This afternoon I visited a certain large chain store, which shall remain un-named, with a coupon in tow, ready to browse the clearance racks and pick up a few necessary things for my everyday wardrobe. Armed with about twenty selections from both the regular racks and clearance racks in my approximate size range, in colors I thought might be flattering, I made my way to the dressing rooms. I hung the clothes on the hooks, and one by one tried on each item I selected, looked in the mirror critically, and one by one hung them back up, adamantly against each one. There was only one thing in the entire lot that remotely fit, and even then, I was drawn in by the low clearance price tag, choosing to ignore the fact that the denim capris would need to be worn with a belt in order to to draw in the back waistline where it gaped.
About halfway through this process, I realized why every time I shopped it was the same old song, the same routine, and the huge ordeal of trying on at least a dozen articles of clothing and selecting possibly one or two- much to the dismay of the sales associates who had the job of putting back the cast offs.
Sewing has ruined clothing shopping for me.
Now, I don’t mean to say that I want to sew all of my everyday clothes. As nice as that would be in theory, I’m just more interested in sewing fun and fancy things like vintage dresses and Victorian ballgowns. Sewing t shirts, jeans, and other everyday clothing articles just doesn’t interest me. And as much as I wish I were a speed knitter or crocheter, I have given up all hope of hand crafting my own sweaters. But the elements learned in clothing creation are now so engrained in my thinking that I’m unable to turn a blind eye when I know I’m about to lay down hard earned money in exchange for an object when it doesn’t meet my personal qualifications.
I’m sure this is probably sounding like a broken record. There are posts all over the blogosphere on making verses buying, and I’m not trying to trumpet one over another- I just have certain things going around in my head that explain why clothing shopping is so difficult for me.
First there’s SIZE
Having sewn for a long time for myself and done work in theatre where there’s a wide variety of shapes, I put little stock in what people think is an ideal size number. For me, it’s not that I need to be such-and-such size, it’s just that the clothing needs to fit ME. What is frustrating is when I look at a size chart online, I see what size my current measurements fall into, I select items to try on in those sizes, and then they don’t fit. The sizing from item to item, even within the same company, is so incredibly off the mark. Some are too big, some are too small. Mostly, I have found, they are too big when compared to the measurements that they should fit. In the fashion industry this is often called “vanity sizing.” But as a frustrated consumer, I can tell you, that I don’t care what the size number on my tag reads- I just want the item to fit the measurements it’s supposed to. It’s not going to make me feel better if I’m a size 2 instead of a size 4. I’ll get so frustrated that the size doesn’t fit that I won’t go back and look for the smaller size number. I have a similar issue with modern sewing patterns. Look at the measurement chart, choose size, have size fit (or be close). A two-inch gap is so NOT COOL and doesn’t make me feel ANY better about myself, because I realize it’s just the fashion industry’s way of playing mind games, thinking they’re making us feel better about ourselves. And no matter what an individual garment may tell me, I will still know that my measurements are my measurements and I want something to fit them. Having one size smaller on the tag won’t make me feel any better about myself. I honestly think that every size can look equally flattering if dressed correctly, and size has nothing to do with it. That’s one of the plusses of sewing. And also why, when someone tells me “I’m a size “X” in the store, what size pattern should I get, that I’m clueless. I wish things would go by actual body measurements, not idealized size.
Next there’s FIT
The modern fit of clothing is so disheartening, I don’t even know where to begin. Being a fashion graduate, it’s completely apparent to me why clothing has gone the route of knits being the big new thing- less fit problems, more figures satisfied in basic S, M, L style sizing. In the case of knit, if the sleeve cap is too tight, I’ll need to adjust the shoulders every time I lift my arms. If it’s cut too large, I’ll have the same problem. Too tight, and you see every little bump, and I, for one, don’t like to be aware of the indent of my belly button at front or see every little hardware bit on my bra at the back. With wovens, they’re cut too tight across the back and I can’t move my arms forward. Too low, and I can’t lift my arms without the entire shirt shifting upwards.
