Is High Fashion on the Verge of a “Less Complicated Point of View?”

Concerning the last episode of Project Runway, Tom and Lorenzo, creators of the successful fashion blog by that name, write:

“. . .this was about Nina and Michael and in many ways that judging session was representative of an ongoing conversation in the fashion industry in light of the collapse of the economy. Namely, should the industry move away from a focus on theatrical high-priced luxury goods and fantasy clothes and should it embrace a more downscale, less complicated point of view?” (underlining and italics mine.)

This is the first I have heard of high fashion possibly moving away from complex and sometimes bizarre concept shows, and contemplating something more like the early twentieth century when high fashion designs did not include strange curiousities like felted wire headdresses and thigh-high fur boots.  When I see photos of haute couture clothing from before 1950, I respond to it immediately, often with a desire to own and wear that lovely garment.   Though I love watching today’s runway show videocasts, I can’t say that I have the same response.  Most often I find the models to be cluttered with a lot of accessories and layers.  So much so that I have a hard time evaluating the garments.  And the garments often appear to be purposefully unflattering to women, though they are made by people who claim they love women and want to dress them beautifully. 

What would be a “more downscale, less complicated point of view?’ (Though I slightly resent the assumption that clothing devoid of overweening theatricality, which I, a regular consumer might like, is considered “downscale.”)

Not a scientific measure of our economy, but over the last few years I have noticed that shopping carts at Target are a lot less full than they used to be.  Though I am told by media sources that it is technically no longer a recession, it is clear that something has shifted both economically and culturally for Americans. 

Is this change going to be played out in fashion? 

 Are you already seeing some changes?

Or do you think Nina and Michael were just filling air time and that high fashion will never change?

Home-sewers are keenly aware of the fashion world and

 I would love to hear from my readers on this topic.

If this topic sparks a thought or idea, please post a comment. 🙂

Next Post: Friday, November 12, 2010: Stash Bash Update


Leggings:2010-2011 Fall/Winter Fashion

Robin Hood and Little John by Louis Rhead 1912


They are in all the fashion mags now.  I bought a few this summer and was eager to give them a try at the first whisp of fall crispiness.  Choosing my outfit the night before I thought my recently sewn navy pencil skirt would pair nicely with black leggings and a black ¾ sleeve fitted tee.  I even had the requisite pair of perfect ballet flats.  I did not want to be completely monochromatic but was too timid to venture into the more daring color combos.   
Terrific in theory, but terrible in execution.   The colors meshed nicely but I kept looking in the mirror.  At 5’5” I rarely look short.  Neither am I willowy.  My legs are actually exactly half my height which puts me right in the middle of female leg length proportions.   For several minutes I stared at myself trying to pinpoint what was wrong.  I looked – dumpy.
Leggings are supposed to make me look sleek!  Not dumpy.  My husband stopped putting his shoes on for a moment and said, “The skirt needs to be shorter.”  I must have given him a sharp glance telling him that he was being “oh so typical male.”  But his expression was completely bereft of guile or double entendre.  He said, “For real.  It’s not right.”
I guess, after nearly a decade of marriage in which he has been asked to evaluate every practice muslin I make, he has gathered some fitting wisdom.   My ego cannot withstand showing you a photo of how dreadful it looked on my own form.  Instead I am going to show you some illustrations I did in Paint.

What I Originally Did

First Pic:This is what it looked like proportionally with my pencil skirt paired with leggings. It looks as if I am dressed more for warmth than for image.

What I Should Have Done

Improved:The proportions are better when pairing leggings with a straight skirt, if the skirt hem is above the knee.

I had the leggings on and I moved my skirt hem to several places on my leg to find the best spot.  Alas, I have no skirt that is that hem length, but at least I know.   Since everyone has an individual body type you can’t assume that the skirt lengths you see in the fashion mags will work on your legs, but you don’t have to cross leggings off your list.

McCalls 6173:Leggings

This is just an example of my one leggings attempt.  But I am undaunted.   I have bought McCalls 6173 and I am searching out just the right weight knit, thicker than storebought, but thinner than Beefy-Tee.  I also think I need to make up some cute three-inch-above–the-knee woolen skirts. 

Though I will probably stick to a monochromatic look, leggings are much more versatile.  Though skin-tight themselves, when worn with the right clothes, they can provide some extra modesty and warmth to a winter outfit.  Fashion blogger, Sally McGraw of Already Pretty has provided a wonderful tutorial entitled How to Wear Leggings.   I encourage you to check out her post and then have a general look-see around her wonderful website.  A lot of great pics and wonderful advice about having fun with fashion, I make sure to regularly peek in at her daily posts.   

