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!

“Milk and Sugar”

It was just Father’s Day weekend here in America…so it’s time for another one my infrequent but recurring posts on vintage menswear!  My husband’s birthday and Father’s Day are practically a month apart and so I annually take some time between the two dates to sew him a shirt.  This years’ gift was something completely new and different – both for me to work with and for him to wear.  It’s a 1960s era shirt made out of that easily recognizable, and cool-as-a-cucumber cotton we call seersucker.  I equate it to my giving him his own personal air-conditioning.

“Seersucker is the quintessential warm-weather fabric known for its crinkled texture and breezy quality. Seersucker’s texture creates a space between the skin and the fabric that helps improve heat dissipation and promotes air circulation” says Fabric.com.  Yet, “It is a low-profit, high-cost item because of its slow weaving speed” says Wikipedia, and so it is produced in much smaller quantities than other textiles.  Seersucker is woven in such a way that some threads bunch together – “slack-tension weave” – giving the fabric a wrinkled appearance in places…which also means ironing is not necessary (yay).  Many seersucker fabrics are striped (much like butchers’ or railroad workers’ “hickory stripes”), but I have had this shirt’s plaid seersucker in my fabric stash for well over a decade, so no wonder it is on the more unusual side!

Now to explain my post’s title.  “Milk and sugar” is the translation of “shīroshakar”, a combo of Persian and Sanskrit, and the derivative to the word seersucker, which came into English from Hindi.  It calls to mind the smooth rippling of milk poured around lumpy sugar.  I love the picturesque richness of some words such as this!  This reminds me of the beauty of baking and how the ingredients take such differing appearances at every step.

Our picture of a WAVES summer uniform, United States Naval Reserve, circa 1942, from the exhibit “Making Mainbocher” exhibit in Chicago back in 2017.

Unfortunately, both the 19th century old Southern America and the British colonial period of India popularized the wearing of seersucker as a means to stay tolerably cool in the hot, humid climate of those regions.  Yet, post Victorian times, seersucker’s use had expanded to become the preferred material for cooling bed linens or preppy student-inspired fashion.  Captain Anne A. Lentz, one of the first female officers selected to run the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve during the Second World War chose seersucker for the summer service uniforms of the first female United States Marines.  The designer Mainbocher produced the WAVES summer WWII uniform for the government using blue and white striped seersucker.  As currently as the 2016 Olympics hosted by Brazil, the Australian Olympic team received green and white seersucker blazers as their ‘dress’ outfit.  As currently as the 2016 Olympics hosted by Brazil, the Australian Olympic team received green and white seersucker blazers as their ‘dress’ uniform.  This unusual material seems to have a quiet staying power.  It can be a fabric you sleep upon, or one that a suit is made from, but either way it’s an easy-care, attractively distinctive material for warm weather comfort!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  pure cotton puckered plaid seersucker, with the inner shoulder panel lining being an all-cotton broadcloth remnant

PATTERN:  a vintage year 1964 original Butterick #2124 (in my personal pattern collection)

NOTIONS:  Lots of thread, a bit of interfacing, and a few buttons

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Sewing this shirt took me about 10 to 12 hours, and it was made this spring of 2020

THE INSIDES:  The armscyes are French seamed but all else is cleanly bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  As this shirt project makes use of a fabric cut which I have been holding onto for at least a decade, I’m counting this as a free and worthwhile stash-busting project! 

This shirt – as is often the case for the majority of vintage menswear from the 1950s and on – is not easily recognizable as originating from an older design.  Most of the time, I do believe that one would not guess the shirts I make and sew for him are vintage.  Mid-Century menswear often lacks standout features to date it to specific eras and generally stays pretty classic, so I feel it is the choice of fabric, the style of the pants to match, and the slight details which give such garments’ true age away.  This shirt (as is the case for many 50s and 60s men’s styles) has a boxy body and a very skinny shoulder panel which does not extend much into the main body.  I can tell this was a pattern meant to help make a dress shirt with the separate collar stand and separate button placket (which I did not include) but I rather brought it down to a fairly casual level by choosing seersucker.  At this point in my husband’s professional life, casual yet dressy shirts are what he will be the most likely to wear on a regular basis, and so I wanted him to get the most use out of what I had sewn for him with my special fabric!

I know I tend to say this every time I post a shirt I’ve made for him, but it is the literal truth – I was so short on needed material for this project.  I had to cut some small ‘corners’ to make this work out successfully.  Yet, I was still somehow able to match the plaid…luckily so, because the analytical and perfectionist side of me would never tolerate anything else, otherwise!  I did not have any extra room for a separate button placket and the layout of the pattern pieces on my under 2 yard cut of fabric was conducive to only the shirt’s bare bones – slightly adapted – and one chest pocket (a must-have because we all love pockets, right?!).  The pattern design already had small turn-under edge down the front closure edges, so I doubled that to be a cut-on, self-fabric facing.  The separate button placket was an extra piece which was easy to sacrifice.  Granted, I did fully interface the newly drafted facing in lieu of stabilizing the add-on button placket, which I was not using.  The switch I made actually avoids breaking up the plaid and gives me less to stress over and match up.  He can’t miss what he should have had on his shirt when it is just as good without it!  Besides, a happy sewing wife is a happy life – don’t I have the phrase correct?

Making this shirt was a nice change of pace in my sewing and totally unique gift, besides.  I just don’t find seersucker in person anywhere anymore – RTW shopping or fabric stores – and I say it should be brought back.  I remember, as a young teen, my mom had bought me a plaid seersucker skirt I liked out of a catalog.  It was in a straight A-line shape, in a middy length, and printed with a plaid which had more blue and brown tones in place of the green and yellow as seen in his shirt (but otherwise a similar sized plaid).  I enjoyed how that skirt always looked good no matter what.  The print and the rough, puffy texture hides stains, and I could stuff it in a backpack to bring it with me as a change of clothes but still not look I was impromptu.  It was so lightweight to wear, it was almost imperceptible to feel it was on (weird to explain, but kind of like the weightlessness of bias cut silk without the cling).  If I did get sweaty, the cotton wicked it away without itself becoming damp.  If I could find that skirt again (I think it might be packed away somewhere downstairs) I would totally wear it or at least re-fashion it so I could!  So I can totally understand why this 60’s shirt is his newest favorite.

I still have not even posted the vintage shirt I made for his birthday-Father’s Day gift from last year!  My blogging proficiency doesn’t always keep up with the speed with which I crank out my sewing projects.  However, I can assure you, it’s another really good shirt which is yet another different and unique make.  So far, though, this post’s shirt is a definite high contender to the previous popularity of that one!  In a world when menswear is generally so very blah, I enjoy seeing him happy and bold enough to wear the singular things I make.  Sewing gifts for others is so amazing – to see someone else get to enjoy my handmade clothes just the same as I makes my gift not just about sharing a present.  It shares a special feeling.