The Right Fit

by Steve Hanson
Co. C, 2nd U.S. Infantry, Sykes Regulars
February 1999

    One of Sykes’ goals this year is for every military member who does not already have a frock coat to obtain one.  In conjunction with that, those who already have frock coats should look to tailoring them to fit better. When choosing a new frock coat, it goes without saying that you should be mindful of material and workmanship, but you must also be mindful especially of fit One size larger or smaller is not “close enough.” Let the Iron Brigade buy their everyday frock coats “off the rack”; this is our Class A dress uniform so we can look and feel sharp while we are being all we can be.

    An infantry company was authorized the services of seamstresses, and a soldier with a knowledge of tailoring was granted “special duty” consideration for working on the regiment’s uniforms.  There is no reason for the dress uniform to be too short, too long, too tight, or too baggy.  The neck should be tight enough so the collar stands up (I have seen some so loose that another head can poke through it); the shoulder seam should not fall off your natural shoulders nor ride above them; the sleeves should extend just past the narrowest part of the wrist; the skirt should be mid-thigh (that is, between crotch and knee, not hip and knee); and the bottom button and tail buttons should be just below your waist so your belt (buckle on the navel) rides just above them Some of the better coats also have padding in the chest as a stiffener.

    The better quality (and slightly more expensive) coats are well made and will fit and ride well on the body.  The least expensive ones will need the most work, and eventually the expense of alterations will bring the cost up to that of a better coat anyway.

    One of the most important alterations is the length of the skirt, because it defies modern thinking. If you need to shorten the skirt, don’t hem it. The edge should be raw (the material was of such tight weave that a raw edge would not unravel as modern material does).  If you have unraveling problems, a very small bead of clear water-based glue along the inside edge will solve the problem.  Use Elmer’s or something similar.  The “no stitch” stuff that sewing shops carry will seep through and show on the surface if the material gets wet.  Originals, when they began to show signs of fraying, were dipped in various animal urines if you want to be “authentic.”  Don’t use iron-on hem tape because it will show whenever the wind blows a corner of the skirt up.

    The worst looking misfit is around the neck. Another item of issue was the neck stock, which covered the neck and prevented the soldier from turning his head too far in either direction or lifting it up and down.  The coat collar should stand up and rest against the neck stock  A loose collar allows the entire coat to shift around on your body looking for the sloppiest position it can find before coming to rest.

    You don’t have to go overboard with alterations. We are not looking for Lord & Taylor’s exact dimensions. Find the most obvious necessary modification and make that one if nothing else  This is a dress uniform; it should fit at least as well as a good suit. It’s the job of the 4-button to look like jogging sweats.