Next Post: Tuesday, October 5, 2010: I don’t know what I will sew this weekend – but whatever it is, I will tell you about it on Tuesday.

The Modest is Hottest Movement:Lighting a Fire under High Fashion

For most of my adult life I have heard women opine that high fashion is too extreme, that they feel both dismissed by that world and simultaneously pressured to achieve what for most of us is an impossibly slender standard.   And for most of my adult life women have seemed resigned that there wasn’t much the average woman could do about it. 

Today a refreshing change of attitude is taking place.  Women are no longer taking it on the chin.   What I can only describe as a grass roots movement is taking place in women’s interaction with the world of fashion.   And their approach is something I never would have expected.

They aren’t storming the citadel, picketing designers or burning any unmentionables.  They aren’t making huge political statements or calling for rallies.  What they are doing is much simpler and vastly more brilliant.  Without any kind of fanfare countless women are getting off the bus.

I can see it where so many are rejecting current trends looking instead for that fabulous find in vintage thrift shops.   There is a resurgence in home-sewing partly due to Project Runway and such shows that speak to so many who have dreamt of being a fashion designer.  I also think that the decreased quality control and fit displayed by current RTW has made a lot of women contend that they can do better.  And they go home, dust off their sewing machine, and honestly, many of those women are sewing better garments than are offered at the retail stores they used to frequent.  Not only is this new wave of home-sewers mimicking current fashions, but a sewing subcategory has come about – vintage sewing – where there is a deliberate adoption of fashions from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, eras whose designs are perceived as achieving that intriguing contradiction of feminine modesty and sexy allure.    

I had briefly heard about the “Modest is Hottest” movement and I was curious because it sounded like it was in accord with these other counterculture responses to fashion I now see.   That is why I was delighted when a coworker of my husband’s invited me to her “Modest is Hottest” party.  I couldn’t wait to experience firsthand what it was all about.

“Modest is Hottest” is an organization in and of itself and can be found on the web.  It has also become the slogan for a movement within Christianity and many church’s women’s ministries have their own version, which is what I attended.  So technically it wasn’t; but it was, because the message was the same.  Christian women are reaching out to other women to validate their beauty, to discuss how each woman can enhance and enjoy her attractiveness, and how to do that without sacrificing her sense of integrity or modesty.  The movement reaches out to all women, but especially to girls and young women, with the message that you don’t have to dress in an overtly sexualized manner to be a beautiful woman.    

The concept of propriety has been unfashionable for so long that it appears cutting edge to even discuss it.  Modesty is not prudishness the movement contends.  Modesty is discernment; doing the right thing at the right time.  So the movement does not ask you to reject high fashion or to eschew buying pretty clothes. What it asks is that you be discerning in how you wear your clothes, and that you demand, with your dollars, that fashion world meet your need for clothing that is lovely, commands respect and admiration, and leaves something to the imagination. Because the movement holds, if something is not left to the imagination then you won’t command respect or admiration in most public settings.    Many might dismiss this as common sense, but this message is very counter to what the media has marketed to women in that we are often told that we should command respect and admiration no matter what, even if we show up at a business meeting in our best and barest mini-dress.  Hence many women are confused about what is expected of them in various settings.  

In the past a woman who rejected negative fashion marketing pretty much had to go it alone.  If she spoke up she was considered a malcontent, an obnoxious complainer. So a lot of women did their own thing and kept quiet about it.  But now there are various groups such as thrift shoppers, go-green shoppers, home-sewers and Christian women’s ministries that are giving a voice to that discontent and coming beside those women who reject objectification.   Is this a portent of things to come?  Right now it is small, but I see it growing.  It is lighting a fire and at some point mainstream fashion designers are going to have to respond. 

Now that will be something to see. 

Will propriety come back into fashion? 

Is the vintage look returning

or is it just a passing fancy of a few?

What do you think?

Next Post: Thursday, August 19, 2010: Fashion Advice Gleaned from the Modest is Hottest Party – To be posted if I am not too gutted to even write because my darling five-year old enters kindergarten on Wednesday!

Hanky Hems for Spring 2010: Easy,Dramatic and Potentially Patternless

What do bellydancers have to do with skirt hems?

 Because right now mainstream fashion is sporting all kinds of asymmetrical hems called “hanky hems’.  The hemline resembles the points a handkerchief makes as it sprouts from a jacket pocket, or when you see someone waving bon voyage.   


 The skirt style is called a handkerchief skirt and bellydancers have been making them for a long time using a tried and true method that can create a very subdued look or one of high drama as dancers take a simple base material for the skirt and then add lavish fantastic trims. 

