Required Reading

The new book from the V&A, 17th-Century Men’s Dress Patterns has been anticipated since the series started with 17th Century Women’s Dress Patterns. The wait has been well worth it, as the authors have learned from the previous volumes and produced this state of the art publication about early 17th century men’s clothes. I had a conversation a few years ago with a museum curator about the first women’s dress pattern book and she told me it was ‘re-enactor porn’. This has taken it to another level.


The book has been produced by a collection of authors from the School of Historical Dress and Susan North from the V&A. Each author has inspected and put together a pattern for at least one of the items in the book, four doublets, a pair of breeches, a cloak, a pickadil, a hat, a cap and liner, embroidered mittens, a sword girdle and a pair of linen hose. The introduction and photos of stitches set you up with the background and techniques used for the clothes and then pitch you headlong into the world of the 17th century tailor. I particularly like the diagrams on page 11 where the different methods of fixing each of the four doublets to the matching breeches are shown so you can compare the different systems and track the development of the hook and eye system that we use at the 1642 Tailor. In the following pages you are introduced to all the tailoring techniques used for this complex garment. This is not a book of fancy dress, it’s proper stuff. If you want to make a real stiffened, interlined, fitted garment that will transport you back to the 17th century, dive in.


This picture (above) lifted from the Amazon preview gives a flavour of the detailed photos you get  of all the clothes. I know that this red grosgrain silk doublet has been a favourite of Jenny Tiramani’s for a long time and she has pulled out all the stops, with close up photos, x-rays, detailed pattern layout and a superbly drawn construction sequence. There are even diagrams of the braid used and some photos of the half scale reconstruction Jenny made to test the techniques. If I was being picky, I would like an indication of which points each doublet would have been tried for size on the wearer. All the constructions just assume the pattern was spot on to start with. Below, (from another Amazon image) are some more photos and x-rays of a pair of silk breeches made for Sir Rowland Cotton.


If you don’t have this book, save up your pennies and get a copy (or nick it off a friend). It will open your eyes to how hard the tailors worked to make these clothes. They weren’t just thrown together on a machine, but finessed, sculpted, shaped and finished off by real expert craftsmen. As has this book. It’s a tad pricey at £35 from the museum, but there are all sorts of places where you can get it cheaper.

I can’t wait for book 4!




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