Saturday, November 30, 2013

Plagued by the Muchness of Sameness

Even to me, this is boring...
I don't imagine that it surprises you to learn that I look at literally thousands, if not tens of thousands, of garments and accessories each day.  Of course I peruse most of these online while I'm building beautiful vignettes to share with you, but I look at them nonetheless.

Why do I have to look at so much STUFF every day?  Because the vast majority of it either (a) looks like most of the other things I've seen, or (b) looks cheap, poorly made, poorly photographed, and utterly unworthy of your attention.  Often, I see clothes that qualify for both (a) and (b)... the true losers of the wardrobe world.

What can we do to combat this infinite sameness?

1.  Don't give in to it.  Buying basics is wise and often a good choice, but when stores offer you nothing but the same old same old, it's time to refuse to buy.  Many major department stores have begun to look so much alike to me that I just avoid them.

2. Accessories.  Especially artisan things like those that come from Boticca, Novica, local artisans and small shops will go a long way toward customizing an otherwise rather conformist garment.

3.  Vintage.  Not easy, and time consuming, but there are beautiful things to be found.

4.  Invest in something extraordinary and wear it to pieces.

5.  Learn to sew, or find someone you can hire to make clothes for you.  This really NEEDS to happen - exceptional seamstresses need to make a fantastic living, and we need to remember that a few perfect items made just for us are worth shelves of mass-produced dreck.  I would love to find someone in Chicago to make a suit for me - I have all of the details thought out...

Anybody else find the sameness of our clothing offerings to be irritating?  And do you have any suggestions for how we can express ourselves in this ocean of conformity?

37 comments:

  1. I sew most of my own clothes. It's not always easy to find the right fabrics, but when I do, it's wonderful to be able to make a garment to my own specifications, that really fits, and that is unique to me. When I see that the pants in shops tend to all be ankle length in winter, well, I don't have to put up with that. I can make mine nice and long. My clothes take me a long time to make, longer anyway than going to the shop and popping the credit card, so I really value them. I made a pure virgin wool peacoat this fall with a polka-dot lining, and between finding the fabrics, the notions, beautiful buttons, testing and refining the pattern, brushing up on difficult techniques and actually cutting and sewing it up, it was quite a project but it was also really rewarding and I really, really love my peacoat. I don't like to knit however, so I'll be on the lookout for sweaters and cardigans in the sales. And I do buy basics such as tees, underwear, etc...

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    1. Sara, you have described to a "T" the essence of sewing -- the challenge (and delight) of making the garment, and the thrill of having something custom made (or "bespoke") and by your own hands. It's really a shame that more people don't sew/knit/etc. -- we'd have such an interesting array of clothes out there. P.S. You might try bartering with someone who knits. I made maternity clothes for someone who did my taxes, etc.

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    2. I find your comment encouraging but perhaps optimistic regarding the refined skills required for advanced sewing. When I was 20, I could run up a skirt at 5 pm. to wear at 8- a simple tube. Now, my tastes are for draping and detail. My wishes have outstripped my skills and also the space to keep the judy, the machine, etc. "Oh, just make it" is perhaps a bit optimistic when I cannot even see the needle that well.

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    3. Yes, I'm sure it's easier for those of us who never quit sewing and who consider it our hobby as well as a source of clothes. Spending time in my sewing studio relaxes me. The clothes are a bonus.

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  2. Yes, the sameness is irritating. Worse than that, it's confusing. I've been in stores where I look around and suddenly I'm not sure which store it is because it all looks the same as at least three other stores. I prefer sewing for myself.

    Here's a listing of professional custom clothiers that you can search by location: http://www.paccprofessionals.org/find-a-sewing-pro
    There should be at least a few in the Chicago area. IIRC, they have a really lively chapter there. Hope this helps.

