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!

Quintessential Classics – Bowling and a 1953 Men’s Shirt

Going “retro” can’t be any more “classic” than combining the early 50’s and the sport of bowling. What could be more fun than going “retro” as a couple to play one of the top past times of the era?! Vintage men’s wear certainly does not get made as often as women’s pretty dresses. So far I’ve made hubby some vintage pajamas, but if I can go out in 50’s get-up, he just as well deserves to share in my handmade vintage made for public wearing. Thus, I am happy to announce I have made my hubby a summer shirt, using a 1953 pattern, to see its debut at a local bowling alley – for some good “new” memories made together in “past-timey” style.

100_3360aTHE FACTS:
FABRIC:  The plaid fabric is a super soft, and nicely lightweight poly/cotton blend, so it might be vintage but no older than the 50’s. For lining the back shoulder panel and making the collar, a basic cotton/poly broadcloth was used in basic bright white.Simplicity 4452 mens 1953 shirts
NOTIONS:  Everything I needed to make the shirt was on hand – the white thread, the bias tape, the interfacing. The buttons are vintage, coming from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.
PATTERN:  Simplicity 4452, year 1953, “Men’s Sport Shirt”
THE INSIDES:  So nice! The sleeve hems and bottom hem are covered in single fold bias tape, and the collar and the back shoulder panel are enclosed and hidden by lining. All other seams (the sides and the sleeves) are done in French seams. I wanted hubby’s shirt to be finished better than anything else in his closet!

100_3635TIME TO COMPLETE:  It was finished on July 8, 2014, after 8 to 10 hours of time.  This shirt was so easy, I hope to make more.
TOTAL COST:  The plaid fabric only cost $3.00, and the cotton cost about $1.50…thus, with everything else coming from on hand, my hubby’s shirt cost a total of less than $5.00. Neat, huh?!

In my opinion and from my experience, sewing men’s shirts are relatively easy and low stress. There are no darts, no shapely side seams, and no zippers, like on women’s clothes. To me, the fitting necessities for sewing up menswear consists of four main points to pay the most attention to: 1.) the proper shoulder width across the upper back panel, 2.) proper sleeve length, 3.) an agreeable collar measurement, and 4.) comfortable girth of ease around the torso. (Just like in women’s clothes where you try to find a pattern close to your bust size, I try to go by neck, or collar size, when it comes to picking out a men’s pattern.)  Maybe those four points are actually hard and I just don’t realize it because making menswear is fun, different, and challenging. Being a pullover shirt, it needed to be loose enough for him to get it on himself, but I still fitted the pattern around him first. As the pattern is a smaller size, with a good collar measurement already, I only barely raised the shoulders and slightly brought in the girth. Overall, the pattern didn’t need much tweaking for a better fit over than the changes which had to be done from fabric shortage.

100_3367When it came to making something for hubby, it was totally up to him to choose the fabric, buttons, and styling for his 50’s shirt, and boy did he take it seriously! I wanted to make his shirt earlier than I did, but I waited until he happened to finally find the right fabric at a vintage market. This one booth was chock full vintage fabric and feedsack muslins, in various sized cuts all rolled up in tied bundles. Hubby’s fabric pick of course happened to be a small amount, less than 2 yards. To make matters worse, the fabric had several squares of blank spaces where some scraps had been cut off, making even less of a total amount than I thought. The fabric is wonderful in feel, and weight, and plaid color tone for a perfect retro summer shirt, so these features were the saving grace to convince me to make things work.

Talk about cutting things close trying to make things work! I spent more time trying to correctly figuring on the combo of pattern pieces’ layout and plaid matching than the time it took to sew the shirt itself. With the fabric laid on the floor, I would think, look, contemplate on the layout and then rearrange everything. I had to shorten the sleeves, shorten the shirt hem, and round up the shirt tails out of necessity to make all the pieces fit. This is THE closest call I have yet done in my sewing…I do not recommend anyone else imitating me here. However, I did make it work with a whole lot of forethought, a clear head, and the time to take my time – I’m so proud and amazed at myself. Sometimes the step of pattern layout is the hardest kind of puzzle to be found.

Simplicity 4452 mens 1953 shirts - envelope backThe plaid couldn’t really match any better than if I did have extra fabric yardage to spare. Having “elbow room” of yardage to spare, is generally a good idea, much like it’s a security backup to have a spare tire in your car, although it might never be used. Sometimes when I am forced to butt pattern pieces up against one another when squeezing in a project on an unsuitable small cut (as for hubby’s shirt and for this dress, too), things necessarily match up. They’re right next to each other, as in “the cutting line of one piece is the same cutting line of another piece”!

