Monday, May 31, 2010

Op/Ed Column: on Fashion Policing


Hey all, and welcome back to my Op/Ed column! As a reminder, this is the space where readers can respond with opposing views to posts I've written. When Kelly wrote to me that she was disturbed by the tone of last Friday's post on noticing fit and construction issues in others' clothing, I knew you would all be interested. Kelly graciously allowed me to reprint her thoughts here. So, without further ado, here's what she had to say.

I think it's awesome you are starting to really SEE clothes and fit issues - and that you have the means, time, and privilege to explore a self-education in creating well-made, homesewn clothes. It's also wonderful you are sharing your experiences with your readers! I have you in my feed reader and look forward to your writings.

But with your last post, I'm sure your intent was not to start a classist bunch of fashion-and-clothes policing. Where I live lots of people are just trying to pay the bills and feed their kids have clothes on their backs and try not to freeze their asses while they wait an hour between buses (and of course, I'm a white American and surrounded by far more wealth and privilege than many global citizens have). I seriously cannot imagine looking at ANY fellow human beings and picking on their "rubbish" or "trashy" or "cheap" sense of style.

I know there are ways to talk about fashion and the pursuant fun of achieving it that respect all human beings. I am sad to see your comment stream is not a respectful space in that manner.

I love your writings and I hope you take my comment knowing I come from that place.
Thanks so much, Kelly, for taking the time to weigh in! Readers, what do you think? I sensed from a lot of comments that you were more distressed with the garment industry letting women down in general, and that's where much of the disgust came from. As I acknowledged myself, it's hard not to take notice of fit issues without feeling like you're snarking or "clothes-policing". Furthermore, as many astute commenters pointed out, a lot of our own fit problems come with a host of body image issues, so it's possible that a lot of the negativity is really focused inward. So how do we talk about this stuff in a constructive way, being cognizant of all the class issues that come with it?

P.S. Please let me know if you'd like to contribute to the Op/Ed Column! Write to me at gertie [at] blogforbettersewing [dot] com.

52 comments:

  1. I think Kelly made some great points; we walk a fine line between critiquing fit for the sake of educating ourselves, and critquing others. Every time a topic along these lines comes up, I'm always reminded of the classic line "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all". lol. While I don' adhere to that always, I think it does bear some truth particularly on topics that can be possibly critical or encourage "policing" of others.

    That being said, I want to say that I didn't take Gertie's original post to be snobbish/classist (or many of the comments). Its something that most well-dressed women (seamstresses or not) eventually start to notice about others. Yes, I have been around many women who find bad fit the perfect thing to latch on to and use to put down others (hence the quote at the beginning of my comment). But I think for many seamstresses (self included), it's just something one notices in passing and can use their observation skills to figure out what they personally do and do not find acceptable (for themselves). Rarely do I find it has any bearing on the person themselves--just the clothes (and most times, that's the manufacturer's fault!!! Fit models are so messed up... Augh!) Frankly, I think the original post had very little to do with classism--goodness knows I have seen people who make more money than I will ever see in a lifetime dress in a way that I consider shoddy (and yet you know they paid gobs for the "unkept" look!).

    Anyway, this is just my $0.02. Apologies if it's a bit scattered--I haven't had my morning cup of tea yet, and the ol' bean ain't up and running fully. lol.

    ♥ Casey
    blog | elegantmusings.com

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  2. I'm with Susannah's comment on the original post. All my thought towards other people's clothes at the moment are focused on the abundance of stretch fabric. What happened to tailoring? Now I appreciate that I am getting more into vintage clothing so that will have an effect on my thinking. But I watched my stepdaughter trying to put on a nightie I'd made her and struggling despite the fact that I made it large so there was growing room. The problem? She was expecting it to stretch so she put one arm in and her head and was then surprised when the other armhole didn't give at all. She is so used to wearing stretch clothes she actually didn't think to take it off, put both arms in first and slip it over her head. Crazy!

    I think once you start sewing it's very hard not to look at other people's clothing without some kind of critique. However if that spreads into criticizing the person that is wrong.