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  3. This is a subject much discussed and lamented on the garment sewing blogs. The sameness and poor quality of RTW is becoming a world wide issuel

    And what you say is so, so true Janice. Most of my life I had sewn my own clothes, partly for design options but most for economy. Then lack of time forced me into the stores but that was before everything went to bland. It is my theory that "casual Friday" was the impetus for our overly-casual dressing style so prevalent now. The answer for me was to revert to fashion sewing again. However, now I have all sorts of middle age gravity and body change issues that require tedious fitting, testing and such. But that is OK, I know that I will have something unique and well made. The local fabric choices are rather limited but several on-line sources offer high quality and good service. Do check out the local PACC, good luck.

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  4. Have you ever searched Etsy.com for artisan jewelry and clothing? They even have vintage.............

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  5. Too true Janice! I searched high and low for black and white sweater like the one you featured in the size of the average American woman. Still looking ....

    For those of us not 'designer' sized, the options are even more limited.

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    1. I agree with the lack of options for those of us not "designer sized". Do clothing manufacturers really think that plus-sized women only wear black pants? :-) I will say that the plus-sized market is getting better. At least all the tops aren't flowery tents any more.

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    2. Many of the fun things shown here have links to Uniglo. I recently clicked on one of them to explore what what available. When I clicked on the size chart, the whole page would just fog out and no chart would pop up. There were no links to any plus sizes, so I wanted to see what actual size the XL and XXL garments were. After a couple of emails back and forth, I talked to someone at Uniglo today. For those of you lacking designer bodies, especially if you are large busted, you can forget Uniglo as a source. According to the person I spoke to, the XXL for them tops out at a 41" bust measurement.

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  6. So so true. We seem to be awash in clothing but I can't find anything I like. All the manufacturers seem to cut to the same fit, there's very little real choice (for ex. all tops are now very long, awful on my short waisted, 8 shape body). And some of the more varied pieces, if I can find them, are also quite expensive. I used to sew but lack the skills to make a really well-fitting garment. Gaining those skills would take precious time that I want to use on other projects....so what to do. I'm not a shopper so don't want to invest the time into the vintage route. So far I've gone with option #2 - buying beautiful Indian scarves from a local woman who brings them in direct, craft shows, etsy, etc. But I do wish there was some easier way to find clothes with a little flair that fit my body. As a start, I'll see if PACC has a chapter here.

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  7. Janice, you need to try Vogue Fabrics and ask them if they have dressmaker recommendations (I can't imagine they wouldn't). They're family-owned and have stores in the South Loop and Evanston. Gorgeous stuff.

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    1. Took the words right out of my mouth!

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    2. Absolutely! I subscribe to their coordinated swatch catalogs. It is great for capsule wardrobes since everything goes together!

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  8. I've sewn my clothes for the past 10 years or so. Once I realized I could spend on fabric what I would have spent on clothes - and end up with couture instead of disposable clothes - so much fun! I'm using vivienne's great wardrobe ideas to build a greys and blues workable wardrobe now!

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  9. I used to sew a long time ago, but it takes more time and patience than I have now. Also, when my mom and I used to sew back when I was in college, there were many more fantastic fabric stores - Marshall Field's had an amazing department. Now, there is one place near us, and the fabric is cheap and all the same, so I have no incentive to revisit my skills.

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    1. there are some amazing online resources, and many will send swatches on request
      --vogue fabrics
      --gorgeous fabrics
      --Marcy Tilton
      --Emma One Sock
      --Mood
      --Elliott Berman

      My favorites are Marcy and Emma.

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    2. Also: Apple Annie Fabrics (they're in MA) at www.appleanniefabrics.com.

