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Making a Sergeant Pepper Outfit

author image Bonny Brown Jones
Bonny Brown Jones has been a writer, columnist, copy editor and senior copy editor for newspapers that have included the "Orlando Sentinel," "Miami Herald" and "Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch." Jones has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Ohio State University.
Making a Sergeant Pepper Outfit
Costume design templates on a table. Photo Credit Jelena83/iStock/Getty Images

The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," released June 1, 1967, was a flowering of independence and creativity perfectly positioned to usher in the Summer of Love. For the cover, the former mop-tops gathered in quasi-military uniform, surrounded by cut-outs of dozens of their heroes, such as Edgar Allan Poe, Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, Tom Mix, Fred Astaire and Dr. Livingstone. The Beatles' psychedelic-color satin suits -- John Lennon's lime yellow-green, Paul McCartney's sky blue, George Harrison's fire red and Ringo Starr's fuschia -- are widely re-created today for tribute bands and special events. If you'd like to don a Sgt. Pepper outfit too, you can stitch up your own costume or ask a seamstress for help.

The Pattern

To make your own Sergeant Pepper costume, The Costumer's Guide to Movie Costumes website recommends McCall's military uniform pattern 4745. Use the pattern's longer skirt, the website says, but don't use a center back seam, center back skirt seam, opening in the back of the skirt or center front buttons. The jackets open in the center front and use hook-and-eye fasteners. The Beatles' actual patterns from London theatrical costumer M. Berman, by the way, were sold at auction in 2011 for $5,963. One pattern was for John, Paul and George, and the other for Ringo -- if you're creating a Ringo suit, note that the collar is higher since the design was slightly different. For child-size costumes, the Pattern Review website suggests Simplicity pattern 4944, which also can be a pirate costume.

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Fabric and Sewing

Satin fabric, with its slippery surface, isn't the easiest to cut out or to sew. Simplicity Creative Group recommends special care: Since satin can shade in different directions, use a "with nap" cutting layout, and mark with dressmaker's chalk, because fabric pens can bleed. Use serrated-edge scissors for a cleaner cut. Start with a lightweight size needle, and if pulls still result, switch to a still lighter Micropoint needle. Use small stitches. If you're substituting a polyester knit for the satin, use a stretch needle, and set your stitch to medium. The Costumer's Guide says the Beatles' uniforms have sleeves and pants lined in white, and the rest of the jackets are lined in the jacket color.

The Accessories

Costumers look for accuracy in re-creating the costumes, down to military medals and buttons. That's where it gets detailed and tricky. The Costumer's Guide website says John's and Ringo's buttons are gold tone and Paul's and George's are silver -- Paul's, the site says, "are confirmed to be London Fire Brigade buttons from 1948-1965." Braided macrame cords are in contrasting colors: orange for John, lime for George, plum for Paul and blue for Ringo. Shoulder epaulets, chevrons, satin stripes and ribbon trim add still more contrast. As for the medals, you can hunt replicas to appear as close to the originals as you like: Paul and George wore their MBEs, but John Lennon had already returned his as a political protest. He borrowed several World War II medals from the mother of former Beatles drummer Pete Best. John also wore daisies on each shoulder. If you're going to be Ringo, the Sgt. Pepper drumheads -- the one used on the album cover and an alternate -- were designed by Joe Ephgrave, and replicas are for sale.

Other Options

If you're not up for making the costume from scratch, commercial Sergeant Pepper costumes are available from about $30 to several hundred dollars. You could always dress them up with medals and other gear. Dyeing a military-style uniform -- a Civil War blue or gray, for example -- might not be practical, since you'd be going from a darker to a lighter color and using heavier fabric. If you want a custom costume, seamstresses start at $25 an hour just for the work, and you'll have to include the cost of materials, including the trim. Allow plenty of time, remembering the seamstress will have other clients, especially around holidays. Consider the costumer's rule of three according to The Costumer's Guide: "You can have something cheap, you can have it quick or you can have it quality, but never all three."

And In the End ...

So what was it that made the mop-tops want to turn into military men for the album cover? "At the back of our minds, I think the plan was to have garish uniforms which would actually go against the idea of uniform. At the time everyone was into that 'I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet' thing; kids in bands wearing soldiers' outfits and putting flowers in the barrels of rifles," McCartney recalled in the book "Anthology." McCartney and Harrison each wore their uniforms again for music videos later as solo artists; Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, lent his to several museums, and Starr's hot pink jacket was displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. The album, of course, went on to become No. 1 on "Rolling Stone" magazine's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. "John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were never more fearless and unified in their pursuit of magic and transcendence," the magazine said.

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