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  3. I think Kelly is taking that post and maybe herself a little too seriously. It was a bit of fun, that's all.
    Classist? Please. Isn't it patronising to maintain that bad dressing is the exclusive preserve of the downtrodden?
    I loathe the grocer's apostrophe - in Kelly's book that'd make me classist too.
    Among my parents' generation who grew up in incredible poverty are the most finicky, clean and well turned out people I've ever met.
    For the record, I'm quite a slovenly dresser but enjoyed that post immensely. And I struggle to pay my bills. So what? I don't feel oppressed by a bunch of sewing tragics waxing lyrical about this stuff. It's fun. Now if a stranger said this stuff to my face on the street, that'd be a different matter. But we all know that, we're all grown=ups for crying out loud.
    I'm now looking for staystitched welts in my garments to snip.
    Gertie, you were too kind ... I wouldn't have made an entire post of this woman's mealy-mouthed comments.
    Kelly, get into a real class struggle. There are plenty out there. Gertie and her online friends are not the enemy.
    Yes, categories of class race and gender are important. They are ways of understanding structural injustice; but don't use them as straitjackets. Real life and real people can surprise you immensely. We all have multiple identities.

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  5. I didn't have a problem with the original post at all. I tend to notice fit issues with clothing, gaping buttons drive me crazy! But I could never lay blame at the feet of the wearer.

    I live in the UK and am a size 14. I can't remember the last time I bought a button down shirt. I have boobs, but they are not out of proportion to the rest of my body. If I want a shirt that fits comfortably around the bust, I have to go up 2 sizes, and then the lower half of the shirt is baggy and shapeless.

    Clothing manufacturers seem to use the size 6 shape and then scale up in the same proportions all around for every subsequent size. Women just aren't built like that. As a beginner sewer, I haven't attempted a shirt yet, but I can't wait to take control of my own measurements and create something I feel comfortable in!

    nerd-like-me.blogspot.com

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  6. Thank you for this post Kelly, I agree with every word. I agree with Casey that Gertie's original post stayed away from being judgemental (or if there was any judgement, directing it at the clothing and the problems inherent in RTW, and not at the person wearing it, and that's what I tried to lean towards in my own comments on that thread). But I totally agree with you that fashion policing (in common with most kinds of body policing) can tend towards the classist and judgemental, and that is totally inappropriate.

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  7. Dressing badly is not the provence of the poor--check out GoFugYourself.com for hundreds of examples of people with tons of money wearing examples of unhemmed pants, poor fit, and simply bad choices. There is very little education about making clothing choices (remember Home Ec?)i.e., how to look for quality, fit and functionality. In addition, many have a rampant throw-away consumerism mentality that discourages purchasing for quality and lasting wear.

    People can find quality clothes at their local thrift shop. But the push to buy new all the time condemns those with smaller budget to go to places like Wal-mart, where quality and wearability are often sacrificed for obtaining the latest trend.

    I am thrilled to see so many women and men embracing sewing as a way to express and dress themselves according to their own tastes and physical types.

    Just my $.02.

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  8. I spent most of my 20-year Foreign Service career overseas in countries much poorer than the United States. Regardless of their poverty, most of the cultures I lived in were much more disciplined in matters of public dress.

    What struck me when I came back to the U. S. to stay was just how slovenly we have become as a culture. It's one thing to put on a hole-y t-shirt, saggy, stained running shorts and flip-flops to wash your car and quite another to wear that outfit to a concert at your kid's school. This is not about poverty, or even really about time, it's about choices and self-discipline. Every evening the cars line up ten deep at the McDonald's drive-through, too, even though a much healthier meal could be prepared for less money at home in the time spent waiting in line. Maybe the connection isn't obvious, but it seems to me the two issues stem from the same problem.

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  9. Who says that it was classist? One of the main and most pertinent criticisms that I saw was that women squeeze into the smallest size possible. A size 6 is not way cheaper than a size 8. I brought my son up as a single parent on less than half the average income of my country (the UK) and I could still CHOOSE to buy or not to buy a shirt that gaped enough to show my bra or something else. There is nothing classist about it. Unless Kelly is arguing that lower income equals poor eyesight or lower intelligence, which is the most "classist" view of all.

    Sorry to tell Kelly this, but the price of clothes in the US, as proportion of income, is the cheapest in the world simply because the dollar is massively overrated on the currency markets (for now). You can buy a shirt or blouse for less than 10 dollars, way less sometimes. And you can buy the right size instead of the wrong one.

    Judgmental? Yes, you know, getting value and preserving value and values is all about making judgments. Without them, all you get is a decline in quality and value/s.

