Sailor suits are a common school uniform for Japanese schoolgirls, as well as popular fashion and costume clothes. Usually white and navy blue with red ribbons at the collar and a pleated skirt that hangs to the knees, these suits have become a recognised fixture of Japanese teen fashion.
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Things you need
- Non-stretch fabric, length determined below
- Sewing machine or sewing kit
- Ribbon or neckerchief
- Loose white blouse
- Butcher paper
- Measuring tape
Buy a loose white or navy blue shirt with a low neckline, preferably v-necked, though a scoop-neck will suffice.
If you can sew your shirt, go ahead; the hemline should reach roughly halfway down your pelvis, and the material should be a relatively non-stretch material.
Choose your sleeve length by date; Japanese schools use winter uniforms from October 1st and summer uniforms from June 1st.
Choose a fabric colour. The standard is navy blue, but if you're making the sailor suit for fun - such as a costume - feel free to get creative.
Purchase or make a sailor collar pattern. To make: trace your shirt collar onto butcher paper. Fold the butcher paper in half at the centre of the collar. Measure from your mid-back to the end of your shoulder blades; this will be the bottom line of the sailor collar. Next, measure along your spine from the collar of your shirt to the style line (the bottom of where your sailor collar will hang) you just measured out. Use these measurements to draw half the collar. Cut out the half collar and unfold the butcher paper to make an entire collar pattern.
Buy enough fabric to cut out this collar pattern twice, then lay the pattern on your fabric and do so. Add a seam allowance of at least 1/4 of an inch.
Decorate the style line for a fancy collar; it's common to add ribbon to the edges.
Sew the two collar pieces together with the decoration inside, leaving the neckline unsewn. Turn the collar inside-out to hide the seam allowance. Iron the finished collar.
Pin or baste your collar onto the shirt neckline, collar to wrong side. Make sure everything lines up.
Understitch the collar in place.
Add a bow or neckerchief to the centre front. Red is most common, but if this is a costume, have fun with colours and styles.
Measure from your waist to your knees for the length of your skirt, plus an extra two inches for the hem. Measure around your waist and multiply the number by 3 for the width of fabric needed for a pleated skirt.
Hem the skirt by folding the bottom over twice, 1 inch each time, and sewing in place.
Pleat the skirt by folding sections of fabric over themselves. You can make the pleats as near to each other as you like, but make sure to measure them evenly before you start folding. The skirt should wind up 1/3 the width of the fabric you bought, or the circumference of your waist. Trim any extra if it's still too long.
Cut another strip of fabric to make the waistband. The length will be the circumference of your waist plus two inches, the width five inches. Fold the waistband over the top of the skirt, 2 1/2 inches on each side. Sew it in place.
Measure how far down from the waistband the zipper will go; sew the seam to the bottom of the zipper line. Reinforce the seam at the zipper line. Insert the zipper and sew it in.
Wear brown or black flat shoes with the sailor suit if you're aiming for realism, as Japanese schools do not allow heels.
Choose navy blue or white socks (again, if you want to be realistic), either knee-highs or extremely baggy white socks that look like leg warmers.
Keep make-up and jewellery to a minimum, as these are also strictly regulated.
Tips and warnings
- Many uniform sleeves end in cuffs of navy blue with white stripes, matching the collar.
- It's popular for girls to roll up their skirts to make them shorter than school regulations technically allow, so feel free to experiment with skirt lengths.
- Though boys rarely wear sailor suits in Japan, the above instructions can be modified for a male by removing the bow/neckerchief and adding trousers instead of a skirt.
- Remember that different schools have different sailor uniforms. Little details are often modified, such as gold trim on the sailor collar or plaid pleated skirts rather than navy blue.
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