Guts!: Trench Coat Edition

Hi, guys!Β  I’ve been sewing for a while now, and one of the things that I’m focusing on these days is upping the quality of my work- I want a nice, clean finish, I want my clothes to hold up over time, and I want to use appropriate techniques for each garment. Since coats have been on my mind lately, I thought it would be fun to look under the hood at some RTW trench coats and see if there’s anything we can learn from them! Wanna take a look?

This is a BB Dakota coat that I’ve had for several years. I bought it in my pre-sewing days from Fred Flare in Greenpoint (now closed). It was originally priced a bit over $100, I think, but I kept checking in at the store to see if it had gone on sale, and finally my patience paid off and I scooped it up for a song.

I’ve worn this countless times over the years, and anything that could fall off, snap, or come unstitched has- the buttons fell off one by one, the pockets ripped, the chain loop for hanging ripped off, the belt prong broke… One of the first things I did with my borrowed sewing machine was re-stitch the torn pockets. I was so pleased when I figured out I could fix them! Since then I think I’ve replaced every single button. This has been a high-maintenance coat, but I love it, so it’s been worth it to extend its life with a little TLC.

The faux fur collar attached to the underside of the regular collar with buttons. There’s a little flap on the bottom of the detachable collar that the coat slides into and you can just button it in place. When the fur collar is removed, you can’t tell that anything’s missing!

The coat is faced with self-fabric (70% cotton, 30% nylon) and is lined with a matching polyester.

The lining’s been bagged- here’s the sleeve seam that was left open for turning right-side out. It’s just been machine sewn, and it’s not super tidy. Do you feel better about your own sewing when you see something messy in a RTW garment? πŸ™‚

There’s a zipper in the sleeve that, when opened, creates more room for the wrist. So the lining has a sort of jump on the inside to accommodate this.

The lining uses the same pattern pieces as the shell in the back- there’s no pleat or ease in the lining. The back vent is lined, a trick I struggle to wrap my head around.

Vent, vent, vent… you confuse me. Anyway. So, although this coat was on the expensive side for my budget in those days, it seems like a good example of pretty low-cost construction methods.

Sample #2! This is a brand-new coat, the Everlane Swing Trench. I rarely buy RTW these days, but I like Everlane’s business model (they develop close relationships with their factories to insure that the workers are treated ethically and the garments are constructed well, and they only sell online so they can keep their prices down) and I had a gift card burning a hole in my pocket, so I decided to just go for it. The shell is 100% cotton with a very tight weave and a water-resistant coating. It retails at $138. Here’s a little more info about the factory where this coat is produced, if that sort of thing interests you as much as it does me. (PS- Everlane has an affiliate program where you can refer your friends for store credit, but the links above are not affiliate links).

There’s a front stormflap, and I guess you would call this one in the back, too? It’s connected at the collar seam, so you can reach your hand up between the layers all the way up to the shoulders.

Only the sleeves are lined (with 100% polyester). It’s faced with self-fabric, and all the buttons have a buddy button on the wrong side. Both jackets have keyhole buttonholes, which look nice. I can’t do them on my sewing machine, but maybe I’ll take my next jacket project to Jonathan Embroidery and let them make keyhole buttonholes for me. πŸ™‚

This detail is actually really cool- the pockets look like regular welt pockets from the front, but the pocket bags are French seamed. The stitch lines you can see here are reinforcing the welt. Anybody ever seen this construction in a pattern? I’m the worst at visualizing how things go together to form the finished product, so I have no idea what the construction order would be for this!

The facings, as well as the side seams, are serged, turned, and stitched.

The overall effect is really clean and tidy, which surprises me in a jacket that’s not fully-lined. I usually hear “unlined” or “partially-lined” and shudder a bit, but I really like this construction and would definitely replicate it if I ever had the need for another lightweight jacket.

Here, the hem is pressed up and stitched, and then the front facing is pressed under and stitched down on top of it.

I can’t speak to how well-constructed this jacket is since I’ve only just gotten it, but it seems like a higher quality than the BB Dakota coat. Hopefully I won’t start immediately shedding buttons! I do wonder if there are any different construction tricks in a really high-end trench. I’d really like to snoop a fancy trench and a vintage one! Anybody have, say, a Burberry trench? Or one from the ’60’s or ’70’s? Is there anything different in the way they’re constructed? I’m also interested to know if anyone has sewn their own trench coat! If you have, what pattern did you use, and how does the finished garment differ from these RTW examples?

Hope you guys didn’t mind my geek-out! I can’t stop myself from peering inside garments these days… it’s so tantalizing to sneak a peek at what’s going on inside them! Anybody else have this problem?