    Maybe if clothes were to get a LOT more expensive in the US people would not buy with such a "throwaway attitude" and might start demanding a bit of quality and fit. Of course, that always happens in a recession.....

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  10. This is well-said. I shudder to think of people stopping others on the street and pointing out the defects in their garments. I'm distressed when I see poorly made garments on the rack. The deeper you get into sewing, finding these defects becomes just an outgrowth of your learning. A lot of people cannot afford well-constructed items, myself included. I consider myself blessed that I can sew for myself, but many are not in that camp either, and we need to respect where people are on that continuum.

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  11. I don't take Gertie's post as classist at all. Kelly comments that you have the time to sew, well you have full time job and probably a fairly long commute if you live in Queens. I am constantly amazed at the women with children and full time jobs who sew a lot and blog about it too. Women used to sew for their families especially if they didn't have a lot of disposable income. Women who had money didn't sew.
    I always notice how peoples clothing fits them and if what they are wearing suits their body type. It's the kind of thing that sewers notice I think.

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  12. I think it is all about choice and that I think so many people have no idea how to dress their body. I don't think it has anything to do with class. Only the poor and uneducated are walking around in ill fitting and inappropriate clothes?! huh?
    I think it is only a natural progression when you sew, especially if you like to sew tailored clothing to notice how often RTW clothing just simply doesn't fit right.
    And really, I don't know how on earth RTW and patterns for that matter, can take into account all the fit variants.
    I also think people fall into a mental trap about their bodies, I have seen women that think just because they happen to be bigger than some think they just have to dress that way, it is like they think they are not worthy of looking stunning. I also know women that have incredible bodies that somehow feel like they have to hide it under baggy clothes. Or people get attached to the size thing, their whole body image is tied into a number,never mind that really that size simply doesn't fit. This is just so sad to me.
    I agree with OLD Jail Artist that it does seem like our culture has become progressively more casual. I totally respect people's right to wear what they please but personally I do find it to be a bit boring to my eye to constantly see people wearing just jeans ,t shirts, flip flops.......there are just so many options out there in fabric,colors and ways to express ourselves why not?

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  13. Good discussion, all!

    eeloh, good comment, but please refrain from using insulting language. Thanks!

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  14. I'm of two minds on this subject. On the one hand, it's true that the least expensive clothing (Walmart, Old Navy) is far less expensive than it would be to sew something equivalent, but tends to be plagued with fit and quality issues.

    On the other hand, I work in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the US, and my clients are regularly dressed beautifully on their low, low incomes--especially the middle-aged and older folks. (The younger folks often wear things that I think are way too tight, but that's more of a cultural thing). So I don't think that coming from a poor or uneducated background necessarily means that you can't tell when something doesn't fit you at all, and there are a LOT of low-cost options out there.

    I try to make my own approach to noting others' fit and styling less about judging them than about making mental notes for my own wardrobe. I mean, you can't really see yourself well when you're out for the day, so seeing someone else with unhemmed pants or a baggy seat or a gapping blouse makes me realize what *I* look like with those things, even though sometimes I try to convince myself when I'm dressing that no one will notice. So it's not "that woman looks trashy", it's "that blouse is really gapping, is that what my pink blouse looks like?"

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  15. From Kelly's remarks, it would seem that her issue is with the 'classist' comments that followed Gertie's original post. As someone who commented on that post and followed the rest of the thread with interest and amusement, I am very surprised that Kelly was able to infer any degree of classism from the different comments. As others have remarked, discussion was more centred on clothes which fit badly either through poor construction or the choice of the wearer, rather than judgment of people with limited means. But since my social conscience has been pricked, I will never again look askance at see-through leggings, VPLs, camel toes, too tight t-shirts or indeed my own much-loved shabby jeans and holey jumpers!

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  16. Style has little to do with money. Poorly fitted and/or constructed clothing flatters nobody regardless of cost.

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  17. When I have internal dialog about someone's outfit, I'd like to think that I'm like Stacy or Clinton but less judgmental. It never stops at "I don't like their outfit", and it has nothing to do with how much money I think they have or whether they're "trashy" (that's where the classism is). I usually try to examine what shapes or silhouette and even color I think would flatter them. What would make them look their best (in my eyes)? It has nothing to do with insulting the person and I'd certainly never stop that person on the street to tell them How Important My Opinion Is. It's just something I do and, like another commenter pointed out, has more to do with examining what I do or don't like. I sort of see it as practice, but I don't know for what (although I am my parent's personal stylists 24/7).

