is 4  and is too old for the little dresses and tunic outfits that very small boys could have worn.

After asking some knowledgeable people, looking around online at original garments, paintings and fashion plates I decided it was most practical to dress my older two boys in adult style clothing. *sniff* Thankfully, Malachi is still little enough to wear little boy style clothing, so he is getting a button suit, aka skeleton suit, with linen trousers, a short linen jacket with a white shirt and lots of silver buttons.

The older boys outfits thus decided upon, I began researching the trousers. I was a bit surprised at the diversity I saw in the trouser images I was able to come across. I assumed all the trousers would be quite similar; close fitting with a fall front. And while this was true to some extent, certainly not all trousers are created equal and I saw trousers with a broad fall (falling from each hip) variation in the size of a narrow fall, diversity in the number of buttons used and varying degrees of tightness in the leg. In paintings and other illustrations where the waistband could be seen, the level of the waist varied quite a bit, too; anywhere from the natural waist to slightly high to very high indeed.

I combined what I thought were the best features for trousers that I hope will be both accurate looking and long lasting, my two most important priorities. Because, of course, while it would be awesome to make every garment for my children an exact fit, it is, truthfully, very wasteful of both time and materials to do so. Because, of course, children grow rapidly and usually this happens right before an event, leaving a distraught mother with 3 options:
The "baggy butt" was a defining period feature for many trousers of the era

1. Have them wear too-tight, too-short clothes, which often results in uncomfortable and unhappy offspring, torn seams (especially the crutch seam. . .don't ask me how I know. . .) and popped buttons.
2. Endure a panic filled day-before-the-event sewing spree, which renders the mother miserable and incapable of enjoyment of the event because she is too tired to do anything but grumpily follow her wildly cavoriting children around, praying desperately that seams don't bust and buttons don't pop off.
3. Let the child go forth naked and unashamed.

Therefore, these trousers are made to last. The crutch seam is cut extra-long, resulting in a high waist that, as the boys grow, will sit lower on their torso. The legs are cut loose and the hem is wide, and can be let down several inches as needed. The waistband is cut 6" larger than needed and the excess is taken up in the back with eyelets and a tie (which is also a period method of controlling fullness, so double win!)

To keep everything up and in place the boys each got suspenders (a better term is braces) made of slightly stretchy wool tape, and finished with wool buttonholed tabs to fasten to buttons on the trouser waistband. The suspenders are taken up 1.5" in length via a small and unobtrusive tuck above the back tabs, so as the boys get taller the suspenders can be let out, too. (In the photos shown, Judah is wearing his suspenders before they received the tuck - so that is why the waist band is sitting lower than it ought to.)

The trousers are of 100% linen, unlined, with all seams finished by hand. I wavered back and forth on whether or not to add a lining but I decided not to. I am not sure if that was a good idea or not, because lining something does extend the wear so much. But I wasn't able to find much information about lined trousers vs. unlined ones. . .so I went with unlined.

The only thing left to make the boys are little shirts. I started them today so I have hope that within the week I can finish their shirts and start on Malachi's outfit. Then, if I have time, maybe I can make them each a simple waistcoat. But if not, their shirt-and trousers outfit will be perfectly fine for a casual day of fishing at the lake.

Judah was very happy to model his trousers for me today. Poor kid had to deal with too-small trousers at the David Davis Civil War event last month and the seams popped and his blouse kept coming unbuttoned from his trousers and he was embarrassed and self conscious the whole time. He likes his suspenders because now he is "just like Daddy" and he can "run around without my pants falling down."

These fall front trousers will work right up through the 1840's too. . .I love making clothes that are dual-era! It's hard to do that with women's things, but mens clothes change so slowly it is easier to get away with making something work for more than one time period, especially when you are not portraying high fashion.
Can't wait for the rendezvous!



  1. So sweet. I am pinning this for someday-in-the-faraway-future-when-I-am-a-mummy reference.

    Haha, I'm glad he is pleased that he can "run without [his] pants falling down." That's a nice feeling, knowing your pants won't fall down when you run.

  2. They look lovelym both trousers and braces! I really like fall front breeches and trousers. I like that you made them with so much room to grow - that *must* be a period practice.

  3. Those trousers look great! Thanks for posting this. I'm at the same point with my 6-year old, only I'm debating about making him Regency-era trousers or just keep him using the 1860s ones - which were really a one-time thing for Gettysburg. I love your choice of fabric and the pattern. The ideas for leaving in growing room are awesome! I'll have to tuck those ideas away for his next pair of pants! :-)

  4. I like very much. Looking forward to your next makings!

  5. Those trousers are wonderful! And Judah makes a splendid model.

  6. I love the growth tuck at the back of the pants. My husband has "out grown" his 1860's pants. I wonder if I could do that for him. ;)
    I always enjoy your post. I can't believe your baby is already a year old. I started reading your blog right before she was born.


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!