Fit, Part 1: Tops and Dresses

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Since fit is so important and so tricky, I’m going to take a couple of weeks to talk through what to look for and how to make clothes fit better.  What kind of clothes do you find most difficult to fit?  I can tell where most of my fit difficulties lie, because I steer away from clothes that are difficult to fit and require an inordinate amount of effort.  Taking an honest look at my clothes, I tend to gravitate towards tops and dresses, because I can find a fit that I like fairly easily.  Trousers, skirts, and shoes are more difficult to find, so I have fewer of them.  I wear my favorite jeans until friction reduces them to shreds.  My shoes fall into two camps: worn thin or like new, because I wear my comfortable shoes all the time and uncomfortable (but oh so pretty) pairs very rarely.

Now, this isn’t to say that all tops and dresses fit me.  Oh heck NO.  I just have a better grasp of which tops and dresses look best on me and I can see possibilities while they are still on the hanger.  But probably the main reason for fit issues is how my weight fluctuates.  If I gain weight, I tend to gain around my stomach area, so jeans and skirts will fit me differently at different seasons, while my top half remains fairly consistent.

That’s why I’ve decided to split this fit discussion into a couple of different posts – Tops/Dresses this week and Trousers/Skirts next week.  (If you have any specific requests about trousers and skirts, please let me know during the week, so I can address them next Saturday!)  I may make accessories into a separate post as well, so this may be a three week miniseries.  I should end this post on a cliffhanger, so you can’t wait to see what happens next!

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These are the fit areas for tops, ranked by importance:

  1. Shoulders
  2. Chest
  3. Natural waist

Let’s break this down a little bit, because a list on its own doesn’t take us very far.

SHOULDERS

If your top or dress only fits you in place, it should be through the shoulders.  Examples of styles that fit only at the shoulders:  trapeze dresses, tunic tops, swing tops and dresses, smocks… the list goes on.  Here are a few visual examples:

 

In a miniature heat wave, the fewer points of contact between me and my clothes, the better.  A lightweight swing dress is one of my summer staples, not because it is cute, but because of how practical it is.  (It can also be cute.  Cute and practical – best of both worlds.)

How to tell if the shoulders fit:

  • The back is not pulling and creating lines across the shoulderblades.  If there are stretch lines across the shoulder blades, that is an easy way to see that a top is too tight.
  • The neckline lays properly.  Like the back of the shirt, the neckline shouldn’t be pulling into a different shape.  I don’t my v-necks turning into u-necks.  The opposite can also be a problem – I don’t want my neckline flopping around, falling off my shoulders, or gaping.
  • The sleeve seams hit near your shoulder joints.  If the seams hit well outside the shoulders, the top or dress will look oversized.  Oversized tops are a very fashiony thing right now, so you will often find extra-wide shoulder seams for effect.  Just know that a very oversized top will need to be balanced out with a slim cut on the bottom (skinny jeans, etc.)

The nice thing is that the most important area to fit is not the trickiest.  If the shoulder seams hit your shoulders and the neckline is laying nicely (not pulling or flapping), you’re probably good for shoulders.

CHEST

Closely following the importance of shoulder fit is chest fit.  I have been very blessed in the chest department and my goal is always balance – not too tight, not too loose.  That balance is a very tricky thing and still one that I have a hard time working with.

I’d be remiss in my duty if I didn’t mention bras at this point.  I won’t go into detail, but if your bra doesn’t fit correctly, tops will not look right, even if they technically fit.  If you are having a very difficult time finding tops and dresses, go get a fitting and find a couple of good bras.  It will help.  Trust me on this one.  The clothes you already have will fit better and the clothes you try on will automatically look better.

The wrong chest fit is the main cause of the common shirt tragedy that is GAPPING.  I gave up on buttondown shirts for a while, because if the shirt fit my shoulders, it did not fit my chest (and vice versa).  Recently, I’ve come across a few buttondown topsthat were designed with curves in mind and actually fit.  Color me shocked!  The unicorn tops are out there – the ones that fit through the shoulders and the chest.  Gapping is the main reason I’ve never been very into shirt dresses.  I think they are adorable, but unless the dress fits perfectly at every point, the gaps will take over and run wild.  I’m not giving up hope on a perfect shirt dress, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.  (Mainly because if I hold my breath, the gapping gets worse.)

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One note while we’re on finding a good fit through the chest – sleeve length is super important.  Wherever sleeves end, they create a visual line across the torso.  This holds true for the necklines and hemlines as well, which is why I tend to stay away from boatnecks and crewnecks, which create a solid line from shoulder to shoulder.  A v-neck or a scoop neck breaks up that visual line and doesn’t draw as much attention to the width.  If a sleeve hits at an unflattering point, but everything else on the top fits well, try rolling up the sleeves and pinning them in place.  It can change the whole look.

