Tag Archives: fit

It’s Not You, It’s Them – Fit and Modern Clothing

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

Modern button down shirts are the worst - why is it so hard to put the buttons in the right place?

Modern button down shirts are the worst – why is it so hard to put the buttons in the right place?

One of the things I notice when I talk about clothing with other people is that people are quick to point out their “faults” – and by “faults” I mean differences in their body that tend to not conform to the modern clothing standards we encounter when we go to the mall to buy clothing. If we are all different, then how is that being translated into “fault?”

I could turn this into a rant about the media, fashion designers, body perception, the modern standard for beauty, etc. but I’m not going to waste my breath. I’m one of those crazy people who doesn’t watch TV anymore and, as I have slowly withdrawn myself from the clutches of the mall (not entirely, but significantly) and increasingly embraced vintage and custom clothing, I am less and less bothered by all of my personal clothing fit “faults” because they don’t exist anymore in my mind. I have almost eliminated the problem (underwear, you’re next) and I have, at the same time, changed my perception of my own body and learned to spend my resources on clothing that fits and is flattering, rather than trying to “make do” with something off the rack.

I’d like to share some thoughts on this topic, which is how I came to an understanding with my body about how, where, and why we buy clothing that makes us feel the best about ourselves:

ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL

That clothing is, sometimes, labeled “one size fits all” is absurd – to think that we are all just clones of each other running around wearing all the same size everything is the product of people pandering to the masses, to the people they think will buy the clothing, which is to say not the “average” size, but rather their ideal of the average size. This bothers me particularly with hats, something that should be indisputably a certain circumference so that it stays on your head.

Even where there are sizes, with modern sizing, there are no standard sizes – this is why you may wear an 8 in one store’s pants and a 12 in another store. My husband has the same issue, even though men’s sizing is supposedly based on a man’s actual measurements.

Within whatever arbitrary sizing scheme some manufacturer has procured, there is just no way to take into account all the variances in body proportions within the human population. Think about all the ways that you can measure your body – the circumference of your bust, waist, hip, thigh, upper arm, wrist, neck, head, and ribcage; the length of your arm (depending on sleeve length, to elbow, bracelet, wrist), leg (inseam, outseam, from waist over your bum to the floor, waist in front to floor), and foot (length and width at several points); and my personal favorite, the measurement that runs from the center/front of your waist, down and between your legs, running to the center of your back at your waist. And there are more. We are all so subtly and not-so-subtly different that the only way to really find clothing that fits is to have it made for you.

one-size-fits-all

Every visit to the mall to buy clothing is a crapshoot – nothing is made for anyone except the fit models the clothing companies use to make their clothing, so unless you are within that sizing range or are wearing a sack (which is what a lot of modern clothing has defaulted to – loose shapes and copious use of elastic only previously seen in the “senior” clothing sections of department stores) it may not work out or fit you in just the right way. This is not your fault, this is beyond your control, and has nothing to do with any part of you being wrong in any conceivable way.

I find that it’s easier, in some ways, to buy vintage clothing – there aren’t racks of different sizes, there’s one size. If the measurements don’t fall within a few inches of mine, then it wasn’t meant to be and I move on.

ONE SHAPE DOES NOT FIT ALL

In high school, I remember reading articles in Seventeen magazine about dressing for your body shape. To a certain extent it was helpful, but it tended to focus on one body feature (big or small bust, big or small hips, height, etc.) What if I have 3 of the body features and the recommendations contradict each other? Into the trash it went, and then I felt like poop about myself.

It took a lot of trial and error, but I have come to the conclusion that no shape should be ruled out; however, there are certain shapes that are more flattering to your particular shape and you must go find them, you can’t rely on a magazine to do this for you. Suggestions about where to begin are nice, but you have to try on the pieces and, even when it looks like it might be a good fit for your shape on the rack, those size ratios could be working against you – is the waist too big/small, but it fits everywhere else? Is the garment supposed to fit that way? Can you have it tailored? These are all questions I ask myself when trying on clothing. If it’s not right or it doesn’t look like it can be altered, back it goes.

One shape that tends to be my arch nemesis in modern clothing is the pencil skirt. I can fit into 1950’s pencil skirts all day, but I have yet to try on a modern pencil skirt that didn’t look like a wiggle skirt on me, seriously inhibiting movement, even when going up in size. It should look like a pencil on my body, not on the rack…but I digress.

