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What Will Claire Wear?

jumping

Many years ago in NYC when I had to attend a lot of red carpet events for work, Claire and I were stumped as to what she would wear if and when she attended functions with me. This was early on in our relationship when we were in our mid twenties, and because her job at the time had no dress code, her wardrobe consisted of vintage t-shirts, plaid button downs, ripped jeans and a multitude of sneakers (honestly, her wardrobe still consists of those things, but it has expanded to include “grown-up” clothes like slim fitting slacks and wing tipped lace-ups). Anyways, back in the day, she had not one piece of clothing suitable for a fancy event. So we went shopping for a suit for her, something that was neutral enough to fit an array of dress codes, with a slightly androgynous vibe. After several hours of her trying on every article of clothing in the Theory store while sighing dramatically, we spent a small fortune on a beautiful black jacket, matching slacks, and a silky plaid blouse. The pants had big pleats in the waistband, were loose-fitting in the thighs and slim at the ankle, and, coupled with the jacket and her Mia Farrow haircut, she looked stunning. She wore that expensive ensemble a total of ONE time before we headed off to Vancouver for 4 years, where the invites to red carpet events and premieres were non-existent. So it has since lived in the back of every closet we have occupied for the better part of 6 years.

Fast forward to this past winter, when I was invited to attend the DGAs and Claire and I were struggling to figure out what she could possibly wear to them. We dusted off her old suit and, though it was fine for a funeral (which she unfortunately had to attend a few months ago), it didn’t really have the glamour and pizazz it once did. Maybe it was because her style has shifted into a more masculine look, but the pleats and stylized curves of the Theory pants just didn’t work anymore. Claire decided not to come with me to the DGAs; shopping for a nice, tailored-looking suit with only a couple day’s notice felt like a nightmare to her. And as much as I wanted her to attend the event with me, the thought of trudging around to retailers that didn’t specialize in making androgynous-looking garments for women’s bodies with someone who hates to shop anywhere that isn’t a sports store seemed pretty horrific to me, too.

Instead, I brought my friend Brittani (who showed up in a GORGEOUS, beautifully fitting suit that she got at Men’s Warehouse- who knew?!) and we had a great time. But it got me thinking- why can’t women rely on retailers to find androgynous clothing? And why has my own understanding of androgyny (until recently) only been defined by women wearing “men’s” clothes? What does androgyny look like for different genders and non-genders and different bodies? I know the answer to at least one of these questions is THE PATRIARCHY, but I was ashamed at the fact that I had never questioned any of this before. Why haven’t more retail stores caught wind of the varying shapes and non-binary identities that appreciate and support fashion? Even Brittani (who’s suit looked so fly and fit her so well and didn’t cost a fortune), was still subjected to being mis-gendered when she was shopping at Men’s Warehouse. Yeah, I get that it’s called Men’s Warehouse. But aside from the obvious fact that gendered business names are totally antiquated and alienating, why should only men be assumed to shop there when so-called “women’s retailers” drop the ball on providing beautifully tailored garments without ruffles and pleats and darts all over them?

I know there are a growing number of small, independent companies that are providing access to clothing catered to a demographic that dresses in an androgynous style. But a lot of that clothing is (understandably) expensive, and therefore not accessible to everyone who wants it. Which leads us to a whole new conversation, one about the global economy being fueled by a wasteful, dishonest and greedy fashion industry, which is in turn powered by a privileged culture that wants more, more, more for less, less, less. There is no simple answer to any of these questions- the fashion industry needs a complete overhaul to become 1. more sustainable for the environment and 2. more humane to the millions of people that shape it’s work force. Furthermore, there needs to be a gigantic shift in our culture’s understanding of the nuances of gender and gender expression. Here is what I was left with, a question that was also a declaration: why couldn’t I just MAKE Claire a suit?! A year ago this would have seemed like such an impossible project that I wouldn’t have entertained it for even a second. But I know that I have become a more capable seamster with each project I tackle, and what’s more, I am up for a good challenge. When I mentioned the possibility to Claire, she said she was on board, so we went to Joann’s Fabrics to see if we could find a pattern that matched the aesthetic of what she was looking for. We narrowed down our pants pattern search to a few different looks and eventually settled on Simplicity 1430. It came with a simple, casual jacket that I thought seemed like an easy pattern to start with, since I had never made a jacket before. Then we went to my fav fabric store (The Fabric Store!!! HEART EYES EMOJIS) in Los Angeles to pick out some material.

