How Sewing Ruined Clothing Shopping

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?

54 Comments on How Sewing Ruined Clothing Shopping

  1. Rozann
    September 27, 2012 at 6:56 pm (8 years ago)

    I hate shopping too, and I don’t have all the expertise that you have. I so agree about sizing, just use inches, a 25 inch waist is a 25 inch waist, not crazy meaningless numbers or letters. (That was my measurement when I got married!) I don’t like much of the brand new ready to wear, especially in my price range (thrift store prices) because it is so poorly made; at thrift stores I look for top brands and well made clothing regardless of brand. One complaint I have is that the sleeves of many modern articles are just too tight for my “old lady” arms, and I refuse to wear something that cuts off the circulation. One of the best reasons to make clothes versus buying, is not the savings in money up front, but in the long run by making garments that fit, are classic in style and well constructed to last. That is where the savings comes from. Thanks for sharing your perspective. Keep up the good work.

  2. Jennifer Rosbrugh
    September 27, 2012 at 6:59 pm (8 years ago)

    I hate modern clothes shopping too! And for exactly the same reasons as you mentioned. Sewing and pattern drafting have ruined it for me. I started sewing my own clothes at a very young age. By high school, nearly my entire wardrobe (minus those jeans and tees) was personally made by me. When clothes shopping I’m always looking at how long it’ll take me to make my custom alterations and is it worth it for the price. I rarely go clothes because of the same frustrations you mention. Then again… when FABRIC shopping, I catch myself falling in love with so many cottons that would make beautiful modern clothes… until I realize I’m supposed to be shopping for that new Victorian dress. :-) Wish I could wear Regency & bustles to work. It would make my life a WHOLE lot easier!

  3. Hearthrose
    September 27, 2012 at 7:20 pm (8 years ago)

    Brilliant post. I agree with everything… and someday I’ll be thin enough to want a pair of pants – at which point I know right where to head.

    I don’t want to sew all my clothing either! It’s *so* frustrating to go to the store in hopes of buying something (for once) and getting so very disappointed. -sighs-

  4. Tonya Clevenger
    September 27, 2012 at 7:22 pm (8 years ago)

    Absolutely spot on article. I used to love clothes shopping before I began to sew so much. Now I dislike it. Like you, I prefer thrifts and consignment shops. I would wear more vintage if I could but alas I am not slim…I have a few vintage items that were made very well and are in great condition. Unless I pay a fortune for a item of clothing in a high end store I am generally disappointed in whatever I find. In particular, bras! It drives me nuts to try on and find a bra that fits. I also find that most modern items of clothing are just ….ugly…in patterns or cut. I like classic, well made clothing that will last but alas those days seem to be gone in favor of trendy throw away crap…sigh

  5. Athene
    September 27, 2012 at 7:58 pm (8 years ago)

    Just to let you know, I am positive that your Smoothe Sailing trousers are not a repop – I have sewn vintage trouser patterns many times, and I know that you designed ever inch of that pattern yourself, because the crotch on your pattern is perfect: not too long, so it looks like you need additional plumbing; and not too short so that you get the dreaded, well, you-know-what-toe. It’s the best of vintage influence with a totally modern eye. And yes, ready-made clothing sizes are moronic. I’m a huge advocate of womane’s clothing switching to men’s style sizing. It would solve all sorts of problems.

  6. Colleen Crosby
    September 27, 2012 at 8:09 pm (8 years ago)

    I’m commenting on the blog, instead of facebook!

    I hate, hate, hate clothing shopping. My husband has to drag me shopping against my will. He finds one item that I will grudgingly try on, then he runs around the store finding other things for me before I give up.

    I don’t really know what size I am, but fit is definitely a problem for me! I won’t even bother trying on something that fastens up the front, because if it fits my shoulders, it ALWAYS gaps.