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  10. I'm lucky because I live in Hong Kong and have a very inexpensive tailor. But I've never experienced a bad Chinese tailor so whatever city you live in, try to find a tailor who was trained in Shanghai. Communication might be a bit of a challenge but if you know what you want they will understand because there are only so many ways that clothes can vary.
    There are many things that can go wrong when you get clothes made but almost all can be avoided and good tailors will alter anything that is a mistake. Firstly you need to make sure the fabric is the right one for the garment you want (i.e. degree of stretch; stiff or soft etc.). Secondly you need to really specify exactly what you want. Copying one of your fave things or giving the tailor a pattern avoids any ambiguity about every detail of a design. Thirdly, ask for one or two inch seams you can adjust the fit if its turns out too tight (or you expand)...
    My point is that tailors and dressmakers do not need to be expensive or from some fashionable part of town. Any Chinatown area will have Shanghai-trained tailors and once you have a long business relationship with them you will find they do excellent work.
    I don't know why tailors and dressmakers have gone out of fashion except for high-end items like wedding dresses. Manufactured items are all stock sizes and rarely fit many people properly.

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  11. Couldn't agree more Janice - but I find even finding decently made "basics" a challenge. Finding clothes in the same color range can be hugely challenging as well - found a beautiful Eileen Fisher sweater in Mykonos blue - which is supposed to be one of the "in" colors this season. Haven't found much in that color at all this season - and what I've found was suitable for teenager but not for "a woman of a certain age"!!!

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  12. My daughter and I have started frequenting thrift and consignment shops for this very reason. At 15, she hates all the current young styles shown in stores, but always has good luck finding older, unique pieces that I can alter. We will be in luck as long as people keep emptying their closets out of their old things and passing them on...

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  13. You are soooo right, Janice. Even well made clothes are often done with poor quality fabrics and/or linings, buttons, etc. I sew many of my very basic items such as dress pants, skirts and a few basic tops. I have a body that requires alterations for most everything. I'm happy that I can do my own alterations most of the time. A basic item that fits beautifully and is made of a quality durable fabric.. Is timelessly classic. I still get compliments on a navy pencil skirt I made almost 5 years.. The fabric is an unusual all-season tropical weight but textured Italian fabric - a gift from my daughter. You have taught me that a few beautiful and well thought out items can go so far with accessories s to mix things up.... Thank you sooo much.

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  14. One of my very first blog posts was on seeking out the artisans in your area:
    http://passagedesperles.blogspot.ca/2008/03/hidden-designers-of-your-city.html
    The larger the customer base, the more the vendor regresses to the InStyle norm.

    At the same time, I am thrilled that Eric Bompard and Brora offer their gorgeous products with fast shipping; have to pay shipping and customs duty but compared to a ticket to Europe, not so bad.

    As far a sewing goes, not all of us have the gift- it's like as green thumb. I made some great things but turned out a lot of wadders, too.

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  15. I live in Melbourne & am a difficult to fit size. I have found a dressmaker ( Italian) who used to sew for designers when they made in Australia. When I cannot find the fabric that I want I buy for instance the jacket I like in 100% wool and the seamstress takes it in for me so that I basically end up with a couture jacket that does not look boxy.
    She french seams everything so it is worth the extra $ to have something that fits perfectly. Beautiful fabrics and cuts will always look timeless and if you work out the $ per wear factor it certainly is a plus.

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  16. I taught sewing classes for 40 years in grades 7-12 and adult ed. By far the most popular project among all ages was the "No-Pattern Skirt." If your hip measurement is at least 3" less than the fabric width you can buy a length 6" longer than the finished skirt, sew a center back seam ending about 10" or so from the bottom for a slit for walking ease, make a casing for 1" wide elastic for the waist at the top and put in a hem. The edges of the slit can be hand-hemmed. Very short skirts need no slit. With a hip-length sweater or overblouse no one knows it's an elastic waist. Some of the adults used expensive silks and wools and the skirts were gorgeous. A few bought extra fabric and made a matching stole. The teens sometimes bought their fabric after school and wore the skirt to school the next day - with triumphant grins! What fun we had, and the students learned to sew without stress and frustration.



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    1. Oh I'm so glad you posted this, I'm definitely going to try it out!

