Harold Hill’s Plaid Suit

Husband usually puts away all the clean laundry, but this weekend there was so much I helped him.  I am always chagrined when I compare the quality of his clothes with the quality of mine. It isn’t that he purchases nicer clothes than I do. Men’s clothes are just better manufactured than women’s clothes. I used to sew almost all my own clothes, and by the time I was in high school I was a pretty accomplished seamstress. I know what goes into making clothes well.

When I was in Grade 11, our school put on The Music Man. We had a very strong Grade 11 baritone for Harold Hill ( he is now a high school band director in Rochester). We had an even stronger Grade 12 soprano for Marion (she just retired as a high school vocal teacher and composer in the Cities.) I didn’t audition for a part, as I would be needed in the pit orchestra, and I knew, as a second alto, that there were very few exciting parts for me. In addition, though, I was the student director, which meant that I had to find costumes and props and generally keep things organized.

We decided that the male leads, Harold and his buddy, Marcellus, needed to wear gaudy, plaid suits. I volunteered to sew them.  You can see the finished suits in the photo below. Harold is in the yellow and green plaid suit with the yellow vest. Marcellus is in the  cream and brown suit with the brown vest. The photo quality is typical 1975, but you can get the general idea.

They were three piece suits that I formally tailored with the special stitching on the linings of the lapels so that they lay flat, full linings in coats and vests, pockets, perfect fly zippers, and belt loops.  There had to be pockets in the vests for pocket watches. It isn’t easy to match plaids, but I did. The boys were sort of embarrassed when I had to measure them (especially the inside leg), but by golly this was serious and I wanted those suits to fit. The boy who played Harold was somewhat hard to fit in the pants as he had a childhood orthopedic issue making the length of his legs out of proportion to his waist, and I had to adjust the pattern for the pants before I cut them out, and elongate the coat.

I admire tailors and people who  sew and create. I wouldn’t want to make all my own clothes again. I just wish women’s clothes were better made.

Why do women put up with shoddily manufactured clothing? What is the most elaborate thing you have created?


61 thoughts on “Harold Hill’s Plaid Suit”

  1. Kudos to you for taking on matching plaids for not one, but two suits. Yikes. Suits are fussy to being with, but plaids? My hat is off to you. I have never attempted anything near that. My one year in the costume shop in college I was tasked with making an Edwardian era woman’s coat – standing collar, asymmetrical close, 3/4 length (the Asian-inspired look that showed up in that era here and there). It was a lovely green fabric and the most tailored thing I had ever made. The costumer guided me through measurements, making a flat pattern, fittings, etc. Wish I had a picture. I was at Macalester a year or so ago for an event – that costumer is still working there and she let me know my coat is still in their costume stock (or was before they had to put everything in storage while they tore down and then rebuilt the theater building – it might have been sold off when they opened up storage to local theaters).

    Liked by 5 people

  2. What a fun post!
    Yikes; matching plaid suits?? That’s pretty amazing stuff!

    I’m trying to decide if I know that band teacher – I know several of them in town… he looks vaguely familiar. Give me a hint on the name, please?

    We had a discussion recently about the difference between a tailor, a seamstress and a male person who sews. (They can be called a “seamster”) My mom made a lot of clothing including at least one suit for my dad (the jacket was plaid as I recall) but she said she was a still a seamstress and not a tailor.
    My sisters all know how to sew of course. I joke that I know how to run the machines, I Just don’t know how to sew.
    Last fall I took the sleeves off one shirt and swapped them with the sleeves from another. I needed a lot of help from mom getting them lined up and the seams flat. I’m good with a seam ripper!

    We had a costumer once who spent, what seemed to me, longer than necessary making costumes. Like you Renee, she’d do the special stitching and full linings and I’d say ‘But it’s onstage – you can’t see that’ and she’d say ‘But I know it’s there’. And that works when you have the time. Yep, just pick your battles.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Can anyone answer a question I’ve long had? I wonder how many different outfits a woman would have owned in the late 19th or early 20th century. I don’t mean rich women; I wonder about average, middle-class women. My guess is that people used to have very few dresses and suits until cheaper mass produced outfits became available in the middle of the 20th century. That’s just a guess. I imagine that a woman with a nice outfit for daily use might wear it over and over, perhaps several times in a week. The ability to wear different outfits day by day might have been a luxury few folks enjoyed.


