All the way back in May 2019 I wrote a blog post for the Sew Brave theme month, all about conquering my fear of buttonholes, allowing me to make my very first, perfect waistcoat. I created a teal wool twill fitted waistcoat using the Belvedere pattern from Thread Theory Designs. And so began my dapper sewing adventures!
Learning to sew buttonholes may be a seemingly small sewing skill to master in the grand scheme of things. But learning to craft those neat little fasteners in my clothes also gave me access to something arguably more important – control over my wardrobe, and my gender expression, for the first time in my life.
I have always loved dapper looks and traditional formal menswear, but I never felt I was allowed to wear such items. It was drilled into me from an early age that if I was expected to dress up, I was expected to wear a dress. Thankfully the older I get the less I care about such gendered expectations. However, I’m quite a short and small person – not overly curvy but still, with a shoulder to hip ratio that means ready-to-wear menswear simply doesn’t fit.
Mastering buttonholes gave me access, for the first time, to the wardrobe I’d been dreaming of. I could make the clothes I wanted for my body. Suddenly, the possibilities were endless! I made multiple shirts and multiple waistcoats. I realised I’m less interested in trying lots of new sewing patterns, and more interested in just doing the ones that work for me over and over. I embraced new dapper looks and had never felt more comfortable in my body. I also found well-fitting clothing an extremely powerful tool against the gender dysphoria I often experience regarding my body.
I had big sewing plans for 2020 – a three-piece suit was next on my list, which meant sewing trousers and a blazer for the first time. Then, in November 2019, I had a little surprise: I was pregnant! And while I was thrilled about this – I’d been trying to get pregnant for a few years – I was also a bit terrified. I had pre- and post-natal depression with my first child who is nearly seven now and I was worried about the effect on my mental health again.
And.. what on Earth was I going to wear?
Having spent so long carefully crafting my wardrobe I was a little heartbroken and worried to think it wouldn’t fit for much longer. However, I decided, rather than succumb to the usual standard maternity wear – stretchy jersey everywhere for 9+ months – I would use the opportunity as an excuse to buy new fabrics, plan new outfits, and actually get excited make a new wardrobe for my changing shape.
And although perhaps a three-piece suit might be difficult, it can’t be that hard, I thought, to whip up a few shirts and waistcoats suitable for pregnancy. Just need to add a bit of width and length surely!
My waistcoats were some of the first items to stop fitting me, and I found I could no longer wear my existing ones from the end of the first trimester. I started to plan out my new waistcoats in a range of different fabrics. My aim was not to create a waistcoat that fit me throughout the whole of pregnancy, but rather to create a small range of waistcoats in gradually increasing sizes to see me through the period.
I wondered if this would be worth the effort. However I realised that these waistcoats could not only be worn during pregnancy, but also in the post-partum period while my body took its time adjusting back down to size. Having a set of ready-made waistcoats in various sizes would make me feel like there was really no rush to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight.
And, I knew from my previous experience making waistcoats that they are actually fairly easy to adjust, particularly to take in at the sides.
To extend the life span of each waistcoat, I experimented with different adjustment methods for the back panel. For more control over the shape of the waistcoat, I tried a corset-style lace-up back with a ribbon. This worked really well, and meant I could change the shape of the waistcoat as my bust to waist measurement changed. I added loops to the back darts to start with, then later tried a version where I inserted them into the side seams with a sash.
Then the Covid-19 global pandemic started. I wondered if there was any point making further waistcoats I would only get to wear at home, but after a bit of thought, I decided yes there was. I don’t wear clothes for other people, I wear them for me. Plus I already had the fabric so on I sewed.
To keep things interesting from a sewing point of view, I added a collar to my third, regency-inspired waistcoat, and for this one used a standard slider buckle on the back for adjustment. By then I was reaching the end of my second trimester and needing to add several inches of length. I also made sure I didn’t take the buttons down too far so there was room for my bump.
Entering my third trimester, I began appreciating a looser cut around my belly, so for my fourth, and latest waistcoat, a more casual linen creation, I opened the back seam up, and allowed it to hang freely with a slit up the centre back.
Whilst in lockdown I certainly don’t dress up dapper every day but a couple of times a week, I put on a shirt and waistcoat, try out a few ties, and I feel great. I’ve also fully embraced more casual ways of wearing waistcoats, unbuttoned and over t-shirts, for example!
Being more in control of my wardrobe has been really positive for my mental health and really kept gender dysphoria down. I’ve also had such amazing feedback from other trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming folk as well who have felt inspired by my pregnancy-wear escapades and feel like pregnancy might be something they could envisage for themselves after all. I really wish I could have seen someone like me when I was growing up – if I can be a little glimmer of inspiration to someone else then it certainly is worth the effort.
Emery Smith is a non-binary surface pattern designer and chartered accountant from the UK. They can be found on Instagram as @emeryallardsmith and under the hashtag #dapperandpregnant!
That ribbon back and the open version are genius ways of accommodating the bump without losing the fitted quality of the garment. And, while I’m not generally a collar person, the version with the collar works so well! You must be able to sew these in your sleep at this point 🙂
Thanks so much! Yes I certainly don’t need the instructions anymore!
These are terrific! I’m surprised and delighted to see tailored looks that work so well for a gestating person. Also, did you draft your own Regency waistcoat, or did you use a commercial pattern? Because it’s giving me grabby hands…I want one!
Thank you! I drafted the collar part myself, but I started from the Thread Theory Belvedere waistcoat as a base.
Oh wow, these are great! As a costumer I loved making tailored waistcoats, they were always my favourite part of the three piece suit. I’m a bit envious of all the waistcoat sewing you’ve been enjoying, and it’s so great to see how you’ve made your style work with a changing body. Best of luck in the three piece suit quest, whenever you get there!
Woah your waistcoats look awesome! Well done! And it’s so interesting to see you experiment with all the different kinds of fastenings/ties/etc to make them fit. Well done 🙂
Thank you! 🙂
It’s so true that being able to make your own clothes really does give body confidence. However you express yourself, haveing clothes that fit you is really key to building self esteem, especially if that has been an issue in the past. I love your tailored looks, I also like really feline stuff too and wear whatever I feel like day yo day.
I love waistcoats, and your pregnancy versions are a great idea.
Stunning in every way!
The only waistcoats I’ve sewn have been without fastenings, due to my own fear of messing up on buttonholes. But yours are so absolutely perfect, not just for pregnancy, but for those of us whose body size varies, that I’m thinking ‘conquering buttonholes’ has to go on that growing list of Lockdown Projects. May you have a smooth final semester and much joy with your baby!