They're Making Patterns For Clothes, But Not For Me: Another Tiny Rant

A few months ago, I got this patternmaking book that allegedly walks you through the process of drafting a sloper, or a master pattern. When I got home, I went immediately to my drafting table and started working through it -- I was so excited to walk through the process as laid out by fashion masters! For I am a pattern-making padawan with much to learn!

As I looked through the steps, though, I started to get confused. Why is the book giving me a list of measurements to use, rather than telling me which measurements I need to gather from my subject? And why does it tell me to draw the dart 2" wide and the bust point 10.5" from the shoulder seam when I know darn well my dart needs to be much wider and my bust point needs to be much lower?

Vexed, I looked for another patternmaking book, one that described how to draft a sloper using actual measurements rather than assumptions … but I couldn't find one. I asked Google, my patternmaking coach, and some sewing-oriented friends -- none of them knew of such a book either. If such a book exists, I know not where. (If you do, please speak up!)

And I saw, again, that what seems like simple common sense to me -- using actual measurements to build a pattern that will work for a particular human body -- is not what fashion processes are built for. In fact, the entire design and manufacturing process of clothing is built on a set of assumptions that apply to almost no one.

This is a subtle distinction, but kind of an important one, I think. Because, if each and every fashion-school-trained patternmaker learns to build patterns with a 2" dart and 10.5" shoulder-to-bust-point measurement, then that is what's "normal." And those of us who need 1" or 4" darts, or have 9" or 15" shoulder-to-bust point measurements, or somesuch, are anomalies, outside the standard workflow and in need of adjustments to make the clothes fit our imperfect bodies.

Training designers to design specifically for one narrow range of body types leads to an inherent bias against everything that falls outside of that range. Kind of like when you work at McDonald's and someone wants a Big Mac with no special sauce -- it's far enough outside the normal procedure that it's annoying to deal with.

This bias shows up on the hanger, where plus size women's choices are so limited, so poorly-made, and so heinously ugly that sometimes in my more paranoid moments it seems they must actually be motivated by unconscious malice on the part of fashion industry professionals.

You see the bias on TV, too, like every season on Project Runway when they have to do a "real woman" challenge and everyone loses their shit. (None of them hate fat chicks of course, it's just against their design aesthetic to create clothes for girls who don't look like models.)

Or on All On The Line when Joe Zee asks Kara Janx to use a plus size model (a size 8 "plus size" model!) to show one of her kimono dresses and she gets shirty about it.

I guess I get that designers want to communicate their artistic vision via fashion, and it's not as interesting to them to work on engineering problems like how to accommodate a DDDD bustline, or how to change the rise of a pair of pants to be comfy on a big belly and/or bodacious booty.

But maybe if they were trained to build clothes for ACTUAL bodies, instead of NON-EXISTENT PLATONIC IDEAL bodies, that would change ...

image courtesy of kennedyrox

The Privilege Of Having High Standards

Many years ago now, within the span of a few days, I got my first big girl apartment and my first job that paid more than the bare minimum. The night I got my first-ever 4-digit paycheck, I cashed it, bought a bottle of wine, and got my friends together for a good old-fashioned roll around a pile of money on the living room floor. I remember feeling such awe that I could be such an adult-ish type person. Over the course of the next few years, I filled that 2 bedroom apartment almost completely up. Hilarious bowling nun figurines, hilarious platform shoes, paisley housecoats, frilly hats, record albums, home-sewn aprons, daisy-covered kitchen canisters, and a mantle display of a mylar fringe curtain framing a 3 foot tall Virgin Mary -- I could resist none of these amazing, amusing items.

And so I'd bring them home and find a spot for them nestled in amongst everything else, where they'd immediately start attracting grime.

Eventually I realized that I didn't have any more potential homes for weird things, which meant that I couldn't buy everything in the world that I wanted. I slowed down my rate of acquisition, then started getting rid of stuff. And as white space began to appear between my tchotchkes, I discovered that I liked it.

This was huge, because like a lot of people who grow up in a not-that-financially-secure environment, I'd never before experienced enough quantity to understand its relationship to quality. When you feel a persistent sense of lack, you don't stop to think too much about what you're grabbing for -- you just grab.

But as I started to outgrow the grabbiness, I started paying attention to different things. Do I need this? Is it going to add to my life or just sit around? And as my environmental consciousness grew, other questions came onto the list, too. Where did this come from? Who made it? Is it going to last?

My standards started to rise, and I got a lot pickier about what I brought into my life. My apartment still looked cute and prominently featured hilarious stuff; there was just a lot less of it.

I noticed myself going through this process in other parts of my life, too. I allowed my standards to rise for what I ate, who I hung out with, how I spent my time ... But it didn't really happen with clothes until much later -- in fact, it's still a work in progress.

Even now, as I compost and recycle and buy almost exclusively happy meat and fair trade coffee, I still find myself guiltily standing in line at Target with a tank top or a pair of tights in my hand. For some reason, the disconnect between my ideals and my behavior seems to show up in fashion more than anywhere else.

Why? I think it has to do with those feelings of lack and grabbiness I described earlier. Because, honestly, unless you are one of the few people who falls right into the narrow band of proportions that mass marketers design for, there truly is a distinct lack of clothing for you in the stores.