    1. I would bet the Extension Office would know that. My grandma said she had 2-3 dresses at any time until the 50’s. During the depression my mother had two skirts that she wore to high school every other day. And those were hand-me-downs.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. I can’t give you a precise number, but the fact that most garments were recut and resized until they were rags, leaving relatively few intact historical garments surviving (and those were primarily the clothing of wealthy people who didn’t have to make the most of their garments) should be an indication of how precious good clothing was.
      Especially rare are the garments of ordinary folk. Outer clothing was also seldom laundered, which makes sense given the laundry facilities. That’s one reason for all the layers of undergarments. Those took the body oils and perspiration and could be easily boiled. They were also cheaper and easier to make than the outer ones.

      Liked by 4 people

    3. What I recall from my costume history is that up until the 1930s and 1940s when ready-to-wear was more available (and less expensive), a woman would have maybe 1-2 “everyday” dresses and one “good” dress – the everyday dresses would often have an apron to help keep them clean (aprons being easier to clean). Chemises were a must – like a lightweight nightgown almost – that was what you wore underneath. Those were made of much less expensive fabric like muslin and were washed more frequently than the dresses. The chemise was what was worn closest to you, under the corset, under the crinolines or bustles if those were worn – like Bill said, it took all the sweat and dirt and such. When you see a bit of cream or white peaking out around the edges of a dress from that era, dollars to donuts you are seeing some (possibly decorative) edging of the chemise.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have in my cedar chest my grandmother’s maternity underwear. It is a one piece union suit type thing that seems really high maintenance. This would be the high value daily wear that does not exist. I cannot believe it was not repurposed into a quilt or a child’s garment.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. My 7th grade home ec class sewing project was mainly me using that old seam ripper to rip out what I had sewed. No matter how I tried I couldn’t get it right. The completed “A-Line Skirt” was basically done by the teacher who would “show me how it was done” after I had made several attempts that had to be ripped out.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Using a sewing machine the very first time is frustrating. I once bought a down vest kit, meaning they shipped me the supplies (the nylon and down) and directions for sewing it. I tried over and over to put it together with my wife’s sewing machine. I remember this as they only time in my life I got so angry I threw something (namely the misbegotten thing I was trying to sew). That triggered the cat, who attacked the thing I threw and pretty much shredded it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    What fun—the plaid suits look like the suits worn by the “Poster Expert” on Antiques Roadshow—that guy, whoever he is, wears suits a lot like that in every color possible.

    I also sewed stuff like this—a product of 4H projects displayed at the fair. I made all of my clothing until I was about 30 yrs old when I bought something. My aunt (Renee, from Jasper, in the neighborhood of Luverne) even learned to make underwear for us—those lasted about 20 years and I mean that. I made a wool winter coat, complete with shoulder pads and warm lining. I probably do have a picture of that in The Picture Box. Mini skirts could be fashioned from a 1/2 yard of fabric, purchased, of course, at a sale discount. I made my wedding dress for $18.00, including the veil. I still make veils (and wedding flowers) for my nieces and nephews. They are incredibly cheap to make and very expensive to purchase ready made.

    Now I make shades, shower curtain, and window curtains. That saves a bundle and they last forever. I no longer make clothing—I buy pre-made stuff. I have been too busy to do that for about 35 years and I don’t enjoy it enough—there are other activities I love to do, so I dropped out of sewing clothing. Basic items from Orvis, Lands End, JJill and LLBean last a long time, are well made enough, and are worth the price. Other stuff I buy on sale.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, 4-H provided the impetus to sew I learned mainly from my maternal grandmother and a grown cousin. We always had to have something sewn for the fair and 4-H achievement days.