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  17. This post speaks a lot to me! I just finished up a blog post yesterday, as I am entering into the final week of my first Project 333. I am just getting so fed up with what I see in the stores, and disappointed in the quality, cut, and workmanship. I asked my husband for a sewing machine for Christmas and have picked up a few books, patterns, watched some videos and have been seeking out classes. I figure the best solution for my problem is learn to make my own stuff! I even repaired my first button yesterday!

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  18. So true Janice! Finding clothes that are truly unique in the stores is nearly impossible and not only do all the clothes look the same but heaven forbid you don't have a cookie cutter body! I started making my own skirts this year and have enjoyed every bit of it. Most of the rest of my wardrobe are vintage finds from estate sales and Goodwill. Not only do I get to build a wardrobe that fits my body and personality but I save a ton of money that can be spent on quality foundation pieces like shoes and accessories from independent artists. I get lots of compliments and people asking me where I shop.

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  19. Oh, Janice! Come to Minneapolis. I have a marvelous seamstress who can copy anything and design. Beautiful wool/cashmere pencil skirt with remarkable detailing and a sheath dress made with vintage Liberty of London wool. I'm knitting the cardigans to go with them. Susan (Minneapolis)

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  20. Susan

    Details please! I live in a small city in the South and the "best" tailor in town says he cannot copy a suit. Dressmakers here are bridal only, unless there's a source I can't find.

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  21. If you want to learn to sew, try advertising in the classifieds for a retired homemaking teacher who is willing to teach sewing. Not only will they likely love sewing, they will have the teaching gift, too. My mom is a retired homemaking teacher who has been sewing her entire life. I am fortunate in this regard and I am rather fearless with my sewing projects because I know she can help me make it look fantastic. Teaching is in her blood as much as sewing is. Earlier this year, I invited over two friends who were wanting to learn to sew for a sewing party. We all made a basic sleeveless shell under my mom's instruction and they all turned out great.

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  22. This is why I am starting to knit my own clothes, particularly tops. I'm using natural fibres only and I'm creating my own patterns. It is a very powerful feeling to make, love, and wear something that is truly me.

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  23. We are lucky that it is still possible to do vocational training as a seamstress here in Switzerland and I am delighted that my daughter (18) is carrying on this family tradition, as she has numerous sewers in our family tree! She has already learnt so much in the first half of the three year apprenticeship and I am looking forward to her doing some sewing to measure for me ;) With a little initiative, she has a great future ahead of her…!

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  24. I guess trolling through thousands of online images would make you a bit jaded, but after nearly two years in England, I'm still loving the much wider range of clothing compared with little old New Zealand. You get different lengths of trousers and skirts here! The great British high street with store ranging from cheap as chips to 'as worn by Catherine Middleton'. Lovely stuff. I have to keep my wardrobe focussed so I don't end up buying more clothing than I can actually use.

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  25. I've sewn nearly all my life and now that I have more time have challenged myself to create most of my clothing. It's not inexpensive or quick; quality fabric costs and muslins and mistakes are part of the process. But the satisfaction of my well fitted garment from fabric and styles I've chosen trumps the instant gratification of purchasing.....though I constantly have to remind myself when "snoop shopping" online or in stores! Kntters have my wholehearted admiration; I don't have the patience or skill! Thank goodness for "sweater knit" yardage.
    Kathleen

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  26. I don't have a sewing machine, but I have talked to tailors in my area. I can get a silk button down shirt custom made for me for about $170. They have a lot of nice suiting fabrics available to them, and many of the finest Italian ones. Because I will never find a ready to wear shirt that fits me perfectly, I think that may be the way I need to go.

    When I was looking for good tailors, a bunch were recommended in Chicago, especially for women's clothing. I don't remember them right now, but you should have some success!

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  27. I'm sure you've read "Overdressed: The shockingly high cost of cheap fashion?" It does a really good job of explaining why clothing, even in stores that used to be good, is poorly made, of cheap materials and generally awful.

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