    I hadn’t taken into consideration the ethics of inexpensive clothes. I probably should. :(

  7. Gaidig
    September 27, 2012 at 8:15 pm (8 years ago)

    I totally agree with you that everyone’s body is different, and there is no way that a few sizes from a manufacturer are going to fit everyone. Personally, I often take multiple sizes of the same garment into the dressing room, because I am unsure which will fit me. I find that certain manufacturers tend to make clothes that fit my body type better than others, and some styles tend to fit me better than others as well. Also, sometimes I just have to take something in. Obviously, there’s a calculation involved about whether tailoring is worth it, but ready to wear doesn’t necessarily have to be perfect off the rack. On the other hand, I have a ways to go in perfecting my fitting from a pattern drafting perspective, so perhaps there will come a time when I think it’s no longer worth buying ready-to-wear.

  8. Rachel
    September 27, 2012 at 8:15 pm (8 years ago)

    I have to agree. And there is another thing about the clothing you buy in the store… *style*. I don’t always want to wear what is in style… see, I don’t care for the low rise jeans out there. But then, trying to get something that rises a little higher is hard to do… unless I make it!

  9. Gaidig
    September 27, 2012 at 8:18 pm (8 years ago)

    I should also mention that I generally don’t buy many clothes and I often shop in thrift stores or small online shops for some of the non-fit-related reasons you mentioned.

  10. Stephanie
    September 27, 2012 at 8:25 pm (8 years ago)

    I like shopping but I don’t do it nearly as often any more and I usually stick to things I can’t (or don’t want to) make. I really need to give pants a go again since that’s the thing I have to buy most. Mostly though, I just have more expensive tastes! *sigh* Winning lottery ticket, where are you????

  11. Cynthia Griffith
    September 27, 2012 at 8:26 pm (8 years ago)

    I was just talking to somebody about clothes shopping earlier today! I hate the fit, the construction, quality, many of the things you mentioned… and I notice things more and more as I learn more about sewing. I have specific tastes, and I will never wear certain fashions. I want to be comfortable and I know what I need to wear to look good. It’s just so hard to find it.

    I’m also not interested in sewing anything but historical clothing, so I just buy a few regular clothes I like or tolerate and try to make them last and focus on 18th and 19th century pretties. So frustrating!

    • Erin
      October 13, 2012 at 2:36 pm (8 years ago)


      Maybe this wouldn’t work for you (I’m pretty used to people thinking I’m odd), but I really prefer to sew historical clothing to modern clothing as well. My husband and I have done reenacting everywhere from Renaissance to Nouvelle-France to (early-mid) Victorian. So when I need a new modern garment to wear to work, I just make up one of my period dresses and slash the skirt pattern to just below the knee. Now, that might not help if you prefer to sew bustles, but none of my impressions use them. I find that for ladies, a skirt + basque/bodice/waist and a chemise or combination looks normal enough :)

      • Erin
        October 13, 2012 at 2:38 pm (8 years ago)

        I should note that for the most part, I also reduce the fullness of the skirt a bit, but I’m sure you could figure that out. The bodice portion is usually unchanged.

  12. LBC
    September 27, 2012 at 8:26 pm (8 years ago)

    I haven’t worked up to sewing pants yet, but if I ever wear them frequently again, I will have to make them myself. I have so many pants-related fitting issues that I effectively cannot buy them: My waist size goes with my upper body. My hips are at least a size bigger than my waist, and my thighs are at least another size bigger than that. Additionally, my thighs are very full on the inside and I have a prominent rear end. And I have a long waist, so short-rise pants cover *nothing*. Commercial pants don’t fit me, period. The only pants I can get that even almost fit are the Wrangler jeans meant for women who actually ride horses, because they have relaxed legs and high waists.

    Also, the long waist means that every singe shirt in the world is too short. Forget tucking them in or having the bust darts rest where they should. Never happens. And I have a broad upper back so they pull at the arms in the front.

    The time I spend trying to find commercial clothes that fit is far better spent sewing.

  13. Tammi
    September 27, 2012 at 8:39 pm (8 years ago)

    I’ve always hated shopping because of my fit issues. I would try on tons of things and never find anything that work. Learning to sew has fixed that.

  14. Marie
    September 27, 2012 at 9:12 pm (8 years ago)

    Finding good, well fitting clothes is truly a challenge. I have a beer budget and fine wine taste. Now I am at an age where ready made clothes are either way to young looking or fall into the “little old lady” category. (sigh) Who wants low rider, skinny jeans that are not cut for a fully formed human body.

