Thursday, November 09, 2006

If the dress fits.

sabrina yellow and pinkfront of dress bow detail top

My friend Sabrina is gifted in a lot of ways. Not only is she generous, photogenic, funny, musical, and kind... she is also a small person. She can wear whatever she wants! Whenever I have friends come over for a clothing photo shoot, I inevitably end up with a huge pile of clothing to reserve in case Sabrina comes by. Sometimes it seems like she is the only person on the planet who can wear half the vintage pieces that I pick up, because she is the only one who will fit in them!

I collect clothing almost compulsively, and it is quite clear that clothing is not manufactured for real body shapes on either end of the spectrum. Sabrina herself has told me that she can't find things in retail stores that fit her, sometimes. And at 5'10" with a generous waist-line, I am also a far cry from a normal size on the clothing rack. Please note that I am not putting myself down for this fact, because I love being tall and I'm working (successfully) on the waist-line, but I often find that I do not fit in to 99% of the really great clothes I find at thrift stores-- and no amount of tailoring or alteration would change that fact.

So, what's a girl to do? I thought I would list a few of my own sizing solutions, and ask for input on what other people do to alter thrifted clothing so that it works with their own wardrobes.

  1. First I look for clothing that can be let out. Look for inside seams with extra or doubled-up fabric.

  2. Next I look for clothing that is too big, but will be easy to take in to fit my measurements. Sometimes this means shopping in Menswear, sometimes it means shopping in Plus Size or Maternity even if I feel like I am smaller than that. Don't even look at the numbers on clothing tags at a secondhand shop. Try everything on.

  3. Next I look for fabric that makes me happy. When I was in high school I would ask my mom to sew me clothes from the fabric that I would buy. Now I have the ability to do this for myself, and it makes me feel like I have options.

  4. Sometimes I have to admit my weaknesses. I don't think that I will ever find jeans that fit me at a secondhand shop, and I am resigned to avoiding the rows and rows of trouser hangers. This saves me a little bit of my self worth every time, and I instead invest my time wisely and target the sections where I know I'm bound for a good hit!

  5. Bulk up! Given the gamble of the resale market, sometimes I like buying in bulk and for cheap and then sorting through it later with a friend. In other words, if I *really* love a fabric or the shape of a garment, I just buy it anyway and figure out what to do with it later.

  6. Like we do with birthday cake: we can just take a small slice. Sometimes there is a detail on a dress, or a print on a skirt that I feel drawn toward. There is no one who can stop me from detaching said row of buttons, or patch of 60s flowers, and reattaching them onto something else--a handbag, a t-shirt, even the cuff of a sock! Once you start looking at a piece of clothing as a composite of details, you start to think outside the limitations of that garment.

  7. Think bags and shoes: last resorts can be just desserts! Great accessories can do a lot to satisfy the soul.

  8. Remember, great clothing is meant to be shared. Seeing that little yellow polka dot dress on my sister might be a lot better than leaving it behind or selling it to a stranger at a garage sale!

back of dress zipper 1

Like I said, I'm working on the waistline and I'll have a better go at the thrift stores again in no time. Meanwhile, your comments are welcome. Happy Hunting (sewing, ripping, throwing out, hiding in the back of your closet for "someday", and generally drooling wistfully over it all)!


Heidi said...

Great tips. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I am also 5'10" with a more than generous waistline. And I say..." You go girl!"

Thanks for the post! I enjoy this blog so much!--Darlene

emily august said...

I am glad you both liked my post!!

icancarryallthebagsandthebabiestoo said...

Do you ever take handmade clothes, or is it just vintage? I'd be happy to donate a few handmade pieces that I have... or even make a few for you. I've been trying to get back into the sewing loop again now that I have a two free hands at night again. I could fashion you up apron shirts and the like if you're interested. I know that you also sew so this may not be needed at all.

icancarryallthebagsandthebabiestoo said...


I'm also handy with the skirts and the dresses if you're ever interested. I love making the skirts and the dresses... yes ma'am.

Susan McGarvey said...

Thanks for the great tips on shopping for clothes in thrift stores. I usually buy clothes for the fabric to use in projects, but finding clothing to fit my plus size is impossible. However, if I take a piece here, a piece there, throw in a men's size, I bet I could come up with something snazzy.

emily august said...


I sense a barter coming on! We can trade a photo shoot for some wardrobe enhancement!


Thank you for your comment. I'd love to hear about what you come up with.

icancarryallthebagsandthebabiestoo said...

I was actually just going to do this as a gift to you- but we'll talk about other options too because I'm still really interested in our photo shoot!

I'm a really big fan of vintage dresses true to the 1970's aline. In my pickings, I have found that many of these dresses enter stores with no sizes because they were worn off through wear, or were handmade. Often, these dresses are deceiving, have a lot of rouching and fall in a way that makes them appear much smaller than they actually are. I have tried on many a dress that was marked WAY smaller than my bigger than average frame. Actually, for our anniversary I found a dress that was marked a size 8. The lady in the store looked at me like I was a lunatic when I said I was going to try it on to see if there was power in positive thinking. It actually fit me beautifully. I wear it all the time. I don't know if this is helpful or not. I suspect you are way more knowledgable on this subject than I am, but I just want to share my experience because I'm not an average sized person either and really enjoy pretty things too. `

emily august said...

Yeah, all the little details you are describing are great for that!

pamela ruth munro said...

Clothing that ends up in thrift stores is notorious for being mis-sized! I find, though that I can eye my size more or less, and then try things on. I have worn men's hirts/tshirts/sportswear and jackets - and even maternity clothes (You get great deals in jeans and other pants with elastisized waistbands! - which is OK since I am short waisted and always wear my t-shirts & tops out.) Early sizing or designer sizing also has a tendency to run larger than what we see nowadays - and Asian sizing is almost always much SMALLER - both for apparel and SHOES.