Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Early Front Fall Trousers...Code Name: Hobbit Pants

For the HSM (link to the right, as always) Monochrome challenge, due at the end of July, I decided on a pair of narrow fall, front-fall trousers in white corduroy.

This particular project was actually fun, actually; fairly simple, and new enough to not be boring.  When I ran across a pattern drafting manual by Amanda Jones from 1822, I simply had to make something out of it...and since I both needed a new pair of relaxed pants (which fit well enough in the waist that I wouldn't need a belt), and eventually need to make a pair of narrow front fall trousers to go with my Wanderer Frock coat. So my "Hobbit pants" project was born, as a practice piece.

1790-1820 Front-fall breeches. Whitaker auctions, Lot 232

The Sources:

Happily for my prospective project; white breeches, pantaloons, and trousers were fairly common in the early 19th century; white being, after all, a difficult colour to keep clean--therefore being an expensive one.  Front fall pants (whatever...I'll discuss terminology in a minute) were a more British fashion than the less modest "French fly" (or split-fall--more or less what is common modernly), and had a "fall"--the portion which buttons to the waistband to cover the front opening--which could be anywhere from extremely narrow to reaching from hip to hip (a style known as broad-falls).

Broad-fall trousers.  Note that the fall reaches from side seam to sideseam.  1825-40.  Augusta-auction, Lot 63
While the British (and apparently the Germans, from what I was told when I originally asked on a Facebook Group what kind of legwear I should be wearing with my Wanderer frock coat) preferred the front-fall trousers, I'm not sure if I'm seeing any patterns in how wide the fall is.  The majority of fashion plates appear to have moderate to narrow falls, rather than the broadfalls; on the other hand, in my database, I'm seeing a greater proportion of broad-falls (in comparison to the artwork, anyways.  Narrow-falls still has the lead).  It does almost look as though actual broad-falls may have been a lower class choice; the bulk of the examples appear to be of a working class material.  On the other hand, I see a pair of Italian broad-fall breeches in silk from the beginning of the century....  My point being that the actual width of the fall might have been a matter of personal taste, or the exact fashion changed more often than I can tell. 

A brief bit on the terminology (I did say I'd get to it.  Whether it's only been a minute depends on your reading speed): It's quite simple.  While the cut and design of the uppers are all mostly the same (mostly.  There is a minor and a major exception), the rest of the leg is what differentiates breeches, pantaloons, and trousers.  Breeches were somewhere around knee length and got longer as time went on; a cursory glance over examples seems to bear this out.  Usually, they had an extra roomy seat gathered/pleated into the waistband (the minor exception noted), getting less baggy as the century progressed.  To modern eyes the resulting bagginess isn't particularly attractive, but it serves a purpose (ease of movement) and you must remember that the seat of your breeches would always be covered by your coat anyways.

Pantaloons appear later, sometime around the late 1790s, and are full length pants--with the cuff anywhere from the lower calf (worn with half gaiters) to the top of the shoe, and occasionally with stirrup straps to keep them taut--and are closely fitted to show off the fine legs (we hope...there are satire pieces of...less than ideal models) of the wearer.  Sometimes they buttoned on the lower calf (or just had a small slit, depending on how tight they were); more satire pieces show dandies unable to reach something on ground because their pantaloons were too tight.  Trousers--what this project is--were cut more or less identically, but of a more relaxed fit and straighter legs from the knees down.  How closely or loose they fitted would depend more on class and whims of fashion.  Along with pantaloons and trousers, there were overalls (more of a military garment) which combined closely fitted pantaloons with spats in order to protect the leg and cover the top of the shoes; plus, the interesting trouser variation which appeared in the 1810s from Russia...the pleat fronted, and stirruped Cossack trousers.