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NATURAL WAIST

We are getting into the bonus categories now – the Nice To Haves, rather than the Need To Haves.  If a top fits through your shoulders, chest, AND natural waist without any alterations necessary, you’ve found yourself a unicorn.  If it is within your budget, snag it.

Where is the natural waist?  It is the narrowest point between the chest and the hips.  For most women, it is near the base of the rib cage.  I have a long torso, but a pretty high natural waist.  I try to highlight my natural waist, because it gives the illusion that my legs are longer than they actually are.  Every little bit helps when you have legs as short as mine.  True story.

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This black and white top has beautiful construction – every line and fold and twist leads the eye to the natural waist.  This is one of those rare finds that fits everywhere – shoulders, chest, waist, and hips.  As far as fit goes, this is my favorite shirt.  I wish this shape came in every color and every print.  I’d happily have five of this shirt.

Dresses are more likely to accentuate the waist.  If you have a dress that doesn’t, there are simple ways to change that.  Belting is a good option.  (Here I reference every episode of What Not To Wear.)

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This dress fits through the shoulders and then floats out from there.  To add some more fit, all I had to do was add a thin belt.  It made a big difference in how people perceived the dress – I got a lot more comments on the overall style (“What a cute dress!”),and with the dress unbelted, I got a more comments on the shiny fabric and how comfy the dress looked.  All it needed was a little shape!

Ways to emphasize the waist:

  • Choose a skirt or trousers that hits at the waist, then tuck in or knot the top.  That can give a loose top some needed structure.
  • Layer up – a jacket that buttons at the waist will give a structured hourglass effect.
  • Belts – they do the trick.  I’ll admit I’m not that into belts, but I’ll deal with that more next week.
  • As far as alterations go, taking in the sides of a shirt is as about as easy as alterations get.  Turn the shirt inside out, try it on, safety pin the sides, then use a sewing machine or hand sew the sides.  Minimal tailoring skills required and the results are so rewarding.

If you have other questions about fit, write me and let me know and I’ll try to address them during this series!

I came across some of my old fashion sketches the other day, including this one, a copy of an antique fashion illustration:

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The dress is beautiful, but it also makes me grateful that I don’t have to wear a corset every day!  My clothing issues don’t include struggling for breath or having my spine rearranged.  We’ve gained comfort and a whole new set of fashion issues, but it’s always good to approach the new fashion issues with gratitude.  Clothing is a gift to mankind, but we as humans are very good at perceiving gifts as rights, and then turning rights into complaints.  So if I ever start to complain about how clothes don’t fit right, please remind me that I could have much more challenging fashion problems.

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Ashley Tries Thrifting and Repurposing

Last week, I went to a Goodwill Outlet store.  It was an experience.

If an item has been at a Goodwill thrift store for a few months, it gets sent to a big outlet warehouse.  It’s the last chance saloon for this stuff and most of it can only really be categorized as Stuff.  None of the stuff is arranged or priced or folded.  It’s thrown into wheely bins that are about the size and shape of dumpsters (but shallower).  Very similar to dumpster diving.  At the end of the time, you roll your cart onto a scale, then they charge you per pound of clothing.  It’s not a relaxing shopping experience.  It involves a ton of digging through junk, the employees are constantly switching out the bins and yelling warnings about switching out bins…..

Truth be told, I don’t shop at thrift stores very often.  If I’m looking for something, I’ll occasionally run through my local thrift stores and see what they’ve got.  Right now, I’m in the market for a dresser, so I’ll check through a thrift store when I’m out and about to see if they have a dresser.  But you can’t count on any particular thing being at the thrift store, so you need imagination and patience.  Some people can’t stand sifting through junk in the hope of a hypothetical treasure, but I enjoy it.  It brings out all my junk dealer DNA.  (We come from a fine junk dealer tradition in my family.)

Thrifting Tip: Never shop desperate.  If you go into a thrift store NEEDING something, you’ll probably get disappointed and frustrated.  Only go if you have the time to sift through and if you are okay with leaving without buying anything.

My challenge for myself this week was to feature clothes I bought from thrift stores or clothes that I’ve altered in some way.  If I thrift clothes or alter my own clothes, those clothes get a second life and it’s fun and satisfying.

Day 1: Red Arrow Sweater

I loved this sweater as soon as I saw it in the outlet bins.  I think this is what the inside of my brain looks like.  I don’t usually do red and black as the primary colors in my outfits, because it ends up looking serious.  I’ll usually pair red with gray or brown or navy, just to soften up the look.  But sweater is the opposite of serious.