(On left, modern store-bought outfit composed of knit tops and cardi and stretch jeans. On right, vintage style from my Smooth Sailing pattern in woven fabrics)
Modern pants are too high in the crotch. I don’t want to be aware where the rise is on my pants. I want my pants to flow gracefully from my curves. I don’t need to be aware where each butt cheek sits, and I’m not interested in showing it off. I just want trousers that are comfortable and graceful, and long enough. Finding trousers that won’t shrink to ankle length are a problem for me.
In short, vintage sewing has ruined both the fit of the armscye of blouses and the fit of pants. I, for one, like the vintage fit. I don’t often toot my own horn, but I think the Smooth Sailing trousers are about the most flattering pants I’ve ever worn. And they took me a LOT of work to get them the way they are (no, contrary to what some people think, they are NOT repro… and just so you know, I can tell if they’re mine or not. Because I stared at them for THAT long and did THAT many mock ups, changes, and fixing). And when I did the Edwardian Blouse pattern, which I drafted from scratch while looking at period examples, it tool me AT LEAST ten different versions until I got the fit of the sleeve to be a good fit but still look period. I suppose, in that way, that patternmaking has ruined clothes shopping.
(One of my Victorian outfits, where fit is key to success)
We become aware of our body “quirks” when sewing. Historical costuming and corsetry have taught me that I have fitting concerns, including a short torso, long arms and legs, and one high hip. In sewing, it’s just a few standard adjustments and I’m good to go, but finding ready to wear is so HARD. And I know I’m not alone in this issue. Having sat in on probably hundreds of fittings of all different shapes and sizes when I worked at the San Diego Opera, I can say that no two figures are alike- even if measurements are the same. So while I could feel sorry for myself when item after item of ready to wear clothing doesn’t fit correctly- I just remember that every single person has similar issues- it’s just a combination of that: A) Most people aren’t aware of fit B) It’s impossible for a clothing company to make an item of clothing that will fit everyone (which, as mentioned before, is why stretch and knits are so popular in the fashion industry now), and C) We’re always our hardest critics, and even though something may look horrid under our scrutinizing eye, most people aren’t aware of the fit concerns we are aware we have. So, as our sewing knowledge progresses, it’s not a surprise that we become more aware of the mis-match between clothing and our unique body type.
And then, there’s COST
As much as I love a deal, it becomes apparent after you’ve sewn for a long time, what really is a deal and what’s not. Having shopped in the Los Angeles Garment District, I am aware of what going rate is for a large variety of fabric, and the quality of said fabric. So even if a shirt looks like it’s a deal, if I look closely at the fabric I can tell that either it will pill or fade after washing, or that it will snag easily, or it will not breathe so it’s not worth my time because I might wear it once and then it will just hang in my closet.
Things I consider are: A) How much would I pay for that fabric if I were to buy it new? B) When I look inside, how is the stitching done? If it’s all done on a serger i’ll usually pass unless the fabric’s of decent quality, because I know that’s a sewing shortcut and when that seam pops I’ll have a hole in my garment. C) How long would it take me to make this shirt? Is it worth my time and effort to make it, or should I just buy it? Or, and here I’m sure I’m walking on eggshells, can I buy this article of clothing knowing full well that the person who made this shirt deserves more than her cut of the $9.99 retail price tag. Because, really, after you’ve sewn for a long time you KNOW how long it takes to sew. True, they do assembly lines, but consider that the price you pay involves not only the fabric cost, but the shipping fees, the advertising, the tags, the cost to run both the retail store you buy it from and the place it was made, and then the stitcher’s wage- not to mention the profit by both the manufactuerer and the retail store. To be honest, this is why I choose thrifting most of the time over purchasing ready made. I can walk away with a clean concience. I know not everyone shares these views, so apologies if I am offending- this is, after all, just my personal musings so please be nice.
So, after that long rant, I can just say that I hate shopping for clothing. When we don’t have the budget for high end designer pieces with better fit and fabric, or the time to make our own clothing exactly to our specifications, or the budget to pay someone to make it for us, we’ve got to make do as best we can. But sometimes I think we can be overly aware of all the little issues, which makes clothing ourselves quite difficult.
So now I’m interested to hear from you. When is enough enough, and when do you make allowances from your strict standards in order to fill your wardrobe with required articles? Do you make, or buy ready made? And why?