77 responses

  1. Very interesting as I embark on my 2nd ever coat!
    And actually yes I do have a Burberry trench that my Mum bought me a few years ago so I will try to post some construction pics if I find some time!

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  2. I love love love this post. I’ve been going through some similar woes with a coat and it’s really making me want to make my own. My confidence isn’t really up there yet but I feel like (like you said) I can probably do better. The coat cost me around $200 on sale and I’ve worn it for three winters. All of my buttons have fallen off including those that hold on the fur collar (similar idea to your trench but mine’s wool with polyester lining) and the pockets and lining are just totally ripped to shreds. I decided to let a professional fix it (I was putting my hand through the sleeve but it wouldn’t come out the other end!) and dry clean before the weather turns and it’s going to cost me almost $100. Makes me bemoan the state of the RTW industry and REALLY motivate me to practice!

    That being said, I’m obsessed with Everlane and I’m sure that trench is going to last you a long time. Those pockets look really awesome! Thanks for sharing the inside! It really gives me some inspiration!

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    • You can do it! Coats aren’t that hard to make, but they’re a little slow. Just do yourself a favor and choose a fabric with a pattern that doesn’t need to be matched (I’ve just finished cutting out a coat for my mom in a pattern and the matching, oh, the matching… oy…).

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  3. So curious to look inside RTW sometimes–and man, I check all seams now when I buy something because a lot of it out there is crap. I can’t wait to see what you make. I like both coats here, and laughed when you said Fred Flare cause I remember shopping there. . . πŸ˜‰ XO And btw I signed up for email updates but it seems to not be working-I checked my junk box and everythang. Is your feedburner feeling ok? :*

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    • I bet you loved Fred Flare! Cheeseburgers earrings, anyone? πŸ˜‰ I’ll check out the Feedburner thingy… I’m horribly computer-illiterate, so I’m sure I’ve made some sort of dumb mistake!

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  4. Ooh, I like how BB Dakota did the removable faux fur collar! Very clever, thanks for sharing! I’ve knocked off quite a few Burberry coats (for work) and it is pretty standard construction outside, but am still trying to get an inside glimpse of the interfacings, interlinings and shoulderpads. Burberry is all about structure and the foundations used. Oh, their shoulders are totally swoon-worthy.

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  5. I hear you on the lined vent, there is a guy on YouTube called Michael Coates who has a tute which made it make sense for me its on a sample for a dress so someone cleverer/ with more experience would need to figure out the bagged lining bit

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  6. While the BB Dakota coat is gorgeous, I probably wouldn’t have had the patience to fix everything you did. Buttons yes, everything else…probably not. #SewingHero πŸ˜‰ And I totally understand peering at the guts of RTW stuff–I did everything but dissect the pants I bought from Anne Taylor a few years ago. The staff wasn’t too sure what to think about me, LOL! But I figured if I was gonna shell out $100 for some pants they had better be good quality! πŸ˜‰

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    • Heeheehee! You need to know what you’re getting into! It’s funny, I’ve heard my coworkers say, “Oh man, I lost a button… now I have to throw away this shirt” and I was like, “WHAT?! NOOOO!” It’s so worth it to fix something if you love it!

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  7. Interesting post! I’m always so disappointed with the poly linings in coats. I’ve got a Burberry trench and it’s also got poly sleeve linings. I’m always amazed that even higher end expensive RTW stuff is finished off with polyester. British brand Brora uses silk linings which has always impressed me even though I’m not always a fan of their styles, at least they do pay attention to the quality of all the parts of the things they make. I’ll have to get back to you re: the innards of the Burberry which BTW, I bought on sale at a Burberry outlet factory store in Uk.

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    • I know, right? Even really expensive coats don’t have nice linings! I never really noticed until I made my first blazer and the silk lining made me feel like a millionaire! πŸ™‚

      I’m interested to hear about the Burberry trench! Do you think they have a magical secret that will help us all make perfect, amazing coats? (Just say yes).

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  8. what a great post, ginger! it’s a great way to study taking a good look on RTW, indeed!
    I believe if you search things on afashionablestitch Sunni might have some trench coat posts… If I am not mistaken.
    I so feel much better about my sewing when I see something messy on my RTW. Better, but also bad. Because I paid for it, and it rarely was cheap. but hey, one day I’ll get there. πŸ™‚

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    • Ohhh, Sunni’s done some cool coats- I totally forgot! I hear you about RTW. On the one hand, it’s nice to know that I’m not alone in sewing things imperfectly, but I get irate when I see clothing that’s really shoddily made.