Here's how it breaks down. Let's say I need a pair of pants, so I go to a store, gather up a dozen or so pairs to try, and proceed to the dressing room. Of my dozen choices, one pair fits. Kind of. They don't make me look or feel particularly cute, and they're maybe a little short? But they do button up without causing a massive muffin top, which is more than I can say for any of the other ones.

At this point, I can decide to keep looking, go gather up another dozen pairs, and take my chances on another ride through the process, and often I do. But other times, knowing how my shopping experience tends to go, I just go ahead and buy the 60% okay pants, because I need them, and these work. Kind of.

The point is that, as a body proportion outlier in 2012 America, my choices are so limited that I have very little space to think about where they were made / their fabric content / whether or not they make my butt look cute. I'm expected to just be satisfied that it's covered.

And this is how a person ends up with closets full of clothes that they don't want to wear, a depressing but fairly common state of affairs. We have soooo many clothes in this world, and almost all of them suck.

Of course I think we can do better than this. I think we can have more options. Better options. Instead of tons of sucky clothes, we can have just a few absolutely perfect ones that we love and want to wear all the time. Instead of hustling to cobble together a look from a bunch of garments about which we feel decidedly "meh", we can decide how we want to dress and then dress that way, no matter our size or proportion.

I don't want to be stuck with 60% okay clothes made in a sweatshop from the world's most pesticide-laden fibers, and I don't want you to be stuck with them either. What I want is for all of us -- fat or skinny, apple or pear -- to have the privilege to dress to our most fully realized vision of cuteness AND to our highest standards and morals. No more lesser-of-two-evils compromises in the dressing room or anywhere else. Let's figure out a better way.

Shift in the Wild: Megan Draper Is Free

Sigh, I love Mad Men. A large part of that has to do with the clothes, of course, and I look forward to reading Tom and Lorenzo's Mad Style analysis of each episode almost as much as watching! I love seeing how costume designer Janie Bryant uses clothes to help tell the story. Think about Betty's perfect housewife dresses, Joan's curvy sheath shapes, and Peggy's extremely practical tops and skirts. You could almost line them up in an "evolution of womankind" poster -- as the idealized femininity of the 50s fell away, something new took its place.

Enter Megan Draper, a woman just a bit younger than Peggy but far freer in her ideas, speech, and emotions than any other female character we've seen on the show (except maybe Peggy's awesome lesbian photographer pal). And I couldn't help noticing that, in the first episode of this season, she's wearing a lot of shifts. Some pretty frickin fabulous ones, too.

Free waists for free women! Janie Bryant is telling us that women are changing, and Megan is one of the new models.

Not only is she setting aside traditional feminine silhouettes; she's also showing quite a bit of leg in these looks. New shapes for a new kind of gal.

I can't wait to see these trends play out over the rest of the season. Will we see Megan in a Yves St Laurent Mondrian-inspired shift? Will Peggy rock a mini-skirt? How long till Sally's running around in ripped jeans and muddy feet? I rub my hands in gleeful anticipation!

The Joy Of Being An Outsider

When I started Wear the Shift, I was an outsider to fashion design, a complete amateur. I had never drafted a pattern or even sewn a real garment in my life. But starting the company from Knowledge Level 0 was a conscious choice on my part, because I wanted to approach this problem of "how do we make clothes" from a new angle.

And it worked. Since I didn't have any experience, I just tried stuff. With each iteration, I thought deeply about what worked and what didn't, and I was able to cycle through ideas very quickly until I hit upon an algorithm that created the fit I wanted.

Of course I ran into stumbling blocks. Of course I will continually refine what I'm doing based on customer feedback and continual learning -- I am finally taking patternmaking lessons!

But my process of experimenting and thinking and experimenting some more led me to a unique way of creating sewing patterns, one based on the reality of an individual person's body rather than a list of commercial standards. I'm not sure I'd have been able to do that if I'd started off by going through design school and learning all about The Way Things Are Done.

I think about this in terms of the way I look, too. I'm cute enough, sure, but I've never been the kind of girl you'll see walking a runway -- I'm a beauty outsider. And while that sometimes made me a little sad when I was a kid, I see now how it's given me enormous freedom. I will never look like a movie star, so why not just try to look like what I think is cute?

Even as Wear the Shift grows into a bigger company with a wider impact, I never want to lose my outsider status. I never want to fix my crooked teeth, or starve myself to get skinny, or worry about whether the way I dress is "fashionable" or not. I want to look like myself, experiment with wild abandon, and retain every drop of my freedom.

We tend to think of being an outsider as somehow being less than. But I see it differently. Being on the margin gives you a unique perspective on the status quo and makes you less beholden to it. Which means you can more easily change it.

From Now On, Ima Be My Own Best Friend

Imagine you are walking down the street with your bestie, and some douchebag says something about her. Maybe he's commenting on her body, or maybe he's doing that thing where a guy thinks that calling a lady stuck up is going to make her want to talk to him. It doesn't matter. Just imagine how you would react.

Me? I'd either give him a dirty look, or haughtily ignore him, or maybe make a lewd Outrageous Fortune reference just within earshot. If what he said was truly heinous, I might go over and give him a generous serving of my mind. Whatever the situation called for, my reaction would invariably be some variation on a middle finger. Without hesitating for a second, I'd defend my friend with my mighty weapons of ferocity and loyalty and hilarity. I'd automatically be on her side.