SPANDEX IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR TAILORING

With the advent of stretch fabrics, you think we’d be able to find super comfy, flattering, form-fitting clothing even easier. It can be an illusion, unless the cut of the garment is just right for your body or it’s tailored well (which is rare with stretch fabrics). This does not often occur for me because my measurements ratio rarely conforms with the garment, leaving at least one portion of the garment too…stretched. So I must buy the larger size and have it tailored, even though there is “stretch.” I think of the stretchiness as a consideration for movement, not for fit. Clothing manufacturers use stretch fabric as a crutch and consistently serve up poorly made, ill-fitting garments.

220px-Parts_of_a_plain_seam

SEAM ALLOWANCES

This is where modern clothing really does us a disservice, with its surged seams. Many older garments have more fabric on the inside of the seams, so if you just needed an extra 1/2 inch to make that pencil skirt fit, you could get that from the fabric on the inside of the seam. We must now adhere to the “buy it bigger and tailor it to be smaller” mantra (bridesmaid dresses, anyone?), which is generally fine, but sometimes we might gain a little weight in our late 20’s and a 1/2 inch would be the difference between keeping that dress and a tearful goodbye…

IT’S THEM. Cost cutting, down to the last 1/2 inch of seam.

TAILOR YOUR CLOTHING

Or have it made for you. Or make it yourself. Regardless, there are ways to make a garment fit your body and it involves a needle and thread. If you really love a particular garment, but it’s just not fitting you right…maybe you stand in front of the mirror in the dressing room and pinch it in the back to see how it should ideally fit. You can translate that pinch into a permanent fit adjustment by taking it to a tailor. If I know a dress has to be tailored to fit, I will factor that cost into my cost assessment of whether or not to purchase a garment.

I have revived sad garments from the closet, things that just never quite looked right, by bringing them to a tailor. The best part is that it’s usually a simple fix. Then you have clothing that fits you, flatters you, and you have worked within the confines of the fashion dictators who have decreed the standard sizing – you have defeated the sizing by making it your own!

IN CLOSING

I’m going to close with an observation I made during the numerous clothing swaps we’ve had amongst the female dancers in the Raleigh-Durham area. After the shopping bags have been dumped out all over the furniture and the floor and we all begin to dig in and try on clothing, I noticed several things:

1) We are all very different – height, weight, measurement ratios, body types, etc.

2) Some garments that came from someone you thought you’d never be able to share clothing with, for whatever reason, actually fit you well

3) Some garments fit everyone (but didn’t look great on everyone)

4) Some garments weren’t flattering on anyone

Noticing these things and talking about them was reassuring, that we had all come to blows with our clothing at some point, all had garments we loved that were just never quite right, and this was our chance to let go, have a glass of wine, and share in an experience of renewal through shedding our old clothing and adopting something new. At the end of the swap we’d all walk out with a least a few items of clothing and the feeling that we were empowered by the experience – I left with free clothing from my sisters-in-dance and a feeling that we were all different in good ways, ways that weren’t dictated by the shape of our clothing.

Being Well Vested: Chat with Dancing Clothier David Lochner

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

Vests don't have to be formal - see how great this tweedy vest looks with denim.

Unless you’ve been dancing under a rock, you’ve probably noticed an increase in the number of leads wearing vests at swing dances. The phenomenon is so prevalent in the Balboa community that Eastern Balboa Championships organizer and MC Chris Owens noted during one of the Balboa competitions at EBC 2011 that 10 out of 16 male competitors were wearing vests.

What makes a vest so great? Having worn a few myself, including a vintage one of Black Watch plaid wool my mother made in the 1970’s, I can tell you that a vest can really pull an outfit together; where something was just a shirt and pants (or skirt in my case), it becomes an ensemble with that one addition. It’s an upgrade without being too formal; it pulls things in at the torso without inhibiting movement; it leaves your arms free to do work, while the rest of you remains business. If fitted properly, it can make you appear more trim and elongate your silhouette. It looks great with or without a tie.

David Lochner in a vest on Governor's Island, NY

Since my experience with vests is limited, I asked one of the most dapper gents I know, dancer and clothier David Lochner of Philadelphia, PA, to weigh in on the topic:

“I wear vests for many reasons. They help keep you warm, they add a flair to one’s outfits, they help keep sweat off of a follow while dancing, and they help keep your tie in place. They also add a cleaner line by covering the bulk created by shirts becoming untucked, belt loops, and belts.

Social dancing is an art form and line and proportion are essential in art. But the line only comes when pants are worn properly at one’s natural waist. If the trousers aren’t worn at a proper height then the vest hinders this effort by allowing the shirt tail to peek out the back and destroy the look. Dancing is not only about the communication between partners but communication of beauty through movement and line to the audience watching.

