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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 🙂

wholesuit

Pants: A Pain in My Ass

After making some very cute mid-to-high waisted shorts from a vintage Simplicity pattern a spring or two ago, my interest in making pants sky-rocketed. I have always hated shorts on myself; I felt like my legs were too short and curvy for them to be flattering, which looks even dumber written out on my computer screen than it sounds in my head (there is no such thing as “too” anything when it comes to bodies, but whatever, body dismorphia strikes again, etc., blah blah blah). But the simple, non-pocketed silhouette and high rise of the shorts made me feel like my body was proportionate in them and I became pretty infatuated with the look, leading me to believe that I might be able to make the perfect fitting pants for myself that I never seemed able to find in stores. I generally don’t like pants. Skirts and dresses are my go-to, and now that I live in Los Angeles I can almost get away with hardly ever having to wear pants except on the chilliest of winter days (think 50 degree-age, which is about as low as it gets in the day time). That said, I have come to appreciate the ease and functionality of wearing pants more often now that I have a dog that needs walking three times a day. It took me years to finally cave in and invest in some skinny jeans, and even then I wouldn’t consider a pair unless they had a good stretch content and a high waist (the low rise, butt-crack threatening, boot-cut fit of the late 90’s and early 2000’s was a real travesty). But sometimes I don’t want to wear jeans! Sometimes I want to wear bottoms that are a little more classic, that don’t leave seam lines up and down the sides of my legs after several hours of wear, that feel comfortable AND slimming, but don’t leave a 3 inch gap in the waist area from the difference in size between my waist (small) and my booty (not as small). Perfecting the Simplicity shorts pattern was the first inkling I had that I could make an awesome pair of pants for myself that would fit well and make me feel like I looked great, but I didn’t actually take action til Gertie’s second book came out. In it was a pattern for a pair of slim fitting cigarette pants, which I think is pretty similar to a pattern she released through Simplicity before her second book was available. I adore Gertie’s patterns, and have been hooked on her work ever since I got her first book of vintage patterns a few years ago. Hers was the first set of patterns I used that seemed to fit my body right out the gate- they required little to no adjusting, unlike the patterns from the big companies which always seemed to run at least a size too large and never fit my proportions very well. Gertie’s waist-to-booty ratio was a dream come true for me (her pencil skirt pattern fit me so beautifully I think I teared up when I first tried on my wearable muslin), so I had high hopes for her pants pattern to work well for me, too. Fortunately, it did not disappoint. The fit was incredible, and I didn’t have to grade between sizes or anything. That, however, was only the beginning of my pants learning curve.

Cue dramatic music.

The first muslin I made was out of some leftover wool herringbone with a slight stretch, and I was secretly

these don't look nearly as bad as they feel

these don’t look nearly as bad as they feel

hoping they would be wearable, cause the material was great, and who doesn’t love a wearable muslin?! I finished the pants, held my breath while I tried them on, and squealed cause they fit so beautifully- no gap at the waistband! comfortable! slimming! go, team! But holy shit, they were itchy as all get-out. Which is no surprise since they were made out of WOOL. ‘Okay,’ I thought, ‘no big deal, I will just line the pants with a silky type fabric and I will be good to go!’ I bought some inexpensive lining material and looked up some tutorials on how to line a pair of pants. But umm…lining slim fitting cigarette pants isn’t actually a “thing”. photo 5

Like, maybe people have done it with success, and kudos to them, but for me, it just wasn’t happening. Nevermind the fact that my lining wasn’t the right kind of material and didn’t have enough give in the right directions to fit comfortably over my legs, but they also just kind of bunched up inside the wool and twisted around and got caught in all the wrong places, even when tacked down to the wool pants’ seams. It was kind of like trying to wear a slip under a pair of tights; the pants were too slim fitting to allow room for what was essentially an entirely new pair of pants.So the wearable muslin was obviously not gonna work (and no, I was not the least bit interested in wearing pantyhose underneath my pants to reduce the itch factor- what am I, my mother??) but at least I knew that the pattern fit perfectly.

I decided to try the pants in a better fabric, this time a high quality stretch denim, which worked much better, except that now, with a thinner material than the wool, I started to obsessively over-fit the legs of the pants, taking them in more and more, over and over again, so that when I finally finished them, they were so tight that not only could I BARELY stuff a foot through the leg opening, I could also barely bend over. The calves of these pants looked like they were painted on. Which perhaps is fine for a photoshoot or something, but not very realistic or functional for every day life.

admittedly weird choice in zipper color.

admittedly weird choice in zipper color.