I'm guessing you would, too. That's what friends do.

Now imagine this: you have a shitty thought about yourself. Haha, do you even have to imagine, or can you just tune into the shitty thought station as it blares away 24/7? For me, Jabba the Hutt is often involved -- for instance: "Ugh, God, I look like Jabba the Hutt in this."

But, like the ejaculations of the douchebag on the street, the content of these thoughts doesn't really matter. What matters is what happens next.

Do you immediately roll over and concede the point that you actually do look like Mr. The Hutt and skulk back to the closet to find something that might render you a bit more invisible? Or do you give that thought a big old middle finger and move on with your day?

Just think about it. What if the cool part of your brain could defend you from the douchebag part, the same way you'd defend your BFF, with full dedication and without a second's hesitation? What amazing things might you have the confidence to wear? To do?

Just something to think about. All the ladies, if you feel me, help me sing it out.

What Size Am I? Depicts Fashion's Fatal Flaw

Have you seen this cool new website, What Size Am I? You use the sliders to put in your bust, waist, and hip measurements, and the site tells you which sizes at which stores are likely to fit you. Right now the site is of limited usefulness to me in figuring out where to shop, because it only goes up to size 16 -- maybe there'll be more sizes in version 2? But I still think it is an amazing tool, because it paints a clear picture of exactly what is wrong with the way we do sizes.

How the site works is, it plots your bust, waist, and hip onscreen, forming a curve out of the 3 numbers. For folks with hourglass proportions, the curve looks like a U. For folks with straighter proportions, the curve is shallower, and closer to a straight line. Here are a few random graphs using measurements from customers I have had in just over a year of business -- the client measurements are represented by the black curve.

Pretty wide variation, right?

Now check out the curves created by the measurements corresponding to store sizes -- the gray lines on the graphs above. Unlike the individuals' curves, these show almost no variation. The proportion between bust, waist, and hip is basically the same shape across all the sizes and all the stores.

These graphs show it clearly: if your curve is different from the check-mark-ish curve that this mix of stores designs for, you are largely SOL.

For a very long time I have felt that seriously 99% of what is in shops is not meant for my body type, and I have to say that seeing the data visualized in this way makes me feel vindicated. I'm not crazy and I'm not deformed … most clothes really just aren't designed for me!

What do you think about all this? And where would we outliers be without stretch clothing? One shudders to think.

Free Waists For Free Women!!

In the 1910s, women wore dresses in which "the waistline essentially disappeared," then got the right to vote.

In the 1960s, women rocked some craaaazy shifts, then ended the war and gained reproductive freedom.

Coincidence? You decide!

But I hardly find it surprising that we made our biggest steps forward in times when we could dress in the height of fashion, be comfortable enough to work, AND have plenty of room for a nice pasta dinner. Followed by a lovely piece of pie.

We've got the world at our feet, ladies, and pockets to carry everything we need.

Long live the revolution! And pie! And the shift!

Being A Badass Makes You Beautiful

I've been watching "Mad Men" again, getting ready for the new episodes next month. And, oh man, it is SO FUN to see it knowing what's going to happen!

I'm in the middle of the first season, when you still feel bad for Betty and sad for Peggy. And I keep being struck by how radiant they both are, and how the quality of their beauty feels completely different.

Betty is a classic American blonde, repeatedly compared to Grace Kelly, gifted with a gorgeous face and a trim figure. Her beauty gets her lots of attention from men (and yikes! even boys!), and she's learned to see that as her major power in the world.

To me she seems like a superhero who knows that her powers are fading -- she has everything now, but she knows it will all go away. So there's an odd desperation to her character. We see this as she turns from one man to another, repeating the same patterns and judging her daughter as harshly as she has been judged.

And as her desperation grows, she becomes more and more odious. (Seriously, type "I Hate Betty" into Google and how it auto-finishes the sentence.) I can't WAIT to see what she does when Sally (inevitably) starts hanging out with hippies. And as she loses more and more of her youthful glow. She has a porcelain doll quality -- stiff and hollow and cold -- and the world is moving on to real flesh.

Peggy, on the other hand, comes from humble surroundings and would generally be considered pretty plain. But there's an intensity in her eyes that makes her stand out, that makes you want to watch her. Her beauty isn't a shell that can crack -- it's a coalfire burning from the inside out.

The first season is kind of a shocking time for Peggy -- she learns she has good intellectual instincts and poor romantic ones. (Seriously, girl? Pete Campbell? Let us talk!) But there's no denying that as she grows and gets more confident, she also becomes more and more beautiful. I like noticing it happen as I re-watch the show -- from the moment she sells her first copy, she develops a lookie-what-I-did glow.

Peggy's variety of beauty is more a side-effect of doing cool stuff than it is a genetic gift. It comes from taking risks and achieving stuff and being proud of it. Which means it's accessible to everybody.

And it's self-renewing, which means it doesn't go away when you get old -- in fact it only gets more luminous with age and increased badassity. Imagine Peggy in 2012 -- the drama, the stories, the hilarious and wistful memories! I kind of wish she was not a fictional character so we could hang out!

And it's also predicated on a much nicer notion Betty-style beauty: the idea that a woman's value comes from what she does, not what she looks like.