      1. 4H was mighty important to us back then. Taught us leader ship and responsibility. Working in the 4-H kitchen at the fair, getting those projects done, even if it was the last four days before the fair, doing the records, the meetings, 4H softball, Doing demonstrations at the monthly meetings taught me public speaking. The one act plays gave me my start in Theater.
        My sisters and nieces all made clothing and did the style review. I did shop class and arts and crafts. The craft was Often some idea mom had and helped us with and it gave us a chance to try new things (on the kitchen table the night before it was due. )
        It was typical that as a kid we hated doing it, but in respect it was good for us.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Actually, 4H in Iowa is still a really big deal. And from my exposure to the 4H building at the State Fair, it is in MN. I am involved in Iowa 4H because my family sponsors a scholarship to honor my father’s life and interest in agriculture, specifically cattle breeding. (His 4H project started at age 10 with his older cousin, spawned the Stratton Shorthorn herd, which they sold to pay for my grandmother’s cancer treatment in 1955. He had to quit farming due to this). Every year I help choose 4H scholarship recipients for all kinds of scholarship. They have developed a large 4H endowment for these scholarships that is part of the Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa) larger endowment fund. These 4Hers are great kids and the program is such a source of encouragement, education and leadership for the kids and their families. It is one of the most rewarding things I do in life. It also helps me cope with my sadness about his illness and the effects of that on his life and all our family.

          Liked by 5 people

  7. Nice job on the plaid suits, Renee! I know how hard it can be to get lapels to lay flat. When my younger daughter was in high school, Robin and I volunteered to make costumes for the high school musicals. Since no one else volunteered and the only other person involved in securing costumes was the director’s wife, we did the bulk of it for several shows. For a production of Guys and Dolls, the director wanted to style the show like the Warren Beatty Dick Tracy movie, with a comic book sort of feel. That meant we had to scour the upholstery fabric sections of the fabric stores for suitably loud patterns. While Robin worked on the girls clothes, I put together the boys sport coats and pants, which were striped and plaid and one outfit with big polka dots. Because they were costumes and we had so many to make, my tailoring was abbreviated. I made muslins to fit the coats to the actors and a certain amount of pad stitching in the body to give them shape and they were half lined. I don’t remember if I did welted pockets on the coats or not.

    One of my favorite costumes I made was the uniform for the Modern Major General in Pirates of Penzance. The director picked, from several samples, a gold embroidered upholstery fabric. I made a double-breasted cutaway swallowtail coat that the MMG wore with some light brown puttee-style trousers and tall boots. I had fashioned epaulets from gold metallic fabric and gold upholstery fringe.

    When we were active in nineteenth century civilian reenactment, I had made all my own clothing, including several frock coats. That’s where I taught myself some basic tailoring. One of my frock coats, with matching trousers was a windowpane plaid. The thing about matching plaids is that it wastes a lot of material.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I have a circa 1966 Singer all metal sewing machine that is a champion. My mother, aunt and grandma all went to Sioux City, Iowa with us kids in tow, in 1966 and purchased these—on sale of course. My niece has one and I have one of those. In AZ I keep a new plastic model for mending and small things, but I don’t do much with it.


      1. My first, and all time favorite, sewing machine was a Pfaff treadle machine. Once you mastered the foot movement, it was awesome – in the original sense of the word. I have owned any number of sewing machines since them, all but one of them electric, and they have been OK, but didn’t give me the same sense of being an active part of the sewing experience as the treadle. Just recently we evicted three different sewing machines from the attic: A New Home, a Necchi, and a Brother. So far as I know, they are now for sale at the local Goodwill.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I learned to sew on my mother’s 1962 Singer. It was mounted in its own sewing cabinet/table and weighed a ton. I moved it to the current house but found that I didn’t use it enough to justify the space it took up, so I sent it along to a new home and got a newer, lighter weight portable. I don’t really do the sort of sewing that requires heavy duty work, so I have outpaced the Singer I have now a couple of times (like trying to hem jeans…which is generally better done by hand anyway).

        Liked by 2 people

  8. I’m impressed, Renee, those are some mighty fancy suits. Fun post.

    I learned to sew in school, and during my early teens took several community ed classes as well, but never attempted tailoring. I made most of my own dresses, skirts, pants and blouses until I was about thirty, but never made a coat or jacket, although I did make one of those down vests from a kit that Steve mentioned.

    This lead post, and the responses to it, have triggered memories that have long been dormant in my brain.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I admire all of you who have such sewing expertise and experience! Who knew??