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  18. I don't think the original post was classist. Like me, you are interested in sewing and fit. We take in the outfits around us so we are able to learn more about garments. And, I know, that I get many great sewing ideas from other outfits too.

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  19. good style and fit has nothing to do with money or class level. plenty of wealthy women have no taste and plenty of budget conscious women have great style and well-fitting clothes. I didn't see gertie's comment as classist at all... she was only pointing out bad fashion, not bad people.

    people have a choice in how they spend their time and you spend time sewing. someone else might spend time raising kids, or mastering bricklaying, whatever. i really think the most insane part of kelly's comment is where she tries to make you feel bad for spending your time mastering the craft of sewing. there are so many other and much worse and unproductive things you could be doing with your time, so please don't take that comment to heart.

    we love your blog, your clothing is amazing, and tomorrow is another day.

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  20. well, while their clothes may fit badly, it is improper and impolite to point it out to them! Unless, of course of 3 things:

    1. You are being paid to tell them how to dress better.

    2. You were asked by them for your opinion.

    3. You are their mom.


    I see lots of people in the world with ill-fitting clothes. Drives.me.crazy. But...I keep my mouth shut - except for my family members (children and husband)... but I always fix their clothing to fit right - even RTW...

    Bite your tongue - and complain to your husband (that's what I do!)

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  21. I came back to comment because there was one part of Kelly's comment that I found irksome and I see Christine has already addressed it. By suggesting Gertie belongs to a so called privileged class just because she has a hobby, is doing exactly what she is accusing commenters of doing. Everyone has choices in how they spend their time and money. No one should be made to feel bad about.
    Gertie, I love your blog. Not only for your sewing adventures but for commentary as well.

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  22. I grew up steeped in the idea that the best thing to do was go home and stay indoors until you'd lost blankity pounds and then buy clothing - and it's taken me some time to unlearn that and learn to fit my own unique figure without jumping right to disliking myself - so yeah, that comment thread did make me sad in places. The idea that you owe it to other people to wear "the right" clothing for your age/size/coloring/whatever tends to annoy me - while the fact that the market can't presently provide most of us with the right clothes for our bodies is one of my hobbyhorses. But then, I feel this way about a lot of kindly-meant fashion advice, right down to good old Stacy and Clinton: I feel like if you walked up to the average poorly-dressed person and handed them $1500 and walked away, they would - well, probably pay off part of their mortgage, but if they had to spend it on clothes, they would probably be better dressed immediately, advice or no advice. I also think it's interesting that we as a culture look down on vanity - there's definitely some puritanism to the everybody-in-t-shirts aesthetic - but are very gung-ho about having some duty to others to look nice. It's a strange dynamic.

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  23. Hello, this is Kelly who wrote the post. Just want to clarify (as I thought my original email to Gertie made clear) I was not taking Gertie to task for her original post. One of the reasons I continue to come back to this site is not just the sewing (which is amazing), but Gertie's op-eds and many writings on broader subjects and her passion for social issues.

    So just to put that out there as many people mis-read that it was Gertie's writings I took issue with. It wasn't.

    @eeloh
    "Get into a real class struggle"
    Interesting you're so sure I'm A. not involved in anything class-related that meets your personal standard and B. you get to weigh in on when something is "fun" and when everyone else should lighten up. Some of those being dismissive are engaging in textbook "Derailing for Dummies>derailing ("Why are you being so sensitive?" "Don't you have more important things to care about?" And many other great hits). It also sounds like a few don't know what "privilege" means (which as a white middle class Ameican straight able-bodied woman I have as well, in loads) and they think I'm using it as a pejorative I will point out I don't think Gertie should feel bad about her privileges, as Mary says I think. I don't feel bad about mine but I do acknowledge them.

    @restlessrobot
    I agree with Casey that Gertie's original post stayed away from being judgmental
    Me too! I was also pleased to see the many comments that did speak with more accumen on the garment and fashion industry.

    And finally, if anyone here is interested in the ways I speak about fashion and clothing fit and women's bodies that aren't disparaging to other human beings, please do send me an email because I'd love to continue the conversation! I think it's an important conversation to have or I wouldn't have spoken up.

    Gertie, thanks for putting this out there and I look forward to seeing more of your posts!