the feel of this cotton for the suit was lovely, but the color wasn't in the right hue.

the feel of this cotton for the suit was lovely, but the color wasn’t in the right hue.

once we settled on this deeper blue for the suit, we couldn't agree on the silk fabric for the blouse. she liked this one the most...

once we settled on this deeper blue for the suit, we couldn’t agree on the silk fabric for the blouse. she liked this one the most…

...but I thought the yellow in this silk provided a little more complexity to the color scheme, and made it pop just a little.

…but I thought the yellow in this silk provided a little more complexity to the color scheme, and made it pop just a little

I knew right away which pieces I liked the most, but Claire was unconvinced about my choices until I took photos of her with swatches of the fabric so she could see for herself which ones illuminated her and which ones washed her out. We decided on a medium-weight woven cotton fabric with a tiny little bit of stretch for the suit, and a beautiful printed crepe de chine fabric for the blouse underneath.

The fitting for the pants was tricky, ’cause it’s always harder for me to tailor to someone else’s body than my own- with myself, I can feel as well as see what doesn’t work, but I don’t have that luxury with someone else.

IMG_2377I made adjustments to this muslin several times before we thought this fit was just right. But then I made them up in the actual fabric…

fitting1…and I did another adjustment…

fitting2…and another adjustment…

fitting3…and another adjustment. I think there were more adjustments than just these three pictures, but I got tired of documenting them all, and I was probably a little more than frustrated at the fitting process. CHOOSY CLIENTS, amiright??  (more proof that making a muslin in a comparable fabric of the project you are working on is SO SMART and can save SO MUCH time). We were in real danger of over-fitting these pants because even though the fabric had a little stretch, it wasn’t enough to accommodate a pair of leggings, which I think maybe Claire was secretly looking for? I convinced her that I wouldn’t be able to take them in anymore while allowing her to actually breath and bend her legs to sit down, so we settled here, and I think the silhouette turned out fantastic!

The jacket was another story- it wasn’t a difficult make, it just wasn’t the right look I was imagining. It was baggy and bulky- a lighter weight material would have been better. Even though it ended up looking amazing with the pants, I wanted a jacket with a little more structure, something more tailored to Claire’s body. But she was super happy (and perhaps more importantly, comfortable!) with the final result of the suit- save for a couple complaints about the waistband being a little too loose, which will just have to be adjusted for the next make.

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I needed to insert the zipper more to the right, so it peeks out a little.

 

 

 

The funny thing is that this suit was made so that we could attend a wedding in San Francisco, and I bought myself a gorgeous pink polka dotted silk to turn into a dress for the event. My dress was supposed to be the easy make and Claire’s was supposed to be difficult, but it turned out exactly the opposite- her suit ended up being a huge success and my silk dress was so awful I wasn’t even sure if I was going to wear it. Luckily I ended up booking a job that recorded the day of the trip, so I didn’t have to. I put the dress in a pile of donations to Goodwill and hoped that someone, somewhere, would have a flat enough body with no curves or butt whatsoever to get into this thing and have it lay perfectly around their frame. I was so disappointed with it- it was the first time I had made a pattern from this particular company, and I think it was a combination of the wrong pattern for my body with the wrong fabric for the pattern. It was bound to be a disaster. I took a shot just for memory’s sake.

It didn't help that this silk had a SHIT TON of static cling, no matter what remedy I used to get rid of it!

It didn’t help that this silk had a SHIT TON of static cling, no matter what remedy I used to get rid of it!

 

This dress is one of those projects that I feel doesn’t look as terrible in the photo as it was in reality. You’re just gonna have to trust me- it was bad!