As I said above these are not a particularly upper class pair of pants--even though they are currently white, I don't expect them to stay that way (and won't be trying hard to keep them that way, either).  The more natural colour of cotton--i.e. sans dye--helps make them so, and it is easier to bleach something clean; it was pure, snowy, white which tended to be a high cost item.  So, I believe that they would have been appropriate to a labourer of some sort in the later 1810s--perhaps beginning as town clothing?  Another note is that I would consider this to be a ready made piece--a garment bought already made, rather than being tailored to fit--because of the looser fit; being made that way would lower the price compared to a bespoke garment.

Figuring out how much the trousers would have originally cost was quite a bit more challenging, and I still have not succeeded accurately.  In a paper with far too long a name, Vivienne Richmond (it's in the bibliography, so hush) gives the price of a pair of "men's drab breeches" as 7s4d in 1816, with the price fluctuating down in the years to either side.  Trousers would cost slightly more, since they require more material, but the price is also for wool, rather than cotton.  In modern (or 2005) currency, that comes out to about 12 pounds 45 (about 24 US dollars)[Converter].  The buying power converter claims it comes out to about 2 days labour for a craftsman.

My Goals:

Primarily, I wanted to test out yet another new drafting system--that of William Lapsley, from 1809...only the second such published in the English language (I believe there were earlier French ones).  I also wanted to practice making front fall trousers--something there isn't much (free) information on: at least there are a couple of blogs, notably the Victorian Tailor's posts on making his broadfalls--both for the "real" pair for the Wanderer suit, and just because I wanted a pair for regular wear around the house.  And--let's be honest--even though I'm 6'3", I wanted a hobbit outfit ( of which this is a major start).

On the other hand, I was not particularly trying to master the detailed hand tailoring techniques--all the little details which may (or may not) show up to better the fit and durability.  I will need to find better images of the guts of an extant garment before beginning on the true piece.
Btw, if anyone knows of such garment images, please let me know!


The trousers are only a bit more complicated (in pattern) than a modern pair of casual pants (jeans, for instance.  And as an aside, there is an extant pair of front-falls made of denim), and the cut of the front isn't actually that different before cutting the fall--the pieces are largely the same; one front and back per leg, a waistband, and pocketing (per leg, of course).  The main differences are in the shape of the back leg--rather than having a 'J' curve, it is cut almost straight on the bias from the rise to the waist in order to give ease in the seat; the other majorly visible difference is that the back rise is much longer than the front, again, to provide ease. 

As a general rule, they are worn much higher than modern pants, and the waistband is wider.


Interestingly, you see quite a few of the original pairs made out of a heavy (presumably canvas-like) linen or a naturally coloured cotton.  I'm not seeing any example of silk, since trousers are still quite an informal garment--although coming into their own in the Napoleonic era military.  Likewise, while leather breeches are common--especially tightly fitted white ones--there are only a couple examples of leather trousers.

I can see example of white corduroy breeches (no, not trousers) sold by Whitaker Auctions, which I am taking as "permission" to use the material in my trousers--especially since I don't consider this a formal project.  Mind, the real pair will also be in corduroy, since they have to match the coat.  The main issue I see is that the earlier corduroys were of a wider wale than the stuff I used.  Admittedly, the almost optic whiteness of the fabric isn't correct for what I'm going for, but that will change with wear (I could also eventually tea dye them.  Or just roll in the garden).

1800-30.  Norfolk Museum, GRSRM : 2006.172
Ah!  There we go!  I knew I had seen a photo of a pair of extant corduroy trousers which I was basing these on, but the reference had gotten misplaced.  Dating from the early 19th century, they are farmer's clothing, and extremely heavily patched.  It is a distinct possibility that mine will end up just as heavily worn someday, since I do patch my clothing.

The Pieces:

As I mentioned in the description section, they are similar to modern pants, but not quite.  Front and back pieces, I've already described.  Waistband is a simple strip with a single layered gusset set into the center back (which allows you to lace it to a closer fit).  The welts--while annoying--are welts, and likewise for the pockets.  The real kicker are the pieces known as the fall binders; these pieces are sewn onto the trousers under the front fall to overlap and be buttoned.  It would be best to consider the fall as a modesty cover for the binders  (especially later as the fall got shorter and less functional)--almost like a codpiece, now that I think of it...