    Thank goodness my mother taught me to sew. However, due to sewing, I know good workmanship and see very little of it in my price range.

  15. Leila
    September 27, 2012 at 9:30 pm (8 years ago)

    I try to clothes shop but I find myself thinking of making the things I try on, knowing I’ll get a better fit, even in the knits department as I have a very full bust, narrow shoulders, narrow and short back…ok. I’ll stop. There’s been discussion going around the sewing web about sewing “cake” (every day stuff) vs. sewing “frosting” (stuff you only wear once in a while and I guess costumes get lumped in here). I’m so happy to find your blog and hear someone else say they prefer making the fun and fancy variety.

    What I will do if/when I got shopping is gather ideas. I’ll take a picture of one bodice detail or a waist band but I rarely walk out with more than jewelry or shoes.

  16. Erin Bartels
    September 27, 2012 at 9:48 pm (8 years ago)

    My mother and I were JUST talking about this last week. I was complaining that something on a shirt I was trying on was off-center and she said, “You only notice that because you sew.” But I can’t UNnotice it. So I can’t wear it.

  17. Rachel
    September 27, 2012 at 10:01 pm (8 years ago)

    Very interesting post. I started shopping at thrift stores to get most of my everyday clothing needs due to the issues you have with the ethics of RTW, and once you get used to thrift store prices it’s hard to go back. However, the two big problems I had with that were finding decent knits (most of them were pretty ratty) and pants that fit. I’m almost 5′ 10″ and inseams are an enormous pain for me. I need a 33″ or 34″ inseam for the pants not to feel like tide-water pants, and they usually end up gaping terribly because there’s a big difference between my hip and waist measurement.

    I’m long-limbed and torsoed so shirts that fell to where they were supposed to, and actually be long enough in the arm, are also frustrating to find even ready made let alone at thrift stores. Every now and again I’ll go to a thrift store and grab several things and then take one or two items home. Over the years I’ve gotten used to wearing more and more skirts during my down time because of the issues I have with pants and I’m not confident enough in my sewing to make pants just yet. It forces me to take more care in my appearance and wear less knits as a side benefit.

    I’ve been building a steady collection of vintage clothing, which has been a lot of fun, and I take a lot of care in selecting which pieces to add. Sometimes slight modifications/restorations are required, but I always feel lovely in them. Then for basic tee’s I usually head over to Target every spring and fall and just buy four or five short sleeve or long sleeved shirts. I haven’t been TOO disappointed with their cuts of knits on me lately, but get annoyed at how super low-cut they are. I like being able to do my routine without worrying if I’m flashing everyone.

    I do like sewing everyday items, but with historical/vintage touches. I’d really like to delve more into the details of clothes like fabric manipulation, embroidery, etc. One day maybe I’ll venture into historical costumes, but for now I’m happy with the everyday items, and would be thrilled to hit a point where I’m making my jeans and tees and even my bras and undies.

  18. Cat
    September 27, 2012 at 11:37 pm (8 years ago)

    I agree with everyone about clothes shopping. My job however gets me a little dirty and I would die if I got framing putty on my nice clothes that I made. So I wear lots of jeans and t-shirts all year. But the quality of modern clothes is frustrating as well. I want clothes I won’t worry about getting a little dirty. Yet they should not fall apart after one wearing or washing. I have a shirt I need to add more buttons to, because there are huge gaps. This is a loose shirt, but still it pops open. I’ve had shirts that after one washing, get little wears in the fabric. The breaking point for me, was about 5 summers ago. I went looking for skirts and found some simple ones I liked at a mall chain. They were $30+ and had a tag that said they were made out of a special fabric that faded when washed for style. Really? I’m expected to pay that much for thinner fabric that is not colorfast? And the fact that they tried to sell me on their cheap quality by calling it fashion? I bought enough fabric to make 5 skirts for the price of two of theirs. After 5 years, they have NOT faded and are in better shape than half my store-bought stuff. Then being fairly skinny, it’s nice to make clothes that actually fit me and don’t sag all over. My store-bought “fitted” shirts tend to sag and hang on me. I have the height that I should wear mediums, but even the smalls sag, so one just can’t win. Yep, making clothing for the nicer stuff is so much better.

