My Husband’s 1950s Raglan Sleeved Cabana Shirt

I secretly suspect my husband likes sporting the vintage shirts I make for him more than I like sewing them (which is saying a lot).  Either way, the mid-century has some fantastic offerings for menswear and with Father’s day just this past Sunday, it’s time to show you what he received as a present for the holiday a few years back.  So here’s yet another 50’s shirt I crafted for my man, sewn in a cool-toned Madras cotton plaid.  

If I’m going to sew him something, I am determined that it not only will be vintage but also something different (and better) than what can be found RTW in the stores.  Luckily, my man happily obliges me in this.  How often will you see raglan sleeves on a man’s button front shirt?  Honestly, very rarely, if at all nowadays.  This is sad because they are comfy to move in, easy to sew in, and so fun to match when using a plaid fabric.  You see, just because a style feature isn’t done any more doesn’t equate to it being a bad idea. 

Take the fact that the pattern I used is for a “cabana set”, to present yet another example of a clothing feature that should have never disappeared (in my opinion).  However, as is the norm for hubby’s projects, there was barely over a yard left of the material he chose…only enough for one piece and not two as a “cabana set” implies…so this might not be the best example in actuality.  Let’s just stick to the origin pattern labeling for his shirt, though!  The FIDM defines cabana sets (see post here) as “a marketing ploy begun in the early 1950s with multi-purpose sportswear, suitable both on the beach and off, which had a matching or coordinating set of man’s swim trunks and sport shirt or light jacket.”  It was “an outfit suitable (for the) relaxed, yet sophisticated, indoor/outdoor lifestyle closely associated with Southern California.”  In the post-war period, as men found themselves with the time and means to sit by the pool or on the beach with their families, there was a booming business in leisurewear (info from here).

Cabana clothing was often in bright, fun colors which were the opposite of the bleaker toned, more formal men’s work wear of the era.  This pastel plaid is not as crazy as many true vintage cabana sets for men, which got into almost neon colors and very novelty prints as they continued to be promoted into the 1960s.  Some cabana shirts were lined in terry cloth to be a pool-side cover-up, as the pattern cover shows.  Even still, my husband prefers the breathable, lightweight, sweat-wicking Madras cotton for his summertime shirts that do not get worn at the office, so this is his perfect warm-weather, vintage sportswear for today. 

Some manufacturers even took the guys’ cabana sets a step above by offering children’s and women’s sportswear that would match his own as well, although I think this is a bit too over the top.  I will admit I have matched him before to take advantage of scraps (see this post for his, and this post for mine) although we do not wear our shirts together but only on separate occasions.  Either way, his new cabana shirt was first worn to enjoy some weekend afternoon miniature golfing as a family, thus fulfilling a 1954 advertisement for Arrow brand cabana sets, which declared them suitable for “dad’s loafing, puttering or beaching.”  The mini golf place had a Southwestern flair with lots of waterfalls and water traps, so this is sort-of close to a California resort for us land locked Mid-Westerners!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  1 ½ yards of 100% cotton Madras woven plaid

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8659, a reprint of a year 1957 pattern, originally Simplicity #2080

NOTIONS:  The buttons were vintage from his Grandmother’s old stash, and I had all the thread and interfacing scraps I needed already on hand.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The shirt was finished on June 14, 2019.  It took me only 6 hours to make!

THE INSIDES:  all French seamed, except for the back portion of the collar facing for which I used wide bias tape

TOTAL COST:  As this was bought as a discounted remnant length of material, and everything else was from on hand and therefore ‘free’, his shirt was about $10

It was easy and quick to sew together, and relatively the ‘normal’ amount of time to complete (for short sleeved shirts).  It would have actually been faster to make, compared to the other summer shirts I have made for him, but then it took longer because of the French seaming.  I’m not complaining!  As I mentioned above, I like to do better and different than RTW, which hardly ever has anything other than overlocked (serged) edges.  Fine finishing techniques when sewing for others really enhances the fact it is a treat and a gift, after all!

The shirt was simpler to sew, especially with the French seams, when you change the construction steps so you save the side seams for second to the last step (final step being the hem).  Raglan sleeves have softer shoulder shaping which is less defined when compared to set-in sleeves with a semi-circular armscye.  Thus, be prepared for some slight adjustments needed to the dart which runs down the center.  I don’t know who fits into raglan sleeves as-is, without needing some small tweaking to the fit of their unusual seams, but it not either me or my husband. 

Nevertheless, the greater issue I had with the raglan sleeves was attempting to match the one-direction plaid on so short of a cut of fabric.  I only exactly matched the front (across the button placket) and the collar.  The horizontal of the plaid match all the way around, even for the sleeves.  However, where the sleeves meet in the main body up to the collar was the most challenging.  I truly enjoy sewing a challenge…bring it on!  Yet I hate having to realize my “matching game” was going to have to be slightly off – so I focused on the predominant stripe color in the plaid.  It’s rather a busy plaid, and the many intersecting colors happily hide any little ‘mistakes’ I was forced to make. 

The sizing seemed to run roomy, but from what I see of vintage 1950s advertisements, old family photos, and other men’s patterns that are in my stash, it seems that is the intended fit.  He was okay with the comfy fit version, as I forewarned him before I cut the pieces out.  If you would like to aim for a snug fit, or if you’ve chosen a knit for this pattern (which I think would work out very well), I would suggest sizing down. 

Otherwise, do try this pattern for the man in your life.  It is a loose, forgiving enough fit that you might not have to tip him off ahead of time as to what present you are making by asking for his measurements!  It is still classic enough that with a great knit or modern print I think this vintage shirt would look very up-to-date.  I personally could see that this pattern would be a statement piece if it was colorblocked (sleeves, chest pocket, and collar in a contrast from the main body).  I always have more ideas than there is time.

I do have more shirts from other eras to make in the future for my man.  I have a 1930s blue striped shirt with a detachable collar to put together for him, a 1970s tunic, as well as a quirky 1980s pullover to mention just a few of my favorite “yet-to-make” projects for him in my sewing queue.  It just seems as if the 1950s are his fallback decade, for both his wearing preferences and for my sewing for him.  I just hope to eventually – one of these projects for him – have enough fabric to appease my inherent perfectionism.  I feel like I have said this before, but every very freaking time his preferred material is always too short of a cut to work with, being all that is left of a bolt, but somehow I still make the garment happen.  We will see…maybe by next Father’s day, or Christmas, or birthday I will sew him something from a different new-to-him era with a cut that is at least over two yards.  For now, this shirt is another happy success!