Drafting these was /fun/.  And no, I'm not being sarcastic--they actually were not difficult to draft; the instructions were clear for once, with only one step which was...iffy.  On the other hand, the pattern makes no mention of the waistband or fall binders--for some reason, the author assumes you're familiar with the current fashions.

For this project, I decided to use the 1822 cutting guide by Amanda Jones--Rules and directions for cutting men's clothes, by the square rule : by which, in a few hours, a person may acquire such a knowledge of the art, as will enable him to cut all sizes and fashions, with the greatest accuracy.  You've got to love the grandiose titles of this period....they're just fun.  Moving on:

The system is partly proportional, and part direct measure, but on the whole, it is really quite square--you measure out a box or two with simple math (1/4ths....1/2s).  A couple of sticky outy bits (also measured off of the square), the fall is cut to taste, as is the top of the back waist. I did make a couple of modifications, mainly in the depth of the rise; again, I didn't want tightly fitted pants this time.  I also added quite a bit of ease to the width of the knee for the same reason, since the actual draft is labeled as being for pantaloons (which, if you remember, are more closely fitted than trousers).

The width of the waistband was essentially eyeballed--it's a couple of inches wide, and just a straight piece of the fashion fabric, stiffened with canvas and folded.  If you look at period artwork and examples, the width can vary greatly, and was often cut on a different orientation to the rest of the garment; i.e. the length of the waistband being cut from the length of yardage, rather than matching the pattern.

While I normally try to put together basic drafting instructions to share when I use a new pattern, I didn't write one this time around because I was only 80% sure of how they would go together.  Next time I make a pair I will write a drafting tutorial.  Maybe even construction details, if you're lucky.

Cutting Layout:

This actually is only partially guess work for once--the author of the above book gives clear descriptions on how to lay the cloth on the table and cut (mind, I ended up reversing them, because I am left handed), to whit:
"Having now obtained your measure, you will now lay your cloth upon your table, in such a manner, as to have the nap run to the left hand..."
 Since the forepart and back-part are cut separately (which the forepart being used to pattern the backpart), and the measure given for the 1/4 waist is tiny (and this is coming from me...--the example measure has a 19" waist, plus 2" for ease!), I believe that both sets of pieces could have been cut from the same half-width of wool.


On the whole, I machine sewed the garment--given the period, and that sewing machines (much less straight stitch ones) wouldn't come around for a good few years, that is obviously off.  However, I don't care that much, since this was a practice piece in cheap material--a working trial run.  I did handfinish--sewing the seam allowances down, mostly with a cross stitch.

The buttonholes, on the other hand, I did take a bit more care with.  They are handsewn in medium (50/3) white linen thread, with a much heavier (16/2, I believe) linen gimp cord, and are of the period correct style (straight, colour matching the fabric, using a gimp thread, and with small bar tacks on the ends).  This was my first time--that I recall--using a gimp thread and I believe it did help make them neater.

The lacing holes in the back are also handsewn eyelets in the heavy linen thread.
Rear of the trousers, laced to fit.


For the most part, construction was fairly straight-forwarded.  Once the pattern was finalized, I needed to install the fall-binders, and the welts to finish the edge of the fall itself--this is fairly simple, really.

There are pockets--three of them, in fact.  The trousers have two hip pockets, which are built into the side seam, and are open at the top and size (and button closed).  In the image below, you can see the pocket flap folded back).  There is also a tiny, single welted watch pocket in the waistband.  Honestly, I'm not sure why pockets appear to be common, since if you put anything in them it would ruin the lines of the pants.

The waistband came next and was a simple seam.  After that, it was a matter of sewing them up--same as any other pair of pants.
Getting ready to sew the waistband on.