The plaid itself actually is laid out in what is categorized as a “Tattersall” design. “Tattersall” is defined on “eHow.com”, in an article on “Types of Plaids” as, “Tattersall” is a plaid pattern that features thin vertical and horizontal stripes that are spaced evenly to create subtle checks. It is similar to tartan plaid, but “Tattersall” usually features a light background with colored stripes forming the grid pattern. The color scheme can feature just two colors or as many as four. Tattersall is often used for men’s button-down shirts, but some vests also feature the pattern.” Perfect in use of purpose and definition of stripe placement! Another definition of “Tattersall” can be found here along with all the other plaids. The fabric is a combo of four colors: purple, deep aqua, cranberry, and a very small bit of light pink, against a background of white.

100_3632He became interested in the process of his shirt’s construction, enough to be part of all the decisions which went into making it. I did convince hubby to let me construct the shirt with button and loop closures for the front neck opening. It is an option to the actual pattern, one which I wanted to make for more reasons than one – there wasn’t enough fabric, I didn’t feel up to experimenting with making a placket, and (lastly) a button/loop front is unique. Partly out of personal taste and (again) partly from lack of fabric, hubby wanted a contrast collar, one which brightens up and tones down the plaid. He had no problem with me using fine finishing techniques, nor did he mind the fact I kept the fit boxy and a bit generous to be more authentic (and comfortable). I think it looks pretty good…I believe he does too!

The back top of the shoulder piece, which stretches across horizontally, was adapted to add more interest and again accommodate the shortage of fabric. Instead of one solid piece laid out along the straight grain of the selvedge, I cut the shoulder yoke on the bias, with a center seam. The corresponding seam allowance was added. This could have been a risky (or flat out bad) move to cut this piece on the bias if it hadn’t had the second lining piece cut properly to keep the correct shape and needed strength across a high stress area of the shirt. I think my decision to cut the back shoulder yoke on the bias was worth the “risk” of disregarding directions – it adds so much more interest by having fun mitering the stripes into a downward chevron- style of design. So many times in my sewing a problem or mistake I encounter only challenges me to think outside the box and come up with a more unique and creative way to do something than before. This 50’s shirt is one big example of how to make lemonade from lemons. I think I will be very much temped to cut out another back shoulder yoke in this same bias/chevron-striped manner on another shirt, whether it’s one for him or one for me. We’ll see. 100_3364a

Sewing clothes for someone else bestows a very satisfying, accomplished feeling of pride to me, especially when it’s someone as special as my hubby. Sure, I’ve made him clothes already, but they were the kind that never really gets to be seen out and about – pajamas. Those 1940’s pajamas certainly get tons of wear on a regular basis, more than the 50’s shirt will, no doubt. However, for this garment – his shirt – he can wear this in public, advertise my capabilities, and brag about who made it for him all at the same time! Besides these base egotistical benefits, it seems to make him feel loved and quite special, two feelings I notice appear in other family and friends who receive my work. Those feelings bounce back to me, and make sharing my talent pay me back in something better than money can buy!

Also worth more than money is the good family time to be had playing a game of bowling. 100_3358aThe sport of bowling was never more popular than in the decade of the 1950’s, as I alluded to at the top of this post. This was no doubt partially due to the year 1952 introduction of the AMF automatic pin-spotter, the mechanical method of setting up pins and returning balls. This invention of modern technology, combined with the social, economic, and family situations of the time gave men, women, and children an easy and fun way spend free time and get exercise with little expense. The 1950’s were so adamant about promoting bowling, the ‘Bowling Proprietors Association of America’ released an informative and curious instructional video in ‘55, which can be watched in full by clicking here. The actual history of bowling as a sport and/or past time goes back much farther back than the 50’s, (see this page for more) and plenty to do with my own hometown, too, which explains why we’re lucky to have so many cool retro alleys to knock pins down in this city. Even though my actual skills at knocking over the pins are not the best I feel happy just to try! At this visit to Shrewsbury Lanes, my dad beat us all in points, while hubby put plenty of gumption in his throws (testing out the comfort of his shirt, no doubt), I made a few good points (wearing my ‘Gracie Allen’ ’52 skirt), and even my little guy had the chance to roll his very first ball.

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This 1953 shirt is hopefully the first of more to come in the way of sewing for my hubby. Now I have another new aim or goal to reach – making at least one man’s shirt for the decades between the 20’s to 70’s. This way, he too could easily match me in every decade of fashion. Am I making things hard for myself? Maybe, but I like a challenge, and I like to see my husband’s smile in the clothes I make for him. Look for more handmade vintage men’s wear to come in the future!