The genetic lottery is real -- some people reap the benefits of being born beautiful, and others not so much. But think about the people you think are gorgeous -- is it about their looks, or is it about who they are?

True beauty -- the real, lasting, burning-from-within kind -- doesn't come from our DNA. It comes from the boldness of the choices we make every day. Bravery is the new black.

I Dream of Bright Green Dresses

Since posting Tales of a Fit Model last week and reading a few books which I'll tell you about soon, I've been thinking a lot about how clothes are made. From design to fitting to getting the supply chain together, there is *so* much effort put into it -- far more than most of us realize. And yet the result still falls so far short of where many of us wish it were in terms of quality, fit, and sustainability.

And it's not just the fashion industry -- ALL of the industries have these problems. Big, clunky, and slow to change, they are also governed by an outdated paradigm that wants to churn through and sell as much stuff as possible ... that has little incentive to create items of high quality ... that puts scant thought into what will happen to all that churning stuff when no one wants it anymore. (I'll tell you: Pacific Garbage Patch.)

We realize that this has to change. But the industrial paradigm is a hard act to follow! For all its problems, it has made our everyday lives soooo much better -- who wants to go back to a pre-Target existence?

Mass production has allowed more people than ever before to experience material prosperity and economic opportunity. But, clearly, we can't continue on our current path -- it won't work within our current constraints (i.e., just the one planet).

So we have to find a new way to do prosperity that is so ridiculously superior that the old dirty paradigm bows its head cause it knows that it's been beat.

Where everything is radically, next generation-style better.

Where the coffeemaker you bought 10 years ago still makes rockin' good coffee with no signs of stopping.

And everything in your closet fits you beautifully because it was made specifically for you, and everything's comfy and holds up and makes you happy when you put it on. Every single item!

And you never see a TV in a dump, because when your TV gets old it is replaced by your TV service, who also takes the old one away and recycles it into newer, shinier TVs. Same with carpets, computers, and cars. Zero waste.

And anywhere you go -- from the mall to the hospital to your kid's school -- there is real food available, cooked by real people using real ingredients.

And cars run on electricity and weigh a quarter of what they do now, and you don't even really need them that much because there are loads of restaurants and grocery stores in your neighborhood and the train is faster anyhow.

And, regardless of what you're buying, you know that people are being paid fairly for their part in making it. And that it's been thoughtfully designed for its entire lifecycle, from production to usage to recycling.

I could go on (for days!) but you probably get the idea. I believe that we can have abundance and prosperity in a way that is intelligent and beautiful and super duper bright green. It'll take a lot of work, but what else are we doing that's more important?

I also have to say that after years of learning and writing about how other folks are working hard to create this kind of future, I am literally jumping-up-and-down happy to be working towards it myself, in my own teeny tiny little way.

Today, dresses ... tomorrow, the world! Or maybe just pants!

Bill Cunningham Knows What Fashion Is For

The last few days I have been pretty much incapacitated by a sore neck. It sounds a lot less awful than it was! Owie! I couldn't do much of anything useful, but the upside was that I got to watch some Netflix -- specifically a documentary about New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham.

He is an amazing character. Even over 80 years old, he hops on his bike and zips up and downtown, day and night, to take pictures -- pictures of well-dressed people on the street, society types at charity events (wow there are a lot of these!), and trends that he notices happening in real time.

He lives very simply in a studio in Carnegie Hall, with dozens of file cabinets full of the photos he's taken over the years, his mattress on a pallet on the floor. He's just completely consumed -- in what seems to me the purest and sweetest possible way -- with his work. How else could he get away with something like this?

I loved this film -- both getting to know a little about Bill and also seeing all the different eccentric people and wonderful looks he's photographed over the years. (Check out the image search for his name!)

And I love hearing what he thinks about how things have changed -- after covering five decades of fashion, he is perhaps more well equipped to say Thoughtful Things About Clothes than just about anyone. There's one particular segment where he describes post-war couture in the most evocative way:

Clothes gave women enormous security through the elegance of cut and taste and refinement. There was nothing frivolous about them.

This is followed by a vintage commercial in which captivating women in dramatic, glittering frocks gather on a grand staircase, and the voiceover tells us, "To equal your beauty, marvel of marvels, that is quite impossible." In French. Swoon! And also, mind blown! Because in 2011, the subtext is less "you are unspeakably exquisite" and more "no, you won't fit into our clothes, nor can you afford them, so how about a $30 lipstick or $200 wallet?"


What I like most about this film is just the way that Bill sees fashion. I like what he notices and how he articulates it. And I like how he pays attention to the clothes and the people wearing them, and lets the money/status stuff slide right out of the frame. "Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life," he says, and he's right -- we all gotta wear something. I admire the way Bill values and showcases the expressive, beautiful, and fun ways we suit up.

Plus, Iris Apfel is in it!

What Is "Flattering"? Another Tiny Rant

JessPgh is a Pittsburgh-based professor and fashion blogger at Consume or Consumed who recently wrote a brilliant and, to me, mind-altering response to a commenter who told her an outfit she was wearing was unflattering: I reject the discourse of "flattering."

This sentence has been rattling around my mind ever since I read it.

Why does "flattering" matter so much, and what does it even mean? Jess breaks it down like this: "We all know the "rules" say that for women, dressing to flatter consists of making the body appear as small and/or thin as possible."