Bellydancers do not use a pattern. Every Handkerchief Skirt basically looks like this: 


They get the center circle by folding their square into quarters and making an arched semi-circular cut. 


Most instructions call for a 6-8 inch semi-circle cut.   The skirt is gathered by a drawstring or elastic.  

(If you wish you can make a waistband, but that will mean making a placket for the zipper, inserting a zipper and gathering the material into the waistband.  That is why most dancers just use the elastic, but for the home sewer with the time and energy for the extra work, the flat waistband does look very finished. ) 

If after making your cut the circle won’t go over your hips, refold and cut in a little more until it easily goes over the hips.  Since these instructions are for bellydancers and they already wear their skirts resting on their hips, not their waists, the 6-8 inch measurment should work for someone who wants to wear their garment at the navel or on their waist. 

When you understand the basic idea you can begin to have more fun with some variations: 




Here are some links to bellydance costuming sites which provide instructions in more detail and some awesome photos. 

The Costume Goddess 

Celebrations Bellydance, scroll down until you reach the instructions for handkerchief skirts 

ehow, this one is very good even though it isn’t on a bellydance site 

Most dancers use poly chiffon as they often wear harem pants underneath so the sheerness isn’t a problem and poly chiffon is surprisingly tough at keeping its grip on heavy trim.  Drapey soft satiny polyesters that are blouseweight are sometimes used if an opacityis needed.  Or they will layer a sheer on top of an opaque fabric, or prints on top of sparkly, and of course, they will go to town on awesome trim.  

Home sewers can take this method and use it for their own purposes.  

The sky is the limit creatively and the best part is that the actual construction is so simple. Currently daywear skirts are being made of opaque drapey polys in bright jewel tones or in knits.  Going back to those beginning illustrations: 

Standard 4-pointed hem using opaque polyester. The one I saw had matching satin ribbon on the hem.

This one has the arching hemline that adds some drama and more shape. Again it was in an opaque polyester.

This was the most interesting one. It is layered with the points matching but was made of a knit and the hemline did not look finished. The hem actually appeared to be cut into and abused a bit to stretch it out and give it a funky appearance.

This isn’t the first time dance has informed fashion with its flair for the dramatic and I know I am going to be on the lookout for the perfect funky knit to create that last look.

Next Post: Tuesday, April 6, 2010; Kwik Sew 3242 Handkerchief Skirt: Pattern Review

Design Details from Elle March 2010

Ten Design Details


Home Sewers

Spring 2010

It’s spring and all the magazines are out!  During a recent library visit with my daughter I gleaned these ten design details from the March 2010 Elle Magazine.  Here is what I saw that you might be able to do in your fashion sewing using patterns you already have.  

Leg of Mutton Sleeve with Turned Back Triangular Cuff

Yves St. Laurent Spring 2010

Possibly how the sleeve pattern might look. I have not tried this myself and this is only conjecture.

This cuff is unusual in that it looks to be an extension of the sleeve itself.  The fabric is very stiff.  The sleeve was too stiff to please me but the cuff was very interesting.  It separated at the bottom and did not meet at the under sleeve seam.  I imagine you would extend your sleeve triangularly.  It would take a practice muslin for sure, but would look the bomb in a stiff snappy fabric.

Denim with Girlish Embroidery

miu miu denim jeans spring 2010

I have been eyeing this dainty embroidered denim at JoAnn’s and Hancock’s for quite awhile because I think it is charming.  I have been reluctant to buy because I fear looking like mutton dressed as lamb.  And the embroideries have been a bit too close and I wondered if having what amounted to a print on my bottom half might make me look dumpy.   I am going to look again at this fabric and see if I can consider it for a skirt, if not for pants.  Or at least make up a pair of pants for my daughter so I can enjoy it vicariously by seeing how cute she looks in it.

Angled Pocket Detail

Gap Spring 2010

Just some simple redrafting of a standard pocket but it is the small details like this that allow you to keep your TNT patterns up to date.

Faux Notch Collar

Unknown Designer Spring 2010

Adele Margolis has a few of these in her pattern design book if memory serves me right.  It is actually a shawl collar with a notch cut into the outer edge to mimic the standard tailored notch collar.   Probably requires a practice muslin because I can envision the notch cupping if not sewn correctly, but if you already have a shirt pattern you have used repeatedly then playing around with a collar might be a way to keep it novel for you.