I purchase vests where I find ones that fit. Being a long, they can be hard to come by, but I look at major retail stores, online, thrift shops, vintage stores, and eBay. Knowing one’s measurements can help ensure a proper fit. Also, taking along a man who knows menswear never hurts. Most women don’t know menswear so they can’t be reliably counted upon. (No offense!)* You don’t want something in style since style is constantly changing. It is important to take someone with you if you are not seeing a tailor since most salespersons will “Yes” you to death. Nothing is worse than buying a piece of clothing, then realizing it doesn’t fit properly while wearing it out for an extended period of time.

I hope this helped. I know my views are looked on as a bit harsh by some. But I say them because I take what I do, selling vintage menswear and swing dancing, very seriously.”

We believe you, David, and we salute you.

I think David has some great advice here, particularly about fit and style. I hadn’t considered that, with menswear, buying something fashionable now would limit wearability down the road, since menswear changes so little overall. However, the subtle details make a difference in menswear (skinny 50’s neckties, narrow 60’s suits, wide 70’s collars), so going with a classic, nondescript thrift store find may be a better choice in the long run than the trendy vest you may find at the mall.

Vest in action - Jaredan Braal with Gabriella Cook

There really is no go-to source for vests. In many cases, they come as part of a suit. In vintage and thrift stores, they are often orphaned pieces. In my area, the vintage store with the most vests is the least likely place to find something from the swing era. I also hear the mid-west has a great selection of vests, based on Jaredan Braal’s extensive vest wardrobe acquired during a single shopping trip in a mid-western city…

I find that if you are looking for a particular something, you will start to notice these things as you are out and about, so keep your eyes open and you may come across the vest you desire where you least expect it. If you see someone in a vest, ask them where they got it – you may get some ideas of your own about where to look in your area.

Incidentally, if you are in Philadelphia, you should make plans to visit Briar Vintage, a vintage store devoted entirely to menswear and manly “collectibles and oddities.” David is the manager of the store and I’m sure would be happy to help you “invest” in some great pieces for your wardrobe.

*None taken, David. You are the man. 😉

Vintage v. Repro

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

This is another article I’ve written for Yehoodi, with this topic at the request of the Yehoodi staff – enjoy!

Vintage or reproduction? The obvious answer is both, but I’d like to delve into the pros, cons, and considerations that go into the collection of both and the considerations that go along with the decision to wear each of them.

CRAFTSMANSHIP

Gorgeousness from Trashy Diva

Clothes made in the swing era were rarely mass-produced, and certainly not on the scale that clothing is produced today. The techniques for tailoring and the training that most women went through as a part of growing up to learn how to sew and mend their clothing is almost a lost art today, as is the art of tailoring men’s suits. So, while the clothing is old, it is usually very well made and, if in good condition, can be mended and altered with relative ease. The tailoring and details like pintucks, smocking, and embroidery can take many working hours to make, hours that modern retailers rarely put into their garments without passing on a lot of cost to the consumer.

That said, there are some reproductions that do provide these details, but they don’t come cheap. Trashy Diva, who mass produces dresses, puts a lot of thought into their reproduction garments, keeping the tradition of matching belts, contrast buttons, and interesting dressmaking details. Likewise, ordering something custom from a tailor or online custom clothing service will get you that quality, but you’ll also see that quality come out of your bank account.

DURABILITY

Here’s the big argument – what if I rip something? The fear of destroying vintage is something I dealt with for a long time, even after ripping the back out of two vintage dresses and seeing that they could be fixed without noticeable signs of mending. Obviously, reproduction garments will be more durable because the fabric is newer, but that doesn’t mean that the newer fabric won’t rip. Part of the durability issue, for both new and old garments, can be tackled by some careful considerations before purchase – does the fabric feel durable? Can I move in this (do some solo jazz steps in front of the mirror in the dressing room)? Does it fit me properly or is it too tight in one or some areas? Are there parts of the garment that could get in the way of dancing?

Even model and vintage clothing collector Kate Moss has had mishaps with her vintage - but look how gorgeous this gown is!

Reproductions will win this point, but not all vintage should be discounted. I’ve got some vintage crepe dresses that are indestructible and the construction of vintage men’s jackets really speaks for itself.

ORIGINALITY

Reproductions have come a long way since I started dancing, as clothing makers have begun to move away from the black, white, and red with polka dots color scheme and embrace prints, period colors, and period appropriate fabrics. I’ll continue to use Trashy Diva as an example because they do it so well on a large scale – some of the rayon prints they choose for their fabrics are so spot-on that it’s hard to tell if the dress is vintage or new. Other fabric choices, such as silk crepe or a knit that looks like wool jersey (but without the itch), are period appropriate, upgrade the look of the garment, and, in some cases like the jersey knit, provide a modern upgrade of a classic fabric that makes it even more wearable for today.

