Since I posted last, I finished my jacket (snapshot at the end of this post) as well as a Pierrot-style clown costume for Halloween, but neither has seen any wear! The weather has turned quite cold and rainy, and I came down with a gnarly head cold that prevented me from any Halloween reveling. I hope to have pictures of one or both soon, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share some reflections on a topic near and dear to my heart.
When I was a sophomore in college in the early aughts, my uncle and parents visited me. We went to the mall, because that’s what we did back then for fun. As we walked through the perfumed air, my uncle said something I never forgot: “You know that women’s fashion is all about vulnerability, right?”
The more I thought about it, the more examples I came up with. Tight waists that restrict breathing and make eating difficult. Long hair and jewelry to grab. Exposed skin. Constricting skirts and pants that limit range of motion. No pockets, which necessitates carrying a bag. Shoes that prevent the wearer from running, walking or sometimes even standing in for more than 20 minutes. Sizes and shapes that make people feel like genetic aberrations. And, perhaps most debilitating, the expectation that women should be gorgeous, fashionable or at least “current” at all times so you have a hard time thinking about other things.
I’ve worn all of the garments and accessories I’ve listed above. Skinny jeans that were so tight I’m pretty sure they gave me heartburn? Yep. Painfully tall, cheaply-made, blister-inducing heels? Yep. As I get more comfortable in my skin, my tolerance for these particular sorts of pain has declined dramatically. Physical comfort is on par with aesthetics for me now. I’m done with skirts I need to keep adjusting or shirts that cut into my armpits. I tend to wear shoes that I can walk at least a mile in. At the same time, I’ve never been more certain about what I want to wear and look like.
I think making your own clothing can be an act of resistance to the shortcomings of mainstream fashion – I’m empowered to make the clothes I need and want, and I can make them to fit me. I know techniques to make my clothes last longer than the store-bought items I could afford, so I’m not always scrambling for replacements. My imagination, skill level and free time are the constraints I work within. I feel lucky.
I still think a good deal about fashion and clothing, and sometimes I question the amount of time I spend on sewing and sewing-related activities. Aside from work, it’s without a doubt what I spend the most time doing. “Sewing” has come to encompass a whole range of activities for me, however: learning, writing, working with my hands after a day of digital work, challenging myself, relaxing, meeting people and being creative, with the hope of a useful object at the end of the process. I like new clothes quite a bit, but would they be interesting enough on their own to sustain my sewing practice?
On the flip side, my interest in clothing and sewing looks dramatically different from others’. I have friends who enjoy the performative aspects of fashion. Playing with gender and identity through clothing can be extremely powerful and, I think, a feminist act as much as dressing to suit your body and comfort. That exploration may include the 6″ heels, a three-piece suit, a shaved head or cleavage for days. Why a person wears something can easily be as important as what they’re wearing.
Given how much time and thought most of us invest in our home-sewn garments, do these sorts of considerations enter into what you sew? Has making your own clothing changed how you dress yourself?