This is why folks tell apple-shaped ladies like me to position belts around our rib cages to create the illusion of a waistline even though that is kind of horrifically uncomfortable.

And why pear shaped ladies are supposed to wear wide-legged pants to balance their wide hips, as though wide hips are something which must be balanced at any cost.

And why short ladies are meant to wear heels to create a longer leg line, because you know, short leg lines are responsible for some of the greatest atrocities of our time, amirite?

All of this helpful advice is aimed at one thing: making us look thinner than we are. Smaller. As though we are actually less.

Jess expresses this beautifully: "Trying to ensure women take up as little space in the world as possible is only one of many ways to minimize our social value and cultural input."

Which, honestly, makes me want to construct and wear the biggest goddamn tent dress in history. With crinolines. Because, you know, I am almost 6 feet tall and I laugh loud and adore bright colors and have giant thoughts and not only am I never going to be tiny ... I don't even want to be. I want a BIG life full of HUGE social value and MASSIVE cultural input. So why should I worry -- even for a second -- whether some outfit makes me look small? Why should any of us?

I want clothes that make me feel strong and cute and whatever else I want to feel. Sometimes that means I put on some Spanx so I feel smoother in my clingy dress. Other times, it means I wear a big fluffy sweater that makes me feel cozy. Or I put on some crazy sexy heels. Or I rock some skinny jeans even though they're not supposed to "work for me" or something.

My point is that the range of possibilities is enormous, and they are literally all good. Style and aesthetics are super subjective, and trying to measure up to this imaginary objective yardstick of "flatteringness" is just silly. I, too, reject it.

My hope is that we can decide what we want to wear based on just that -- what we want to wear. What we think is fun, pretty, comfortable, hilarious, dramatic, appropriate for the day we have planned, clean enough to be seen in, whatever. I want each of us to make these decisions based on whatever we want to base them on, not on "the rules" that our (still quite sexist) society proscribes as "flattering" for "our body type."

(So many quotes! So much "bullshit"!)

I guess I just really want us to have a blast when we get dressed. Because, really, besides keeping our bodies moderately covered and protected from the elements, isn't that what clothes are for?

Looking Good, Feeling Good, For Reals

Have you ever met my grandma, Ma? My whole life she's been both my rock and my style icon. When I was little and bad, she never yelled at me, not even when I trashed her super fly navy crushed patent leather boots. (What can I say, they transformed me into Wonder Woman and/or Isis!)

When I was a teenage nerd, she taught me advanced accessorizing, gave me many of her vintage sparklies, and doled out the best dating advice ever -- don't be so serious! just have fun! (Did I follow it? Not till I was 35.)

Now that I'm grown up, we have a chattier relationship and I get to hear about lots of awesome stuff. Like the very Parent Trap-ish tricks she and her twin sister played on their high school boyfriends ... and the day she decided to marry my dashing older grandpa instead of the boy she'd been engaged to before The War ... and all the fun times they had cruising around in their mint green Cadillac with the white leather interior.

In short, Ma has the best stories, the best clothes, and the best laugh. Even when life whacks her upside the head, she is impish hilarity incarnate.

After 88 remarkably hale and hearty years, she's been struggling with some health problems the last few months, and was recently admitted to a rehab center where she's been resting and getting physical therapy ... and, not surprisingly, hating every minute of it.

The first few weeks there were the worst. She was irritable and depressed and scared -- as any of us would be. She's been independent and super social her entire life, so it's been hard for her to get used to not being able to do as much as she once could. She's usually a voracious conversationalist and reader, but she was quiet, and nothing seemed to hold her interest -- not murder books or sexy books or even sexy murder books. All of this was very unlike her and pretty upsetting for all of us.

The hardest part was that she didn't want to see anyone besides family. One particularly spectacular autumn afternoon a few weeks ago, I tried to talk her into going outside with me where I could wheel her around in the sunshine and she could get a look at the fall colors. "Oh, no, Meg," she said, hands flying up to her usually blonde and poofy / now gray and flat hair. "I just can't let anyone see me like this."

My heart broke for her, but I didn't push. Instead, I made her an appointment at the beauty shop.

The day after her primp and perm, my fiancee and I came to visit her and experienced synchronized jaw drops at what we saw. Her usual response to our arrival was a weak smile and a description of how hard the day had sucked. But that night she was sitting up in bed, chowing down on shortbread and making plans for what she'd like to do with us, more full of piss and vinegar than I'd seen her in months.

For the first time since she got there, we went for a walk around the building, and I was gratified to see her pick up a particularly trashy looking paperback found in the lounge -- Having The Cowboy's Baby, a title from Desire by Harlequin. Go Ma go!

The next morning, I called her before visiting to see if I could bring her anything. "Why don't you just stay home today, Meg?" she replied. "You need a day off, and I'm fine. I love you and I'll see you tomorrow."

My eyes filled up with tears as I hung up the phone. Even weak from a heart attack and unable to get up from her hospital bed, she was able to marshall the resources to care for me, just as she's done since the day I was born. This was the first time she'd been able to since she got sick, and it meant a lot to me. I know it did to her, too.

I credit this both to my Ma's inherent awesomeness and to her hair being beautiful and poofy again. You know, it gives a girl strength!

