Tennant Suit Project: The Christmas Special (Trousers)

I began drafting this post almost exactly a year ago, but didn’t get very far before other life events got in the way and I had to leave it in the drafts folder.

But what better time to revive the post than in the Yuletide season once again! A little bonus Doctor Who Christmas content for everyone!

Pictured: Life goals

It’s common knowledge that “my” Doctor is the Tenth Doctor. What David Tennant did in the role changed my life dramatically, and will always be part of the fabric of who I am. The superhero traveler who loved history, space, life, and love, who saved the day not with muscles or guns, but with a screwdriver and cleverness, who met a terrifying monster and would exclaim “Oh you are GORGEOUS!”, who romped around in a suit and tie but kept his feet in Chucks just in case he needed to run fast, who was somehow as sexy and romantic as he was nerdy… That’s who I wanted to be.

The Tenth Doctor was my first ever cosplay, and has always been the most personal cosplay I do. 

But I’m a perfectionist, as I always say, and simply wearing a brown suit with a light blue shirt was never going to suffice for me.

First pic in my Magnoli/Baron suit, Feb 7, 2014

My first Tennant suit was thrifted. But I could never locate a coat I was pleased with, so I bought one from a Chinese cosplay company. After success there, I bought a cheap suit replica to replace the thrifted one, and was quite happy… for a time. But my suit had beige pinstripes, and my jacket was made of a poly/wool coating, not suede, so I knew I would be upgrading eventually.

And I did. Eventually I would upgrade my $100 suit to a $500 Magnoli fabric/Baron Boutique tailored suit, and my $100 coat to a secondhand Steve Ricks replica.

This suit was the top-of-the-line at the time, and I was extremely pleased with it… except that it didn’t fit me 100%. It’s likely I gave Baron Boutique bad measurements, since I had never taken measurements for myself before, and the fit was too tight in the arms but too loose in the waist, and the pants too large by a size or two. It was more than sufficient for many years of wear, but I knew I would upgrade it again.

Then I began tailoring my own clothes, and learning how to fit myself. And I knew, the only way I would be truly happy with this particular outfit was if I made it myself, fit it myself, and had complete control over all the details.

So I began to learn how to tailor, cutting my teeth on bow ties and waistcoats (much of which is documented on this blog), and slowly learned everything that goes into making a suit. This was always the goal: Get good enough to make myself a Tenth Doctor suit that I would be happy with.

After many years of tailoring, I finally decided that I was ready to begin the project.

The first thing I would need is a pattern.

David Tennant’s brown suit, his first outfit, was made of many pairs of GAP trousers cut up and fashioned into a suit jacket, worn with the matching pants. The holy grail of Tennant cosplays has always been to acquire enough pairs of these vintage 2004 trousers to make a suit from.

Thankfully, I had acquired a pair of genuine GAP trousers in my size, so it was a no-brainer to pattern them directly.

This kind of patterning is actually trickier than you might think. Without unstitching the entire garment and tracing each individual piece, you have to work very hard to lay and pin each panel flat and square, and must guess at certain seam allowances. Internal pieces, such as pocket facings, are nearly impossible to gain access to. And the pattern of stripes ensured that each piece had to be very carefully aligned, or the pattern would skew, or not match across all the pieces.

I had an invaluable aid in this journey: Years before I acquired my GAP trousers, I had acquired the discarded waistband of a pair of these trousers that had previously been used to make one of these Holy Grail GAP suits.

In a windfall of good luck, all the pockets and the waistband had been left in tact, so there I could unstitch the pieces and pattern directly from the real deal without hassle. For the rest, I would need to get very intimate with pins and patience.

This process was long, and arduous. Fabric does not like to lay flat and straight, it is alive and flowing, and that is bad for creating clean, accurate lines (no proper tailor strikes a pattern in this manner). You would think that a little deviation might not be a big deal, but the matching of pinstripes and silhouette can be thrown into chaos by a deviation of only 1 degree when amplified down an entire trouser leg.

But little by little, the whole thing came together. Many cute details about these pants came to light, like a tiny coin pouch sewn into the righthand pocket, and the very complicated dance of the waistband construction.