The last step was to make the buttons, which I used my self-fabric covered method, and sew the buttonholes--both fairly straight-forwarded tasks.

Conclusions (and What I learned):

This was interesting.  I did have to research a few things about the fit, and figure out the missing pieces (waistband and fall-binders) of the garment; plus, even more research on things like the pockets and their prevalence, common widths and height of the fall, waistband widths, plus just general information on the garment.

Another thing I had to specifically look for was the orientation of the buttonholes, especially those of the fall.  The buttonholes on the corners of the fall were usually cut diagonally, but sometime were vertical, and there is at least one example of horizontal ones; if there is a center hole along the top edge of the fall, it was always vertical.  The buttons at the hips were always on the diagonal, assuming there even were pockets.  Those of the fall-binders appear to always be horizontal.

In making it, I did learn more about buttonholing--I believe I really need to get a set of buttonhole chisels, for one--and some of the effect of using a gimp thread (it helps support and smooth the cut edge).  Most of the making up was nothing new, at least the way I did it this time.

What I'd do Differently next time:

Oh, boy...that's a doozy of a question.  Quite a few things.  I would probably make the fit a little closer in the leg--not tight, but close.  More handsewing (depending on the material quality), and a /lot/ more attention to the inside details.  One of the main things is that I would not use the corduroy for the pocketing material--I chose to do so, to make the fabric match when open, but found that the corduroy's "stickiness" to itself makes actually using the pocket a pain.


I decided to give this around 70%--the pattern, fabric, and overall look are pretty much correct, but I feel that the hidden details (more the lack of detailed handsewing than using a machine for the long seams) knock it down quite a bit.


The project took slightly over 11 hours of work, not including drafting the pattern (which if I recall, was only around 1/2 hour), or adjustments


Jones, Amanda.  Rules and directions for cutting men's clothes, by the square rule : by which, in a few hours, a person may acquire such a knowledge of the art, as will enable him to cut all sizes and fashions, with the greatest accuracy. (Middlebury, 1822)  [Accessed digitally via on 7-29-16]

The National Archives, Currency converter.

Richmond, Vivienne.  ‘Indiscriminate liberality subverts the Morals and depraves the habits of the Poor’: A Contribution to the Debate on the Poor Law, Parish Clothing Relief and Clothing Societies in Early Nineteenth-Century England. Textile History, 40 (1), 51-69, May 2009. ISSN 0040-4969, Online ISSN: 1743-2952: Goldsmiths Research Online.  (page 6)

"Vic". Regency Fashion: Men's Breeches, Pantaloons, and Trousers. (Blog Post, 6-21-2013)  [Accessed: 7-30-16]

HSM Info:

What the item is:  Late Regency Front-fall trousers.

The Challenge: you can see, they are white (for the nonce).

Fabric/Materials:  Cotton Corduroy

Pattern: From Amanda Jones's 1822 cutter's guide.

Year:  1820ish.

Notions:  Thread, recycled suit buttons used as the base for the fabric covered buttons.

How historically accurate is it?:  I would say around 70%.  The pattern is correct, of course.  The fabric is even quite good--I can document white(ish) corduroy trousers to the period.  But I machine sewed as much as possible, and my finishing techniques were...sloppy.  Not appropriate for tailors at the time (although, I believe something like this would have come out of a "slop shop".

Hours to complete:  11 hours, 7 minutes.

First worn:  For a LotR marathon on the 30th :D

Total cost:  A grand total of 2-3 US dollars--I found the fabric in a thrift shop.

© John Frey, 2016. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.  Photographs of my work may not be duplicated.


  1. Looking fab!

    Incidentally, I have a set of regular wood chisels for doing buttonholes (one 1/2", one 5/8") and provided they are kept very sharp and used with a mallet (with something protective underneath!) they work AMAZINGLY. I totally recommend chisels for buttonholes. :)

  2. Thank you.

    They are on the list. Of course, so is firing up the forge and attempting to make my own accurate ones (unlikely, but I can dream).