That the way we look impacts the way we feel seems like the most obvious and even frivolous idea, but gets more profound and real the more you look at it. The dumbest little things can make you feel like -- and even BE -- the best version of yourself.

I know, for me, there is a tangible difference between a day when I feel cute and one when I don't. On a not-so-cute day, I want to stay home and eat ice cream. On a cute day, I want to GO OUT and eat ice cream ... and lots of other stuff, too, like make goofy jokes, play in the leaves, and smile at strangers in the street.

When you feel cute, you become a portal of cute, and out it all pours. It's kind of magic, no?


Next up for the beauty shop lady: Some kind of thank you. Maybe cookies?

Next up for Ma: Reintroduction to lipstick, earrings, and head-to-toe black-and-gold.

Next up for me: Hanging with Ma and remembering to tell her how gorgeous she truly is.

Charlie Brown Goes Shopping: A Tiny Rant

I swear, sometimes when I go shopping I feel like Charlie Brown. I see racks and racks of bright colorful garments hanging there cheerfully, and like a baby magpie I am drawn to touch them, admire them, hunt them and gather them. And I'm always so excited! Cause look at the pretty pretty things!! PRETTY!

Then I get to the dressing room and strip down to try everything on and not. one. item. fits. Womp womp. You're Such A Fat Loser, Charlie Brown! Hahahaha!

Why don't clothes fit me? I don't know. I look pretty normal I think ... at least, I'm not a 3-headed alien. I'm just a size 16 girl with a wider than average waistline. You wouldn't think to look at me that I'd be such a freak of nature that literally 99% of what I tries on looks like ASS ... and not fine ass, either -- ASS ASS.

But apparently an unclothable freak is exactly what I am. Or at least I'm meant to FEEL like that, and then I'm meant to shamefully buy whatever will cover my fatness and be grateful for the chance to do so.

This is such utter bullshit that it makes my head hurt. You've seen my picture -- I am cute as hell! And I bet you are, too! There is no reason for us to settle for gross clothes, or to feel ashamed for even a second if the ones we want don't fit us.

The fashion industry has hoodwinked us in a most alarming way. THEY are the ones who make shitty clothes that fit only the tiniest range of human proportions, and yet WE are the ones who feel bad about it.


I dearly love clothes but am sick to death of the fashion industry.

You too? Great! Come sit by me ... let's talk about a better way to do things.

(Thanks to Dalvenjah for the photo!)

Hard Times and Makeup

The last month has been one of the craziest of my life. First, my 2nd favorite website published an article I wrote about the super-fun time when I won a tiara in the Ms. Pittsburgh pageant, which people loved! And which led them to Wear the Shift! All of which was so awesome I could hardly stand it.

A week later, I got up bright and early to start a new job that I'm perfectly suited for, with lots of nice people to work with and interesting problems to solve. Excitement AND money, yay!

Then, later that very same day, I got a call that my grandma was having a heart attack. The world absolutely stopped as we wandered around the hospital and waited for Ma to stabilize.

I am happy to say that she did, and she's at home now recovering ... but she's still quite weak and needs a good bit of help. And our parents are gone, so her care is up to our tiny little family of grandkids -- me and my brother and our partners. We've all been hustling to get her what she needs while also keeping our own lives going.

For me, the last few weeks have been a blur of driving around parking garages, attempting to decipher doctor-ese, drafting and sewing, filling up pill boxes, writing articles, making many decisions, worrying on a variety of topics, figuring out new routines, learning a new software system from the bottom up so I can document it, A LOT of practice in being diplomatic when I feel like being dramatic, and, oh yeah, trying to get some sleep.

In short, I have been stressed, friends, in a way I don't recall ever having been stressed before.

Of course, amazing things have come out of all of this insanity -- crisis leads to growth and all that. But I would be lying if I didn't admit to breaking down in tears at least 50% of the days. All this growth has been hard as hell.

There are things that have saved me ... my fiance the super hero who has been right beside me in the thick of it ... my new colleagues who have been more than understanding ... the doctors and nurses who saved Ma's life in the hospital and the visiting staff helping her get stronger now that she's back at home ...

And makeup! Makeup has saved me, too!

Is this silly and superficial and am I slightly ashamed? Umm, yeah. But when I've been geeking, nursing, and entrepreneuring all day long, nothing relaxes me like a glass of wine and a tutorial from Makeup Geek Marlena or my girl Jane Marie. I pull out my brushes and primers and powders and for an hour or so, I can rock out to Beyonce and lose myself in figuring out how to do a smoky eye that works on me, or playing with my crazy matte shadows from Sugarpill, or perfecting my blusher technique.

Yes, sometimes I do end up looking like my makeover was done by Cyndi Lauper's stylist for "She Bop," or maybe a 5 year old, but it doesn't matter! Because what is really happening is that I'm reconnecting in a small but powerful way to the fun side of life. There is a simple joy in swiping on hot pink lipstick. Add my favorite shitkicker motorcycle boots to the mix and suddenly I'm strong enough to face whatever needs facing. Feeling cute has its own particular magic.

In the big picture, perhaps slanted-eyeliner-brush-fu is not the most important thing. But, as I remind my grandma every day while she struggles to get her strength and independence back, we need to look out for and appreciate the little things. Especially when times are tough. Every day she can walk a little farther and do a little more for herself ... add that up over a week or a month and we are looking at real progress.