I’m not sure if these jeans are wearable cause I haven’t worked up the energy to spend the 5 minutes it takes to put them on, I am guessing no. I am considering cutting them off below the knee to turn them into a 50’s style capri, and maybe the fit will be better then, but so far they are still folded on a hanger, mocking me in the corner of my craft room.

Okay, so THIRD pair of cigarette pants! Moved onto to a green stretch cotton twill, kept the pockets (although I hate pockets on trousers) and this was my very first success, except for one weird adjustment that needs to be made: the front seam

no idea why the color looks messed up in the photos- in person you can't see it, i swear!

no idea why the color looks messed up in the photos- in person you can’t see it, i swear!

dips down a bit, and rides on my waist slightly below the sides and back, so I am going to add just a touch more material to the front seam allowance to see if that helps at all- it’s not the rise or crotch cause everything fits perfectly everywhere else, and if the crotch were any higher I would feel like I was wearing a front thong. Otherwise, the pants are perfect!photo 7

With the success of this pair, I decided to try another in a fabric with the same amount of stretch made with a beautiful paisley pattern. I fall in love with pants like this all the time at JCrew, but their bottoms consistently fit me so terribly that I stopped even trying them on years ago. Anyways, by this point I was an old pro at making this pattern, and I was super excited to add these perfected pants to my wardrobe, so in only a few hours over a couple of days during the Christmas holidays I was able to sew them up and give them a try. I waited to attach the waistband to make sure there were no fit issues and…I…couldn’t…even…pull them up…over my KNEES! In horror, I stretched and ripped the pants to try and pull them at least up to my waist, but I couldn’t even get them past this here booty, despite the fact that I had made this pattern several times by this point and I knew that the sizing was perfect. And then I realized my (HUGE) mistake…in my haste to get this pattern started, I didn’t pay attention to the direction of stretch in the fabric, which just happened to run perpendicular to the selvage as opposed to parallel to it, the way most knit fabrics I have worked with run. So my pants could stretch real long from top to bottom, but there was practically no give whatsoever to go around my legs, meaning it was nearly impossible to pull them up over the widest parts of my body.

see?

see?

Oh, was I mortified! But also kinda sorta happy to have learned a valuable lesson in all of it- ALWAYS CHECK TO SEE WHICH DIRECTION YOUR STRETCH GOES WHEN SEWING WITH KNITS. Perhaps, dear reader, this can be a lesson to you (if you haven’t learned it already, which you probably have, because NO, DUH) so you wont have to waste some beautiful fabric on a really silly oversight like I did. I should have KNOWN something big and terrible was about to happen with this garment. In hindsight, I realize that I have a tendency to make lots of little mistakes before I make big ones. Case in point: with this one pair of pants which, as I mentioned, I had already made SEVERAL times, I managed to sew the back of the pants to the front of the pants with the wrong sides together, AND THEN, once I took out all my stitching, I managed to sew the two front legs together at the inseam, effectively created a long, very ugly denim skirt. Quick and fast sewing is just not really my forte, and the bigger of a hurry I am in, the more mistakes I am apt to make. Coincidentally, the more mistakes I make, the less likely it is that the garment will actually be wearable. It’s all in the math, I guess.

So. In total, we have one pair of jacquard pants ruined, one (possible capri) denim that I most likely wont be able to sit down in without getting a yeast infection, one perfect, pocketed pant in green khaki, and an itchy herringbone wool w lining that, having tried on again so many months later with new eyes, I’m thinking might actually be salvageable. The lining inside is too tight around the calves, making the fabric pull when I walk, but I think I might have enough seam allowance left in them to take them out just a bit more. If I can get them to *comfortable* status, I will definitely wear them, because the fit is great and not as funky looking as I remember them being (although this last try-on has further convinced me that I need to take the zipper in just a touch). WOW! Another lesson learned! All garments thrown into the BUTTHOLE BIN should be tried on no less than seven weeks later to reassess fit, functionality and likability. This wont be the first time I reacquainted myself with a discarded unfinished garment, only to find out that it was indeed worth rescuing. I like doing that. Cause I HAAAATE throwing disasters into the BUTTHOLE BIN.

Oooh, that’s a really great idea for a future post, eh? Taking a walk down BUTTHOLE BIN lane?