I had a pattern I was confident about. But there was still one step to make before I went to town on my real trousers: A proof of the pattern.

Typically I make test garments out of cheap cotton muslin. This way I can test the fit and practice any tricky sewing techniques before risking the real fabric. But there was an extra level of concern in this pattern beyond the fit: The stripes.

I had drawn the pattern from two different sized garments, so I couldn’t trust that the lines would match up across all the pattern pieces the way they were supposed to. My test muslin needed to be striped.

I went down to my local Joann’s to find a cheap cotton fabric with a stripe pattern… to no avail. I would need to find a print of some kind, because the only other cheap option was upholstery, which simply wouldn’t do. In the prints section, I also found normal striped fabrics hard to come by. But I did locate this:

And, as The Grinch himself once did, I had a idea. An awful idea. I had a wonderful, awful idea.

I figured there would be no harm in getting some extra practice and making myself a full-scale mockup instead of a quick and dirty test. I had a hard time picking between the green and the red, so I picked up both and set to work.

The first thing to do was to secure the other fabrics. The real trousers had a few pieces interfaced in what turned out to be a sourceable, cheap iron-on, so I bought that. The hardware for the claps would need sourcing and purchasing, which was simple enough. I bought a black cotton twill for the pockets, to match the originals, and buttons to imitate the originals but in gold. I was a little shocked at how much haberdashery was required, but why buy something for $7 when you can make it yourself for $92 worth of materials?

As expected, not everything lined up at desired. But from this, I could determine what went wrong and fix it on the pattern so that this doesn’t happen with my real suit.

One particular point of interest in this build was the waistband, a two-piece monstrosity that I had a little fun conceiving to match the project. First, the real waistband has this bias-cut blue striped fabric as facing. I decided to replace the blue striped fabric with a Christmas tie:

This had a certain visual similarity while mantaining the absurd tackiness of the new outfit. The real waistband has some bias binding and grosgrain ribbing as well – since my outer fabric was covered in a gold stripe, I decided to choose gold as the accent color for the waistband as well.

This waistband was a real exercise in learning how mass-market factories make trousers. It consists of 6 layers, variously folded, sewn, and topstitched into place. Many pieces that could have been anchored to other pieces with simple seams had not been anchored at all, merely pressed into place and topstitched through, which might be simple for a huge warehouse with special machines but very challenging for a home sewer.

There are also many variations of ban roll and bias-cut canvas, and though both are standard for trouser waistbands, locating matching ones was a challenge.

But I persevered, and ultimately was pleased with the results:

With that tackled, I still had much to do. The back pocket construction created a strange geometric challenge, and I had to enlist extra help to solve it. But solve it we did.

The inner seams of the real GAP pants are bound in blue bias tape, so naturally I used gold for my own pair. I wanted everything to be as true to the originals as possible. Working with bias tape is actually not particularly challenging once you get the hang of it, and gold bias tape is not tough to acquire.

Everything came together, little-by-little, piece by piece.

The real Tennant trousers have a brown zipper. With my salvaged zipper from the GAP waistband, I purchased a gold zipper and removed the extra teeth until it was the exact length I needed for my pair. Fly areas are probably the trickiest part of a pair of pants, but even they aren’t so tough with some concentration.

Seeing some of this stuff come together is a bit like watching a magician demonstrate how an illusion works. But that kind of thing has always been fascinating to me, and I loved every moment (that I wasn’t yelling at my sewing machine, that is).

Finally, in the end, I managed to finish the trousers. They were exactly as wonderful and awful as I had imagined. But they didn’t mean much on their own. I knew I still had much work to do.

Click here for part 2!


About Alex

Alex is an American singer, actor, writer, tailor. He likes to cosplay between contracts in his Big Boy Job as a cruise line entertainer, traveling the world while singing.
This entry was posted in Alternative Cosplay, Tenth Doctor and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Tennant Suit Project: The Christmas Special (Trousers)

  1. Pingback: Tennant Suit Project: The Christmas Special (Jacket) | The Ginger Doctor

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