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  9. I always feel so much better at my finishing when I see some wonky stitching in RTW garments. I’m curious to know how well the “serged and turned under” finishing holds up. It looks like the edge could possibly turn back up? I may have to try that finishing in my next unlined coat because finishing all the seams with bias binding can be such a PITA.

    My mom gifted me a cardigan from Macy’s one xmas. I think it was a nicer material cardigan…anyway, first wear and a button fell off. As I sewing it back on, another button fell off. I noticed the remaining buttons were just itching to fall off, so I took all of them off and sewed them back on just in case. The quality these days….sheesh! πŸ™‚

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    • I’ve used the “turn & stitch” seam finish on a cotton/silk top, and like you said, after it comes out of the wash, it wants to turn back up. The seams don’t lie flat until I press it like crazy, so that’s a little annoying. But if you can catch the seams in other intersecting seams or tack them down here and there, it’s a nice finish.

      I remember that happening with an L.L. Bean shirt that I had saved for- first wear and it popped right off! I had a coat from Delia’s a few years ago that I had to buy an entire new set of buttons for since they all fell off and got lost!

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  10. Great post! I love seeing inside garments – even before I started sewing I was mad for checking all the inside details and the seams. I think I bought enough crappy clothing in my teens to later want my money going into quality clothes! I’m hoping to sew up a couple of autumn/spring coats but have to find the right fabric. Thanks for sharing these coat innards! πŸ™‚

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    • I’ve even gotten there with shoes! After a pair of $70 boots was destroyed (my shoe guy said they were irreparable, and he’s fixed so many things for us) after the first year, I just got sick of paying for things that go straight into the garbage! I’d rather make an investment and then just keep taking care of it. πŸ™‚

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  11. Looking how really good RTW or if you’re lucky some piece of couture is made can be so inspirational and teach you so much! I recently took up the habit of entering insanely expensive clothes stores in Pizza San Marco in Venice and take a peak at how they are made … after all wasn’t Giorgio Armani that said β€œthe difference between style and fashion is quality” ?!

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  12. Very cool! I have a couple vintage dresses (50s maybe?) that I examined closely for techniques once I started sewing. If I were to ever start a blog I’d do a post on them.

    Also, I ended up at Mall of America searching for a raincoat and wandered into Burberry – I found like 6 different coats I loved and then almost passed out when I looked at the price tags! I was afraid of getting dragged out of the store if I started to manhandle them too much so I didn’t get to examine the construction very closely πŸ˜›

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  13. I love the second one the most!!!

    Also, I completed my first lined vent, with only minimal hair tearing out, by following the video tutorial by Coleen at Fashion Sewing Blog!

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  14. The Everlane Trench is lovely, if I saw that in a clothes shop I would not be leaving without it! I am a beginner and have only sewn maybe 5 garments and have been so busy focusing on completing them that the finish has fallen to the wayside and the insides are a mess! So, I avoid lingering too long looking at the insides of RTW clothes as the pro finish just reminds me of this shameful lazy attitude of mine πŸ˜‰

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    • That makes total sense. If I had been concerned about getting a perfect finish as a beginner, I never would’ve finished a single garment! My first dress frayed in the wash… I didn’t know about seam finishing! I used to have to cut the stray threads off that hung down from the inside of the dress before I wore it. πŸ™‚

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  15. It’s so good to look at the innards of your jackets, I only get to wear my big jackets when in the UK as I don’t need one that warm here in Sydney. I’ve been studying the insides of jackets, warmth levels and all kinds of elements before I make my next jacket. Is going to be so interesting to see how you get on with yours.

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  16. I really enjoyed your post. Your second coat looks great and it’s nice to see a company trying to treat people correctly. One of the reasons that I went back to sewing my own clothes was the deplorable sewing and fabrics of RTE

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    • Same here. It was so overwhelming trying to find clothes that were ethically made! I used to mostly buy vintage or used clothes on eBay and then have them altered to fit, but the prices of vintage really skyrocketed and that became unsustainable. Sewing is a much better option, although it can be intimidating to try to make alllllll your own clothes!

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  17. It’s almost guaranteed that buttons will have to be re-sewn on RTW because most buttons are machine-sewn, without knots. One of my many gigs is making sweaters at Ohio Knitting Mills (www.ohioknittingmills.com) , and I admit to feeling a bit smug when it’s my turn to sew buttons, because we do it by hand and double knot that stuff!

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  18. I wouldn’t say that the first coat is made using low cost or cheaper techniques. My professional eye says that the second one was cheaper to produce. It may look pricier because of all the neat details that in reality take no time to do when done by professional seamstresses.

