Here is an example of fuck the patriarchy!
Here is an example of pull myself up by my own bootstraps!
Here is an example of work within the system to get the thing you want!
I’m joking, a little. It’s election season and I am exhausted of the discourse. Basically here is a picture of me wearing a thrifted men’s dress shirt ($4.98) which I have hacked – like, with sharp metal implements – into a minidress.
Last Monday I was sitting at Satsuma on Dauphine St. with an old old old ladyfriend, discussing, over lunch, babies and art and emotional abuse –
wait, let me send you off to read something tangential but amazing real quick.
Ok. So, I was sitting with my dear friend, and a woman walked into Satsuma wearing a big loose dress that looked like it was made out of men’s dress shirt. It didn’t look like it was literally made out of a men’s dress shirt, but I figured that I could make one out of men’s dress shirt, so I did. Her dress had skinny blue-and-white vertical stripes; so does mine.
I want to tell you something about how having basic sewing skills can boost your wardrobe game on the cheap.
Buying fast fashion is cheap, right, but we all know the garments are of pisspoor quality and your discount is a result of human rights violations.
Sewing garments from scratch is fun as hell, but it’s not cheap. It’s actually pretty expensive, to say nothing of time-consuming.
However. Buying from a thrift store, I can afford well-constructed garments made of nicer fabric. I’m participating in a recycling chain that reduces waste and pollution. And, because I know how to operate a sewing machine, I have access to a wider array of the merchandise in the store than just the stuff that fits me. I generally won’t pay full retail price for a new garment that requires alterations. But for a few bucks, I can buy a vintage floral sundress that is literally twelve sizes too big for me, and if that dress has a back zipper instead of a side zipper, I can take in a few inches from each side seam – a thirty-minute alteration, max – and get a perfect fit. (Sometimes, after alterations, I’m still not happy with the fit, but in that case I’ve only lost, say, $5 and an hour of my life.)
Easy alterations include taking in the side seams (on pant legs as well as skirts, tops, and dresses), taking up loose straps, taking up hems and sleeves. Thrift-store pants can be tricky – because cuts and rises change so dramatically over the years, they’re usually a little bit out of style – but they’re a great source for shorts, whether you leave them as cutoffs or hem them to look more polished. You’ll note that I go for the “buy large, make it smaller” approach; ready-made garments don’t have much seam allowance, so there’s typically not a lot of fabric available to let out. Most of these alterations involve some combination of cutting with scissors (you know how to do that already!), seam-ripping (using a small, two-dollar tool called a seam ripper to remove the thread that joins two pieces of fabric – it’s the equivalent of a sewing-mistakes eraser), and sewing straight lines (not rocket science).
Sewing machines cost more than a couple dollars. Here’s a very basic Singer that actually has more features than my own two-stitch machine, available for $70-100 bucks. But the amount of money I’ve saved from using one adds up to hundreds and hundreds of dollars over the original investment. Case in point: I have a tomato-red Diane Von Furstenburg cotton dress that I got from a thrift store for $4 and took in at the straps and an inch at the bust. I see this dress listed on ThredUp all the time, priced – for consignment! second-hand! – at $119.
Here’s what I did to the men’s shirt to make it a dress:
- Cut off the sleeves above the elbow, to see if I wanted to have short sleeves
- Cut off the sleeves, carefully, just past the shoulder seam, because I decided it would look better as a drop-shoulder sleeveless dress
- Took in the side seams about three inches to reduce the gaping armholes, now that the sleeves were gone, and to make the overall fit a little narrower
- Used a seam ripper to remove the pocket so it looked less like I was actually just wearing an ill-fitting button-down shirt
A note on the fit: I like wearing enormous loose clothing. Giant waistless dresses are so comfortable and keep me from feeling distracted by what I’m wearing. I can handle fitted clothing for a little while, but after a couple of hours the constant sensation of clothes cutting into various body parts becomes overstimulating and I just want to tear it all off. Back in the day I had this Cajun friend who put a lot of care and attention into her very excellent, detail-oriented outfits. I myself was going through a style phase my brother has described as French-Girl-Slash-Orphan. I used to throw a big costume party for my birthday and this friend asked if she could come dressed as me. She borrowed my favorite thrift-store T-shirt, my favorite thrift-store pleated skirt, my favorite bandana, my favorite beat-to-shit low-top Converse. “Girl,” she said to me, thus adorned, “you live a comfortable life.”
It’s true. I am a comfort model. I hate wearing belts – so restrictive! – but you could add one to this dress if you wanted to show your waist, though you’d need to make sure the original shirt was pretty long on you, because a belt will shorten it. For those of us with more than barely any boobs, I have discovered that loose dresses and tops hang better on me when I’m not wearing an underwire bra. (Wear a bra, or don’t. I’m just saying avoid underwire – it exaggerates the tent effect.)
That woman from the coffeeshop – her dress looked so summery, and I knew that if I made a dress like it, it would put me in a good mood. I added coral lipstick, white Birks, thrifted mother-of-pearl earrings (because the blue stripes make me feel preppy), and a silver ring my mom handed down that looks like the non-business end of a fork. It’s 75 degrees in New Orleans right now. I painted my toenails lavender gray. I could have stayed home to work, but I went out to a coffeeshop so I could show the world my outfit slash good mood.
One more thing. In New Orleans, we call this lagniappe –
Go get you a copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I don’t care if you self-identify as an artist, or if you wish you were an artist, or if you used to be an artist, or if you think you’re not an artist. Get a copy and read it now. This past fall I was in Baton Rouge for the Women in Dance Leadership conference, and on a break I was hanging at my favorite BR coffeeshop, Highland Coffees, working through a chapter of The Artist’s Way and doing my morning pages. A woman at a table nearby caught my eye. “I love that book,” she said. “It saved my life.” I told her it was in the process of saving mine.