Deconstructing Classic Outerwear

Recently, when I was flipping through magazines in PERS, I came across these images of a classic outerwear staple, the Balmaccan or men’s raglan-sleeved raincoat.  These images are from Apparel Arts magazine’s April 1946 issue, but it’s obvious that the design of this coat hasn’t changed much in the last 70 or so years.


I thought you all would find the breakdown of these layers interesting and maybe even useful.  When this was published, Apparel Arts was still a menswear-industry news source. (It was later absorbed into Esquire, and recreated as a consumer magazine, Gentleman’s Quarterly.)


I’m fascinated that this style is still so current (Michael Kors has an indigo version currently in stores), down to the raglan sleeve, side slit pockets, and button tab on the wrists.

The garment industry has been making less and less well-constructed versions of its classic garments with each fashion cycle, due to rising costs, availability of materials, price point of the garment, and so on.  But this garment is so basic in its details, I doubt that a current version could be constructed without pretty similar cuts of hymo (an interfacing), lining, or buttons.


You can find these old issues of Apparel Arts magazine up on the 6th floor of the library, in the Periodicals and Electronic Services Department.  I hope they inspire you as they do me.

We have this title in the following formats and runs:

Apparel Arts: Christmas 1931-Feb. 1950 (SPARC and also microfilm)

Apparel Arts: April 1943-Dec. 1949 (at the PERS desk, 6th floor)

Esquire’s Apparel Arts: Jan. 1950-June 1956 (at the PERS desk, 6th floor)

Apparel Arts: July 1956-Winter 1957

Gentlemen’s Quarterly: Spring 1958-May 1983

Gentlemen’s Quarterly: June 1983-Current

While most of these issues live at the PERS desk on the 6th floor, there are also other copies of many issues in SPARC.  Check StyleCat for details:

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Needles in the Stacks – Draping

Denise n Beth

We welcome you back for a holiday version of Needles in the Stacks.  We’ve designed this post to help you decide which of the many draping manuals out there should be on your holiday wish list.

Here are the books we looked at this fall:

Drp-drp 1n2cvrsDrape Drape,

Drape Drape 2,

Drape Drape 3.

All three volumes by Hisako Sato, and kept in the same place:

4th Floor Art Reference TT520 .S286 2012


drape sato 3There are three books in this series, which we’re discussing together.  The author wrote and designed all the garments presented in each.  Each book in the series contains instructions for making a group of non-traditional garments.  Sato distinguishes these by using soft but weighty fabrics draped into many folds (hence the title).  The books include pictures of the pattern pieces, detailed written directions, computer-generated “how-to” images, and photographs of petite young women wearing versions of the finished garments.  The books also came with pattern pieces, but these have long since disappeared from our library copies.  Hence, it is more of a designer “how to” (see our “Couture edition” from 3/21/14) than a draping manual, but we’ve thought a lot about it anyway.

drdr dress pcs 001-1

Denise and I agree that the patterns shown here are super interesting.  However, the maker needs an intermediate level understanding of both draping and sewing.  The garments are clearly illustrated, as you can see.  And just as clearly they are not for beginners.  The pattern pieces are unusually shaped and often defy conventional construction methods.  Computer-generated drawings demonstrate numbered steps for the many tasks involved.


The dress pictured on the right gives some idea of the unconventional draped detailing in these books.  This is dress #5 from the first book.  The design owes something to couture and movie gowns of the 1930s, but Denise and I agree that this is a great dress.  Unlike some garments in this book, this would probably be flattering on women of every shape, from Plus sized down to Model-like.


Many of the garments are  asymmetric, and all take advantage of fabrics with both weight and softness, using these characteristics to create garments with inherent movement (hence the titles).  Recommended fabrics include cotton, wool, and silk, many of them knits or crepes.  These characteristics are clearly shown in this “goddess” dress (book 1, dress 17), illustrated here by a sewing blogger:

The shape of this garment, seen in the pattern pieces below, is characteristic of Sato’s work, using many pleats arranged asymmetrically across the body.

Drape_Drape_Goddess_DiagramA quick search on the internet shows the international popularity of Sato’s three pattern books.  As the author of this blog listed, nearly two dozen bloggers have worked their way through patterns in these books.  She’s compiled a list:

By and large, these bloggers have had good results from working with these patterns.  That may be that these bloggers are better than average sewers, or it may be that Denise and I are wrong about the difficulty of these patterns.

