How to Construct Boy's Waistcoats of the 1770s

Written by rhomylly forbes
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How to Construct Boy's Waistcoats of the 1770s
A waistcoat would have been part of George Washington's wardrobe. (George Washington's sculpture image by Ritu Jethani from

In the eighteenth century, boys age six or seven and older were dressed in clothing identical to their fathers. By the 1770s, fashion trends had shortened the waistcoat, or long vest, from nearly knee-length to ending just below the top of the thigh. If you are need a waistcoat for your Revolutionary War re-enactor son, it will look very much like his dad's, whether your family's persona is that of landed gentry, career military or working class.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Fabric
  • Pattern
  • Old newspaper
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine
  • Pins
  • Thread
  • Needle
  • Buttons
  • Ribbon

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  1. 1

    Select the fabric. For formal wear or members of the gentry, the waistcoat had fancy material for the front panels and lining material for the back. Poorer folk used the same plain fabric for the entire garment. Fabrics that were available at the time include cotton, linen, wool, brocade, silk, and, for the very rich, velvet. Colours for the poor would be limited to undyed white or cream or what could be created by natural dyes, such as yellow, light and dark brown, rust red, light green, grey, burgundy and gold.

  2. 2

    Create your pattern. Start with any vest pattern that is at least one or two sizes too large for your son and comes to two points on the bottom edge of the vest with one point on each side of the buttons. Measure the boy from top of his shoulder to three inches past the top of his thigh. Lay the body pattern pieces on a sheet of old newspaper. Cut the pattern pieces in two where the waistline is indicated on the pattern and separate them until the top and bottom of the pattern are as far apart as the shoulder-to-thigh measurement. Pin in place on the newspaper and cut out, using the newspaper to fill in the gap.

  3. 3

    Cut out and sew the waistcoat. Cut all vest pieces out of the fabric you've chosen If lined, stitch the lining pieces together and sew to the fancier front fabric. If the waistcoat is not lined, sew the front and back pieces together. Turn under all raw edges 1/4 inch, repeat, and stitch as close to the original fold as possible.

  4. 4

    Add buttons. A fancy waistcoat would have pewter or even silver buttons, while a working class family would use wood, horn or possibly pewter, if they were merchant class, buttons on their clothes. Mark at least three inches between buttonholes, starting at the top of the waistcoat and ending where the points' slant begins. If your sewing machine cannot create buttonholes, hand sew with a satin stitch. Sew the buttons on.

  5. 5

    Size the vest. If the waistcoat is quite large on your son, do what colonial mothers did. Sew some ribbons or ties to the back of the waistcoat near each side seam and take up the slack by tying them together across his back.

Tips and warnings

  • If you can find a copy of the film "1776" rent it and pay close attention to the costuming of the members of Congress and the poorer people in crowd shots.

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