There are the honorable men who helped World War II to be fought…and then there are the men (for one reason or another) who had the often over-looked position of keeping the home front with the women, children, and politicians. Those at the home front did not win awards or medals, but helped keep the wheels running for the country the soldiers left behind, making sure their nation was there for them when they returned from active duty. This part of World War II was brought to my attention by making a vintage pattern, believe it or not. I made (as my title states) a 1943 flannel plaid work shirt for my husband, as authentically possible and practical for me the seamstress.
I would like to use the opportunity this creation presents to remember and address a subject of the men who stayed behind in WWII, and also the masculine fashion which prevailed in the mid-1940’s.
FABRIC: a 100% cotton blue, navy, and white flannel plaid. A small amount of black cotton broadcloth from my stash was also used to line the back shoulder yoke inside.
NOTIONS: Hubby enjoyed rummaging through his Grandmother’s vintage button stash (which I now keep) to find 10 total matching white buttons which he liked for his shirt – sleeves, lapels, and front. The interfacing and white thread needed was on hand already.
PATTERN: Simplicity #1961, year 1943
TIME TO COMPLETE: The total time was about 25 hours or more. The shirt was finished on March 8, 2015.
THE INSIDES: Every raw edge that isn’t the hem or isn’t already covered by lining or the design of the shirt (such as the cuffs), is finished in French seams. If I’m going to make him a shirt, I want to make him a really good one…’cause I can and ’cause I care (high mushy factor but true).
TOTAL COST: The flannel was bought at Hancock fabrics on a big discount at $2.25 a yard. Since everything else for the shirt was on hand, and as I bought all the under 2 yards of fabric on the bolt, I only spent a total of $4.50. I think this total makes hubby even happier about this project…wouldn’t you?
Both the proportions and the cover drawing of this particular pattern that I own has led me to some interesting conclusions. Firstly, let’s look at what’s apparent. The cover drawing top half shows two men facing the viewer, comfortably middle aged perhaps, both with a “grown-up” moustache and the left one having slicked back hair streaked with grey while the right has a pipe. The other man not facing the viewer is, to my eyes, a young adult/grown boy, dapper healthy and cheerful looking. I see a discrepancy here – what is not drawn are the 20 to 30-something year olds who were the ones sent away to fight the battles and see the action. Secondly, the sizing of my pattern is a small and the given proportions are quite petite. My hubby has arms that need a 34in. length sleeve, and a neck that is comfortable with a collar which is a 14 ½ in to a 15 something inch. The neck, the chest girth, and the shoulders all fit him as is, but the pattern’s sleeves needed a whopping – inches added to the length. Now I know hubby’s finished shirt fits more snugly than a traditional 40’s shirt should, and I know men’s 40’s shirts seem run roomy (that was the ‘look’ of the times), which is why he got away with fitting into such a small size, although he is lean anyways. However, my patterns sleeve length tells me that the small size was catered to one not fully grown yet – a teenage boy who would have been home because he was under 18 years old, one of the two age groups I figured from the cover drawing.
Here’s a family photo. My hubby’s Grandfather, who was in the war, is in the middle in his uniform, with hubby’s great-uncle, who was about 17, on his left in the flannel plaid shirt. This is year 1944.
Amid the flurry nowadays of learning (and amazing) at how people of the 40’s rationed, scrimped, saved, and “made-do” to help their soldiers, I’d like to point out that the needs of the men who stayed behind were thoughtfully not neglected by the pattern companies, apparently. I’m impressed. I know from learning first-hand about family history on both sides that men who were in their prime of life, and did not fit in the two “classic” categories shown on the cover of my pattern, did stay back from being sent overseas, too. According to page 6 of the American Population Reference Bureau report on the military, “The World War II armed forces represented about 12 percent of the population and included about 56 percent of the men eligible for military service on the basis of age, health, and mental aptitude.” This means about 44 percent of American men didn’t serve active military service. Thus, I am curious about the size proportions of the medium and large to my pattern – are the next two sizes up for adult men with dramatically longer sleeves than the small or are shorter arms something of the 1940’s or just of this pattern? I can see some sizing on the back of my envelope, but a full sleeve measurements would fully prove my thoughts. After all, this pattern reminds me of a true “working man’s shirt” in the “lumberjack” style, with lots of generous pockets to make it even more useful and practical. Men’s vintage duds just isn’t around still like women’s vintage clothes – men wore their stuff (especially the practical ones) until it couldn’t be worn anymore. I’m so happy to find patterns which help me fill in today for what is missing from back then.
Speaking of fabric rationing and pockets from the paragraph above, I was working with some major discrepancy of flannel to make this 1943 shirt, leading to some slight adjustments to the pattern. Not too often do I come across an exact fabric match to a pattern envelope drawing, much less at a cheap not-to-be-missed price, and also have it be something hubby actually liked, as well – a very rare combo! It was almost painful to hear at the cutting counter that there was just under, yes…under, 2 yards for me to make a plaid-matching, long-sleeved shirt. Augh! I don’t know why this is a habit, but it seems as if the fabrics which get chosen for hubby’s shirts are so far always way too small of yardage. I have to make the gears in my brain smoke just to make things work out (see his 1953 shirt). Oh well – I mark it up to, “it keeps me creative” (I have to reason with myself). Anyway, I did squeeze in all the pieces with a few necessary compromises which hubby is happy have – chest pockets and their flap closures are smaller all around by 5/8 inch with the hem shorter and rounded up into a point at the side seams. The shoulder tops were taken in ½ inch to eliminate drooping sleeves and keep the seam at the true shoulder. No compromises whatsoever were made as to the grain line or matching up the plaid, and I am shamelessly proud at the results, especially working on such an impossibly short amount. I’d like to think the most hardcore 1940’s era rationer would be proud of me, too.