Regardless, I wonder if these patterns are so popular because of their unconventional (avant-garde, even?) construction and finished appearance?  Or is it that western-European seamsters are on the hunt for construction challenges beyond the standard sloper variations of darted bodice + skirt or pants + sleeves?  Or is it that these garments reflect an extreme expression of the shifts towards less-formal, increasingly-knit garments that are taking place in western European/American society?  I don’t know that it matters, other than to a student of the cultural history of clothing (completely guilty here), but I find the popularity on the internet of Sato’s designs pretty intriguing.

(in a wonderful play on the books we’ve researched, Alabama Chenin, owner of the company of the same name, and author of the two books in our library… interpreted a Sato pattern, then blogged about it here: 

We reviewed Chenin’s books in an earlier “Needles in the Stacks” post, which you can (re-)read here: )


jaffe relis drapingDraping for Fashion Design, by Nurie Relis and Hilda Jaffe, 4th edition.

TT507 .J34 2005

I confess to being fond of this book, because it is an expanded version of the manual I used in Mrs. Sica’s lectures in *my* draping class here (in 1987).   But, readers, this book is an even better draping manual.  It begins with an explanation of how draping fits into the design industry.  It continues, as do many of these books, with a description of the tools needed, as well as some details about human reference points for as they appear on a mannequin.

The bulk of the book illustrates the draping process with careful step-by-step written descriptions, including how to layout the cloth and prepare it, but using all drawings.   Overall this book makes an attempt to cover every variation of a basic bodice, skirt or pant, in as concise a way as possible.  Denise and I both found the instructions to be easy to follow.  While it includes a lot of  how-to for some pretty complicated garments, it’s a good book for novices both because of its breadth and it’s clarity.  The book has been expanded from the version I used, now including foundation patterns for knits, swimwear and sporting wear, tailored garments, and some basic fitting info.  Designwise, fashion illustrations of the garments have been added, making the book a bit more friendly looking, in my opinion.  But friendly looking or not, it remains an excellent reference for beginning designers to industry stalwarts.  I think I need to update my wish list.


duburg drap cvrDraping: Art and Craftsmanship in Fashion Design, by Annette Duburg and Rixt van der Tol.

TT520 .D83 2008

The project of reviewing so many how-to manuals from the library’s collection has brought to our attention the changes in book design since the early twentieth century.  Technology has increased our expectations to require  photos instead of drawings, “modern”- i.e.  graphic design using more white space, as many photos as possible, and those in color instead of black and white.   As a professor of mine used to say, “We are all children of Modernism.”

That said, this book is attractively laid out using the best of the modern ideas.  It uses photographs in the how-to sections, and black mannequins with the white design lines to make the unbleached fitting-muslins especially clear.  The avant-garde design continues with a sideways-printed table of contents.

drp duburg bodyDenise and I were both frustrated at this book’s dependence upon the metric system. However we loved that the step-by-step illustrations are photographed muslins being fit onto a body.  This made the book’s lessons very clear.  This book provides something for both left-brain and right-brain learners.  The how-to is very technically written, and the images are good enough that you don’t need to read it if you don’t want to.

dr duburg diorThe book begins with basic slopers and womenswear shapes: skirts, bodices, dresses, sleeves, collars, pants, etc.  But the second section, after one has learned all the basics, explores the draping of some of fashion designer’s Greatest Hits between 1892 and 1995.  Beginning with a Worth day dress, step-by-step muslins are photographed to walk the student through the pieces in these gowns.  The Dior dress on the left is carefully worked out in muslin here: dr duburg dior toile


This book would be on my Wish List, if it were still in print.  Alas, but the only copies for sale are now going for $$$$.


armstrong cvr


Draping for Apparel Design, by Helen Joseph-Armstrong.