  19. Laura Mae
    September 28, 2012 at 12:20 am (8 years ago)

    Sister, you are preaching to the choir! I feel exactly the same way, and it has become so bad that the thought of anyone purchasing something that was thrown together by someone paid almost nothing that will not last a wash cycle makes me almost physically ill. When exactly did it become acceptable to trash an entire wardrobe after one season, only to start all over again the following year with the same poor quality items that will, in turn, be trashed after a few months? No wonder the landfills are overflowing.

    My fit may not always be spot on, but at least I know that I am making my clothes to last! And that I love them, and did not have to settle for something that was not quite right!

    I recently purchased two pairs of shoes, and it hit me. It has been a LONG time since I purchased any new clothing from a store (excluding unmentionables – unfortunately I have not had the courage as of yet to tackle undergarments).

    But every once in a while, purchasing a t-shirt is a necessity, because, like you, I would so much rather spend my sewing hours creating a gown!

  20. Rosie
    September 28, 2012 at 12:51 am (8 years ago)

    This is my experience exactly! I can no longer successfully buy clothes. This is because I either know I can make the things I see myself, or if something is particularly spectacular, I know people will ask me whether I made it and I don’t want to answer “no I bought it in Topshop!” I can now only buy complicated lacey clothes or knitted jumpers as I can’t create these!

  21. Matilda
    September 28, 2012 at 1:18 am (8 years ago)

    These are precisely the reasons why I’m aiming to sew more of my own clothes!

    I rarely buy new things at all, mostly because I’m never happy with the sizing and fit of most ready-to-wear clothes, but also because I have a hard time finding things that I really like. My current wardrobe consists mostly of things I’ve had for ages and ages, mixed with vintage and a few things I’ve made for myself – I started sewing pretty recently so I’m still building the hand-made part of my wardrobe.

    Ideally I wouldn’t buy anything new from chain stores (I agree with you on the pricing vs. wages of the people sewing the clothes issue) but that’s sort of a goal for the future, when I can afford to spend a little extra on beautiful hand made things, preferably supporting small businesses while doing so!

  22. LadyD
    September 28, 2012 at 1:22 am (8 years ago)

    I have similar issues I’ve blogged about recently. I just don’t go shopping like I used to because nothing lives up to standards. I have trouble with ‘fit’ being an hourglass when RTW fashion seems to be made for a rectangle with no bust. I have no option but to by items made from stretchy fabric.
    I haven’t bought a pair of trousers in a long time. And I haven’t got the skills to make them. I’ve never found a pair that fitted. Mainly coz I’m short in the leg and one size in hips and a smaller size in waist. Only pairs I’ve found close to fitting are ‘high waisted’ vintage style.
    I will also disregard items on sight by fabric content. Also when I see something that’s essentially a vest made from cheap fabric and overlocked being sold for £35!?! I can’t help exclaiming outloud “that’s a rip off’. lol!

  23. Emma
    September 28, 2012 at 2:56 am (8 years ago)

    The only item of clothing that I still buy (stockings aside) is plain cotton jersey vests (i.e. tank tops/camisoles), because I can get them in organic cotton cheaper than I could get a yard of non-organic cotton, even if I don’t take thread and needles or work into account.

    Everything else, I have taken to making, for cost, fit, quality, and fabric content. Since I don’t do synthetics, the women’s clothing department is entirely off limits. It’s ridiculous. When I shop basics with my husband (underwear, long underwear, vests, T-shirts, socks) I notice that for him we can always find 100% cotton or cotton-wool. If you walk over to the women’s part of the same shop there are synthetics blended into everything. Why must there be 2% lycra in a T-shirt when cotton jersey would also be form-fitting?

    • PepperReed
      September 28, 2012 at 5:11 pm (8 years ago)

      Ditto!! on the lack of natural fabrics. I am SO tired of polyester! If I wanted to wear a plastic bag, I would! Thank heavens for thrift stores… buying cotton, linen, silk and wool takes searching, but it’s there and usually well made from a good designer.

