As we all sat in our homes filled with factory made goods admiring the Oscar fashion show this past week, it was inspiring to think those glorious gowns were in fact one of the last examples of a custom, handmade product being made by some of the most talented craftsmen still working in America.
Fashioned from the finest silks, satins and tulle and worn on bodies honed by private Pilates classes, green juices and spa treatments, we might assume that’s what only big money can do for you. But it’s the fact that these dresses are literally built around the Hollywood elite that makes the difference. Details matter: Like the hand-sewn hidden stitch that helps to keep a seam clean and invisible, or tailoring to flatter a long neck or shade a thick waist.
In these days of mass market fashion designed to fit a wide variety of shapes and sizes in just a small, medium and large, the art of tailoring the perfect fit is very much a lost one. And yet I’m prepared to bet your favorite items in your wardrobe, the ones you reach for most often, are the ones that fit you best.
Beyond taking in a side seam and properly fitting an armhole, learning simple tailoring techniques such as chopping off a hem or cutting the arms off an old trench can breathe new life into your wardrobe and help you to get on trend with just a rip of a seam. Not to mention that with all our efforts to turn the industry toward using sustainability, recycling your old clothes is probably your best bet if you truly want to green your wardrobe and look great.
Take a page out of Kate Middleton’s book. The princess-to-be appeared at her first royal walk-about last week in a recycled herringbone coat that had been shortened to show off her legs, proving there is nothing downmarket about a little fashion reconstruction.
Many people say vintage and thrift shopping is not for them and understandably squirm at the idea of taking out the scissors and creating something new from their old clothes.
I’m a dab hand with a needle and thread and yet I wouldn’t go near transforming the neckline of a bias cut dress from the 1930’s made from delicate wool crepe by myself. Trying to change necklines and armholes is best left to a professional until you gain more proficiency, or maybe just some courage. For that I turned to talented tailor-in-residence Holly Samuelsen from Gravel and Gold in San Francisco. Samuelsen is a “reconstructive therapist” for vintage lovers and bike messengers in the Mission district of San Francisco.
Going to a good tailor to have your clothes pinned and have the lines smoothed out to fit the body? You can expect to pay about $45 an hour. According to Samuelsen, the key to do-it-yourself-tailoring is “Don’t be afraid.” Simple things like taking in side seams and hems to gain a better personal fit are things you can attempt yourself. Adding ribbons and appliqués are fun projects and would cost a lot to have a professional do, so try some of these alterations yourself.
Once you gain an understanding of what you can do and what your tailor is able to do, your thrift exploration is widened. As Samuelsen says, “When I’m in a thrift store, I’m shopping for material.” Next time you see that eye-catching jacket from the 80’s with a bang-on, trendy tribal print that looks just like the ones you just saw on Proenza Schouler’s recent runway, realize that for $5, a little slimming of the width by taking in the side seams and a visit to your tailor to reshape those crazy wide shoulders – you’ll have a fresh jacket just like that.