TT520 .A742 2013

This is probably the most comprehensive draping manual we’ve ever seen.   Helen Joseph Armstrong began her writing career in 1985 with her basic patternmaking manual: “Patternmaking for Fashion Design” (TT507 .A74, 5 Main, Art Reference, and Circulation Reserves), and has continued to update this technical title regularly while expanding her writing to the art of draping as well.  Here is a bit more about Armstrong and her publishing career:

This book is laid out nearly the same way her patternmaking book is.  It begins with discussion of fabric grains and properties, including the bias.  It gives instruction on fabric preparation, correct measurement of the body, tools of the trade, and dart manipulation.  It presents instructions for draping just about every garment type regularly made in the western world, including bodysuits with cutouts.  It has an excellent section on laying out and cutting knit fabrics (which tend to roll),  lapel designs, grading and patterning jacket sleeves, with some bonus basic grading techniques.   Also bonus is the dictionary of draping terms, techniques, and garment descriptions.

twist hjaLike Armstong’s patternmaking books, each draping project is laid out with a fashion illustration of possible uses for the technique, then carefully-drawn how-to steps for draping the garment.   The illustrations are current-feeling, unlike some of the older draping manuals, which still use drawings from the 1940s.  The projects are then laid out from simple to difficult, and from basic bodices to skirts to dress slopers and beyond.

This is the comprehensive book.  If our readers plan to work in the industry (especially Special Occasion wear, which requires more draping than Mass Market), or wish to teach themselves the basic techniques of draping *anything*, this is a Must-Have book.


spech cloakeCutting and Draping Special Occasion Clothes: Designs for Eveningwear and Partywear, by Dawn Cloake.

TT520 .C58 1998

As someone who is constantly trying to keep my personal library limited to only the most-useful titles, and taking up the least space, I often wonder in which markets new books think to fill gaps.  My desire to have good manuals to hand, but not have shelves and shelves of them duplicating the same information, like the FIT library does, makes me especially picky about the ones which target a small niche, such as Special Occasion, or Shirtmaking (e.g. the books by David Page Coffin we reviewed here: )

For Denise and I to be interested in a book that deals with a very small subset of the world of garment design, patternmaking, or construction, it has to offer more detailed information, better presented (e.g. the D. P. Coffin titles), than the manuals (e.g. the Armstrong above) we already own.  This book, “Cutting and Draping Special Occasion Clothes”  does not make the cut.

bad bodicesThis book is an odd one.  It has a gorgeous picture on the front, but absolutely no photographs inside.  How can one publish a book on eveningwear design without at least a few sumptuous pictures???  Even in 1998?  Furthermore, this book attempts to cover the basic patternmaking skills that go into eveningwear construction using crude hand-drawn illustrations and scanty instructions that assume a lot of prior knowledge.  Or perhaps they weren’t thought out well.  But neither the written nor the illustrated instructions  present as much information as any of the previous three books reviewed here.

Finally the pattern shapes and design suggestions lack creativity and range of design skill.  Save your pennies and buy the Helen Joseph Armstrong instead!

All righty, everyone!  This should help you figure out what to order your favorite FIT student this Christmas!  Or, perhaps your favorite student of life.  Have terrific holidays and peace to you and yours,

Beth & Denise





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Menswear again, and the beauty of the worn

In my post of January 30, 2014, I referred briefly to a book that has some pretty wonderful photography, “Vintage Menswear: A Collection from the Vintage Showroom”.  FIT has been smart enough to purchase this book which was put together by Douglas Gunn, Roy Luckett, and Josh Sims.  A friend showed it to me, and I had to share it with you, dear readers.

This is the London showroom of Vintage. Note the carefully-styled and well-used props.

The Vintage Showroom, 14 Earlham Street, Seven Dials, Covent Garden in London, was opened by Douglas Gunn and Roy Luckett.  The two had collected vintage menswear for years, and by 2007 they needed a space to put it all.  Their specialties are military and civilian utilitarian pieces, and classic English tailoring.

What makes this book remarkable, I think, is the way the photographer, Nic Shonfeld, lavishes such loving attention on the the worn spots and functional details of each garment.  It’s the anti-glamor of utility that has made the worn nature of these garments the most sensual thing about them.

The photographer has styled these pockets to highlight their utilitarian double stitching.
The photographer has styled these pockets to highlight their utilitarian double stitching.





Many of the book’s images highlight such details.  The authors are enamored of pockets, top-stitching, special closures, flaps, and the tears of hard usage.  This book is a lovesong written to the details:  special tabs to close collars, contrasting linings, darning repairs, and the softened surface of worn canvas and leather.

Each darning was done in a different thread, creating an organic texture of built up stitches.






