Before the invention of the department store and ‘off the hanger’ you couldn’t go into a shop and buy clothes. The concept of clothing sizes and ready made just didn’t exist. Most women were taught as children to sew and learned skills for make do and mend and to reshape second hand. Even my grandmothers used to make their own dresses from paper patterns you could buy on the high street which they made at home on the kitchen table. For those from a more privledged background there were plenty of tailors and outfitters to choose from or you could hire your own seamstress.
These days the bespoke tailor is thought of a luxury service used by the rich and famous. But there is a middle ground if you don’t want to learn to sew for yourself.
Predominantly and historically fashion has been geared around highly tailored garments, things you cannot get ready to wear. Just as today where people are all different sizes, so they were going back through history and this is why tailoring was an important service. Most women pre 1920s wore corsets, tailored to fit in every possible way. Clothing was then made to fit around your unique body shape. The hour glass figure, give or take was a preoccupation of most women.
Ready made, whilst not being a concept then, was also not practical. If you were given a hand me down and you wanted to wear it, you would probably have to do a certain amount of work to reshape it to your own size. For many this was standard right up until after the Second World War. The dawn of off the hanger changed all that.
These days we expect sizes to fit as if we are all the same. But they don’t and we are not. Nothing has changed there. That is, in part, because no two people are the same, and because vanity sizing – the act of shops changing standard measurements to flatter their customers – is rife in our mainstream stores. We’ve all experienced it.
Sizing is a particular issue if you only sell online and if you don’t make huge numbers of each outfit. I only make one of each garment and customers are cautious about making purchases. Rightly so. Is it going to fit? Even when you explain the customisation process, many still don’t get it, or don’t want to be bothered with the extra effort required to send a couple of measurements and waiting a few extra days. Whatever happened to ‘slow fashion’? No one minds when it comes to weddings and proms.
I no longer make tailored garments as a general rule. Instead I have become hooked on the aesthetics of drape and historical Greek and Roman costume. These styles allow me to make one dress that will fit across a range of sizes. As a standard I aim for a UK8 – UK16 in one dress but it also depends on how much fabric I have available to me to create that particular outfit. I don’t buy off the roll as most designers do. Body length, bust, waist and hip size are largely resolved using the particular techniques and styles I’ve perfected and I make wherever possible to an unhemmed length so that whoever eventually buys that dress will get it to their required length. Hemming takes just 20 minutes on many of my dresses.
Even so, this is not a concept that fashion buyers seem comfortable with or able to grasp. Most of us lack the basic skills for repairing and hemming and so the idea that you could buy something that didn’t quite fit and then make it fit perfectly, just doesn’t cross people’s minds. The constant complaint from customers across social media that nothing ever fits quite like it did on the model on the website was brought to the forefront again recently with this article and it momentarily surprised me to realise that not everyone knew this is how clothes are fitted during photoshoots. In case you weren’t sure I’ll say it again, this is how everyone styles outfits on a photoshoot. It’s not because the clothes don’t fit, it’s simply that no one person is the same and yes that includes models too.
Trying to get across the message that you can have that dress and I can make it fit for you, isn’t easy either, no matter how often I say it or tweet it, or Instagram photograph it. I uploaded another update recently but I don’t know who understands it.
I wonder if it’s simply that the idea of having something altered to fit goes against what modern consumers have become used to. They expect next day delivery. Returns in an instant. They are not used to having to wait for something so the idea that you would have a conversation with a designer, hand over a few essential measurements and wait a few extra days, is beyond what customers are prepard to tolerate. Maybe we are all just used to having to compromise on fit. Even so, I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked if I can alter something to fit and when I say I can, I never hear from them again. Was it a trick question?
Customers who do make that extra effort – usually people who are used to having to go the extra mile for something that fits (ie that 6ft 1in tall customer from the Netherlands earlier this year) – get a great garment that becomes a staple in their wardrobe. It’s worth it if you’re going to look after that item and wear it again and again. It probably doesn’t suit the ‘wear it once and toss it away’ mentality.
Even so, I am still gobsmacked at the amount of money people will spend on a prom dress and alterations for one wear. There’s nothing like bowing to trends and the expectation of your teenage daughter to empty your pockets.