On my end, if I can find a minute to feel the sunshine on my skin and put something colorful and cute on my face, that's enough to keep me going ... sometimes even cheerfully!

When you've gone through hard times, were there any dumb little things that totally got you through it? Share, won't you? (I'm hoping someone has something even shallower and sillier than me!)

Also, just for fun: Google image search on "80s video makeup"

Traveling Light, Wearing the Shift

Since Kelly and I started Wear the Shift, I've taken a couple of trips -- a few visits back to New York, a weekend in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and two glorious weeks in Scotland over Christmas. Each time, I was struck by how easy it was to travel with my shifts. Of course, I live in these little dresses and have more of them than just about anyone (though a few of our customers are catching up!), so I tend to pack several. But even just one can get you through your trip with minimal muss/fuss and maximum cuteness/comfiness.

Let's say you're roadtripping to visit friends in a nearby city. You leave Thursday night and come back on Sunday with these items in your bag:

* A shift * A pair of jeans * A long sleeved tee * A cardigan * A pair of leggings

In the car, and out to dinner with your pals on Thursday night, you wear: * Shift * Leggings * Cardigan

Friday, you wash Thursday's outfit in the sink (if you are clean) or hang it up to air out (if you are me) and go sightseeing in: * Long sleeved tee * Jeans * Pigtails

Saturday it gets chilly, so you layer up: * Long sleeved tee * Cardigan * Shift * Jeans

Sunday you head out to brunch and drive back home in: * Shift * Leggings

Add a nightie, your drawers, and your toiletries, and you're still carrying, like, the smallest weekend bag ever, and you have plenty of fashion options.

On longer trips, the effect is even more pronounced because of the power of multiplication. 3 shifts x 3 tops x 3 bottoms = 27 unique outfits. I packed a little more than that for Scotland -- 5 or 6 shifts, some tights, a few jackets for layering. But I still had plenty of room in my bag to bring home some new cashmere and wee Nessies.

When I'm dealing with lots of uncertainty and changes of venue, I really appreciate the simplicity of this approach. Whether I'm hanging around my room, going to a party, or taking a trans-Atlantic flight, I can wear the same comfortable and cute clothes. Having spent many hours over many years wringing my hands over what to pack and what to wear, this feels like a huge luxury to me!

What about you? Have you traveled with your shift or another beloved, always-perfect garment? Leave a comment and tell us all about it!

How I learned to stop hating my body and rock these awesome pins

Last week, Kelly sent me this article on The Hairpin, and I about fell over. Lindsay Miller writes of her evolving relationship with her "Breasts That Can Be Seen From Orbit," and it seems almost 200 commenters agree with me that her journey makes a pretty good stand-in for ours.

It seems like most of us have something about ourselves that makes us different ... and that we kinda hate. Here's a brief selection of scourged body parts I've heard about since starting work on Wear the Shift: knees, legs, ankles (actually, "cankles"), arms, shoulders, tummy, butt, thighs.  Pretty exhaustive list -- anyone hate their thumbs?

This makes me sad.  We are entirely too critical of ourselves.

As the years unfold and the wisdom builds, Lindsay goes from being weirded out by her breasts to being proud and, well, attached to them: "I've realized that my breasts are a huge (I'm sorry) part of my self-image ... My breasts are kind of like this awesome visual metaphor for my personality: too big, too sexual, taking up too much space."

One critical moment in her story takes place in a dressing room while shopping for a dress to wear to her best friend's wedding. Growing weary of her mother's criticisms and offers of paid-for breast reduction, she snaps: "Can we please stop talking about fixing me? The dress doesn't fit! That's not my fault!"

This, my friends, is the way we all need to think. Because, I bet Lindsay was pretty cute when she tried on her dress and everyone took issue with her for not fitting in it. And I was still cute that time I broke down in tears trying on dozens of pairs of horrifying jeans at Target. And you were cute, too, even when you found yourself slipping down the body shame spiral in that awful, terrible dressing room.

We are all pretty cute, especially when we wear comfy clothes that fit us well. This is why Wear the Shift exists!

(And also why, when you try on something at a store and it is ghastly, you must immediately move on. Like online dating, trying on clothes is more a series of short experiments than anything fraught or meaningful. Department store fashion is not something to take personally ... there’s nothing personable about it. Be a clothes-trying-on robot, and move forward without regrets or second thoughts.)

Returning to Lindsay, when she gets to the advice-y wrap up I nod slowly and thoughtfully, then go all <3s in my eyes:

"Don't bother dressing to create an optical illusion that your body is shaped differently than it is. It won't work, and it's boring. Do you."

Damn straight, on both points. It IS boring, and it DOESN'T work. Putting a big black belt across my tummy doesn't magically give me a tiny waist. All it does is give me a sweaty tummy and extra bulges beyond the ones I already have. Blerg!

I am done walking around uncomfortable in my clothes just because everyone's supposed to look one particular way or be one particular shape. I have no time for it!  I got these gams to rock!

Anyway ... what do you think? How do you handle body image craziness when shopping? Leave a comment and tell us how you deal with the emotions that come up in the dressing room.

Ethics and Fashion: Where do you draw your lines?

Last week, I started playing with Polyvore, a super fun site that lets you clip clothes and accessories from around the web and combine them in collections to share with others.