I decided to do some searching on the internet, and found that this company has a web site (of course they do!):


This is awesome because the blog has a lot more opportunities for the gentleman owners to show off their quirky but wonderful collection.  Like them, I am also fascinated by the details.

trench collar
The detail that’s probably missing on your inexpensive trenchcoat: the tab and buckle that close up the point collar for truly chilly weather!
This is the trenchcoat in its entirety.  Note the "messenger" pocket placed diagonally across the chest for maximum speed of access.
This is the trenchcoat in its entirety. Note the “messenger” pocket placed diagonally across the chest for maximum speed of access.












The bloggers have their own “Hey, check this out” list:

Gunn and Luckett frequently post images of jackets with their collars turned up, to highlight construction details.  Some of the outerwear have this buckle that pulls the collar up, close around the wearer’s neck for warmth.  Others have felt under-collars for shaping. (Oooh, and Cary Grant!)

Many details are highlighted and there is a secondary focus on labels from more traditional garment and accessory makers, particularly the English producers.

The green waxed cotton of this Trailmaster jacket has worn in places, making it look like copper patina.
This is the same jacket inside out. The plaid is carefully matched and contains a stripe that matches the outer green.












This well-worn Belstaff “Trailmaster” jacket was once the height of motorcycle-driving fashion.  The British company that made them was famous for its performance-wear in the 1950s and ’60s. This waxed-cotton jacket was once bright green, but developed a patina as it was worn. The matching-plaid-cotton lining is carefully centered over the center-front closure.

This collegiate-jacket patch from 1949 is hand-embroidered in silk thread.


The book has another recurring feature, called “Small is Beautiful”

Apparently other people found the book lovely as well, because it won an award for its design:

FIT’s library has the second book they published, which you can find down on the 4th floor, in Art Reference Art Reference GT1710 .G85 2012 


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Old silk, old roads, old habits


Last week, I came across an article which highlights some recent textile finds in Milan.   These relics are associated with the early Christian Saint Ambrose, who was elected bishop of the city of Milan in 374 C.E. What makes his burial of interest to us is that among the items kept in his honor are garment fragments.  These were likely ceremonial garments that he wore during his lifetime.  These delicate silk fragments give us a way of seeing more clearly into the splendid religious display of a church leader, priest and protector to emperors, and skilled political negotiator in a time where we have few other types of records.

To put Ambrose (born Aurelius Ambrosius, c. 340 C.E.) into historical perspective, he lived only a lifetime after Emperor Constantine changed the official Roman religion to Christianity (313 C.E.) and moved the imperial capital city east to Constantinople in May of 33o C.E.  Milan was a wealthy city in northern Italy, and it was sometimes used by Roman emperors in their travels as an alternate home.  Ambrosius was well known to Emperors Valentinian II and Theodosius.

Saint-Ambrose-crypt-Basilica-di-SantAmbrogio-MilanAmbrosius, besides being the patron saint of Milan, which he governed, was also the patron of bees, beekeepers and candlemakers.  And more useful for our needs, he was also the patron saint of children, learning, and students.

Silk was very precious in Europe in the 4th century C.E.  According to current scholarship, Byzantium and Rome were still importing all of their raw materials (reeled silk) from China and the near east.  Imperial Byzantine silk-weaving workshops often held specific weaves and colors for distribution by the emperors as diplomatic gifts.    Ambrose must have had considerable political importance to have been given such sumptuous garments.  However, Dr. Sabine Shrenk, the archaeologist working with these textiles, suggests, as a result of this find, that silk textiles were being woven in Italy by this time, even if still from imported silk threads.

“These are marvelously beautiful vestments of sumptuous silk that have been ascribed to the saint,” says Professor Dr. Sabine Schrenk of the department of Christian Archaeology at the University of Bonn. One of them has intricate depictions of hunting scenes with trees and leopards, while the other valuable textile is kept rather simple.”  (Science Daily article cited above)

kier leopardsTextiles woven with hunt scenes, trees, and leopards are a genre of silks associated with royalty.  Lions, tigers, and leopards, have been the preferred quarry of kings since the Sassanian rulers of the 8th c. B.C.E.  The motif continued to be woven for hundreds of years, and spread to Muslim workshops which produced textiles in Spain, Italy, and Syria through the 1300s.

Many fragments of silks with hunting themes have survived (likely because they were too valuable to make rags from).   The elaborate textile in St. Ambrosius’ tomb may encourage scholars to date more of the extant, intricate examples earlier.  In general, the multi-colored silks with hunters and roundels have been dated to the 7th or 8th century.