But I didn’t just look at the amazing pattern when I picked it up.  I looked for stains and holes and made sure it didn’t stink.  I know my limits.  I also made sure I didn’t have to dry clean it or hand wash it.  Unless it’s a very special piece, I don’t want to have to dry clean clothes.  I love clothes that I don’t have to fuss over.  In order to fit in with my life, my everyday clothes must be worry-free.  And easy to dance in.  And comfy.  And cute.  And sometimes hilarious.  This sweater ticked all those boxes, so I rescued it from the bin and now it has a new home in my closet.

Day 2: Reworked Wrap Top

 

This white cotton Ralph Lauren top is another bin rescue.  I loved the lace detail on the sleeves, but it was way too big for me, so I decided to make it into a kimono-like layering piece.  That way I could utilize the wrap style it already had and make the looseness into a feature, not a bug.

This project made me pull out my sewing machine for the first time in forever.  I started out by doing some hand stitching on it, but I ended up stabbing my finger with the needle and then I got blood spots on the white shirt.  Yeah…..  So I washed out the blood, let the top dry overnight and used the machine to hem it the next day.  This is the result!

Here’s what it looks like when it isn’t tied in front:

I didn’t do much to rework this top – it involved seam ripping the hem along the front of the shirt and detaching the sides.  Then I re-hemmed the base and stitched up the sides again.  It took some tweaking to figure out the angles I wanted on the front, because I had to leave enough slack to make a tie.  The main thing was just making sure everything was symmetrical and one side wasn’t way lower than the other.  Is it the finest sewing job?  Nope.  But it was fun to plan out the logistics and then have a functional garment.

Day 3: Knit Dress

I found this J. Jill dress in the bins and it definitely didn’t deserve to be in that situation.  It was better than that.  This dress is a basic tunic dress made from quality fabric.  It’s comfy, stretchy, machine-washable, and the print is classic and versatile.  I’ve worn it twice in the past week (Sunday and Wednesday) and I loved it both times.  It’s just so COMFY.

No alterations necessary for this dress, but since it is fairly shapeless, I added a wide belt on Sunday and a buttoned cardigan on Wednesday.  The belt and the cardigan are both great shaping pieces.  It’s all about showing that you have a waist – there’s no need to make the outfit tight or uncomfortable.  I’ll probably wear it without a belt at some point, just for variety, but a belt is an easy way to alter clothes.  No sewing necessary!

Day 4:  Reworked Top

I was going to give this cream top away to a thrift store, because I didn’t wear it anymore.  There was a stain at the neck and the sleeves were that awkward length.  The length where it’s too long to be a real short sleeve, but it’s not elbow length…. The sleeve length combined with the high neck made me look matronly and I try to avoid matronly.

But the material has great texture and I have hardly any white shirts, so I was wavering between keeping and giving it away.  Then I saw Black Panther and got super inspired by the costume design, so I decided this shirt was the perfect blank canvas to experiment with embroidery!  And I cut the sleeves off.  That improved the shirt by about 85%.  The embroidery isn’t perfect, but it draws attention up to the neck and gives the whole top more visual interest.

Day 5: Striped Turtleneck

This turtleneck has roughly a million colors and short sleeves, so it was the wild card purchase of the outlet trip.  It gave me mad nostalgia vibes, because I used to wear shirts exactly like this.  I’ve been seeing this style of top coming back in, but I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on a style that might look terrible on me.  The fit is actually okay, but the sleeves don’t hit at the most flattering place.  They form a perfect line right across the wide part of me.

But with a printed blazer and fitted trousers, this outfit turned out to be one of my favorites from this week.  Even if I always wear it as a layer underneath a jacket or a sweater, it was worth the less-than-a-dollar that I paid for it.  Cute, funky throwback style.

Thrifting is fantastic for trying a funky color, or a different silhouette, or a current trend that you aren’t sure about (*cough cough* bell sleeves).  I’ve lived through the bell sleeve trend once.  I had some bell sleeves that I really liked and some I really hated.  If you spend very little money, if it doesn’t work out, you don’t feel pressure to keep wearing it.  If you don’t end up wear it, give it back to the thrift store or cut it up and use it as a rag or embroider all over it and make it cool again.

One thing I really loved about my childhood was that mom didn’t worry about our clothes.  She let us run around outside and get dirty and not worry.  I never buy anything at full price.  I take reasonably good care of my clothes, but I never worry about them.  I try not to buy clothes that come with a side of guilt.  I buy clothes that come with a side of happy.  That happiness comes from cuteness or comfiness or easy-breeziness.  Don’t buy clothes that make you miserable.  That should be easy, right?  But it’s amazing how easily we can make ourselves miserable with worry.  It’s great to enjoy your clothes!

Bonus: DIY Mask

I went to masquerade ball on Friday night and I made my mask from tulle left over from trimming the bottom of my dress.  My dress is now the correct length AND I had material for a cool mask.  Win-win.

