You might have heard the concept of sewing “frosting” making its way around the maker community lately. Essentially, frosting are those makes that are maybe a little more fun, frivolous, extravagant, or fanciful. They might not have a place in our everyday wardrobes, but they bring joy to make, handle, and wear.
Sewing frosting is one of my favorite parts of making. I love using fabrics that feel slightly extravagant, creating sweeping silhouettes, and, perhaps most of all, planning out fun locations to photograph them. I’ve hand-dyed yards of rayon lawn to create a delicate pink ombre dress; have added bishop’s sleeves to a green wool crepe dress and photographed it in a snowstorm, and have taken a dip in an embroidered mesh dress to channel the style of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
However, missing amidst these frothy dresses was some menswear frosting, and I made a mission to rectify that this past fall by tackling a garment I’ve been lusting after for ages: knickerbocker pants.
Knickerbockers are a style of baggy, knee-length pants frequently worn by boys in the late 19th and early 20th century in Europe and European-colonized countries. They became more popular for adult men and “new” women in the early 20th century, particularly for sporting. We see reminders of that in the “plus fours” (so called because they end four inches below the knee) worn by golfers and the uniforms of baseball and football players and umpires.
Compared to most menswear trousers available today, knickerbockers maintain a playful insouciance, especially when made up in a bold check or tartan. In my fabric stash, I already had a generous length of this tan, brown, and burnt orange wool tartan that I knew would be perfect for them. When a short offcut of rust-colored, tweedy wool made its way into my collection, I immediately stuck the two together as a pair and began my plans to create a pair of knickerbockers with a matching vest.
I’ve written more about the technical details of how I constructed each over on my personal blog, so here I wanted to focus on the process of making imaginative menswear for a fat, curvy body. Most images I found of knickerbockers, both historical and contemporary, feature bodies unlike mine: thinner, with narrower hips, flatter chests, and smaller calves. As with most sewing, envisioning such a look on my body took some imagination.
As my base pattern, I picked a pair of trousers that were high-waisted with wide legs, featuring pleats in the front for volume and darts in the back for shaping (my pattern was an out-of-print Claire Shaeffer for Vogue, already in my collection). The high waist means that they sit at the narrowest part of my body and the pleats both give extra volume through the hips, adding to the look, and room for my belly. In this case, the voluminous style of the pants worked with my body rather than needing lots of adjustments!
For the vest, I started from the menswear Butterick B6339, part of their historical costuming collection. In order to accommodate the volume of my breasts, whether in a bra or a binder, I first did a full bust adjustment, then rotated out the side dart to maintain the style lines.
This was the first time I intentionally made a garment to work with either kind of undergarment and presentation, and I find it incredibly fulfilling and affirming of my genderqueer identity. Being able to play with the signals my body and clothing communicate is a huge part of the way I experience my gender, and garments that give me flexibility with how I present give me control over the way the world sees me. I’m hoping to keep playing with using sewing adjustments to create versatile garments like this!
I call this outfit my “gentleman hobbit” look: it combines a dapper flair with an earthy, soft sensibility. If you’re interested in creating some menswear frosting, you might start from a concept or a vibe like this. To me, it’s not about recreating period-accurate techniques or garments, but about drawing inspiration from historical clothing, and literary, art historical, and film/television costuming to pair together silhouettes and textures in imaginative ways.
Drawing on historical influences, particularly, allows me to tap into ways of expressing gender that differ from contemporary norms, something with which queer folks have a long history of experimenting. Knickerbockers and vests/waistcoats were (and are) worn by people of all genders, and playing with textures, fabrics, and silhouettes that bear gendered connotations continue to be a way queer folks outwardly express our identities and group affiliations, as some of the examples below suggest.
An excellent interpretation of a modern casual look infused with the flair of a dandy is the costuming for Chance Perdomo as Ambrose Spellman in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Silk robes and smoking jackets worn open over henleys and joggers makes for loungewear that could take you outside the house.
You could pair a frock coat silhouette like those worn by Rachel Weisz in The Favorite with skinny jeans and boots. Perhaps all that elaborate braiding could be re-created in a more contemporary, geometric pattern?
Or maybe use some beautiful wool to make up a skirted tunic like those worn by Chris Pine’s Robert the Bruce in Outlaw King. I wouldn’t say no to a brocaded cape, but if you think that might get in the way of your everyday activities, try a motorcycle jacket and boots for a punk vibe.
Or perhaps, as I might, return to the knickerbocker silhouette with velvet to channel Oscar Wilde’s dandy aesthetic. Don’t forget the green carnation in your buttonhole!
Note: The Sewcialists is a hyper-inclusive editorial site. We recognize that “Menswear” as we use it in our theme month is a very loaded term, and we use any gendered reference in these discussions to denote the most broadly accepted “traditional” categories only, without wishing to prescribe or proscribe what any person can wear. We recognize all gender identities and the choice to dress how one pleases.
Shannon is an art historian and maker living in the Twin Cities. She blogs at With a Rare Device and can be found at @rare.device on Instagram. She is the founder and moderator of the @sewqueer community on Instagram.