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Guess what wasn’t bad, though. THIS SUIT! Claire said she got a ton of compliments on it at the wedding, and I got to hear some of them firsthand when a couple of days later we attended PROM, a big dance party hosted by her basketball league. It was really queer and fun, and this time Claire wore her suit with a blue and white button shirt I made for her, so it also proved how versatile the suit was! Making the suit was a lot of work, but she looks so gorgeous in it that I am actually dying to make her another one. Nothing shows your learning curve more than diving right back in and fixing all the mistakes you made the first time around 🙂

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Praise for the Archer Pattern

Button downs are a staple in my wife’s wardrobe, and several years ago I tried to sew one for her from a Colette pattern called Negroni. The Negroni pattern is meant for a (typical) man’s frame, and although the sizing was way off, I thought I would be able to fudge the shape a bit to make it work for Claire’s figure. It was super fun to construct a button down shirt for the first time, so in that sense the project was a success-

clearly so huge in the shoulders, even with some adjustments.

clearly so huge in the shoulders, even with some adjustments.

photo 5

The shirt is fine but Claire’s beautiful face kind of upstages everything else in the photo.

 

I now had firsthand experience with all the little doo dads that made this type of garment come to life. But as a wearable shirt, it was kind of a disaster. It was just way too big for her, and since I didn’t know much about grading pattern pieces, my only fitting “trick” was to make some darts in the shirt, which gave her several inches of extra material bunched inside of the shirt to swim around in. And it STILL didn’t fit well. Thankfully, Claire is very sweet and appreciative, and she still wore the shirt a few times and told me how much she loved it before quietly tucking it into the bottom back of her drawer. On a trip to Birmingham to see my family a few months later, we ended up gifting the shirt to my dad, whom it fit almost perfectly, so I was happy that the whole garment wasn’t a wash. But I was still interested in finding a more flattering cut of this shirt that would fit a woman’s body without being so fitted that it sucked things in and pushed things up (think androgynous button down for a curvy female figure). At the time, Colette patterns were the only indie brand I was familiar with, and there were not as many competitive brands offering other patterns and designs as there are today, so I didn’t really think my dream button down pattern was going to be realized.

And then, several months ago, I got sucked into the sewing blog rabbit hole. I was introduced to SO many indie pattern designers who were offering PDF downloads and printed versions of their patterns for sale online, and it was as if a whole new world had opened up to me. Now big company pattern brands (McCalls, Vogue, Butterick) were not the only options available for a home seamster, and the indie designers were creating things that were a lot more interesting/fashionable/unique than most of what the big companies were offering (don’t get me wrong, I love a classic Vogue pattern as much as the next person, but I also love versatility and detailed pattern instructions and also, NOTHING BEATS A BLOGGER SEW-ALONG)! Indie designers seemed to have such fresh perspectives on sewing and pattern making, so you can imagine my excitement when I stumbled across indie company Grainline Studio’s Archer pattern, a simple button down (or button up, depending on your personality type, I guess?) pattern fit for a (typical) woman’s body. Claire’s measurements fit into a straight size with no extra grading required, and once she picked out some fabric (pink ladybugs on a white lightweight cotton), I whipped it up for her in time to wear to my brother’s wedding in late summer, with an unintentionally gigantic matching bow tie and handkerchief.

the dapperest.

the dapperest.

The fit was absolutely perfect, and she felt comfortable in it. Compared to the men’s Negroni pattern, the fit was slimmer in the shoulders and chest while still allowing room for boobs, and there was a slight curve in the waist to make room for hips. In general, the shirt just kind of skims over her figure without providing so much room that it overwhelms her frame. After the success of the first Archer, Claire immediately wanted to pick out lots more fabric so that she could have a closet full of them, but so far I have only gotten around to making one more version of the shirt, this time long sleeved, which she received on her birthday last year. IMG_1733I love this pattern, and I actually plan on making one for myself…someday. Aside from the fit being so flattering, the pattern instructions were good enough that I didn’t need to follow the accompanying sew-along…well, up until it was time to sew the sleeve cuffs and pleats. That part was brand new to me and I needed extra visual help to figure it out, but the sew-along provided all the info I needed to finish those details. Highly recommended pattern, A++, two thumbs and two big toes up, yay, team, etc. etc.