Bonus:  The Thrift Treasure

The real star of the outlet shopping trip was this beaded cardigan.  The beading is immaculate, which is incredible, because I’m sure this baby came from 1950s.  This is pure Sandra Dee vintage right here.  It was exactly the kind of thing I hoped to find and I couldn’t believe that I got to walk away with it!

I haven’t found the right thing to wear it with, but I adore it, so keep an eye out for Sandra Dee!  Yup.  I’ve named the cardigan.

Ashley Tries Vintage

I actually don’t have a lot of vintage pieces in my wardrobe and I don’t usually go for vintage styling, so this week was an interesting challenge for me!  That might come as a surprise to some of you, because I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I have a retro / vintage vibe going on.  I think this is because I like wearing clothes that having interesting details, good fit, and funky colors, plus lots of femininity.  Those are all things that we associate with vintage clothing.

Last weekend, I went to an antique store to get framing supplies for some artwork that I wanted to put up in my house, and the antique store turned out to be full of beautiful vintage clothes as well.  Since I automatically make up rules for myself, I made a few rules, because everything was cool and beautiful and I wanted IT ALL.

  • If it doesn’t fit, don’t buy it.  (Don’t do the “if I lose five pounds, this will look great!” thing.  That ruins the fun of buying and having clothes.  This is a life rule for me, not just a vintage-clothes-shopping rule.  If it doesn’t fit right now, it’s not the right thing.  Period.)
  • If needs major work, don’t buy it.  (This applies to stains, holes, bad zippers, etc.  Hemming is okay, major structural alteration is not.)
  • If you don’t have an occasion to wear it, don’t buy it.  (It has to work for MY life, not somebody else’s life.
  • If it looks like a costume, don’t buy it.

Even with those rules, I found two dresses, two coats, and an evening gown.  The evening gown did not make an appearance, but I’m going to a fancy Christmas party soon and I promise I will post a picture when I wear it!

Day 1: Gingham Dress

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This dress is cute, comfy, and practical.  I think it would look better without tights, but I needed tights on Monday.  Because it was cold.  Here are the reasons I bought this dress:

  • It combines two big trends for this year:  western details and gingham.  I could have bought this exact dress at a funky boutique somewhere.  What goes around comes around!
  • The material is good quality – stretchy, thick, and soft.
  • While it is a shirt dress, only the top actually buttons and unbuttons.  The skirt does not unbutton and this prevents gapping and other wardrobe malfunctions.  I appreciate that kind of concern for my wellbeing.
  • It fit beautifully.  It was made with curves in mind.
  • It was eight dollars.  SCORE.

I don’t think this is the best styling for it.  I picture this as a standalone spring / summer dress with some flats or chunky heels.  This dress is pure fun and it definitely looks better on than it does on the hanger.  That’s why it’s important to try things on!

Tuesday: Western Jacket

This jacket is my new favorite thing.  According to the tag it comes from Pam Layne’s Sage In Bloom – apparel wear – Ft. Worth Texas.  This thing is legit.  It’s quality wool, a fantastic cut, plus it has BIRDS ALL OVER IT.  I could find this jacket at Anthropologie right now, but I wouldn’t be able to afford it.  This jacket was around twenty dollars, but to buy something comparable new would probably be around two hundred dollars.  That’s why I was over the moon to find this one.  Even if nobody else loves it as much as I love it, I feel like I won a treasure hunt.

I did modify this one slightly, because there were beaded tassels coming off the buttons.  It was definitely a look, but it’s easier to wear it without.  Also, the lining fabric is incredible.  Lining fabrics go a long way with me.  I appreciate designers who spend time on a part of the garment that may only be seen by the wearer.

Wednesday: Red Skirt

I was considering wearing the other dress I bought, but it was too summery.  I would have frozen to death.  So I asked my friend Sara to loan me a vintage skirt, so I could try styling it in a modern way.

This is probably my favorite outfit this week, just because there were a lot of moving parts.  Skirt, t-shirt, sweater blazer, necklaces, ankle booties.  A red skirt may seem intimidating and hard to pair with things, but it can be really beautiful.  It just requires some boldness.

The best part of the skirt was the fit and flare shape.  The waist hit right at my narrowest point and then went out from there.  The sweater blazer buttons at the natural waist as well, so it was just a great day for that waist.  I wanted to mix prints and to do an unexpected color scheme (red, white, peachy-pink, and black), because trying to match would be impossible and the mix is what makes the outfit look modern.  Matching makes outfits look more retro/vintage.

Thursday: Necklace

Since Wednesday’s outfit was all about trying to make the mix look modern, I want Thursday’s outfit to look vintage, but with modern clothes.  The only vintage element is the necklace.  My grandma gave it to me and I think it’s the coolest thing.  Very graphic and sleek and modern.