I clipped several dresses from our shop and had a ball combining them with different accessories. Turquoise chucks and a yellow belt with a navy pinstripe dress? Shiny Target shoes combined with a $1,500 clutch? Yes please! I could do this all day.

I didn't even think about the implications of what I was clipping until Kelly brought it up: "Maybe we should stick to custom / organic / ethically made stuff?"

Of course we should! But how? These decisions are made in so many shades of gray.

It's similar to the questions many of us ask ourselves when we buy food. Spendy fair trade coffee to brew at home, or a quick cheap cup on the run? Big bag of conventional apples that will give me healthy snacks for a week, or one perfect box of beautiful organic blueberries? There are so many variables!

It's wonderful to be thoughtful, and I'm grateful to know about the supply chains that support my life. But at the same time, I can easily drive myself crazy weighing priorities and debating issues.

Our Criteria

So, to avoid rehashing the same pros and cons list every time we decide to clip (or buy!) something, we decided on some threshold criteria. Anything on this list is fair game:

1) Custom garments, especially those made from vintage or eco-friendly fabrics (of course!)

2) Handmade items created from carefully chosen materials

3) Mass-produced garments made from eco-friendly textiles in an ethical way, and available in a large range of sizes

4) Vintage items

Attitude Adjustment

Applying ethical questions to fashion decisions is brand new for me. For most of my life, I’ve been starving for cute things to wear, so I've been willing to buy anything that looked reasonably good on me, regardless of its provenance.

But that's kind of a crappy attitude to have! There are so many options these days -- custom jeans, handmade organic leggings, our little company -- that there's really no reason to settle. Instead of going through racks of stuff in stores, I want to put my effort into finding exactly what I want online.

Admittedly, many of these choices cost more than their Target counterparts. As in other parts of my life where I've made the switch from price-based shopping to value-based shopping, I find I love the items more and it takes fewer of them to meet my needs.

An Unforeseen Benefit of Buying Ethically

Something we've has noticed is, with these standards in place, shopping actually gets easier! Organic and eco-friendly materials don't have a huge adoption rate (especially in plus sizes), so it becomes simple to exclude a lot of junk and just focus on a smaller set of better quality items.

Of course, this is all a work in progress. We're eager to learn more, and we're curious – what thoughts go through your head when you are contemplating a purchase? Do you consider the ethics of what you wear? What’s most important to you: labor conditions, materials, or something else?

Our Philosophy

We believe it's time to change the way we dress. We're tired of searching through miles of aisles of clothes and not finding one garment that fits properly.

We're sick of the waste of mass-production -- the noxious chemicals, the exhausted cropland, the human potential lost when workers are treated like manufacturing machines.

And we're totally over an industry that creates more confusion, anxiety, and stuff than anyone wants or needs. How many millions of square feet in our homes are used storing clothes that don't make us look or feel good?

We think there's a better way. It's about marrying tradition and technology to create something quite new.

A Very Brief History of Clothes

As recently as 90 years ago, most women’s clothes were made for the specific person when she needed them. This process produced beautifully-fitting, durable garments without producing much waste.

The downsides: It took a long time, was expensive, and your choices were limited. Most folks had just a few bespoke outfits that they wore all the time.

With the onset of industrialization, custom garments were replaced by ready-made ones and a couple of significant shifts occurred:

• Clothing began to appear in sizes. This meant that the huge range of human body shapes was narrowed down to a single linear scale.

• A great deal more waste appeared in the process -- in fact, waste is intrinsic to mass production. Companies produce clothes based on what they think people will buy, but a guess is still a guess. More clothes are always made than what's bought. And it’s not just extra yoga pants released into the wild: extra fabric ends up in landfills, dyes pollute waterways...there are a lot of not-so-nice byproducts of mass-produced fashion.

• Sewing is one of those things that's hard to fully automate -- lots of labor is typically involved. And industrial production hates nothing more than high labor costs. Consequently, the garment industry has had more than its share of problems with workers' rights.

Mass production has brought the price of ready-made clothing way down, which is kind of awesome. We have waaay more choices than, say, Laura Ingalls Wilder. It's a huge luxury to be able to buy a garment that required the work of hundreds of people around the world for less than an hour's wages.

Because of mass-production, most of us now have more than enough in our wardrobes. The problem is, none of it is quite right. Even with all of the choices available, it's still almost impossible to find something that fits well. Or that doesn't fall apart after two washings. Or that doesn't smell vaguely, terribly chemical.

There Is A Better Way

At Wear the Shift, we believe we can use technology to solve these problems and produce beautiful garments in a vastly superior way. How?

• By producing each garment when it is ordered, to fit a specific person.

• By building a technological platform and a manufacturing process that makes it easy to create custom sewing patterns and bespoke garments.

• By using gorgeous vintage fabric remnants and lovely new eco-friendly textiles.

• By working with artisans who construct garments to the highest level of quality, and paying them fairly.

Right now, we are officially in the humble beginnings phase. But we're proud of the fact that we can already put a beautifully-fitting, ethically-made, supercute dress in your hands for the same price you'd pay at, say, Anthropologie or ModCloth. And that's in year one! We can't wait to see what unfolds in years 2, 3, and beyond.

We're really glad you're interested, too, and would love to hear your thoughts ...