You can work with a dressmaker or tailor to make your vintage reproduction unique or an exact copy a garment. This does require you to become involved in the creative process of the garment by selecting fabrics, buttons, details, notions, and any considerations you have about the fit of the garment. It took me a while to become comfortable being a part of the creative process (what if the fabric I picked out looks bad?), but after spending a little time in a fabric store and familiarizing myself with fabrics used in both modern and vintage clothing, I was able to embrace the creative process as a new challenge – to collaborate with the tailor to put together a look, in a fabric and color/print I love, with a pattern I love, to create a new garment that is vintage by design with a reflection of my personal style.

With all this in mind, there is hope; however, the creativity of seamstresses and tailors past is far reaching and the patterns much more complicated – as the number of skilled sewers was higher, the patterns of the swing era were more complicated and counted on the person sewing the garment to make certain dressmaking leaps in creating the garment. I say this because my mother has made me a few dresses and even though she is an extremely skilled seamstress, her experience was primarily through the streamlined silhouettes of the 1960’s and 70’s, not the draped, detailed, side zippered, crazy seamed 1930’s and 40’s. What I’m getting at is that, on top of the already unique nature of these clothes and fabrics that are no longer made, you have a skilled population who more often embraced the task of clothing design/creation and the creative challenges that go along with it. I believe those creative challenges resulted in some truly original designs – some of them may fall short, but many of them are what makes owning vintage clothing such a pleasure in our mass produced world. I often use these creative choices of the past to inspire my own reproduction creations.

AVAILABILITY

The reproductions will win this point – even though vintage comes in all sizes, for the most part, it’s one of a kind and finding something with your measurements can be difficult. For men, vintage daywear is nearly impossible to come by. Reproductions, whether mass-produced or custom, are able to be replicated in multiple sizes. With the rise of Etsy, the Vintage Pattern Lending Library, and other web-based and local tailors who have taken an interest in making reproduction garments, reproductions of swing era clothing are more available now than ever.

FIT

Fit actually works three ways in this discussion. The best way to get something fitted is to have a reproduction made for you. In my opinion, the next best fit usually comes from vintage clothing, especially if you are going for accuracy. For example, Trashy Diva, while divine, mentions in some of their garment descriptions that they have raised the waist line to a more empire waist, which is neither period appropriate nor the most flattering cut if you have an hourglass shape or a small waist. Other reproduction makers will cut corners, either with tailoring or fabrics (stretch fabric, while sometimes helpful for movement, does not make a garment FIT any better if the garment is ill cut), to make a one shape fits all silhouette which really only flatters a certain body type that most of us do not have. Vintage garments are usually constructed in such a way that they can be modified, while mass produced reproductions are made without ample hems to be let out or seams that are surged and tight, without that extra 1/2 inch or inch of fabric that might be available to be let out to make something fit just right.

SUITABLENESS FOR DANCING

This can be pretty garment-specific, or even year-specific. I don’t see a lot of early 1930’s reproductions because the hemlines were lower and some of the skirt shapes not necessarily movement-friendly. When using an early 1930’s pattern to create a reproduction, I usually ask that the hemline fall just below the knee, instead of at mid-calf level so when I dance and compete people can see my legs. The designs of the late 1930’s through 1950’s are, overall, pretty dance friendly and I think most reproduction swing dance garments draw from this time frame. Reproductions usually come in more wash and wear fabrics, which is helpful to dancers because we sweat a lot. Only a handful of reproductions I’ve encountered seem to have issues with dance-ability, usually relating to fabric choice (silky/slippery, wool, synthetics that don’t breathe) or the cut of the sleeve or arm hole – I always do an over the head test with my arm to test a garment’s range of movement.

COST

Overall, vintage clothing is cheaper than buying a reproduction. There are obvious exceptions to this rule, but generally, if a vintage dress costs more than the reproduction, it’s probably not something you’d want to wear to a dance to sweat in because it’s a quality piece. Most of the vintage I purchase for dancing is less expensive because it’s a common silhouette, in a common (usually durable) fabric, and it’s second-hand goods. Because it costs less, I won’t feel so bad if something happens to it on the dance floor. With reproductions, you are paying for the labor and fabric with today’s costs of producing, distributing, and marketing the garment. However, that added cost can mean piece of mind if you are truly concerned about ruining something vintage or if you are particularly rough on your clothing.

I’m sure there are other pros and cons and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic – feel free to chime in or let me know if you have any questions.