Sacrilege Pt II: Surgery

Last week I bought a lovely pair of vintage trousers and challenged myself to make them fit me. You all very kindly encouraged me to overcome my doubts about butchering a piece of museum-quality tailoring and press on.

To be fair, nobody could tell at the time exactly what I was up against, least of all me. The pants were huge, at least three sizes too big and a full six inches too long. I’m no stranger to a slouchy trouser, but these were clownish even by my standards and I was by no means sure I could pull it off. I spent far too much time over the weekend looking at avant garde menswear on Farfetch and wondering What Would Yamamoto Do?

Still, the fabric is a pleasure to work with, very supple and with lots of body so it holds its shape beautifully. The down side is that every fold and tuck has to drape perfectly. I’ve been trying to channel Yohji-san in the hope that the master would look over my shoulder, give me the nod and perhaps guide my hand once in a while. After much trial and error I think I’m finally on track to a wearable garment. Who knows, maybe he’d even approve this alteration.

In the interests of full disclosure, here are a few before and after pics, along with some nerdy tailoring details. It still needs tweaking but I’m pretty sure I can get this to work.

  • I want to preserve the original tailoring so the only cuts I’ve made are to the leg seams, where I’ve put deep tucks front and back. This instead of hemming so as to keep the original cuff, which I will line with contrasting fabric so I can turn them up.
  • I shaped the legs by making the inseam a little shorter than the outside seam, giving a more contemporary silhouette and making said turn-ups behave themselves better.
  • Too much alteration to the crotch looks like a bad fit, so I’ve taken out little more than an inch there and done the rest with a couple of darts across the back, making the deep rise look intentional. The tucks on the back leg help control this somewhat and there’s a trick or two I have yet to try on the inside to make the seat drape nicely.

All needs yet more tailoring but I’m quite satisfied with the result so far. I think these are going to be workhorses in the winter season.

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • Sara L. replied 5 years ago

    I know nothing about sewing but your photos and explanation are  fascinating to me.  I'm excited about the way the back looks now.

  • Traci replied 5 years ago

    Oh wow! I think you're really getting somewhere. These are going to be amazing. I can't wait for the final product.

  • Style Fan replied 5 years ago

    Wow that is quite the tailoring adventure.  I am a such a novice at sewing so I can only imagine the amount of creativity, tailoring skill, detail work and who knows what all of this takes.  The pants will indeed be workhorses when you are done.  I am excited to see the finished work.
    I am cheering from the sidelines.

  • deb replied 5 years ago

    Nice job!!!

  • Barbara Diane replied 5 years ago

    Sara L. took my word-fascinating. I love how they are looking and am waiting to see more.

  • LaPed replied 5 years ago

    Great photo-documentary! Your creativity is remarkable. The next time I break out my sewing machine, I will have to imagine *you* looking over my shoulder -- although my alteration skills, and projects, aren't anywhere near this exciting. 

  • Staysfit replied 5 years ago

    This is sculptural three dimensional sewing wizardry!

  • Angie replied 5 years ago

    GOOD JOB. I'm impressed. You look extra adorable in #6.

    Are you growing your hair? 

  • JAileen replied 5 years ago

    What an interesting process. Good luck with them!

    I really like your oxfords.

  • approprio replied 5 years ago

    Thanks all! Thought this might provoke some eye-rolling, but I'm glad you enjoyed the write-up. 

    Angie: if by that you mean "not going to the hairdresser" then yes, I'm growing my hair. But thanks for the reminder. I've made an appointment. 

    JAileen: since you mentioned the oxfords, they were this year's Amsterdam insider shopping tip. A job lot of vintage dead-stock from this one factory came onto the market this summer. All bench made quality at a fiver a pop. I bought two pairs, one black and one white. They were originally made for the public sector, so technically government surplus - these would have been bound for the Dutch navy.

  • replied 5 years ago

    Oh yes! Splendid fabric manipulation to get them hanging well and removing a touch of volume. These are going to be fab. 

  • RobinF replied 5 years ago

    Wow, I am impressed! I have been a sewer most of my life but I don't think I would have taken on this project. They are going to be really beautiful.

  • Suz replied 5 years ago

    This is fascinating. I'm so glad you are documenting in words and photos. It's such a labour of love and with respect to the original tailor and designers who have come before. 

    I predict that people will be asking you where you bought these and how they can get a pair. They give a bit of an effect of a crossover pant and you can tell the drape is amazing. 

  • karen13 replied 5 years ago

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey with these. I love them.

  • shevia replied 5 years ago

    Awesome. Literally. Ha, #takebackthedenotation

  • minimalist replied 5 years ago

    Thank you so much for sharing this process with us.

    Love the shoes!

  • Lynn replied 5 years ago

    Another sewer here. I am totally impressed with your creativity!

  • tulle replied 5 years ago

    Fascinating.  That front-drape view in photo #4 is truly, as Angie might say, "Killer."  And the semi-circular tuck in back--so clever!  Thanks for sharing the 'basting map', if you know what I mean.  I'm learning a lot from your experiments.

  • approprio replied 5 years ago

    Thanks ladies! Really, it's a pleasure to share this and surprisingly a useful part of the process. Nice to know you're interested and not just baffled.

    A thought: I've been puzzling over a quirk in the cut on the inside leg. It finally dawned on me today. I said in the previous thread the original owner was a big man. Now I know he was a very big man and he dressed to the left. Refer to #8.

    I'm wondering if I should try to fix this, but it would be destructive and I kind of like including such an intimate artefact of pants history. 

    DianeG: cheers! It's always good to get validation from a pro. I may yet PM you for some tips. And RobinF, La Pedestrienne, Lynn... the thing about sewing is that I'm always learning. I often think when I start a project like this that I'm overreaching myself and it isn't going to work out. But more often than not, it works out anyway. So I keep on going. 

    Suz: thanks again for your encouragement. I wish there were more pants out there like this, otherwise I would make them into a product. These are one-time pants though. It's not every day I get to work with this kind of raw material. 

  • Sal replied 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing. I think you have honoured the craftsmanship of these trousers beautifully in your reworking.

  • tulle replied 5 years ago

    Oh, that's funny--something we don't generally deal with.  But imagine his pride, and the delicate sensibilities of his tailor! As you say, a lot of intimate history involved in this business of old clothes . . .

  • approprio replied 5 years ago

    tulle: exactly! I've been thinking the same since I figured it out. I know nothing at all about the man or his tailor except for this one thing. Both long dead for sure, but the very idea of altering it seems like a travesty. A man needs room to move, after all.

  • rachylou replied 5 years ago

    So educational about how one goes about making adjustments like this!!

You need to be logged in to comment