Almost every man looks more so in a belted trench coat

“Almost every man looks more so in a belted Trench coat”

Sydney J Harris

This is my second post on the trench coat I am currently making for Whitchurch Silk Mill. The design is complete and the fabric and notions have been sourced. The next step is creating a pattern and in this post I’m going to discuss cut, fit and size.

Not every soldier would have had the luxury of heading over to Haymarket and having his uniform plus extras such as an all-weather coat especially made. While the lower ranks uniforms were off the peg, officers could afford to head to a tailor to have their items bespoke made.

Tailors were sent instructions from the war officer on how each item of uniform was to be made, to ensure uniforms were in fact uniform. Books were published focusing on creating military patterns and aimed at tailors.These books are a great source of information for costumiers today looking to remake WW1 uniforms. The book I am using is one I have used before for creating WW1 uniforms.

ww1-1

The publishers also printed a magazine, which they mention above. Here is an example of that magazine during the war; it included different patterns in each issue.

ww1

This is the pattern closest to my final trench coat design, which I plan to adapt.

ww1-3

This is how the patterns are presented in the book, if you have any experience of pattern cutting you will see that they are quite different from how patterns are laid out today, I imagine this looks fairly abstract to non cutters!

ww1-4

The book also gives very detailed instructions on how to take measurements

ww1-2

But what size should this trench coat be? What size was the average man in 1914?

Any man willing to enlist and join the army could do so providing he was of the right height, age and he passed a set of physical tests. He needed to be taller than 5 feet 3 inches and aged between 18 and 38. Remember many man were so keen to go to war they lied about their age!

The average height of the recruit in 1914 appears to have been around 5ft 5in, with anyone above 5ft 7in being considered quite tall by the standards of the day. The Average weight would have been around 8 stone and the average age would have been around 30 with a chest measuring 34”

This is quite a bit smaller than today’s average

It just so happens that I am 5 feet 5 inches tall, but I must be considerably better fed, as I weigh nine and a half stone, even at my thinnest, aged about 30 I was a good half a stone heavier than our average soldier. If we look at today’s BMI charts I now sit smack bang in the middle of the healthy weight section, our soldier falls just into the underweight section. So why was the arrange recruit so small?

In 1915 the total available number of men of military age was 5.5 million, with around 500,000 more reaching that age each year. By late September, 2.25 million men had been enlisted with a further 1.5 million in reserved occupations. Of the rest, the recruiters had uncovered a shocking fact; almost two in every five volunteers were entirely unsuitable for military service on the grounds of health.

Some men were disabled by accidents, others suffered from inherited conditions and many had diseases, which are although almost unheard of today were common in 1914. Skeletal tuberculosis affected bones and joints and was a major cause of physical disability, as was Polio which could have a lifelong impact. Poverty also gave rise to another common cause of childhood disability; rickets, a bone-weakening disease. This might help to explain why so many men were turned away.

The sad fact is that many men at this time were under-nourished and enlisting offered them the change of three square meals a day. This is reinforced by the fact that after enlisting many young men put on a stone in weight and grew 2 inches while being properly fed and taking part in physical training.

Officers generally came from more well off backgrounds and as such could expect to be better fed and perhaps a little larger than the average soldier. All of this was taken into account when deciding on the size of our Trench coat.

I am told the silk for the lining is being woven as I type so it wont be long before I can start construction, expect more news quite soon, bearing in mind my blog has its own time, just like Narnia, which is much slower than your real world human time, oh and I have a book to finish

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About lholmes4keats

I have worked with Museums across the UK for the last ten years making costumes for exhibitions on everything from The Titanic to Tyrannosaurs. I have Run workshops and lectures on costume both nationally and internationally, my work has featured in exhibitions, films and theatre productions both nationally and internationally. In 2011 I curated The Needle is always at hand, an exhibition of dress based on Fanny Brawne's life while she lived at Keats House.
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