Monday, March 23, 2009

Honing your wardrobe: Using alterations to get the perfect fit

I've been receiving a lot of emails from readers wanting to know where I shop: it seems I'm not alone in my frustration at not being able to find clothes that both fit and flatter a top heavy figure. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have a proportional figure, to be able to experiment with clothes or wear pieces I really love for their design aesthetic, rather than pieces I love merely because they fit.

Over the years, I've come to realise what works for my shape, and to play to my strengths. Unfortunately the styles and shapes that flatter me aren't easily available in the mass market, and barely exist at designer level. (Unless of course you have a handy friend with a clothing line - see below.)

Which is why there's barely a piece of clothing in my wardrobe that I haven't had remade in one way or the other. And that is why my advice to the letter writers isn't in the form of a list of shops, but is merely to make friends with your local tailor.

If you use a little imagination, there's very little that can't be improved with a pair of scissors.

It's amazing how frumpy the wrong skirt length can be, so I generally start by taking up my hems. (Plus I do like to get my legs out on any available occasion.) For this I usually use the services of the retailer's in-house tailor: somewhere like Banana Republic only charges $10 and high end stores will often provide a free alteration service.

Then there are the alterations which are more of a makeover, & this is where your local tailor comes in. I often buy smock tops in my correct size, and then get darts put in the front: this way the back is the right size from the start, and the front then fits perfectly. I also like to take two or three inches off the bottom of sleeves to draw the eye down to my skinny wrists and away from my boobs.

I'm also a big fan of remaking necklines - anyone well-endowed knows that crew necks are a complete no-no. Take this Topshop dress that I bought online back in summer 2007.

Topshop; Topshop dress; floral dress; ditsy print dress Unfortunately, when it arrived, its high neck gave me the upholstered shelf effect so familiar to big breasted woman. My local tailor in Gospel Oak, (London), is nothing short of genius, so I save up all my alterations in the US and take them when I go back for holidays.

With this frock, we decided that we could lower the neckline to give a more flattering effect without ruining the line of the dress, and I thought that a contrast silk trim would be pretty. (Bear in mind you have to use bias binding for a curved trim, not ribbon, and the satin colour selection is pretty limited.)

I sent lil'sis off on the bus with the stumpy legged dachsie to Johnny Lou-Lou's famed haberdashery department with instructions to choose me a binding that picked out one of the colours in the print. She rather cleverly chose this fab fuchsia pink which works perfectly.

I'm lucky that Mr S is not only super-talented but possibly the cheapest tailor I've ever worked with - I think he charged me maybe five or six quid. Granted this is cheaper than normal, but it would have been worth it at four times the price to give me a dress that went from a ball in the corner of my closet to being a cornerstone of my summer wardrobe last year. floral dress If you are going to start lowering necklines, do bear in mind that what you will think looks rather shallow is quite deep enough. I was all for making it quite a lot deeper but Mr S over-ruled me and, as usual, he was absolutely right: any lower and it would have tipped the dress from sexy/pretty to slutty/pretty.