James’ Fantastic 18th Century Suit – Starting Line

Red wool suit with gold trimming, Kyoto Costume Institute, 1740s

It’s about time I posted something, yeah? I have a good excuse: this little Duchie has finally found herself a new home, and this one with an entire room devoted to “work,” half of that being graphic design/illustration, and the other half being costuming! However, this room is currently in utter chaos, complete with puppy. I’ll be setting up this workspace to be full of win in the near future, but for now, here it is, in all its glory:

Now, to the good stuff. I’ve been commissioned to make a mid-18th century men’s suit, from breeches, to waistcoat, to frock coat, to hat. James, the client, has done a wonderful job picking out his fabrics, a delicious navy blue velvet for the frock coat and breeches, and a fantastic metallic silver and black brocade for the waistcoat, very French. He is looking for a well-tailored look reminiscent of the trim ensembles in “Marie Antoinette.” He’d also like a lot of trim work on the coat, which will likely involved metallic silver braids and trims, if not a little embroidery (I’m thinking about the buttons).

While James is drooling over his newly arrived 18th c costume books, I’ve done a little digging of my own, and here’s what I’ve come up with for inspiration:

As for patterns, I’ve decided to go with JP Ryan. These patterns are reported to be accurate, nicely complex yet workable, and the go-to source for this century. I’ll be working with these:

The last bit is the hat. I’ll be creating the cockades and feather arrangements on a felt blank, like this one (which does come in navy, ooo!):

After I receive the patterns, I’ll be mocking up each piece in muslin, and frolicking down to the Bay Area in later December, for a fitting. I’ll then have until the end of January to finish it, as it’s due for an early February costume ball.

This is American Duchess’ FIRST commission, so let’s make it a good one!!

(And if you are interested in commissioning a costume, or costume pieces, please e-mail me at [email protected])


  • Lithia Black

    November 19, 2009 at 7:10 AM

    Congratulations to your first commission 🙂
    It sounds like you will have a lot of fun. And you client has excellent taste 🙂
    I have yet to make up the courage to dare to take historical commissions…

  • AmeriDuchi

    November 19, 2009 at 5:18 PM

    Thanks Ladies! Here's hoping my sewing skills don't completely fail, no pressure now! I'm a little nervous to work on the velvet – lots of basting and careful pressing, and hand-finished seams, I wager.

    @Freckles – this is James-who-often-works-the-door-and-sometimes-has-scotch-in-a-flask, at PEERS and Gaskells. I reckon you do know him.

    @Margravine – I'm unsure which books James has got exactly, but my go-to sources for 18th c costuming are the Kyoto book and Janet Arnold's pattern book. Nora Waugh's "Cut of Women's Clothes" (and likewise for men's) is also a good book to check out.

  • The Dreamstress

    November 20, 2009 at 10:05 AM

    I love the last three you posted, especially the two silvery/creamy ones. Yummy!

    And even I know James (though not the scotch part as my ubber-prissy shield tends to zap guys at the mere mention of champagne on the steps, much less scotch in a flask).

  • Angela

    November 20, 2009 at 11:36 PM

    Sharing! If you have not been there yet, go to this website: http://www.marquise.de for La Couturiere Parisienne. Then go to 1700's – How to – L'art du Tailleur then finally click on anything on that page but look at the L'art du buotniere en passementerie. It has great button ideas. I think I found a site which shows how to make those buttons. If I find it I will send it on later. Good luck. Angela

  • Anonymous

    November 21, 2009 at 4:51 AM

    I'm "the James". (Not Shattuck, I'm the gothic one). Now, as for that first outfit below my materials — droooool — ok, got that out of the way. I'm pretty excited about all this too. The 18th c. outfit I currently have is more colonial, so it's nice, but not :ubersexlich. Anyways, I only work door at PEERS, not Gaskells, and I do not really drink that much; I offer quite a lot. Oh, and I just received the Kyoto book from Amazon. If I lived during the 18th century, I think I'd be overwhelmed by the :Ubersexlichkeit of it. Yum. (p.s., I am a guy ;->) (I love being fussed over by women.)

  • Lauren

    November 21, 2009 at 5:12 PM

    Very nice! I'm excited to see what you come up with. I would highly recommend making a lot of muslins. Also, check out marquis.de, La Couturiere Parisienne. They have a wonderful section on men's clothing, how to's and all. Good Luck!

  • American D

    November 21, 2009 at 10:10 PM

    Thanks for the tip on La Couturiere Parisienne, I'll def. check it out! And hi James! Nice to see you again. I didn't know how else to describe you (my mistake on your not working door at Gaskells)…that gothy attorney? lol.

  • Anonymous

    July 8, 2010 at 11:56 PM

    A tip for you 🙂

    There are great differences between a 1760-1785 men's cocked hat and a 1786-1794. You will be shocked to see how great the last ones really were 🙂

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