Now, I’m not called “Seam Racer” for nothing, however I really slowed my pace down while working on this project, enjoying all the fine details and getting things as perfect as I could make them. Attaining “perfection” is a hard goal to set, but I wanted hubby to have a really nice shirt – besides, I have a tendency (for better or worse) to make things hard for myself.
Let me define some of the details put into my hubby’s 1943 shirt so you can look for them in our pictures. There are rounded off sleeve cuffs, for a subtle dash of personality. There is an ultra-wide collar, more akin to what I also see in the decade of the 1970’s. The classic back shoulder panel is there, fully gathered across the lower piece below to complete the vintage look. I top-stitched everything in white for a contrast/utilitarian appearance, and made the shirt insides special for hubby in French seams not seen in ready-to-wear. He chose a medium weight interfacing for the cuffs, collar, and button-hole closure edge. I chose to use the “wrong” non-fuzzy side of the flannel as the right side out to keep his shirt looking a bit more crisp and less likely to “pill” up or look worn before it’s time. This “new” “vintage” shirt is meant to last a long time!
The detail that was the source of the most thought, time, and stress for me was the duo of flap patch pockets on the chest. This was the first time I had done this kind of pocket, and I found it to be a tiresome, exact technique but very rewarding when finished. The placement in the front didn’t leave much room for error without becoming immediately obvious. This is why I left sewing on the pockets with its flaps and closures for the very last step after the rest of the shirt was done. Not meaning to complain, but matching the plaid of the pocket with the rest of the shirt and the flap closure section is one thing…however, there was the button and button-hole closure to center. I felt like these pieces were a bit fiddly and rather tiny to turn, sew, and generally work with, so I am quite impressed and amazed when I see flap closure patch pockets on our son’s child-size shirts. Hubby is happy with the pockets, even though I still doubt whether or not they’re centered, so if it’s good enough for him, I’m happy, too.
After hubby wore the shirt a few times, I went back to the few minute scraps leftover and added little triangular inserts to fill in the upper corners of the shirt-tail arch. These are intended to give him just a little extra ‘forgiveness’ in the length. Now, the shirt won’t show his undershirt as easily when it is pulled out from his pants or even left untucked. Each triangle fill-in piece is doubled up and lap-stitched under the existing hem of bias tape.
Hubby has yet to own a pair of vintage 1940’s pants, so his shirt is often worn with classic jeans. The jeans give his 1940’s shirt a sort of quintessential look in my mind, making them not so obviously vintage. Jeans are not too far off in era-appropriateness, although, because they have been a staple in the world since the 1800’s when the Gold Rush happened, as the best wearing and longest lasting bottoms. As a daily-life, work-wear men’s garment, my hubby’s 1943 flannel shirt seems appropriate to be paired with jeans, besides the fact the combo of flannel and soft broken-in, quality jeans is quite cozy.
The Marvel television show “Agent Carter” has offered some enticing eye-candy of handsome menswear styles which I have seen recently. Some of the masculine characters wore authentic vintage pieces, while others wore well sourced and excellently tailored new replicas, but either way, I love the way “Agent Carter” presents the variety of styles available for men during the 40’s, a subject often overlooked in lieu of women’s fashion. Go to this “Hello Tailor” Blog interview with the designer of “Agent Carter” where she talks about sourcing and styling the men for the television show.
For a man of the decade, there was the classic mid-40’s relaxed look of lumberjack shirts and blazer jackets, and also “new” post-war casual look of sweater vests and pre-1950’s “University-style” sweaters, which did or did not need a tie and “braces” (suspenders). The dapper style was there for men, too, with endless opportunities for self-expression by choosing classic ties or art ties, old style-plaids or newer brighter colors, double-breasted or single-breasted suits, and multi-pleated or darted flat fronted pants (more fashion forward). Knitwear men’s shirts, precursor to the modern polo, were also being worn by men in the 40’s, as well as more artificial man-made fibers, just like for women of the 40’s. Nevertheless, there is some things that do not change about 1940’s men’s clothes – high/natural waist pants with boxy shirts with large collars. Knits and plaid, new and classic…it all stood side by side offering a man of the 1940’s more personality with his wardrobe than many people realize.
Men’s vintage wear might be rather non-existent as far as surviving, but with knowledge, a realization, and respect of the past, us seamstresses can change this and bring back men’s ‘chic’ fashion from the past. Men deserve to have the same admirable classy personalization of individual fashion like what was available in the 1940’s. Here in this post, I feature a 1943 shirt for my hubby so relaxed it becomes a part of him but so classy and tailored I hope the vintage style and hand-made quality quietly stands out. I can’t wait to make him a different vintage project. If you sew and have special man in your life, what about honoring the past, catering to individual style, and expanding one’s talents by finding a pattern for you to create a “new” vintage garment with me and bring back a style and variety so lacking today?!