If you want a vintage look, but don’t feel confident hunting down vintage pieces from thrift and antique stores, you can still achieve a vintage look that doesn’t look like a costume.  Look for dresses that fit on the top, flare out at the bottom.  Look for fitted jackets.  Look for unique prints or interesting details.  The main thing to keep in mind if you want a vintage feel is to go for pieces that look ladylike.  Not necessarily super fancy or cutesy, but the clothes need to make you feel like a woman.  Bows and lace and frills may make you feel girly, but a great fit will make you feel womanly, and that’s more important.

Friday: Tan Coat

This wool coat is beautiful in its simplicity.  The lines are good, the wool looks pristine, and the neutral color will never go out of style.  It is a little bit loose, but that allows me to layer sweaters under it, so I’m up for that.

My favorite part of this outfit was the mix of neutrals in the sweater and the coat.  They don’t match, but they go together really well.  The outfit is comprised of basics, but basics with personality and great fit.

Turns out, I really love vintage.  I’m going to keep my eyes open for vintage pieces that mix with the rest of my clothes and add that little extra zing to an outfit.  Raid your grandma’s closet.  Look in thrift stores.  Hunt around.  There are beautiful treasures to find!

 

 

Ashley Tries Costuming A Play!

Dance Party

 

I have very specific bucket list items, but I also accept generalizations of those items.  For example, my bucket list includes “Design and create costumes for an outdoor production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest” and “Drink limoncello on a balcony overlooking the Adriatic” – that kind of thing.  But I check off aspects of each one as well, because anything included in those items counts for something.  Seeing an outdoor Shakespeare play, drinking limoncello, wearing a linen dress, looking at the ocean from a balcony – those still count.  I think they actually count more for day-to-day life than the detailed and perhaps-perhaps-perhaps items.  But I am checking off a major part of that first one, because I got the opportunity to costume a play!  (Not that I am ruling out costuming The Tempest.  I will never rule it out.)
It was a summer play with a small cast and an accelerated rehearsal timeline – a month and a half from start of rehearsals to performance, and they needed a costume manager.  The thought of being in charge of all the costumes for a production was daunting, but I knew I wanted to costume a play at some point, and this seemed like a good opportunity to give it try!
I didn’t have to design and create any of the costumes from scratch, which was a relief, because my sewing skills are pretty rusty.  I’ve hemmed more trousers and cuffs in this last four weeks than I have for the past four years. There was a good costume collection to draw from, so it was all about compiling and accessorizing and tailoring.  It felt like a mix between a mom planning all the clothes for a multiple day trip with a family of ten and curating a vintage clothing display.
Once I agreed to be in charge of costumes, I had to get to know the story and the characters in it, because the purpose of costumes is to advance the plot by telling you more about each character.  Costumes are character development.  And if the costumes look great, it’s a bonus!
The Play:  Over The Moon (based on a P. G. Wodehouse novel)
Where:  New York City
When:  Springtime of 1927
Cast:  6 men, 4 women (all adults)
With that in mind (especially the time period), I started marking up my script.  As each character entered the story, I tried to imagine what they would be wearing.  What time of day is it?  Are they staying at home or going out?  Are they young or old?  Is this character concerned about money and position?  What is his job?  What does she want out of life?
Started with ideas, then went on to the specifics.  Does the character move around a lot?  (If so, focus on looser costumes.)  Do they have quick costume changes?  (If so, keep the outfit simple to take on and off.  Ditch the buckled shoes and button-back dresses.)  Once the cast is in place, you have to keep each cast member’s size and coloring in mind as well.
Once I had a vision (and a 1927-centric Pinterest board), I went to explore the costume collection.  I had a couple of afternoons where I just got to putter around and look at everything and pull whatever I wanted.  SO MUCH FUN.  I know that doesn’t sound super fun to most people, but I love details and colors and fabric.  Spending hours on my own looking at costumes is never a hardship.  What I had available shaped my general vision into a more specific vision.
Some things I learned:  Some details are for the audience and some are for the actors.  Audience details are obvious – sleeve lengths, bold prints, sparkles, contrasting colors, glasses, suspenders, hats, SPARKLES.  Some details are for the actors – the subtle details that you don’t see unless you are up close.  Back in the days of black and white movies, costume designers were asked why they used colors in the design, when the colors didn’t show up in the movie.  They said it was for the actors – an actress will act differently in a red dress than in a black dress.  Costumes inform performances.
Here are some of my favorite details from this show:

 

 

 

 

Another thing I learned is that there’s a difference between what you like and what’s right for the show.  News flash, I know.  But it’s really tempting to fall in love with a vision and stick with it, even if it doesn’t match up with a character or with the story.
When it comes down to it, choose the piece that has the most personality.  Like these hats – I loved this little cream number with the bow, because it’s cute and tiny and simple.  The straw hat is big and loud and covered in holes, but it has so much more personality.  It took me more time to like it, but now I love it.

