Tag Archives: retail clothing


12 May

This afternoon I accompanied my gentleman companion to a men’s clothier to buy some shirts. Retail clothes shopping for men is an entirely different proposition than for women.  Observing the process was an eye-opener for me.

The salesmen, for starters, all carry measuring tapes about their necks. “Here, let me measure you first,” they offered each man, to make sure the selection he had made would fit him before he even approached the dressing room. In this world, it was clear, numbers matter. This clothing follows the numbers.

The first measurement they took was the neck circumference. “We can tailor the body of the shirt to fit,” one salesman said, “But if the neck doesn’t fit, there’s little you can do about it.”

Then they measure  the arm: from center spine at the base of the neck, to the point of the shoulder, to the elbow, and down to the break of the wrist, for the full arm measurement. And then, armed with these two  numbers, a man can then approach the selection of shirts with a focused search, knowing exactly what section is built for his body.

I also learned about the variations in the slight line of the shirt collars, to distinguish styles: a spread collar, to balance a long, lean face–a moderate spread, or a pointed line to balance a wider face. The shirts, to me, all look identical in shape to begin with, but once you tune in to these subtle differences, a whole new world of style opens up–subtle lines and angles to distinguish and complement the angles of the face and body.

And I watched the way men try on clothes, for fit. “Come sit down over here,” one salesman gestured to a bench, so that he could inspect the way his client’s pants lifted when the leg bent to sit.

They also offer an on-site tailoring service. If you’re  slim and the shirt you like doesn’t come in slim fit, any of the choices with the right neck size and arm length can be tailored, right there, for $15. (I asked. I also asked if they did women’s garments. “We do,” said the salesmen reluctantly, “But we don’t really like to.”)

And then, to another client, I heard a salesman say about some small tweak, “Let me take it in the back to our tailor, and we’ll have it out at the register in a few minutes, if you can wait.”

I admit, I was jealous. Imagine, for one moment, a similar setup for women’s clothing. Salespeople armed with tape measures, and a directed, two-point measurement scale that helps you find the size that’s best for your body. Hanging a garment from one’s neck and shoulders, and tailoring the rest to fit once the top is properly in place. A standardized sizing system, with everything sorted appropriately. And most of all, a dressing room etiquette that’s focused on finding the garment that fits properly, that skims your body in all the right places and hangs to all the right levels without wrinkling, and with that on-staff tailor who will take in the extra fabric and lift the hemline, in some cases before you even pay for your purchase.

Instead we are left to struggle with armloads of choices with few returns. Salespeople in women’s stores will bring you another size, from the other side of the door, but when you step out in front of the three-way mirror they would never helpfully point out the way it wrinkles wrong in the back, and bring out the tailor to adjust it. If the rise is too low or the shoulders too sloped, there’s no size just one inch up or down to reach for, no subtle variation on the same style–instead you’re left to wander the sales floor, alone, to find some other thing that might do as a replacement, some style that might draw the eye differently or where the fabric disguises the way the garment doesn’t quite fit.

If there’s one thing this project has shown me, it’s that years of buying clothing off-the-rack has left me without a scale for proper fit, and that even making my own clothing, I’m often shooting in the dark. Left without a clear set of standards–where and how  to measure length, circumference, rise and inseam, even though I try to tailor my own garments, I end up with lopsided results.

Today, I wish I had my own in-house tailor, at $15 an item.

In the month of May…

6 May

…nearly six months after resolving to refrain from buying clothing, and live on only what I could make for myself, I broke my resolution. Yes, dear readers, I did it: I bought retail clothing.  But as I said last December, “breaking rules is part of fashion, too, and it will be interesting to find those lines along which my personal ambitions crumble.”
And it is an interesting line, indeed. It turns out that my sewing “kryptonite” is none other but the classic black dress. I bought two, to wear for specific events coming up on my schedule. Yes, I could have made my own black dress. For one of them, I even made it as far as buying a pattern, working through all the elements of the dress that I wanted, and committing to one specific design. I bought the pattern…and there the project languished. I could not muster up any enthusiasm to go to the fabric store, just to look for the right length of black cloth. I hemmed and hawed and procrastinated, until I realized that even if I found the fabric, I no longer have enough time to complete the project before the intended event.

The fabric store, you see, was my final obstacle to the process. Fabric stores, to me, are seductive places of whim and fancy and imagination: “What could this become?” The lure of textures and patterns that I haven’t discovered, before. This fabric has shine–and look, that one is nubby, and who would have ever thought, of putting these two colors together in this way?  Black, for all its virtues, has no lure of the undiscovered. Black is wonderful, in many, many respects, but as a crafting project, I do not find it tantalizing. The idea of sewing black fabric to more black fabric made me…not want to sew, at all. Add to that the problem that my selected design came fully lined, as well–so then I would embark on sewing the thing (the outside) and then repeating the whole thing another time (for the inside), and stitching the two together. Two miles of stitches, and all in black, and the task seemed sheer duty rather than pleasure, and I just could not bear to do it.

Painting: “She Wore Black” by Loui Jover.