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  24. Sackcloth and ashes until everyone is rich enough not to freeze, watery gruel until everyone in the world has enough to eat?
    I don't think so.
    'Fashion-Policing' people unasked? Again no. I may point out a wayward label, but I would never criticise anyone unasked.
    But that does not mean we may not think and talk about how clothes fit or not. Is it due to a 'culture' of carelessness? the industry? a lack of education?
    Is it wrong to think about cultural standards?
    Moreover, if we bemoan poor fit in outfits we see around us, does that automatically mean we consider badly dressed people morally bad?
    So like most of the other commenters I felt there was nothing wrong with Gertie's original post.

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  25. Maybe I just have low expectations of people on the internet, but I avoided the comments on that post because I assumed that it would devolve into critiquing body size and that comments would be made about people shopping at walmart and all the rest.

    As much as I enjoy sewing and crafting magazines and blogs, it's always clear that people like me - poor, redneck, white trash - aren't considered to be the 'class' of readers or commenters desired or expected and the issues faced by poor sewers and crafters, those of us who shop at walmart and thrift stores for fabric and patterns, tend to be either ignored or brushed away as unimportant.

    No, I don't expect everyone to cover the issues facing people like me, I have other resources for that, but neither do I expect understanding when the issue comes up.

    Maybe I'm a coward and maybe I'm just pragmatic, but this is one subject that never can be resolved, even among people with the best of intentions.

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  26. I think both Kelly and you are right. Basically, I believe we see in others what bothers us in ourselves. If we busy ourselves with fitting issues, of course we are going to see them on others. Of course, talk should be respectful. On the other hand, I think it is implicit in most "hobbies", sewing beyond what is strictly servicable included, that one spends a lot of time, energy and money on things that are frivolous to most other people - whether collecting something, playing something, or making something. To have fun with your hobby, however, you have to take it somewhat seriously - although it really isn't. Like fitting issues.

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  27. @purplesews @Solitary Crafter @emadethis:

    I really like what you had to say and I agree with you.

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  28. I don't see the lack of well-tailored and well-fitted clothing as something that is determined by class or any other social identifier. Personally, I have a very low income because I'm a student and to some extent I sew to save money because I love wearing dresses and both 1950s vintage and 1950s reproduction clothing can be very expensive.

    Jess hit the nail on its head: 'Clothing manufacturers seem to use the size 6 shape and then scale up in the same proportions all around for every subsequent size.' This does truly seem to be the case and I think the reason is the fact that fashions change a lot quicker today than they did 50 years ago. In order for the manufacturers to keep up with rapidly changing trends, they use fabrics of a cheaper quality, which also has a lot to do with how a garment fits. Add to that the vast increase in textile manufacturers out-sourcing their production to countries with a very low minimum wage and different ethics with regard to working hours per week. It's all about how much you can produce in how little time for as little money as possible and that shows on a garment. It's been like this for years and I'm not ridiculing anyone for wearing something two sizes two small or wearing a shirt that's gaping at the buttons. I notice it because I've been there myself. That is probably why many who sew are so aware of poor construction; most of us have worn ill-fitted clothing for years and we're gradually learning how to tailor garments to fit our exact measurements. You're your own worst critic.

    As for my rant about people not removing stay-stitching from pleats, vents and slits, it wasn't supposed to come across as something demeaning about the person who hadn't removed them. It is simply a pet peeve and by definition a pet peeve is something you obsess over despite of it being rather silly, so as such I take other people's pet peeves with a grain of salt. I don't think anyone is unintelligent because they haven't removed that stay-stitching, it just sticks out to me because I know I'd be annoyed to find out that I'd overlooked it :)

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  29. I don't like to hear classism or fashion snobbery comments either. But if you spend hours perfecting fit in your home-sewn clothes you cannot help but make an honest critique of others clothes. Because some clothes do fit and some don't. That simple.

    I often see beautiful, lovely women wearing clothes that do not do them justice. I understand that money, time and emotional energy are factors. All us have worn fashion no-no's for whatever reasons - that does not make us bad people.

    However if another woman looks at my outfit and thinks that the fit is off, or something else might flatter me more - that doesn't make her a bad person either.
    Simply observing another person's choices is not classist.

    As often as you might hear snotty comments that someone isn't "classy enough", there is a form of reverse snobbism that spurns the well-heeled for their more expensive sartorial choices. That is why one must take a hard look at one's own heart and motivations before making a classist accusation. Simply observing differences in others isn't classist, but making assumptions about their human worth is. I did not feel that Gertie's post or the other commenters were assuming to know anything about the "woman on the street" other than to notice an observable reality - poor fit.

