Self-control 2: eating my words

IMAG5185_1Anyone who follows me on Instagram might have seen a certain denim dress pictured on there several times recently. A suspiciously Warehouse-like denim dress, a denim dress that very closely resembles the despised high street dress I sort-of congratulated myself on not buying in my last post.

Yep, it’s the same one. In my defence, I did not buy it myself; my boyfriend bought it for my birthday and it was entirely his choice; I even had a go at dissuading him, since I couldn’t in conscience encourage him to do something I had decided it was unethical for me to do myself. But oh, I’m so glad that he did!

I love wearing it so much I’ve become addicted: it’s practically a uniform. I wore it eight times before putting it through the wash, and as soon as it was dry I put it on again and wore it four days in a row. Every time I have worn it just as pictured below: with very old, battered-but-sturdy tan boots, a chunky grey wool cardigan I knitted myself, and the dog-tag porcelain necklace I “liberated” from my mother’s jewellery collection. (Not the tan handbag, unfortunately – that was also a maternal loan, but its return was strictly enforced!)

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Again, I’m not quite sure what the point of this post is, apart from to ‘fess up. Perhaps to say that this garment, this rather plain blue dress which has aroused such a curiously strong passion, has been teaching me about my relationship with clothes in more ways than I expected. It feels like a style departure to wear something this old-fashioned and to wear it like a uniform, and yet it also feels like coming home; there’s a naturalness and a simplicity to getting up every day and putting on the same outfit that I had not at all expected to love as much as I do (I never liked my school uniform much!)

In fact, it feels like my expectations of clothing are shifting just as a result of this one dress: having seen that it is possible for one garment to be so comfortable, so stylish, so effortless to wear, so durable (I hope), so simple yet un-boring even when endlessly repeated, I hope I will be looking for the same qualities in any future RTW purchases, and from garments I make myself too. Perhaps I will even go as far as this woman and wear the same outfit every single working day? I doubt it, but I feel I understand the impulse now in a way I didn’t when I first read that article.

What about you, readers? Do any of you wear uniforms (voluntarily or not)? How do you feel about variety vs predictability in dressing?

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❤ H + denim dress 4eva ❤

Self-control

warehouse denim dress 2
Denim midi dress, £55 from warehouse.co.uk

So, yesterday, I walked past the Cambridge city centre branch of the high street women’s clothes shop Warehouse, and this dress was on a mannequin in the window. I don’t mind telling you, my reaction was a bit like this pug‘s (linked because you’d never get the rest of the way through the post if I put that GIF in it).  Instant enchantment, in other words.

Whoa – I haven’t had that reaction to a piece of high street clothing in a long time. Then today, I did something I haven’t done in even longer: I went into Warehouse. It was strangely bright and cramped in there, and there were lots of things made of polyester, but I found the dress and tried it on, and wow! it felt great and looked (I thought!) pretty great and I thought about buying it, I really did. I got some compensation money from my gas company this month for some historic billing f**k-ups, and it would have more than covered it. I was so tempted.

Then I thought: no, I could make this (simple bodice, elasticated waist, A-line skirt) and anyway, it didn’t have pockets, which seemed like a really stupid omission. A dress like that is begging for you to put your hands in deep pockets and slouch a little! In fact, I think the model below is trying to do it and that’s why her hands are hanging in that weird way…sorry, I digress.

warehouse denim dress

I came back and looked at my patterns, and chose two I could mash up (McCall’s 5927 for the bodice and sleeves, Sewaholic Saltspring for the waistband and skirt – with pockets because Tasia of Sewaholic is a sensible woman). I even started browsing for organic denim I could buy, since I don’t have a big enough piece in my stash; I reckon it would need at least 3.5m of wide fabric for a tea-length A-line dress with long sleeves. But in the course of that browsing I re-read So Zo’s musings on organic cotton and decided that it would be unethical to buy new fabric, organic or not, so I will just have to wait till I find something suitable second-hand.

