Some beautiful American Hand Tailoring

I haven’t done one of these in a looooong time and for that, I apologize.

I recently acquired this jacket and wanted to take a closer look. I had a hard time dating it precisely because the silhouette suggested mid to late 1960’s but the lapel shape wasn’t right- when I got it open I realized that a tailor had narrowed the lapel by 3/4″ at some point after it was made, so I think it’s more likely between 69 and 73, and I have reasons to think that.

Vintage American Tailoring

What immediately caught my eye was this classic, beautifully executed American natural shoulder. People often mistakenly think “natural shoulder” means no padding but that isn’t correct- it refers to the shoulder “expression” and if you look at this one, there is no roping in the sleeve head- the shoulder just joins with the top of the sleeve in a smooth, unbroken line much like the human shoulder. Thus, natural shoulder. There is, in fact, a bit of padding in this shoulder.

Natural Shoulder

While I have seen better buttonholes, these have been worked on the front and back so you don’t have the typically messy appearance of the back of most handmade buttonholes.

Buttonhole front
Buttonhole back

When the lapel and collar were narrowed, the facing was reattached by hand so it was the easiest place to open it up. We find some fine silk thread has been used to pad the lapel and collar by hand. The chest has been padded by hand using cotton thread.

Lapel hand padstitched
Collar hand padstitched

The garment is 3/4 lined with a straight back yoke which has been rolled by hand. The lining is felled to the sides by hand (interestingly, not at the side seam where one would logically locate it) using impossibly tiny stitches and silk thread. Same goes for the hem.

Lining felled near the side seams by hand.

Where the lining shoulder seam and armhole have been hand finished using tiny stitches so dense that it was actually difficult to get the lining open without damaging it.

Shoulder and armhole hand finished.

Inside I found something unexpected. In addition to what I crudely refer to as the “kotex”, which is the style of sleeve head wadding on a roll instead of the shaped variety, there is another small length of wadding butted up against the end of the pad to help support the top without being bulky. While it was common to use shoulder pads with extensions on them to attempt to replicate this effect, the material in that part is usually so flimsy that it doesn’t really add much. Also notice the amount of canvas etc. left extending beyond the seam allowance; notice also that it is skived- meaning cut down at an angle so as not to have a sharp cutoff edge.

Wadding butted up to edge of pad.
Kotex sleeve head
Skived canvas and pad

In general, the level of workmanship is at or better than that which I have seen in most bespoke garments. In fact, this particular workshop was famous for exactly that for a very long time. Which brings me to the method of establishing one extremity of the possible date of manufacture. The lapels and collar being neatly padded by hand.

Despite the existence of machines which purported to be able to pad a lapel as well as by hand, it was only in the early 1970s that a machine was developed that the executives at Hickey Freeman agreed could do as well, even perhaps a bit more consistently, than a hand sewer. The designer at the time, Gino Porro, had come over to Hickey Freeman from Oxxford, who incidentally STILL pad their lapels by hand, and I don’t see him making that decision lightly.

One Reply to “Some beautiful American Hand Tailoring”

  1. So happy to see another dissection! I learned so much from your previous looks under the hood and they were a big inspiration in my own professional development.
    Thank you!

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