    When did observing reality become classist?

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  30. There's a difference between observing the fit of clothing and using that as a challenge to think through how we'd correct it in the sewing room and judging the person wearing the clothing. Every one of us has been judged based on our appearance and when that criticism is unkind it doesn't feel very good. Belittling another person doesn't improve our sewing skills and makes us more unattractive than clothing ever could.

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  31. I agree with Kelly's comments. I was irked at the original post for the reasons she commented on. I saw classicism in the assumption that everyone had the time, money, and knowledge to sew or take their clothes to a tailor or to hunt around until they find the the perfect garment at a price they can afford. This was particulalry apparent in comments on pant length.

    Several commenters here posted that despite being a poor, they managed to dress nice. That's nice for you. Not everyone has the resources you have though, and I include personality traits, background, etc. in with resources. (Sorry that sounds mean but you're really just falling into the trap of "Well, I could do it so everyone else can," or "I could do it so no one else has an excuse," which isn't a true or a fair statement to make.)

    I'm kind of dissappointed with the comments on this point that resort to attacking Kelly or believe that Kelly was attacking Gertie.

    I also wonder what everyone thinks the clothing manufacturers should do. Women's bodies vary widely. It would be hard for a clothing manufacturer to produce clothing that fit every women perfectly, and especially without using stretch. As far as I know, the only way to fit every woman would be through tailoring or custom making each garment. Is there another way? Or can you clarify what you feel clothing manufacturers are failing at and what you think clothing manufacturers should do about it? What are you looking for from them?

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  32. I, too, have been guilty of wincing when a girl wears a white bra with a white shirt (didn't her mother teach her that nude goes under white!?) or playing "count the uggs" on my way to class. I think that Kelly makes an important point -- we need to be aware that these criticisms to not extend to judging the person.

    However, I don't agree that this problem stems from class or the judgement of it. It has much more to do with our ultra-capitalist, disposable culture. It's absolutely true that people of our grandparents' (or parents')generation had a more finely tuned sense of appropriate garments. Surely this rather rigid fashion code would seem cumbersome to the modern buyer, but I think that the idea of quality not quantity is something that we could use a lot more of. Instead of having 10 too tight or too loose shirts made of threadbare cotton, why not have 3 tailored, sturdy ones? If things are made well, they last longer (and we buy less).

    So many Americans have become so slovenly when it comes to clothing choices. Of course, no one has a duty to others to be aesthetically pleasing, but the clothing you chose says something about the way you view yourself, whether you want to think about fashion or not. I'm a West Virginian, born and raised, so classism is familiar to me. But I've seen many poor farm boys wearing worn but well-fitted jeans, cowboy boots, a tucked in flannel, and belt buckle buffed to a shine. I'm sure that's not what everyone thinks of as fashionable, but to me it conveys so much more self respect than the hundreds of students I see in class every day (many of them upper-middle class and white) wearing sloppy sweat pants and t-shirts. So it's clear to me that low-quality clothing is not the mark of a particular class or group. I think that careless clothing and poor self image are definitely linked (which begs the question, which came first, the sloppy clothes or the low self esteem?).

    Sorry for the super-long rant. I just feel that this discussion has interesting and broad cultural implications. Keep it up, Gertie!

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  33. Kelly, I appreciate the many good observations you brought to the table. You made me stop and rethink, always a very good thing, so I thank you.

    At the same time, there's a part of me (admittedly, this would be the same part who feels guilty for not writing a lengthier, more thoughtful comment instead of jotting a quick and shallow reply to the Fashion Policing post) who feels as if you just grabbed the sheriff's medal and started handing out citations for wrong thinking. Maybe you're not being entirely fair?


    I don't think people were being disrespectful; we were talking about the pet peeves a sewer might have about other people's clothing, in other words, ready-to-wear clothing and how it works and doesn't work to flatter the wearer.

    If you want to kick it up a notch, to tie in the politics, it's easy enough to do, and people were starting to do so, for example, by referring to the rising use of lycra blends, to cut down on the variety of sizes offered to customers (knits) and to reduce the amount of tailoring in fitted garments (wovens). I think whole ranges of sizes have been eliminated in the last 25 or 30 years, as part of the continuing effort to make garments more and more "competitively priced." As a culture we value quantity over quality, and as a result, we have fewer choices about some important things, like sizes.

