Can’t I just buy a suit?

That’s a good question.

Like the OT suits, these appear to be a custom made item. They draw a lot of inspiration from racing suits but so far nothing has been located that matches all the details. Your choices are to buy two suits and do a lot of modification, or buy fabric and work from scratch.

You also need to decide how accurate you’re willing to be. The real suits are a coated fabric, probably Cordura nylon. Not exactly practical everyday wear. There’s a lot to be said for cotton blends when it comes to wearability (and dyeability).

One possibility is the usual orange Red Kap suit many of us made our old X-wing pilot suits out of.

It’s not the right shade of reddish orange, but it’s in the ballpark. It’s a polycotton blend so there’s so possibility to get a good tint and weathering to bring it up to snuff. The biggest downside is that the fabric is very lightweight.  Good for comfort but may not fall the same way when you start sewing heavier things to it.

The suits we used for the Hollywood premiere were a thicker cotton blend. The color turned out to be off (it was a near perfect match to the elastic trim but brighter and less red than optimal), but the weight of the fabric was nice and they were pretty comfortable in the cold bleachers. Unfortunately they were part of a closeout lot that is no longer available.

I’m not sure I would recommend them anyway. It took so much work to make the base suit wearable that by the end I felt like I might as well have made the thing from scratch. The sizes ran unusually large and tall. I ended up with a medium, which normally I can wear. The medium in this suit had to have almost every seam taken in to be wearable. Unlike the old X-wing suits, the waist seam in TFA is just a straight seam across so at least it made shortening the torso by 6″ simple, no waistband hassle to deal with.

Things I had to do to my suit:

  • Shortened the torso by cutting out the waist and the zipper
  • Sewed in a new, shorter zipper
  • Fixed a billowing back by taking in the side seams and narrowing the shoulders, which required the sleeves to be reset
  • Narrowing the overly baggy arms and legs by taking in the inseams
  • Shortened the legs and hemmed them

Why am I telling you this? Because if you are going to go the suit alteration route, you need to start with one that fits you. It’s going to be much harder to alter once you start attaching new pieces. I recommend ordering one suit in a size that should fit you and then getting at least the next size up, if not the largest size available. That guarantees that you have enough fabric in the legs to make the chaps completely wrap around comfortably and provides plenty of material for pockets. In any event, it’s harder to make a too small suit work than a too big one.

Once you get one suit that fits, get your seam ripper out and remove any improper pockets. I’ve taken to using these, which are really just repackaged #12 scalpels. It takes a while to get the hang of using them without stabbing the material (or yourself) but once you do, you can really speed through pocket removals. When the first suit is stripped down, start tearing apart your second suit. It may be quicker just to cut it apart at the seams but ripping them preserves more usable fabric. You can leave the outer seams of the donor suit legs together, just reuse it as the outer seam of the chap unless there’s drastic resizing involved.

Aside from the chaps, all of the other orange parts you need are pocket pieces. Have your pattern pieces printed out and make sure they are sized correctly. Depending on your size, you might need to scale them up or down slightly. Those of us on the short end of the spectrum ran into problems spacing our leg pockets because they were practically sitting on top of each other.

I try to match pattern pieces to make the most efficient use of my fabric. Removed pockets might be trimmed down into new pocket sides or flaps. Arms can be ironed out flat and larger pieces cut from there. Plan ahead so you’re not caught needing to cut a piece and not having any scraps left it will fit on.

If you’re going to dye, do it now. Why now? If you cut apart a suit at the seams, you may have exposed fabric that was tightly sewn together or otherwise protected. Dye might not completely penetrate those folds or seams and you can end up with uneven coloring if you dye the entire suit before deconstructing it. Likewise, if you dye the completely finished garment, you better hope that all the pieces take color correctly or else you may have to redo parts of it. Dyeing before assembly eliminates that worry.

All that said, if you elect to start from scratch, there are a few fabrics out there that might work. More on that later.

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