Lingerie-look Skirt

Sue Wong Spring 2010

Underwear as outerwear has been in and out for awhile and I have always hated it because the material was see-through and sheerweights do not compliment my bone structure.  But this version is very lovely, made of thicker material that is both opaque and possessed of some heft. It looked to be a nude poly interlock, versus the nylon slip material that designers used to sell. The original waistline is empire but I think the same look can be had a the natural waist, and you could use large black elastic if you didn’t want to make the waistband. 

Safari Jacket with the Sleeve Widened at the Cuff

Oscar de la Renta Spring 2010

This looked very casual on the model.  The carefree appearance resonated with me though privately I wondered if the

If you start with a standard sleeve how the alteration might look.

 cuff would end up in my coffee when I wore it, making it less carefree for me.  Notwithstanding my clumsiness this design has a lot of plusses for the home sewer; no collar, basic front placket with snaps, squared off pockets with an inside pleat that you could take or leave, and a simple sleeve alteration in that you could widen a standard sleeve and make sure you had enough hem to turn up as a deep cuff. 

Mesh Top

Patricia Underwood Spring 2010

My drawing is not very good.  This is just a little square thing, almost like two scarves sewed at shoulders and sides, that rests over another shirt.  I couldn’t tell how the edges were sewn.  You can probably wing it depending on the fabric.  The one I saw had a late 80’s/FAME look, but I think it has the potential to look breezy, dramatic, romantic, etc. You would just pick whatever fabric gave the look you wanted.  And the sewing is very basic and quick.


Fendi Spring 2010

Fendi is calling this a blouse, but it looks like a poncho to me.  I believe the model was wearing a shirt underneath.  The fabric looked like a very soft lightweight sweater, opaque and drapey.  This one also looks to be very versatile.  Just drag out an old poncho pattern and make it up in a very current fabric. 

Shorts with Peek-a-Boo Hemline

Yves St. Laurent Spring 2010

Tight-fitting shorts aren’t for everyone but I thought the hemline detail gave the appearance of being very sexy when actually a very modest portion of the leg is showing.  I have no idea how this was accomplished and how you would alter a hemline.  Just thought I would throw it out there for those who may have some idea.

Silk Quilted Belt

Etro Spring 2010

My drawing does not do this justice.  This is a very lovely piece by Etro.  They used a softly contrasting patterned silk with simple quilt lines and then laid a cord over the mid-section that tied at center waist.   On certain styles of shirt dresses this would look very nice, you can probably draft your own pattern, and you can play with the contrast.  If you are narrow-waisted you got it made, but if you are a bit thick in the middle you could try this several ways. With dark fabric as the base with a contrasting cord; Cord and base fabric matching; Matching belt to shirtdress.  It’s up to you.

Now if any readers have pattern or alteration suggestions for how to successfully execute any of these design details please do give us your ideas.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Next Post: Tuesday, March 30, 2010; Whoops! My Mistake: Serger’s Don’t Staystitch

If This is a Basic Blouse Why Can’t I Sew It?

If These Blouses are Basic Why Do I Find Myself Cussing as I Sew Them?

Earlier I posted an article on the ladylike blouse, that sometimes boring workplace essential often made of solid menswear cotton.  After a few years of being seen as frumpy the standard ladies blouse is coming back as all fashions do, only now in softer fabrics and in prints that once in my youth adorned the housedresses of old ladies.   But as time our response has evolved from “I wouldn’t be caught dead!” to “Hey, that is kind of vintage and funky.”

 Though I love the basic blouse for its versatility I began sewing in the early 1980’s when high detail was the in thing.  Trying to get such blouses to sew well nearly drove me to distraction.  The pattern envelopes dubbed these blouses “basic” and I felt like a sewing failure when I couldn’t get something called “basic” to turn out right.  Today I can see that a common blouse is not the easiest to sew as plackets, cuffs, collars and buttonholes are part of the inherent design.  My advice for those who haven’t tried such a pattern before:

Some Pattern Pitfalls of The Basic Ladies Dress Blouse

1)      Interfacing. Use a very soft pliable fusible interfacing.

Possibly buying a few different interfacings in small amounts and trying out how they affect your fabric. Too stiff interfacing screams the dorky homemade look discouraging new sewers when they see that the collar they just labored over could substitute for angel wings in the church Christmas pageant.  As boring as the interfacing aisle can appear you will need to take a hard look at the designations and search out those called “featherweight”, “ultra lightweight” or “ultra sheer”.

2)     Plackets.  Make a practice placket on a scrap of material similar to your chosen fashion fabric.

