Image Source: Kathleen Jennings, IllustratorI am a snoop. Yes, I am a snoop shopper and proud of it. This past week I just spent the most marvelous day snoop shopping with a gracious, patient, encouraging sewing friend. You see, I've signed up for the Susan Khalje Little Black Dress class on Craftsy (that 4th of July sale suckered me in, how about you?) and I wanted to consider different dress styles. Now, I have no current place in mind to wear a casually sophisticated dress but I'm giving myself the winter to work on this project. This isn't mother of the bride or some dressy society affair garment that I have planned nor a dress to go dancing in. No, I want something that I could wear to a high school reunion (never mind that I've been twice and am done with them) or an anniversary dinner and theater night with Mr. Lucky.
So rather than just look through pattern books and online pattern offerings, how about going out and trying on dresses of every shape in a few really good stores. What can I learn from this experience?
1.First thing I learned is take a friend and have her make you try things on, no matter what your opinion is of the dress on the hanger. Hey, I know this theme, being a dedicated "What Not to Wear" viewer and it was hard for me to do. You're not there to spend the money but to discover silhouettes, colors, dress details that you are going to translate into making your couture dress. I haven't been buying RTW, except maybe separates, for well over a decade. Yes, I too am plenty self-conscious about the loss of my girlish figure....actually I'm more self-conscious about the flabbiness of my skin and body since I never did have a "girlish figure." But this was a fun day just exploring possibilities.
2. Forget those self-critical examinations of particular body parts and try the darn dress on. I was so very surprised that the first one I tried with a waist line and full pleats looked fun and girly on me. I never would have picked it up on my own.
3. Notice the dress details that you can translate into your own final pattern. In high end RTW the princess seams are broken up into smaller darts that become accent opportunities and can create all sorts of illusions. Very instructive to see these on my body. I noticed that there were very few facings, that most dresses, even stable knit ones, were lined to the edge of the neck and/or armhole. Sometimes they were pick stitched to keep the lining from rolling outward. The few unlined dresses had small bias facings that were also commonly pick stitched to stay flat inside the garment.
4. Fabrics were most generally flat, not light reflecting. That made a huge difference in minimizing the size of my body and instead accenting the shape and silhouette. Makes me regret selling and donating a lot of wool crepe over recent years. But I still have some and also some wonderful stable double knits in my collection. A few of the dresses were stretch wovens and those had nice lightweight stretch linings, just what I do for my stretch woven pencil skirts and stretch woven summer sheath dresses.
5. Remember, you are probably not buying anything and even if you are, don't buy it on your first visit....these stores will hold that dress for a day or so. Almost every single dress I tried on would have needed some alteration done so don't expect the dress to fit perfectly....and don't forget to learn something from the ones you like the ones you don't. I thought I would need more of an empire waist to be flattering on my shape. Ain't necessarily so. Sometimes a high waist, but not empire, was absolutely the most flattering.
I took cell phone pictures, mostly to jog my memory, of my favorites so I can look at more the details online later. I will also admit that one of these dresses looked so fabulous on me (a total surprise based on its hanger appal) that I looked seriously at the price tag. Yikes, not in my league at full price. But I will definitely watch this one carefully since it would be an investment piece....but guess what, I still would have to do a shoulder upper chest petite alteration. Oh, I am glad that I can sew.
Want to see my favorite contenders? Here they are:
|Kate Spade in the middle and on the right, Kay Unger on the left|
|Great extended shoulder look, can't recall the designer|
|A favorite designer of mine, even before this shopping trip: Lafayette 148|
|Kay Unger dress: good color, good neckline, a little dumpy otherwise....but at least left and right shoes:-)|