Every day I go to work and listen to people talk about what women want. It’s about as fun as it sounds. The people in my office are typically a group of women who are just as deeply conflicted about their own wants and needs as any ordinary person, even if we are considered the experts. If you’ve ever battled with your own internal voice in the dressing room, just imagine being in an office with a half dozen other women trying to decide what the future should hold, with dollar signs attached to every decision:
“We tried that and it still doesn’t fit right. How come we can never get this to fit right?”
“What kind of shoe do you wear with that anyway?”
“I’m just not sure I understand where she’s going in that outfit.”
“That’s just not going to look the same on someone who’s only 5’2″ with hips.”
“I don’t know about that print. Will we make it in black?”
“The stores say she wants more dresses with sleeves. Do we have a dress we can put sleeves on? Or can we just sell her a cardigan? ”
“I’m just not inspired.”
One of the most fascinating things I’ve been observing on Instagram during Me Made May these past weeks is how different my work conversations are from those of sewists about the clothes they make for themselves. No one really talks about Fashion. In fact, though there is a lot of unique style out there, the vibe is decidedly anti-fashion. They talk about what their clothes mean to their daily lives, both the making and the wearing. There is a constant desire to gain expertise. There is a lot of skill-affirming admiration to go around. If people talk about how wide their hips are it’s because they found a solution for fitting them, not complaining about their existence. There is inspiration abound. There are more than enough sleeves to cover all the arms in the sewing blogosphere. No one says they’re ready to throw in the towel and just go buy something. Despite all the strife, sales metrics, market research, development and well-considered design ideas behind the product shipped to stores, for this crowd, no one is selling something they really want.
To make your own clothes you really have to want them. It takes, blood, sweat, tears, brainpower, a balance of personal economics, much of your spare time and a little garnish of zen-grade patience. The result is purely individual. The more you sew, the more you know yourself. That awareness is not something that can be bought, marketed and sold. You realize when you look around that if you made this then you can for sure make that. The dictating and branded world of Fashion speaks to you less and less; the way you always wanted to see yourself becomes more and more tangible.
I make what the fashion industry won’t make for me. I don’t want to wear polyester. I don’t care how much spandex can be added to a fabric – I want my clothes to fit, not just stretch around me. I want pretty dresses. I don’t want to roll myself into a pair of Spanx to look good in them. I want to look feminine, not cute. I’ll spend the money for better materials. None of these concepts are afforded in the plus size market, which I am relegated to because of the shape of my body. Like I said, I will take the time to make what the industry won’t make for me. I will spend the time even if I know the gratification won’t come soon. My list of wishes and things to learn grows exponentially.
“So much to do, so little done, such things to be.”
That was said by Elizabeth Taylor, one of my favorite personalities, and a source of inspiration, particularly for the foundation under the dress I am featuring for this post. Here’s Liz in her underwear:
And wait for it….here is me in mine, sans bourbon:
So many times I have seen Cat On a Hot Tin Roof and pined for that perfect slip, with pretty lace and maybe even sewn from silk. La Perla makes them. So does Aegeant Provocateur. For a few hundred dollars. There’s Victoria’s Secret, for a middle ground. But none of them make one in my size. So I saved up my fabric allowance, and I copied and modified the cheesy polyester georgette slip from a $15 dress from Old Navy, and I found this soft, milky, 4 ply silk crepe de chine and I spent the better part of a weekend doing the French Chantilly lace appliqué by hand because, in the words of Sybil Shepard, I’m worth it. Even if there isn’t a single retailer in the contiguous United States who agrees with me.
That only covers my feelings about underthings! So let’s move on to the dress I like to wear most with this slip underneath.
This is a Tracey Reese pattern from Vogue, #1225. The fabric is a tissue weight cotton silk jersey treated with a bio wash finish, which basically means it’s been treated with enzymes that digest the fuzzy natural fibers off the surface, making it more lustrous and soft. It was a beast to cut and sew and I hated every minute of it, but at least the result is fun to twirl around in. The pattern calls for a petticoat to be attached underneath which was dutifully made, but let’s be real – that crossed over the line into cute territory, so it had to go. Which is fine. I’m the designer when it comes to my own wardrobe, and I know what my customer wants.