 

I learned a ton through this experience.  I learned that it’s a ton of work to work through the entire process from vision to execution.  It requires a lot of organization and communication and more bossiness than I have.  I also learned that I’m bad at men’s sizing – I can generally tell a woman’s size, but men’s sizes are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.  If I costume another play, I am just going to take detailed measurements at the beginning of the process.
Come see the play!  Sweat, tears, planning, painting, lighting, accessorizing, and MUCH hemming has gone into this play.  The actors have memorized an entire play just for you! Welcome to New York City, circa 1927.

Ashley Tries a Decade-a-Day

Vintage-inspired dressing generates a few questions and assumptions that I hear a lot:  “How do you wear vintage styles without looking like you’re wearing a costume?”  “Clothes were so much better back then, weren’t they?”  “I love the 1930s and 1960s styles, but I can only channel the 1940s and 1950s, because I’m curvy.”  “Retro clothes are so feminine and ladylike.”  “Those were the good old days.  Why can’t we go back to that?”  “I just can’t pull off retro.”

My goal this week was to be inspired by a different decade every day, put together a real outfit (not a costume) by figuring out signature elements from each decade.  Right up front I’ll admit that I’m not a stickler for complete authenticity.  I’m not going to wear gloves.  Brooches confuse me (WHERE DO I PIN THIS PIN).  I will not be wearing a girdle.  I don’t need total authenticity, because I’m not costuming Mad Men.  I’m just getting dressed in the year 2017.

The Year 2017.  That sounds so futuristic.  We’re only three years away from 2020.  I hope we have flying cars by then.  Actually, I hope we have personal-sized dirigibles to float around in, but I don’t know if anybody besides me is aiming for that goal.

We live in the present.  Not the future, not the past.  Why do we look back?  Why do we reference the past?  Is it because the past feels safe?  I don’t know the answers to all of those questions, but I do know that clothing comes in cycles.  The 1960s referenced the 1920s, the 1970s drew on the 1930s, the 1980s brought back trends from the 1940s… we never break away entirely.  Live in the past and plan for the future, but don’t forget the past.

1920s

Truth be told, this week came out of my research for a play I’m costuming.  I love historical research, but when it’s fashion history, that’s an additional delight.  The play is set in 1927, a very interesting time period for clothes.  It was social upheaval on display.  It’s one of the reasons I chuckle when women say that vintage clothes are so ladylike.  The 1920s weren’t ladylike – exposed ankles shocked the world, women went around wearing sacks as dresses (or even worse, trousers).  In contrast to the hyper-feminine Edwardian period, the abbreviated 1920s dresses looked like lingerie.  These women were running around in their underwear.  In public.  Black, formerly reserved for mourning, became the color of elegance.  The world changed after World War I and clothes changed along with it.

I didn’t go too shocking with my 1920s inspiration, because I still have to work and everything.  The elements and details that come to mind are dropped waists, bob haircuts, red lipstick, knee-length skirts, heels, and long strings of beads.  The dress is proof that curvy girls CAN wear a dress with a dropped waist – just keep proportions in mind.  The waist isn’t too exaggerated, hitting just around mid-hip, and the whole look is pretty and floaty.  Loose dresses are really comfortable – I can understand the movement away from corsets.  Even without a corset, I get tired of wearing fitted dresses.  Have you ever worn a dress that fits really really really well and breathing becomes a much bigger deal than normal?  No such problems with this kind of dress.  It feels like freedom.

I wore some comfy shoes with low heels, threw my hair into a low bun (because a fashionable 1920s girl either had a bob, or mimicked a bob with a loose low bun), and put on red lipstick.  I would have considered a long string of beads, if I owned a long string of beads…have kind of a love-hate relationship with strings of beads.  I deeply sympathize with Thoroughly Modern Millie and her bead problems.

Other ways to infuse some Roaring Twenties style into your outfit:

  • Layer a top over a skirt that hits around the knee and don’t tuck it in – this will mimic a drop waist.
  • Layer on necklaces (the longer the better).
  • A pleated skirt paired with a longer cardigan or blazer (add a brooch or a flower pin to the lapel for extra vintage points).
  • Ankle-strap pumps automatically add a little retro feel to a simple dress.
  • A loose-fitting Little Black Dress that hits around the knee.  Beading, fringe, sheer sleeves, or low back details all add to the glamour factor for evening.  Matte fabric and severe simplicity for daytime.

1940s

I skipped the 1930s, even though it is one of my favorite periods for clothes.  It was just a little more elaborate than I wanted to go for this week.

So I skipped to the 1940s.  Skirts got longer during the 1930s, then went back to short during World War II, because of material rationing.  The clothes were more simple and streamlined and business-like.  There was a strength to the clothing that reflected how strong women had to be during that time.  Clothing can be an armor and it can help you step up and do your job.  Strong lines, strong shoulders, sturdy fabrics, simplicity – these are things I love about clothing in the 1940s.  When I think about 1940s references, I think about Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, Katharine Hepburn and Ruth Hussey in The Philadelphia Story, Lauren Bacall in To Have or Have Not.

