Do you need a man's tailcoat for a play, historical, or steampunk event? Do you have basic sewing skills? If so, creating a man's tailcoat is easily within your grasp.
I start with a thrift store suit coat. The coat should fit it's intended wearer well in the shoulders. Fully lined coats are best. Avoid coats with patch pockets, as you will have to remove them and sometimes the fabric underneath the pocket is darker, or otherwise leaves a mark. A jacket without a vent in the back will make your job even easier.
Have someone put the coat on for you, and mark the desired front length. This is usually 1"- 2" above the welt pocket. You can complete the marking while the jacket is on the person, or place it neatly on a table, front side up. Using a piece of tailor's chalk, draw a line straight back from the center front to the side front seam. From this point, curve the line down around the welt pocket, and just before you get to the side seam, drop it down a couple inches. Repeat on the other side and join your lines in the back. Align the coat layers so that they are perfectly smooth. Pin generously above and below the lines.
Cut through all the layers about 1/2" below your chalk line. The only section you discard is the area around the welt pocket.
Save what you cut off for the tails. If your jacket, like this one, did not have a back vent, cut it in half to create two tails. If it had a back vent you will either have two pieces or one piece that is partially attached which will need to be detached and trimmed.
Press all layers to the inside of the jacket on the chalk line and pin in place.
Insert the tails between the lining and outer layers of the jacket back, with the curved corner facing out. Pin in place. Top stitch all the way around with matching thread.
The jacket pictured below only had a front lining, but was otherwise perfect so I opted to use it. The brown binding was used to finish the seams and the hems, so you can see that the bottom edge of the original jacket faces outward on the tails.
Instead of inserting the tails between the layers, I hemmed the back of the jacket and attached the tails with two layers of stitching about an inch apart to make them hang better. I overlapped these a little. It looks nicer, I think, unless there is too much bulk.
And here it is on the hanger. Many thanks to my friend Katie for taking this series of pictures for me.
I usually remove all the sleeve buttons (as that is a modern thing) and put buttons over the buttonholes. It is also possible, with a good steam iron and a little patience, to reshape the collar and change the size of the lapels.
You can add stripes, extra buttons, cuffs, and epaluettes for different character and military looks.
There are usually more colors available in ladies clothing, so don't restrict your hunt for the right color jacket to the men's department. If the coat is the right size in the shoulders you are probably good. Occasionally the sleeves of ladies jackets are a little short on men. You can either let them down, or wear them with a shirt featuring longer cuffs or ruffles. All of the red jackets I made the guys for Les Miserables came from the ladies department of the Thrift Store.
Once I got a system in place, I could transform a suit jacket into a tail coat in half an hour or less.
To see more photos of these jackets in action, go to my Les Miserables Pinterest Board.