A placket is that little rectangle with the slit coming up from the cuff.  The placket allows one to open up the cuff and put one’s hand down the sleeve.   I wish I could tell you an easy technique but this is one of those that you either struggle with, as I do, or you just have the knack.  If the slippery blouse material shifts and makes your placket look wonky and unprofessional don’t give up. Forget the placket.  Try another cuff finish such as elastic or a simple straight hem.  Another options is to move the placket opening to the seamline of the sleeve.  A good sewing manual will tell you how to do this.  It is sometimes called a Mandarin Placket.  

3)      Collars. The collar meets at the center of your body in the front. 

Look where the collar ends and the button placket begins. In this shirt there is some space for the button placket. The collar doesn't meet the edge of the button placket. It meets the center front of the body. Take a good look at your pattern illustrations and note where the center front is marked on the pattern itself.

You think you know where this is.  At the fabric edge where you button your shirts, right?  Wrong!  The button areas overlap in front and many collars just come up to the edge of what is referred to as the button placket, not to the actual fabric edge.  Take a real close look at your patterns picture and note how far the collar extends in front. 

4)      Difficult Design Details. If you have never sewn a collared blouse before don’t start with a notched one. 

Here is a photo of a notched collar. 

Here is an example of a notched collar. You often find it on business suits and blouses.

The collar comes down to meet the lapel and a notch is formed at the juncture.  Master a standard collar before tackling one of these.  If you ignore this advice you will soon learn why I have offered it.

The Pros to Sewing Blouses

After so much talk of the pitfalls I don’t want you to give up on learning to sew this wonderful wardrobe staple.  On the upside the polyesters being used are reasonably priced so doing a few practice collars and buttonholes will not cost an arm and a leg.  Also I see in the fabric stores a lot of crazy allover prints that do not need to be matched and are very forgiving to small errors.  Additionally, for current fashion at least. topstitching is minimal.

Despite my early woes sewing such shirts I like it that they are back in fashion now that my sewing skills are up to the challenge.  I have tried out a few of the patterns listed in an earlier post, Spring 2010: The Ladylike Blouse, and I will post my results later. 

But for the next few posts I am going to concentrate on one of the pattern pitfalls of the ladies dress blouse mentioned above: the sleeve placket.   A placket can be tricky but it is also one of the things that even a new sewer can easily alter to suit her current level of sewing skill.  You need not choose the same placket that is given in the pattern envelope and for the next few posts I will go over the placket options you will most likely see on a ladies dress blouse.

Next Post: Tuesday, February 23, 2010; Sleeve Plackets: Just Avoid Them-Make an Elastic Cuff Instead

Spring 2010 Ladylike Blouses

We might disdain them as so basic as to be boring but the ladylike blouse, full sleeved, button front and collared is a fashion essential.  Showing only the most socially acceptable portions of skin the basic blouse allows us to move freely in most workplaces without concerns of offending and confident that our clothes do not undermine being taken seriously. 

Lucky Magazine recently ran a photo article entitle “Drapey Blouses” (page 92, Feb 2010).  The fabric used was drapey and thin softening the edges of the classically tailored designs.   After a few years of collarless necklines it is refreshing to see a return of the collar which looks so spiffy when paired with the right jacket.  

I found them so lovely that I hurried to my local fabric store to look up some patterns.  There are still a lot of peasant and fitted blouse patterns out there, but there were a few with what I consider the main components of this look: collar, button-front, no waist dart and preferably no bust dart.  As soon as my fabric stores runs a pattern sale I am going to pick one of these up. 

McCalls 5052

A standard notched collar with belted waist and tabbed sleeves all reminiscent of the 80’s.  It also kind of captures that safari look that was in for awhile.  The pattern calls for linen and cotton but you could try a softer fabric and see how it comes out.  A tying self belt of the blouse material may be more pleasing than the leather one on the model.

Simplicity 2807

From the Project Runway collection.  This is most like the blouses I remember from my early work years.  It is a simple oxford with gathers draping from the front shoulder yoke.  This would be lovely in plain material or in some of those funky involved prints, that in my youth adorned  the housedresses of very old ladies, but which I now see resurrected as part of our current fascination with all things vintage.  

McCalls 5433

Another simple blouse that lends itself so well to either a bold or subdued fabric.  I like the extra length where you can make a tunic or shorten for a standard blouse.

Butterick 5365

A classic work blouse with sizes up to 6X designed by Connie Crawford.  The detail work at the shoulder is a touch of elegance that you don’t always see in plus-size offerings.

 I’m sure there are other patterns out there as I haven’t a chance to check the independent pattern companies for their latest additions.  If any readers have favorite patterns that work well for them I am eager to hear from you.

Next Post: Thursday, February 18, 2010 ;Cussing Out the Ladylike Blouse

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