The day I wore this outfit was blazing hot, so I wanted something cool and simple.  The skirt isn’t too full or too fitted – a simple a-line.  The neckline is high, the sleeves come to the elbow, the waist fits at the natural waist.  The shoes feel vintage to me – thick heel, peep toe, cut-outs on the sides.  Curled hair, red lips.  The dress is very modern looking, but the overall vibe was retro and it made me feel like I could take on anything the day threw at me.

How to channel the 1940s:

  • A tailored blazer.  Make sure it fits through the shoulders and buttons all the way.  It must FIT.
  • A-line dresses that fit at the natural waist, then hit a little below the knee.
  • Details like sweetheart necklines, keyhole necklines, gathered shoulders, elbow-length sleeves, peep toe shoes.
  • Red lipstick.

1950s

1950s style is bright, colorful, exuberant, and feminine.  Use all the colors!  Use yards of fabric!  No more fabric rationing and everything seemed to be looking up.  Kids didn’t have to grow up as fast, so a whole teenage culture started up and began a divide between adult fashion and teenage fashion.  That hadn’t really happened before.

I love the design of this dress – the placement of the white stripes draws the eye right to the waist.  The skirt is full enough to put a petticoat under (which I don’t plan on doing, unless I’m in Guys and Dolls someday), but it’s still plenty full without looking like a costume.  I wanted to keep piling on the color, so I added pink heels and pink lipstick.  Threw on a striped cardigan, but it was too hot for a cardigan.  Sandra Dee inspired curly ponytail.  This look was really cute.  It felt a little TOO cute to me, but that’s my preference.  The whole thing felt 1950s to me, so I was happy with it.

How to add some 1950s style to your life:

  • Full skirt plus a tucked-in shirt.  Plus a cardigan, if you want to go that far.  The general silhouette is full on the bottom, fitted on the top, with focus on the waist.
  • Rolling up the sleeves on short sleeve shirts – it improves the fit and adds visual interest.
  • Heels.  And pearls.
  • A cropped jacket or cardigan draws the eye up to the natural waist.  (For those days when tucking your shirt in sounds like the worst thing in the world…)

1960s

When I think of 1960s, I think about Nancy Drew.  There are obviously other (nonfictional) examples of this era’s style, but Miss Drew’s elaborately flipped hair, perfectly matched separates, and penny loafers scream sixties to me.

Less ladylike than the 1950s, but just as elaborate (or more) in styling, the 1960s took hemlines to dizzying new heights.  Flats replaced heels as the new norm. If the fifties were all about the waist, the sixties were all about the legs, with skinny cigarette trousers and mini skirts to put them on display.

I wanted to go for separates for this day, since I had done dresses for the other days and because trousers became more commonplace during this time.  Going for kind of a Mary Tyler Moore vibe – you know when she dances in a turtleneck, pants, and flats and looks ADORABLE while doing so?  It’s iconic.  I don’t usually wear turtlenecks, so I wore a  light sleeveless sweater with a high cowl neck to mimic the look without being too literal with it.  It also has a trapeze shape, which is pretty true to the period.

Skinny jeans that hit right at the ankle, pointy flats, cat eye eyeliner, pale lips.  Swingin’ sixties, baby.  It looks modern, but that’s because the 1960s informed so much of what we consider modern.

How to do 1960s:

  • Trapeze dresses that fit around the neck, then float out from there.  Sheath and shift dresses also give that mod shape.
  • Crazy prints (especially floral or paisley or plaid)
  • Eyeliner, pale lips
  • Matchy-matchy (skirt suits, match your earrings to your dress, etc.)
  • Pointy-toe flats or loafers or elastic-sided boots

1970s

For the 1970s, I got inspired by pictures of my mom’s college days.  There was a glam side to seventies style, but I am more familiar with the California natural earthy side.  I don’t own REAL flares, the engulf-your-foot elephant flare bell bottoms, so I just went with straight leg jeans with a good faded wash.

Embroidery was a big trend, along with comfy oversized tunics, so I used this opportunity to bring out my embroidered Mexican top.  I love it very much.  It was super comfy, because I wore my loosest jeans and a loose top.  SO comfy.

I really should have had Birkenstocks, because those were my mom’s only shoes in college.  I used to have a pair, but they wore out.  So I wore brown platform heels, because those are super seventies.

I have a great fondness for the tunic tops, flares, maxi dresses, and crazy color combinations of my mom’s college days.  It is the summer Friday of decades.