    The thing I don’t like about women’s retail clothing (I’ve mentioned this before) is they often forget the pockets. And they are sometimes shoddily made, but so are the men’s versions by the same suppliers…

    My mom turned me loose at age 10 with making my own doll clothes. No pattern, so there was a lot of trial and error, and some very odd looking outfits. I took a Singer sewing course one summer (my BFF and I were taking adv. science instead of Home Ec), and then made some of my clothes over the years, even trying out things like bound button-holes and flat fell seams. I’ve recovered our rocking chair 3 times – kind of slap-dash upholstering that’s a bit like gift wrap. : )

    Now I do a lot of altering of things I find at thrift shops, and I make curtains and other household things like a cover for the TV. New clothing patterns have become very expensive, and I rarely seem to find time to construct an entire garment from scratch. Bit it’s certainly nice to know I CAN if I want/need to.

    Query – I’ve been offered a serger from a friend who doesn’t need hers. I’ve never used a serger… should I take it?


    1. What the heck is a TV cover? I’m envisioning something akin to a toaster cover, only larger, but am having trouble imagining why you would need one.


    2. Sergers are awesome if you need one. If you don’t see enough now to know about them, then you probably don’t.
      Threading can be an issue. (Watch out for the loopers!! Make sure you have a looper tool!).
      I’ve taken some classes when I bought one for our costume department at the college. I spent $$$$ and got a BabyLock. It’s really sweet!
      But I don’t use it often.
      But if I knew what I was doing! I’d use it more. Just because they’re fun.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I have never sworn so much at a machine as I have at a serger. When they work and you don’t break a thread, they are magic. When something goes awry…well…let’s just say there is a reason I only use them under supervision. 🙂

        Liked by 4 people

  10. I can not believe I am sitting in the middle of a suburban area. This afternoon I watched a Bald Eagle circle the area over Purgatory Park and the Bachman’s store. A few minutes ago a Pileated Woodpecker flew screaming across the back yard. It is a day for big birds.

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Meant to add this – learning to sew with a pattern vastly increased my special awareness quotient” – each time you try something new (i.e. set-in sleeves) it is so hard to visualize what is meant in some of the instructions. That’s why it’s good to have a teacher when you’re a beginner… But eventually I got so I could actually read those instructions

    I’ve even been known to take apart a simple skirt and keep the pieces for a pattern…


  12. What an impressive crew! My sexist mind brought up the words, “even the men”!
    I am very glad I took home-ec even though I didn’t much like the teacher. I learned my way around a sewing machine and had the fun of learning how to file my nails “correctly” and making “whipped turnip puff”. (we were supposed to ask teachers to come to sample our food and only one guy would come for turnips).
    I used to sew some of my clothes but never became proficient. I had a Dressmaker sewing machine I bought through an ad on the back of a magazine – $50 in 1969 or so. It lasted until a couple of years ago when the only plastic part on the thing went kerflooey. Now I have a Janome.

    I have used sewing machines more for gift/craft type things than for clothes- a number of cleaver bibs with appropriate sayings or pictures appliqued (Give Peas a Chance (with a pea-smeared baby face), Thing 1 and Thing 2 for twins and the comedy/tragedy masks for theater types). My most ambitious item was a stuffed train. It was supposed to have 3 cars but I ran out of time after I made an engine and a car holding stuffed logs (held on with velcro straps).

    Liked by 4 people

  13. I once sewed a lined corduroy jacket for a boyfriend, when I was probably nineteen or twenty. I think it had some fancy faux leather patches on the elbows. I had old Singer sewing machine probably made in the 30’s or 40’s, nothing modern to work on. I have always been used to working on a machine that would not backstitch, so when I wanted to finish a seam, I had to lift the presser foot and turn the fabric around and then put the foot down again and sew a few stitches in the other direction. I managed to make some fairly serviceable things nonetheless.

    Plaid, though….my hat’s off to you.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. I made a hooded sweater from scratch in 9th grade. The only garment I ever created. The school home economics teachers were surprised at how well it came out given that I was the jock type. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but nowadays as I have a growing interest in tailoring I sometimes wish I kept at that class.


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