About a year ago I flew to Georgia to visit my oldest child at college. As we bummed around her college town sipping coffee, eating fun foods and soaking in the charm of her college town we hopped in and out of cute clothing shops. We tried on some pieces for laughs and others because they truly interested us.
I saw a seersucker dress, empire waste, fitted bust, adorable sleeves and I put it on and it fit like a glove. The whole thing was adorable except for it’s length. I’m 5’9″ tall and I have curves. Even at my skinniest my thighs are a throwback to 50s pinup, not today’s thigh gap generation. So seeing my “chubby” knees peaking out under this adorable dress made me sadly hang it back up and say goodbye. But that moment started something. It was another moment in 35 years of encountering clothes that just don’t quite fit right.
I snapped a picture of the dress and thought, “I can make this!”
Another moment that has pushed me down the path of sewing was the movie, The Dressmaker. It’s stars Kate Winslet and the premise is that she is a dressmaker who moves back to her childhood home. The town is filled with drab looking women and although Winslet’s character has no reason to be kind to these women she begins to use her skills to transform them with amazing dresses that highlight their unique beauty.
The concept of a perfect body is a fleeting thing but clothes are the ultimate tool of expression. They can tell people exactly what to think of you and they can highlight and hide the good and the bad of each of our figures.
In 2014, our family grew by two teenagers. Their mother had died and left them to us in her will. There are no real guidebooks to parenthood but this was a new level without instructions.
The younger daughter was starting 9th grade. Her wardrobe was barely a step above homeless, and no, I’m not exaggerating. Her underwear was years old and not big enough. Many of her clothes were stained with holes. I cringed every time she wandered down from her room “dressed”.
She was starting Freshman year of high school at a new school. I unloaded my three small sons on my husband and went off to the shopping mall with our soon to be freshman. She sulked and whined and was rude every time I suggested any clothing. Things were crawling along at a snails pace and my patience was running thin.
I’m 5’9″ like I said, she on the other hand is petite and just over 5′. When she finally submitted to trying on some clothes I was frantically googling How to dress a petite figure. All the rules that apply to dressing my hour glass 5’9″ frame weren’t helping me when picking clothes for a square petite frame. I was lost.
After a renewed fussing session from her I finally lost it. Here is what I said to her. “I’m here today to bless you. I’m willing to spend a lot of money to give you a unique opportunity. You are starting somewhere new. They know nothing about you. You get to decide what your first impression is going to be and you get to create a new experience. You can take that opportunity or not but I’m not spending another moment in this mall being mistreated. Clothes tell your story, what story are you going to tell?”
The attitude melted away and for the first time that day engagement happened. The thought took root and she started to realize the truth. She was telling a story. Right now her story screamed of her lack of self care, deep grief and a desire to drive others away. No one had ever been brave enough to point out the story she told. When I did I saw the spark of recognition, it wasn’t the story she really wanted to tell.
The more I lean into fashion and sew the more I realize we have such power in how we dress our frame. It communicates so much and although you hear spouted often that people should except us as we are and we shouldn’t conform, that thought negates our responsibility to own the story we tell with our dress.
Ultimately, I’d love to develop the skill to dress each woman’s figure in the best possible way. To highlight and hide things, to bring out and display her figure in a way that makes her feel beautiful and tells the story to the world that not only is she beautiful, she knows it.