18th Century, Historical Sew Fortnightly, Sewing

An 18th century man-bodice (aka a waistcoat)

When I set the Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #5 “Bodice” I knew exactly what I wanted to make: a 1720s robe de cour bodice for Mariana Victoria, for the 18th Century Court Dress sew along.

And when the challenge was approaching I got started – adapting my Ninon pattern for a later date, dyeing the fabric, cutting the bodice lining, sewing in the boning channels.

And then life got in the way.

First there was The Project (still ongoing, amazing, and unfortunately I can’t show you photos yet, but soon, I promise!), which is a full time job in and of itself.  Plus I have proper work to keep doing – life goes on and the money must come in.

Then, I got a weird virus that is basically Mini-Mono / Glandu-Lite fever (depending on whether you speak Americanese or Kiwish). My MIL had it, Mr D had it, half a dozen friends had it, and it is weird and awful. First you feel tired and run down for 2-3 weeks, with scattered days of thinking you are coming down with a cold or the flu.  Then you have three days of low fever and feeling like you are going to have the worst cold/flu you’ve ever experienced. But it never quite happens. Then you have another 2-3 weeks of feeling extremely run down with scattered episodes of low fevers, impending-flu-ness, and exhaustion. I’m still in the 3 week not-quite-recovery period, and it’s completely destroyed my schedule. I’m so far behind on everything.

Then, to top it all of, I lost half my Mariana Victoria bodice. The two back pieces with lacing holes part worked? No idea where they are. A thorough search of my sewing stuff hasn’t revealed them either. So the project is on unplanned, enforced hold until I can locate them!

So, way behind on the bodice challenge, but determined to submit something for it, I ran across another PHd (Project Half Done) while doing my Mariana Victoria bodice location rummage.

The PHd was an 18th century waistcoat I started for Mr D back in 2009, when I made the Lady Anne Darcy dress. I’d finished the outside of the waistcoat, got the lining part done and all pinned in, and then abandoned it when it wasn’t completed in time for the event, and there was no longer a pressing reason to make it.

18th century mans waistcoat thedreamstress.com

But I now had a pressing reason to make something bodice-ish, and any PhD that can become a PFF (Project Finally Finished) is a triumph. Besides, there was only that tiny bit of lining to sew it, it would only take me an hour or two, right? (famous last words).

18th century mans waistcoat thedreamstress.com

The photos above are actually a couple of hours into my picking it up and working on it again. I forgot to take ‘before I did anything to the PhD’ photos. It turns out that sewing the lining in was really tricky, because I used some extremely strange construction techniques when I started this thing. I’m not sure where on earth I got them from: they aren’t modern, and they aren’t historical, and they made it very hard to put together!

But I persevered, pinning and pickstitching and unpicking and re-sewing bits.

Felicity helped:

18th century man's waistcoat thedreamstress.com

And then, finally, it was done:

18th century mans waistcoat thedreamstress.com

It has some serious problems, but I’m still rather pleased with it.

18th century waistcoat thedreamstress.com
The serious problems include the extremely peculiar construction, the fact that it has never actually been tried on a real man’s body (who know if it will fit Mr D or not), the pattern/cut, and the materials used. In other words, most of it.

I think I used the pattern from Costume Close up for this waistcoat, but looking at it now, I think I must have made up a lot of the pattern – it doesn’t really match anything period.

18th century waistcoat thedreamstress.com

The outer is made from matelasse, the same fabric I used for the petticoat I wear with the Lady Anne Darcy dress. I have a vague memory of seeing one example of a quilted or matelasse men’s waistcoat, but I had a thorough search of 18th century sources and couldn’t find it, so perhaps I’m remembering wrong. In any case, it is very unlikely to have had a back and front both of the same fabric.

18th century waistcoat thedreamstress.com

My waistcoat is fully lined in a cotton check. Vaguely plausible, but not likely for a 1760s waistcoat.

And my buttons, while they do a reasonable job of looking like late 18th century waistcoat buttons, do not look like mid-18th century waistcoat buttons (and the rest of the waistcoat is mid-18th century in cut – or closest to mid 18th century). Oh, and they are plastic.  Very plastic!

18th century waistcoat thedreamstress.com

And my buttonholes are machine sewn, since there was no point in spending the hour-per-buttonhole it would have taken me to work them by hand on such an odd garment.

18th century waistcoat thedreamstress.com

Now, for the good news. The waistcoat does more-or-less fit me in stays, and I do have a matching petticoat, so it has potential as a really-not-historical foundation to an 18th century steampunk riding habit for me, should I ever need such a thing.

And for years I thought the matelasse fabric was synthetic, but I did a burn test of a scrap of it, and it turns out it’s a silk cotton blend. Happiness! So while that still isn’t a period fabric, it does make me feel much better about both the waistcoat and the petticoat of it.

The best news of all, of course, is simply that it is done, and I’ve completed something for the challenge!

The Challenge:  #5 Bodice

Fabric: 1ish metre of silk-cotton matelasse, 1ish metre of cotton, both purchased 5+ years ago, and I can’t remember what they cost, so free.

Pattern: I think I used a waistcoat pattern from Costume Close Up as my basis

Year: vaguely 1760s.

Notions: Thread, vintage plastic buttons.

How historically accurate is it?  Not accurate fabric (because natural fibres still aren’t accurate if they are not the right kind of fabric, in the right weave, used for the types of garments they would have been used for in-period), not accurate cut, not based on period examples, 1/2 machine sewn, 1/2 hand sewn, not accurate notions.  Let’s face it, it’s a costume:  20% if I’m generous.

Hours to complete: 7.

First worn: Not yet, but I think I will do that 18th century steampunk photoshoot someday, so at least it will be worn once!

Total cost: $0

18th century waistcoat thedreamstress.com


  1. Lynne says

    You need a Mr D.-shaped mannequin for when he is too busy and tired to be one.

    I do like the waistcoat. Costume, it may be, but very pleasing costume.

  2. I’m sorry you’ve been under the weather. That is rough! I bet Felicity knows where the fabric is! I often find that if I don’t write down my “genius” thoughts now, whose to know why I planned anything the way I did!

  3. I love that matelasse and know that I too have seen a man’s waistcoat in a similar matelasse before too. If I find it I’ll let you know. Kudos for finishing it!

  4. You have my complete sympathy over the attack of life. I am still working on my bog blouse (only the neckline and the long seam across the back and sleeves to go!) but at this rate I’ll be surprised if I finish it by April 1–only two weeks late! 🙂

    • Elise says

      And my sympathy for the attack on life you are alluding to. Good luck!

  5. And I like the waistcoat despite its problems. I love the matelasse fabric–I bet the petticoat you made from it is beautiful.

  6. Those sorts of bugs are awful. Personally, I’d rather be properly sick for a couple of days and get it over with.

    It’s a beautiful waistcoat. I love the fabric, and I think it is both an excellent costume, and a garment that’s wearable today.

  7. Yay for finishing it! It’s still a success even if not historically accurate. I’m pleased that you honestly shared the odd things about it with us. 🙂 Nice to know we’re all in it together with the odd things in our sewing.

    Hope you feel better soon!

    • Definitely not that one! It’s fabulous though – what an amazing shade of blue. Perhaps the first one you found, though I wish there was a full view.

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