Clothing alterations + individual fit = positive self imageJune 26, 2015

With the impending wedding season, there are a plethora of alterations coming through my work room, as it is important for people to look their best on this most special day. As one of my clients expressed, it doesn’t matter how pretty a dress is, if it doesn’t fit the body, it looks no good. This in turn makes the wearer FEEL no good. I agreed, Fit Is Paramount.

The alterations I’ve been working on recently have made me stop and reflect (again) on the state of clothing production today. These days garments are made as quickly and as cheaply as possible to yield the highest profits. A reasonable expectation from a global capitalist economy, but with negative consequences. As mentioned earlier, an ill-fitting garment makes the wearer feel no good, and also may cause them to blame their own body for not being the right shape or size, instead of recognizing the short comings of a depersonalized offshore manufacturer. A big part of my work is to help people feel good about their bodies by dressing them suitably, and to help people realize that the diversity of human shapes is a positive, normal phenomenon. Our society is rife with body shame and self-consciousness that we don’t live up to a beauty standard imposed on us by a patriarchal capitalist economy. I work hard against this system to fit clothes to the body, not to fit bodies into clothes.

I digress. The point I want to make is that goods are not produced for individuals, they are produced for markets. The problem with this is that individuals have very specific needs. Two people with the same measurements can have very different shapes and proportions, requiring a very different cut of a garment. My second point is that the farther away a garment (or any thing) is produced, the less thought/awareness/care there is for the needs of the individual for whom it’s being made.
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One wedding dress I am fixing was made for a woman’s specific measurements, but made in another country. She was unable to have a fitting in the construction process, so when she received it, it didn’t fit properly at all. I can’t blame the dressmaker, since I also would be unable to yield a perfect fit without a fitting in between, but then again, I wouldn’t accept a long distance project, since I know I couldn’t do a good job of it. The bodice on this dress has a beaded lace overlay that is cut as a flat piece, with no shaping seams or darts to fit the curves of the bust, rendering the boned inner corset somewhat pointless. This is where I come in, trying to correct the situation, using my best problem solving skills to make this lovely woman feel lovely on her wedding day. To get a closer fit in the bodice, I am taking it in quite a bit at the back zipper (to avoid creating seam lines through the beaded details on the front). I am also “invisibly” hand stitching the flat lace piece to the fitted corset in the front, pulling it in to show the shape of the body beneath. This is my best effort to make a flat piece of fabric fit to a three dimensional curve.
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Another client of mine had two pairs of pants custom made by a company that designs locally but outsources the manufacturing overseas. It was a men’s pant design made for a woman, and the company assured her they would take into account her different fit needs. They didn’t fit properly when they arrived, and after two rounds of alterations done by that company locally, to achieve a nice slim fit, they still weren’t right. I’m not quite sure what happened there, but she finally brought them to me, to take in the extra fabric in the hips and crotch, and adjust the calves, which were very tight. Luckily there was enough of a seam allowance to let them out a bit!
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Among these things, I am doing about a million hemming jobs, and half a million strap/armhole adjustments (numbers only slightly exaggerated), which are pretty straightforward and take less problem solving brain work. Still, a careful hand in proper pinning and measuring is important to get the job done right. I do not wish to put down other clothing companies for trying to make that dollar, I just lament the general lack of care for the consumer (and for the earth) in most modern day production processes.

I will clarify here that I am not looking to fill my time with alterations, as it easily could be, with all the fit problems found in mass produced clothing! Other areas I like to focus on are vintage clothing restoration, vintage reproductions, repurposing materials, and specialty custom made clothing not found in stores. In general, reducing the demand for newly produced fast fashion. While there is more fun and creative sewing work to do than altering an outside design to fit the body, I find this part of my job an important contribution to improving someone’s quality of life. The part I love about a properly executed alteration is the positive feeling the wearer gets when clothes fit their unique shape.

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