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  19. Thanks for posting this! I love the insides of that everlane jacket, especially how tidy the pockets are on the inside. Definitely worth looking into next time I make an unlined jacket!

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  20. I am on a similar mission of upping the quality of what I do and my mind has turned to coats – I want to make something trans-seasonal, so this is particularly timely, so thank you for this. Some of your followers’ comments are interesting too.

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  21. Perfect timing, I just bought some twill to make a trench coat and I’m spending way too much time trawling the net for titbits on the insides and finishes so that I can make mine as snazzy as possible. Mine won’t be lined as it’s a season transition coat that I’m short of but when I see things like this collar stitching http://www.net-a-porter.com/product/391521/Burberry_London/mid-length-wool-and-cashmere-blend-trench-coat (photo of the back) my heart melts a bit and I know I can add that detail to mine

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    • Oh wow, that’s a beautiful coat! The sheen of the fabric is amazing! The collar stand almost looks quilted… I bet that gives a lot of support to it, as well as looking cool. Thanks for sharing!

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  22. Hey, this is where I am with my sewing…I’ve just worked out what RTW means…hahaha…no, really. I’m learning, though, I’m learning!! I’d lurve to make a coat, just give me time. Love your blog, always interesting and fun : ) Jen

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  23. Cool design details on those 2 coats you looked at! Love the idea of detachable fur collar.

    A while back I dissected my RTW Top Shop trench which as at the end of its life. Thankfully there were no fallen buttons nor torn pockets nor tatty lining during its lifetime. But it was stained. And the sleeve hem shell fabric was getting a bit frayed. The vent lining looks like the one you photos. I took some photos of what mine looks like once I opened up the seams – the gut-gut if you will! http://overflowingstash.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/dissecting-a-rtw-trench/

    From there I made a wearable trench muslin using the ever popular McCall 5525 pattern. You can see the process here: http://overflowingstash.wordpress.com/tag/m5525/

    Still have to make a “Proper” one. But the wearable muslin has really tide me over. So Trench Proper will have to wait till Spring 2015 & probably ready for wear Fall 2015!

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    • Wow!!! Your trench coat turned out great!!! Thanks for sharing those links- it’s so awesome to see both the details inside your dissected coat and your finished product (which is FABULOUS). I need to start interfacing hems and also to use twill tape on the neckline. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  24. thanks for sharing this! so fascinating to inspect RTW technique, i love doing that too. the french seamed pocket bad is way cool! i’ve french seamed welt pocket bags before, but only on pants. i’m curious–is the part of the bag under the facing also french seamed? wondering if a spot was left open. that or the bag was pulled out through the pocket and sewn, then when pushed inside and in place the SA’s would be on the inside… you can bet i’ll be trying this out!

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    • Ahhhhhh, maybe that’s what they did! It’s French seamed all the way around, so they must have stitched it before pushing it inside. Interesting! They’ve also got it bar tacked to the facing at the top and bottom of the facing side to keep it from flapping around.

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  25. I love looking into RTW as well and figuring out how they have done things. Vents take a bit of thought but I much prefer working out how to cut the pieces and sew them myself than rely on a tutorial. It’s funny because I have a sample of a vent which I showed my mother and tried to explain how I did it when she was doing a lined pencil skirt. She couldn’t understand why the pieces were cut differently and I ended up confusing myself trying to explain. I was saying “I’m not sure why it works but it does!”

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  26. Great post, very interesting! I’ll have to defend the machine-stitched sleeve seam though: it’s easy and fast, but most importantly for professionals (like myself), that’s where you can quickly open the coat if you need to fix something from the inside.
    I can’t think of a good reason to omit the pleat in the back lining though. In Finnish it’s called a “hugging pleat” because it gives you enough room to hug someone without ripping the lining πŸ™‚
    The lined back vent was difficult for me to wrap my head around too, but it’s the same for skirts, so hopefully you will master it soon enough πŸ™‚

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  27. Oh I liked reading this post. Deconstructing garments is fascinating to me. I don’t have a trench to show, though you are inspiring me to look at my coats and their construction now. X-Men

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  28. Hi
    Just made a Vogue jacket – 1263 and the pockets are French-seamed like your coat. Easier to do than describe. Hope this helps.

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  29. “Do you feel better about your own sewing when you see something messy in a RTW garment? :)”

    Haha, I wish! I’m just getting frustrated at the moment because I’m at that awkward newbie stage where my own sewing isn’t great, but I’ve started to notice all of the faults in my RTW clothes.

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