In case you’re wondering what the point of this post is, sorry – and thanks for reading so far – but I don’t really know. It just felt significant that all I’ve read and thought about ethical textiles and conscious consumption and the global garment industry is now actually strong enough to overpower even the sudden mad rush of falling in love with a garment, a rush which took me over the threshold of one of the despised high street shops I usually avoid like the plague, and to the point of contemplating giving them money. I guess maybe I want to say that being part of an online community of thoughtful, caring, responsible makers (like Zoe and Felicia and Karen) can actually make a difference to behaviour, that actually we can encourage and support each other to consider the interests of exploited garment workers and the environment above our own selfish desire for clothing gratification.* Consciousness-raising FTW!

*obviously I don’t know who actually makes clothing for Warehouse and what their working conditions are – but since I don’t know that they aren’t exploited, I have to assume that they might be.

 

further thoughts on a slow wedding dress

Our wedding was on 1st August, and by early February this year, I had some sense of what I wanted the overall shape of my dress to be. I bought this pattern from Etsy (it came all the way from Las Vegas!):

McCall's 7081: a vintage 1963 evening gown dress patternMcCall’s 7081 is a 1963 cocktail dress pattern, and I chose it because of the unusual bust seam lines and boat neck on the front bodice, and the v-neck on the back. The only size I could find was a bust 34, and I spent the next few months working on muslins, trying to refine the fit for my slightly smaller bust, and much narrower back. I invested in a dress form (something I’d wanted for a long time – this project was the excuse I needed!), and with Hanna’s help, adjusted it and added padding around the bust to approximate my dimensions. Although this bodice looks uncomplicated (its sleek simplicity was what had most appealed to me), the front curved seams proved deceptively tricky to alter, and in the end I left them alone, and achieved a better fit by, essentially, removing fabric at the side and back centre seams.

This was the first time I had incorporated muslins into a dressmaking project, and this part of the process was certainly slow, and at times frustrating. It goes without saying that for such a project as this, muslins were entirely necessary, and I would never have cut into costly silk without being fairly sure about the final result. In the end though, I did enjoy this particularly slow stage of the project – rather like when honing a long piece of writing, the repeated, careful revising  eventually left me with a sense of satisfaction and pride, in knowing that I had produced a thing well-crafted.

By late June, I hadn’t yet decided how one or more pieces of the antique lace would be incorporated. I knew that the lace was definitely going to be part of the skirt, and on the back of the skirt (a full-length circle skirt), where it would be most striking. I can’t remember exactly when it was that I finally chose to use just one piece: a tambour net flounce, over 3 metres long, dating from the 1880s, which is coincidentally the same decade in which the church where we were married was built.

IMG_1843I think many people would be shocked that I was still making some quite crucial decisions about my dress with just over a month to go until our wedding day. The timescales prescribed by the wedding industry are often terrifyingly long – it’s not unusual to make practical arrangements and lay down substantial deposits years ahead, and in my experience of others’ weddings, dresses are sourced months, if not also years, in advance. Hanna and I often talk about the disturbing aspects of contemporary wedding culture, in which people are lead to believe that their wedding has to be a day on which everything is ‘perfect’. Women in particular are put under the pressure of ‘perfection’, and not least when it comes to wedding dresses – as the world of bridal magazines would have it, it’s acceptable to spend thousands of pounds on your ‘dream’ wedding dress, a garment which will be worn only once (and is probably made entirely from synthetic fibres, in a factory in China – but that’s a post for another day…).

So in a context in which brides-to-be are expected to plan every little detail of ‘their’ day very far in advance, my wedding dress was in many ways last-minute. As I said in my last post, some people were clearly surprised and concerned that my dress wasn’t finished when I mentioned I was working on it in July. The dress was completed three days before our wedding, without any rush – just the satisfying pleasure of a project thoroughly executed, in the finest of materials (and without an eye-watering price tag). I was delighted with the finished dress, but much of my joy in wearing it came from the slow experience of making it, and the memories of that experience.DSC_0258IMG_2140