  24. beate
    September 28, 2012 at 3:02 am (8 years ago)

    since yeeeaaars i´m only wearing self sewn or vintage clothes.
    the look is mostly 40´/50´s, with exceptions up and down the timescale. the only things i buy in regular shops are hosery, underwear, shoes & accessoires. BUT – i never wear jeans and t-shirts only as pajamas. the staring i can ignore, sometimes my husband and i making fun about.
    and i´m an aktiv person, i ride my bike, go hiking, skiing and kajaking without all this stuff made of polyacryl. i just do it like my grandma when she was young – with style ;-)

  25. Casey
    September 28, 2012 at 3:14 am (8 years ago)

    I have found, over the years, that being keenly aware of my measurements for sewing purposes has altered my shopping habits a lot. I’m more aware of the fit of something, and even take a tape measure with me to figure out if something will fit or not before I go into the dressing room (because I know how much ease I prefer). It’s something most people don’t understand, and I think contributes to a lot of the frustration women have with shopping and sizing because they don’t know what their precise bust/waist/hip measures are and how to look for garments that will fit and flatter.

    But honestly, the number of times I have bought something off the rack–new–in the past few years? I think I can count those times on less than two hands (and we’re including boring stuff like jeans and tshirts). :p I find shopping for new clothes rather depressing because of the fit and shoddy materials/construction. More often than not I go into a store looking for something and end up walking right back out five minutes later. I have much better luck (and variety!) at thrift stores. I’d rather take my chances there and end up with something that is better quality overall, for a more wallet friendly price. ;) (And helping a local charity rather than a manufacturer!)

    • Eileen
      September 28, 2012 at 5:22 am (8 years ago)

      Amen Casey!

  26. Eileen
    September 28, 2012 at 5:21 am (8 years ago)

    I am with you 100%. Like you, I’ve received coupons in the mail, headed to the shopping center, tried on oodles of discounted clothes, only to put them all back and leave frustrated. I do about 99% of my “practical” clothes shopping at the thrift stores and leave there with a clear conscience and usually cuter stuff than I could find at the big box stores anyway. I enjoy looking different and don’t care about trends so I say “stuff it” to the clothes at the mall. I’m trying to instill this into my kids as well and they love “treasure hunting” with me.

    I sew mostly “fun” clothes for myself and vintage styles of course. I also knit and love to make vintage sweaters though I’ve had good luck with finding everyday sweaters with natural fibers at the thrift.

  27. Heather Lou
    September 28, 2012 at 5:38 am (8 years ago)

    I get grossed out being in clothing stores now – all the fabric feels flammable and disgusting. I’m sewing pretty much everything now: party dresses, jeans, tshirts, underwear, the lot. I just can’t tolerate being in those churches to disposable labour and resources.

  28. Lauren
    September 28, 2012 at 7:25 am (8 years ago)

    I agree with everything you said. Clothes shopping is pretty difficult once you approach it from a seamstresses point-of-view – the fit, the quality, the construction; I can’t find anything suitable that actually fits in my budget. I’m at the point now where I don’t even buy new clothing – and I haven’t done so in years. I think about it from an ethical standpoint & it just breaks my heart… I don’t want to be part of that industry. So I’m restricted to vintage, thrifting, and handmade (I do make a lot of my every day clothing; I have plenty of time to do so ;) ). I think you hit the nail on the head here.

  29. Heide at Apron History
    September 28, 2012 at 8:56 am (8 years ago)

    Yes, sewing has ruined shopping for me too. Though there is a few stores that I do like and have learned to just stick with. Mostly, for me, it is color. I am always thinking if only it was this color or that it would fit into my wardrobe……. Or I go to the store determined to find a garment basic in a certain color or style and always give up in frustration becasue it is never there!