Here are some of the other hunting silks that have survived the centuries, so you can get an idea of what St. Ambrosius was dressed in:

mozac hunterred lions








The silk on the left was found in a reliquary in the Museum of Sacred Arts, the Vatican, Italy.  The silk on the right was formerly in the tomb of St. Calmin in Mozac, and now is in the Musee des Tissus in Lyon, France.  Both have been dated approximately to the 8th century C.E.  Fewer silks remain from the 5th century.

The article below adds that Saint Ambrosius brought the custom of relic worship to Milan.  This was an early-Christian practice where a piece of bone, hair, or some other body part associated with a holy person was kept in a church, wrapped in scraps of luxury textiles, in a richly-decorated case of some kind.   Imported silk textiles were often used as wrappings because their value was properly sumptuous for these precious objects.  It was believed that such objects offered the worshipper closer access to the holy person’s (e.g. Jesus, Mary, one of the apostles or saints)  goodwill when the believer venerated the objects.  Many churches collected such objects to give their churches greater spiritual significance.  The cases housing the relics were often very highly decorated, made of precious metals, and trimmed with jewels.  Here are a couple in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

relic crosssilver arm


The reliquary on the left is Byzantine cloissone, late 8th century.


The reliquary on the right is French, 13th century, but added to in the 15th century.



You can read more about these here:

Also, a quick search in ArtStor brings up thumbnails of many more:

The author of this history blog puts Ambrosius’ bishopric into historical perspective, detailing how the saint stood up to several Roman emperors and potential invading forces, while creating his own rich court in Milan.

In this blog, a researcher tried to imagine himself making the journey of a merchant along the silk road around Ambrose’s time.

These sites discuss histories of the trade routes, the spread of the silk industry throughout Europe, and other materials traded along these routes.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art did two major exhibitions on the history and art of Byzantium.  We have the catalogs from these shows:

The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843-1261, ed. by Helen C. Evans and William D. Wixom.

4th floor, Art Reference N6250 .G55

This is the catalog from the first big exhibition at the MMA.

Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557), ed. by Helen C. Evans.

4th floor Art Reference N6250 .B962

This is the catalog for the second big exhibition by the MMA.

Byzantium: from the Death of Theodosius to the Rise of Islam, by Andre Grabar.

5th floor, Main Stacks N6520 .G6923

This is an older history, but considered quite well done.

A History of Private Life, ed. by Philippe Aries and Georges Duby,

5th floor, Main Stacks GT2400 .H5713

The first essay in this book is about everyday life from the Roman Empire through the Byzantine.

The Oxford History of Byzantium, by Cyril A. Mango.

5th floor, Main Stacks DF552 .O94

This is a recently finished general history.

Studies in Silk in Byzantium, by Anna Muthesias.

5th floor, Main Stacks NK8908.8 .M87

Anna Muthesias is the recognized expert on Byzantine textiles and the workshops that produced them.

The Embodied Icon: Liturgical Vestments and Sacramental Power in Byzantium, by Warren Woodfin.

5th floor, Main Stacks BX341 .W663

This title examines vestments and their meanings.


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Is a Passion-for-Clothing shallow?


Image from HR Daily Advisor Article listed below

I have a lot to say about this, but my first reaction is to be dumbfounded that we are even having this conversation in 2014 when several respected institutions give M.A. degrees on the study of clothing (as material culture, generally), and clothing-related industries have formed the center of regional economies repeatedly throughout human history.

My second reaction is, “do you really need the illusion of world-wide consensus to argue this point?”  Because that’s what the authors of this book have essentially done:  They’ve crowdsourced their clothing-related memoirs as if having testimonials from around the world would make it somehow more valid to argue the social importance of our clothing.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m sold on the importance of clothing as a social marker, as personal expression, as an indicator of world industries, and so on.  None more so.  In a real sense, since I work at FIT and I research clothing as used at royal courts to express power, clothing is my life.  So why do we still have to argue this case?  Is it purely because since the 18th century, “fashion” is gendered “female business” and, therefore, “trivial”?  Still?  Is it because fashion week presents garments so outlandish that they can only really exist as theatre?  Is it because NYC, so integrated into the fashion system, is only vaguely an American city in the eyes of many Americans residing west of the Delaware?

I cannot answer these questions, but this question bears further discussion…  Of which much presents itself…

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