Friday, October 8, 2010

Rags Week: The Old Ways

Photo courtesy Flickr

My childhood was semi-civilized, but my friends and I snickered at one public high school classmate’s skirts: her zippers were always on the wrong side. Why Susie was willing to invite us to her house one day escapes me, but we trooped over to a modestly elegant Tudor house in a pre-World War Two suburb of privilege, the kind that preceded tract housing.

On the initial tour, Susie happened to mention that the dressmaker who produced her clothing also turned it inside out after a season to two, when it began to look worn. Thus, the zippers. Turning clothes is an old practice that made the most of first-rate fabric and of the labor it took to make it up.

No doubt the cost per use of a quality custom garment was lower than that of a mass-market model cut from boardy wool, the load on the environment lighter, and its effect on the local economy immediate. Those skirts were cut with generous seam allowances and deep hems that allowed them to expand one or two sizes and extend their useful life as Susie grew. Generously cut clothing is relaxing to wear.

Hand-knits were made with replaceable ribbing, and areas that wore, like elbows and the ribbing itself, were knit with an extra strand of fine reinforcing yarn. Socks were designed with removable toes and heels, which is why monkey socks look the way they do: that red strand was originally meant to be cut and pulled for a quick release.

Bodices were cut close to the body, as they are beginning to be again, a good strategy for warmth, reinforcing weight control, and elegant posture. The area where sleeve and bodice met was set with a replaceable diamond-shaped piece of fabric called a gusset that took the strain of the movement of the arms against the torso. A gusset adds years to the life of a garment.

Buttons were recognized for the key design element they are. A favorite trick for upgrading bargain clothes was to replace stock buttons with ones that enhanced the look. That’s why button shops survive. They’re a trip and a half.

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More after the jump.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rags Week: Twins

Photo courtesy Flickr

Extensive personal field-testing has proven the following: a twinset is the hardest-working top imaginable. Try one. It’s the golden retriever of the wardrobe, always there, always friendly, low-maintenance, dignified, and forever solving problems you didn’t know existed.

A tri-set of shell, cap-sleeve, and cardigan would be even more useful.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rags Week: No Toes in Town

Photo courtesy Flickr

The woman who managed Pierre Cardin’s fashion house in the Seventies wrote an informative book called, simply, Elegance, in which she shared some basic pieces of social wisdom about clothing.

Thirty years have proved the following: wear closed shoes in town, where the sidewalks are filthy. People see coats first, so spend on coats. Belonging to a club creates a group mentality.

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More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rags Week: Fashion and Re-Fashion

Photo courtesy Flickr


About a third of the garments on display in the windows of a major downtown retailer can easily be scavenged or improvised nearly skill-free. It's a good way to get the most out of quality clothing.

Friday I noted shrunken sweaters with full-sized sleeves (got one waiting), crocheted chain-stitch loops covering the arms of a short-sleeved sweater (a novel alternative to patched elbows), the perennial pea jacket, and what appear to be men’s pleated dress trousers cut down into shorts.

A national designer had improvised a top for a charity benefit: he layered knit lace over a t-shirt and then trimmed and turned the t’s neckline and sleeves into facings. That would be a good way to salvage a half-dead t with the lace knits offered by the Made in America chain of shops. Knits are forgiving to hand sew. Just relax and take your time until your hands decide they know what they're doing.

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Monday, October 4, 2010

Rags Week-Wild Design


Photo courtesy Flickr

One morning in August, a group of women disembarked at the same bus stop by the University. Each was coatless and dressed entirely in black. The group was a spontaneous essay in design. Monochrome made it easy to perceive fabric, line, and the expression of individual preference in answering the question “what to put on?” in the morning.

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