  30. Nina Suluh
    September 28, 2012 at 1:34 pm (8 years ago)

    Sing it sister. I swear I live in a couple of jean skirts & some quirky tshirts most days because I can’t stand shopping. Most of my clothing is getting a trifle wooooooorn now, so it’s time I stop sewing for my kids and start sewing for me. ;-)

    You have enumerated exactly why I hate hate hate shopping with the fire of 10,000,000 suns. I’ll add to that the fact that I’m under-tall due to growth hormone deficiency as a kid and so while I’ve got the curves of an 8/10/12 (depending on the size chart!) I’m baaaaarely 5’2″ tall. I have to wear capris as ankle length pants. Or chop 8″ or so off most RTW pants. REALLY? Are people all *that* tall? And why why why when you go up a size in width the length adjusts exponentially as well? Are all size 2s 5′ tall? Are all size 12s 6 feet tall?

    • Lauren
      September 29, 2012 at 2:58 pm (8 years ago)

      I totally understand. My daily clothing tends to get a bit worn and ratty, too. I have to make a concious effort to not just grab the same t shirt if I’m going somewhere if I have to look “presentable” lol!

      Yes, some of the grading is quite strange. While the length does need to change, by the way some patterns are graded you’d think that the larger sizes are also giants!

      • Lauren
        September 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm (8 years ago)

        P.S.- I have the opposite problem with pants! They’re usually at least an inch too short for me. When the fashion of wearing higher heels with jeans was in I was a happy camper because I could actually find pants that fit in length! LOL!

  31. LisaSD
    September 28, 2012 at 2:00 pm (8 years ago)

    I am NOT a seamstress and am so envious of those of you who are! Mrs. Tang in 7th grade made sure to make me HATE sewing! “Rip it out, Rip it out!” That’s all she ever said. I don’t know how I was supposed to learn how to sew with 15 minutes allotted to using the machine every day (5 mins to setup, 5 to sew, 5 to tear it all down). So, I doubt that MAKING my own clothes is an option. But, I have to say that the clothes manufacturers today just don’t have a clue. I used to like to buy Liz Claiborne’s clothes in the 80’s and early 90’s because they would have extra button on the sleeves, extra details around pockets, sleeves and shoulders, a darted front (PERIOD!) on the blouse which helped prevent “gap-e-osis” that I always have on shirts today and the fabric was sturdy and solid. They ALSO used to use similar colors from season to season so you could add to your previous season’s wardrobe. The clothes I can find today that fit are junk and threads come loose after just one washing! (Now repairs, I AM good at! ha!)

    Yeah, it’s a sorry state of affairs and you all should count your blessings that you can make yourself something that you are proud to wear!


    • Lauren
      September 29, 2012 at 2:56 pm (8 years ago)

      I agree- production quality has gone way down. It’s funny, when thrifting I actually compare the quality of things made in the 1980s and 1990s to today and it’s far superior, and often includes such details as you mention.

      How horrid that your experience with learning to sew was so awful! I’m sorry she burned you on sewing. Hopefully, someday, if you want to, you can find a new patient teacher who will help you learn. It really is fun if you have a helpful and fun instructor! :)

  32. Mari
    September 28, 2012 at 4:27 pm (8 years ago)

    I think you’re spot on! Whenever I pass a clothing store it just doesn’t feel worth it. And taking into account how the stitchers were treated is important. I sometimes wonder the same about how all my fabric was made.

    • Lauren
      September 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm (8 years ago)

      That is a good point about the fabric. I often think the same thing, too. I know fabric factories since the industrial revolution have been notorious for conditions, just like the sewing factories. I’d be really interested to learn more about how things are in the fabric factories.
      One way I usually shop for fabric is either from Jobbers that buy the fabric from the original company that either bought it or had it made (kind of like a middle man), or thrift it or find it at estate sales. But I can’t say I don’t buy fabric new from stores, because I certainly do.