To get some seventies sunshine in your style:

  • Flares are having a fashion moment – pull those wide leg jeans back out.  We don’t need to wear tight jeans all the time!  Be as comfy as you want this summer.
  • Breezy tunics and caftans
  • Maxi dresses
  • Platform shoes
  • Wavy hair – free those curls!

It was a fun week, but it made me start thinking about what I want the future of fashion to be.  We shouldn’t just retreat to the past and be reactive.  We need to start thinking about the future and be proactive about it.  Clothes shape us.  We need to start designing, start making, start figuring out what’s really important in clothes.  Make conscious decisions about what clothes we wear and what those clothes mean.  It’s easy to go back to something familiar – it’s harder to make things.  The past is a good reference, but we shouldn’t retreat to the past if we don’t like the present or if we don’t like the way our immediate future looks.  The present is where we live and where we can change things, so we need to focus on the present.

What makes you happy?

Abstract

 

We’ve talked about the 4 questions for intentional dressing:
  • What time is it?
  • Where am I going?
  • Who do I need to respect?
  • What are my responsibilities?
After all those practical questions are answered, we get to the fun question:  Do I like these clothes?  This is the subject, personal part of clothing.  I love it.
Going through my closet last week, I set aside pieces that I love and have worn many, many times and started trying to figure out what I really liked about my favorites.  These are themes that stood out to me:
  • Color
  • Print
  • Interesting structural details
  • Fit
  • Comfort

I’ll just deal with color for this post and I’ll get to the other aspects later.  These days, color doesn’t have as much to do with the four practical questions.  (There are exceptions to this – to respect the bride, don’t wear white to a wedding, etc.)  It has much more to do with the last question – the “do I like it” question, but it goes beyond liking.  Colors are culturally embedded, emotional, symbolic, and powerful.

Back in the days of black and white, costume designers were routinely asked why they designed costumes in color.  Why didn’t they just design in shades of gray?  That’s all the audiences could see.  The designers replied that actors needed colors to emotionally engage with their characters.  When Bette Davis wore a red dress, you knew she was wearing a red dress – even if you saw it as dark gray on the screen.  The costume’s color changed her attitude and her performance, and that’s what we pick up.

We know what colors mean, even when we don’t think about it.  Red is the most obvious – passion, blood, fire, courage, desire.  Yellow – sunshine, cheerfulness, summer, spontaneity.  Different greens can give different emotions – some greens evoke life, nature, hope, others (like poison green) signify jealousy, envy, greed.  Blues calm – they communicate intelligence, loyalty, stability, tranquility.  White stands for purity, cleanliness, even holiness.  Black has always signified mourning and death, but shifted into popularity over the 20th century (partially thanks to Henry Ford’s Model T and Coco Chanel’s Little Black Dress).

When colors become popular, we should ask why.  Think.  Use our brains.  They mean something – what do they mean?  Because colors change us – they change our moods, they change our behavior.  They have power.

If you’re afraid of color and only wear black/gray and maybe jeans (yes, you – you know who you are), try to figure out what it is about color that you’re avoiding.  Maybe you’re afraid of attracting attention.  Maybe you are afraid of a color looking bad on you.  Maybe you don’t want to try new things.  I have nothing against black, but it can become camouflage.  To give color a try in a low-risk way, find a cardigan in a beautiful color and throw it on over your black t-shirt.  Or try a bright skirt.  Don’t worry, it will go with all your black clothes.  Maybe you’ll get noticed, but that is not a bad thing.  Cheerful colors make other people happy.  Give it a go and tell me how it goes!

 

 

Fashion History: The Little Black Dress

Fashion History:  The Little Black Dress

 

The little black dress can be filed under Dresses That Changed Everything.
In 1926, Vogue ran a sketch of Gabrielle Chanel’s little black dress.  Chanel had been designing for more than ten years at that point.  She opened a boutique in 1913 and started to push the fashion world away from the romantic Edwardian styles.  We associate the 1920s with flappers, but they were the fringe on the outskirts – it took a while for the general population to transition to knee-length skirts and looser fits.  When Vogue ran the picture of Chanel’s knee-length crepe dress, everybody was ready to change and everybody changed into a little black dress.
Some reasons why it changed fashion:
  • It was severely simple with minimal detail, so it was immediately copied and mass-produced.  It was compared to the Model T Ford – simple, black, and everybody had one.  A duchess and a shop worker in 1927 could wear dresses that looked identical, reflecting the changing social dynamic.
  • It’s knee-length skirt and loose fit allowed for ease of movement (no more restrictive corsets).  It wasn’t decorative, it was functional – designed for women who wanted independence.  The 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was ratified in 1920, so that dynamic comes in as well.
  • Before Chanel decided that black was elegant, it was the color that servants and mourners wore.

It had many critics, Gabrielle Chanel’s changed fashion for good.  So if you own a little black dress, thank Coco.