So I bought up two little black dresses–one very basic, that I surely could have made myself, but in a dutiful fabric that would never call to me from the bolt, and one with many details (pointed collar, button plackets, turned-up cuffs) that I love to work on, but would never find patience to complete, in a black-on-black version.

So there you have it: I am a great lover of black dresses, I find them a very useful uniform in my daily life, but I simply cannot bear to sew them, myself.  And having purchased two (surely enough to get me through the hardest times) I went for a celebratory jaunt to my favorite local fabric store, where I bought yards of bright red cherry-blossom print, and Ikat, and 1960’s modernist print, and a lovely layered and textured piece in a deep rose-brown. In short, anything and everything but solid black!   And then I started stitching again, duty banished, and immersed in the joy of the craft, once more.

Chintz is in?!

15 Feb

I never thought I’d say that, much less with such delight.

One of my favorite online retailers, Shabby Apple, has presented a “Mad Hatter, vintage-inspired collection.”

And they’ve named the pieces after lines from the  poem Jabberwocky.

My favorite choices are the dresses “Frabjous Day”  and “Calloo Callay!”

The real joy is that these are all fairly simple patterns, and can be easily reinterpreted in a more quiet printed fabric, for those of us tempted , but not yet entirely convinced, by the return of vivid floral chintz prints.

Inspiration: Alabama Chanin

10 Feb

Every once in a while I’ll see a photo of some hand-stitched, hand dyed garment with a motif of floral cutouts, or an interesting texture created with a simple stitch, and I catch my breath and follow the links….

…and find Alabama Chanin.
I love the textures and the layers, and the way the raw handstitching is so often used in garments that end up being so much more elegant than a sum of their parts.  Of course, their items are also way out of my budget, so I will look, and learn, and as I’m thinking about ways to create, and ways to refashion things into new iterations, I will remember the way rough stitches look next to an unfinished raw edge of fabric, and can still be perfectly glamorous.

Retail Temptation

1 Feb

If it wasn’t for this project, I would have bought this bird dress, by FluffyCo:

I’m a little grateful to find it’s sold out, online, because now removed from the opportunity, that’s one temptation removed. So, the question is can I qualify what I like about this, if I want to try to incorporate those features into a future handmade project?

I think the main point is how the lovely dark “asphalt” color covered with screenprint bird design reads as an all-over pattern, like a herringbone weave, but is still large enough and dramatic enough to flicker back and forth at the edge of perception, causing a visual surprise that delights my eye: “It’s tweed!” “No, it’s birds!” “No, it’s tweed!” “Nope, birds.”

Totally fun! What a great design.

Fun Fashion Accessories

31 Jan

Here’s something I’ve never thought of wearing before: Spats!

These are from Lux Legs, and I know they’re a little “out there”. But in my opinion, there’s a lot to like. The whole idea of spats is retro and/or steampunk, but I think some of these choices transcend that costume character and could be worn as a fun fashion element away from the theme park or con. I also like the way they change the silhouette of a shoe, and give the impression of ankle, calf, or knee-high boots, but without the investment or commitment of boots.  I wonder if spats wouldn’t be a fun sewing project, to play with this line and shape on legwear.

The strike of temptation

23 Dec

I didn’t mean to shop…really. I was running errands: mailing letters, dropping off boots at the cobbler to be re-heeled (see? very thrifty!).
But that fashion retailer–it was standing in my way, with all it’s big “50% off!” signs screaming at me.  So I went inside.  And surprise, I fell promptly in love. Fortunately, the item I wanted most was not available in my size…oh, the salvation!  So perhaps I got off easy, this time.

It was this plaid wool cape jacket, at right.  Really, I have a perfectly serviceable winter coat and I don’t need another jacket, even though none of mine swish and swirl at the elbows just like this one does. It’s very, very “Peggy” from Mad Men. [Fourth season, of course, I should note: when Peggy is at her self-actualized, saucy best.] At any rate, the more I looked, the more I realized that “Yes, I could make this, and perhaps I could make it better!”  Well, not objectively better, perhaps…the workmanship was fine enough. But perhaps, one I make might be a better garment, for me. And in truth, this fabric, while fun (yellow and turquoise!) would be difficult to coordinate with other pieces from my closet. To wear it, I’d have to dress for the jacket.  And even at 50% off the “already low sale prices”, I could still buy a nice fabric for the same cost…it would take, perhaps, 3 yards, at most? Plus lining fabric and buttons…it would be worth  a little more, perhaps, to have a cape jacket with a sash belt that also could be worn with most anything else I wear.

So I took photos in the dressing room, made notes of seams and lengths and designs, and now I will add a “Cape Jacket” to the ever-growing list of things I would like to make for myself, as part of this project.

I think the key to this one is that unlike many cape patterns I see, here the “cape” part is only the sleeves, which are built on a vest-like bodice, so the jacket fits close to the body at the centers, rather than wrapping you entirely in a shapeless cape form. It’s a double-breasted vest, with both front and back broken by a vertical seam, into which the bat-wing semi-circular cape part is added.  I can do that!

I am going to have to be careful, however, or my wish-list of sewing projects is going to quickly outgrow all of the time I have to devote to this hobby.