  33. Jane
    September 28, 2012 at 7:07 pm (8 years ago)

    Fantastic post. I actually can’t add much more because you have 100% hit the nail on the head for me! Every single point you raise is how I feel too. If the fit isn’t an issue, the quality is and I am becoming more and more concerned about the cost (the pitiful amount people get paid across the process of production). I am a serious sewer too and have developed rules when purchasing clothes… I try to buy second hand or vintage where I can and only buy new clothes when it is something I cannot make, could not possibly find the same awesome fabric, or the cost to make is prohibitive. Oh and the ease on modern patterns is a joke! xo

    • Lauren
      September 29, 2012 at 2:52 pm (8 years ago)

      I agree! Especially with modern patterns. I usually cut a size smaller starting out, but even then, compared with vintage patterns, I find the fit pretty horrid. I guess I’ve been spoiled by the nice vintage cuts!

  34. Charlotte
    September 29, 2012 at 3:25 am (8 years ago)

    Most of my modern clothing comes from charity shops, although I’ve found that a lot of the clothes in regular rotation tend to be the dresses I’ve made myself (both because of the fit and just because I love them). I occasionally buy modern clothing from ebay, but what frustrates me the most is one problem you identified, of knowing what size to order, since even the ‘stated size’ on their size charts is usually off. My lovely sailor sweater (bought on ebay after consulting the brand’s size chart), for example, is actually somewhat too big – especially as I prefer my sweaters a little snug. If I’m trying on clothes in a shop I’ll usually take at least two – sometimes three – consecutive sizes into the changing room with me, as there’s no telling what will actually fit best (if any!). I have no idea what my ‘official’ size is, I just know my measurements, and I wish stores would publish the measurements each size is designed for on the labels (they used to – a lot of the old Marks & Spencer clothing that I’ve had states on the label size 12 – to fit bust 34″ hips 36″) – and then actually STICK to it instead of straying off into “vanity measurements” (it gets beyond even vanity sizing at that point!).

    Anyway, I’m rambling – suffice to say this is a definite issue of contention.

    xx Charlotte
    Tuppence Ha’penny Vintage

    • Lauren
      September 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm (8 years ago)

      Wouldn’t that be lovely if they acutally put measurements on the tags? Or put a size chart in their store? But with different styles even within the same company being outsourced to different factories in different countries, they probably would rather not have that sort of thing posted- beause it would make production so difficult and they just wouldn’t be able to live up to their own standards because of outsourcing and communications with factories.

  35. Lizzie
    September 29, 2012 at 11:00 am (8 years ago)

    Lauren, I greatly admire your comments on the ethics of the sewing industry and how workers are underpaid. You should never feel like you have to apologize for standing up for the human rights of others.

    I rarely buy anything new for the reasons you pointed out. The big killer for me is the drop in quality over the years.

    • Lauren
      September 29, 2012 at 2:45 pm (8 years ago)

      Thank you, Lizzie. I always enjoy the posts you do on this subject, too. Having worked as a seamstress both for custom work and for other people, in what I think are decent conditions, I am amazed at what people think is a decent living wage- not only in this country, but in other countries. I’m constantly surprised we get really riled up here about sweatshop labour, but we tend to turn a blind eye as a country to the working conditions of some of the other countries’ garment industries. It’s a complete double standard and is amazing that we’re willing to ignore it in favour of cheap disposable goods.

  36. starz
    September 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm (8 years ago)

    I so know what you mean.I always thought I was plain and unfeminine but when I started sewing and then got good enough to redraft my patterns I found out I have a high waist,long limbs,narrow shoulders and a small waist to hip ratio with a flat butt.I can not buy jeans as if the waist fits they sag into pleats all down the hips.If I buy mens jeans those measurements fit but I don’t *ahem* ‘fill them at the front’…Once I built some vintage pants I found out why.Even mid rise jeans are trying to put my waist measurement halfway down my hip!
    Then there is the quality issue.I now grumble when things aren’t lined or don’t have proper seam finishes.
    Back to the sewing machine I guess.

    • Lauren
      September 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm (8 years ago)

      Wow- your fit concerns sound a lot like mine! When I was a teenager I thought it meant that I was unfeminine and undesirable that I didn’t fit into the clothing of other girls in my age range, which gave me a horrible self image. Thank goodness for sewing, and seeing so many different body types- it really helped me gain confidence- even if shopping for ready made is still so difficult!

