My work as a tailor, in my little shop in Lincoln’s Historic Haymarket in Nebraska, gave me a clear perspective on the issue of how clothes fit. Making the clothes brought in by me clients fit them (or fit them again) was my bread and butter. Taking in, taking up, letting out, letting down, all in a day’s work. The worst letting down was telling clients that they couldn’t make their clothes endlessly smaller. Two sizes at most before we were confronted by fabric missing in the wrong spot. The seat of trousers or the armscye of shirts, these are both places where a larger curve is cut to accommodate a larger body and, while fabric is taken out to make a garment smaller at the side or center seams, the curve cannot be raised because the fabric needed is already gone.
Another fit issue is one I have experienced first hand but can understand better in light of my tailoring training, the tight sleeve. Sleeves have a long lovely curve across the top, forming what is called the sleeve cap or head. Sleeves are not simple tubes, just like arms aren’t simple sticks, and the distance from the top of the sleeve to the start of the seam down the underarm should depend on the richness of the shoulder it is enclosing. The width of the sleeve at the same point reflects the meaty nature of the arm and the work a good set of biceps must do in a day. The pathetic excuse for sleeves being sold these days, not enough in any direction, speaks of cheapness, of the lack of live fit models to test prototype with even the smallest flex of their arms, of the shame the designer should feel but instead hope that their strong armed customers will feel instead. I tell my students every year that the reason they need to be careful with the fit of their designs is because no one like to be told they’re fat, especially by their clothes, all day long.
I used this experience to plan my Oneshirt with the intention that it would fit in the places life had taught me do not change much on my body while giving plenty of space for change elsewhere. I was driven to the draw board because I have inherited substantial arms. I can remember my great grandmother (who lived to 100 year old) pausing in the small daily chores she performed to do arm circles. She looked slyly down at me, to be sure I was paying attention, learning the secrets to what (she hoped) would take away the soft, warm folds of arm, dangling at her elbows and wrists. What I learned instead is that 80 years of exercise can’t change the shape of a lady’s arm. So, the first requirement of my design is generous sleeves. Knowing that my body gains or loses size in the hips but not the bust means that I can splurge on expensive bras that will fit until they wear out, even if my pant or skirt size changes.
The Oneshirt fits snugly across the shoulders and bust but is generous in the hips and thighs, generous enough to let me tuck a smartphone, keys and a wallet into the pockets without changing the shape. The shape can hang more loosely when I am a smaller but still be comfortable and flattering 30 pounds later.
My research into the main reasons that consumers throw away clothes is that the clothes don’t fit, not that they have worn them out. Making clothes flex with changes in body size is more eco friendly and economical.