  37. Lauren
    September 29, 2012 at 2:43 pm (8 years ago)

    Whoops! I think I may have accidentally deleted a comment as spam! I’m so sorry! If you left a comment on Saturday and it’s not here, will you please re-send? I was too quick on the trigger with the spam folder :( Apologies!

  38. Melanie
    October 1, 2012 at 7:51 pm (8 years ago)

    I have to agree about the modern shape. I work in clothing retail, so I of course want to purchase things sold there so I can talk to customers about the pieces. The fit is almost always an issue with nearly every body type. And the clothes are made so cheaply many times pieces are damaged out before even being sold. The clearance prices sucker me in many times, but I have recently put myself on a buying ban after having pieces need mending after only a wash or two. The owner of my favorite fabric shop turned me on to this book, which has really cemented my drive to make most of my wardrobe myself.

    Also, what pattern did you use for the blouse in the Smooth Sailing picture here? I’ve been hunting high and low for one like it!

  39. Wendy
    October 2, 2012 at 7:07 pm (8 years ago)

    Wow! I could go on at least as long as you have, about nearly the same issues. For me, three things have ruined clothes shopping for me. 1. Sewing experience. My mother made me darling little outfits when I was young. I made 2 of my prom dresses, and had my wedding gown made. I love good fabric. (But will wear simulated diamonds, which are structurally the same as natural diamonds.) 2. I watch classic movies (TCM) every day. My mother once, when watching with me, suddenly stated: “I know why you love these old movies. It’s all about the clothes! As I type this, I am admiring Deborah Kerr’s wardrobe in “An Affair to Remember.” If you care about clothes at all, you can’t miss the impeccable fit, style and color/fabric choices in the beautifully-designed custom-made outfits of Old Hollywood movies. Don’t even get me started. 3. I have a difficult figure. I am extremely full-bosomed, very little narrowing in at the waist, long-waisted and smallish hips. And a little on the tall side. I never know when I enter a store if I can wear the upper end of the average sizes or if I need to seek out the “plus” department.

    And then, if you want a statement of fitting standards, all you have to do is go to any public place and people-watch. No longer is it standard practice to have a seamstress or tailor onsite where clothing is being sold. Men can have their suits tailored, but what about women? Aren’t our bodies more complicated? And how many men rely exclusively on suits on a day-to-day basis? (Wouldn’t that be lovely, though?)
    Every time I stand in line at the grocery store, I find myself wanting to do wardrobe (and hair) makeovers on the people around me. I wonder how often someone is doing that for me? (Notice I said “for” me and not “to” me! HaHa.)
    When I have time, I will come back and read what other readers have commented. This could take a while!

  40. Norma
    October 3, 2012 at 1:26 pm (8 years ago)

    I had a similarly fruitless shopping excursion this past weekend. Even when I found pieces that actually fit, the fabrics and construction were so disappointing that I left the store empty handed, determined to never return. As a custom bra maker I was previously only committed to making all my own lingerie but now I am committed to making pretty much all my own clothing. I just cut out a tailored jacket earlier this week!

  41. Oddlyme
    October 8, 2012 at 1:38 pm (8 years ago)

    It is so freeing and helpful to hear you talk about fit. I am a short person who is also long waisted and as a kid and teen, I thought something was truly wrong with me as nothing from the department stores fit me well. I looked awkward and I felt awkward.

    Thrifting was incredible as, I could find dresses from when people were, well, a tad shorter and they fit me better, proportionately. Plus now, thrifting is great fun as I can mix and match and try new things and if it doesn’t work, no big loss, the money goes to charity. Plus over the years I have a found a few steady brands that tend to fit me, so I watch for their sales and then dive in.

    It’s awfully nice to know I am not alone!

  42. Toile La La
    October 10, 2012 at 12:12 pm (8 years ago)

    Most mass-produced clothing does not meet the standards of the experienced home sew-ist or tailor. I think this is because the apparel industry emphasizes quantity over quality, whereas a person sewing for his/her self hopes to construct a long-lasting garment of expert quality.

    I love your Sailor-inspired patterns – and your fashion commentary. You’ve just the sort of fashion-writing I’m interested in reading. I would enjoy your commentary at my blog.