    It's also not that hard to take what commenters saw as a bad habit of girls and women who squeeze into too-tight stretch garments and tie it to, blah blah blah, the pervasive and unrealistic messages we receive about what our bodies should look like.

    But when you're leaving a comment on a blog, you don't always want to go into that level of detail.

    That said, your observations truly did have an impact on me, and I'll try to connect the dots next time I comment. Or at least be aware of the dots. Thank you.

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  34. Gertie's post was the furthest thing from "classist"--the post was referencing the way people see themselves and how they present themselves in their choice of clothing. In fact, I don't understand how Kelly fashioned "classism" into the response to the post, and I do not think she understands the definition of the word ("a biased or discriminatory attitude based on distinctions made between social or economic classes"). I would be curious to ask what Kelly perceives "classism" to be, and specifically how it was applied in the post. Gertie herself is not a couture client, nor was she suggesting that others forsake all to get clothes custom fit by a couture house. But she is paying attention to fit, and noticing the way that the clothing of others fit. It is a fantastic way to learn what looks good and what doesn't. How is Gertie classist by making sure that her clothes fit her properly? She was suggesting that people pay attention to the way they look in their clothing, and that if the fit is bad, put it back on the rack and move on to something else more flattering. I don't understand how that is classist. Additionally, you don't need to spend a lot in order to pay attention to what you see in the mirror. I'm afraid the term "classist" really doesn't apply here. It is being misused. And if Gertie choses to take instruction from an expert tailor/drapist, I'm thrilled that she is taking the time to relate her experience to us. I hardly think that is the mark of an elitist.

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  35. I might be wrong here, if so feel free to corect me..
    I just wanted to defend those who say they have a low income and still manage to dress well and/or sew.

    I don't think they're saying 'I am poor but still look nice, therefor all people of minimal income could look as great as I do.' But rather, 'all poor people do not dress badly, and all badly dressed people are not poor.'

    (Excuse my english, I'm from Sweden.)

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  36. Jenny-Well said.

    This post has made me think more about fit. I have altered some of my ready to wear clothing to fit better but I know everyone doesn't have the time or skills to do so.
    Jana

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  37. I'm actually not going to comment directly on the whole "were the comments to Gertie's post classist or not, and does it make you an insensitive jerk to critique the fit of others clothing" debate going on, lots has been said already.

    However, the numerous comments remarking on the number of lower income people who take great pride and care in their dress sparked a connection in my history of dress/material culture grad student brain. I was reminded of a book entitled "Salaula" by scholar Ann Smart Martin (I believe at the u. of Wisconsin in Madison) that examines the second-hand clothing trade and its cultural function(s) in Africa. I would highly recommend it to anyone who finds this sort of question/observation of care in dress practiced by people we would consider "poor" interesting, it's a fascinating and very mind-expanding piece of research.

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  38. I'm actually not going to comment directly on the whole "were the comments to Gertie's post classist or not, and does it make you an insensitive jerk to critique the fit of others clothing" debate going on, lots has been said already.

    However, the numerous comments remarking on the number of lower income people who take great pride and care in their dress sparked a connection in my history of dress/material culture grad student brain. I was reminded of a book entitled "Salaula" by scholar Ann Smart Martin (I believe at the u. of Wisconsin in Madison) that examines the second-hand clothing trade and its cultural function(s) in Africa. I would highly recommend it to anyone who finds this sort of question/observation of care in dress practiced by people we would consider "poor" interesting, it's a fascinating and very mind-expanding piece of research.

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  39. I'm kind of surprised at how quickly many of the comments dismiss the idea that class matters here. I think class is relevant here not only because of economics, but also because of the idea of "taste." I'm reminded here of Bourdieu's argument that judgments of taste are related to social position -- he found that whether people liked a painting or not, for example, was related to their social class.

    Fit in clothes, I think, is also a matter of taste -- there are no universal fit rules that everybody can agree on or should live by. Whether or not people judge tight fitting jeans to be aesthetically pleasing or not may well be related to class (and race, and culture, and possibly many other things). Some people wear their clothes tight because they want them to be that way, and I think it was useful of Kelly to point out that our assessments of what is badly fitted clothing do reflect our social positions.

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  40. Ivy Frozen said: "I also wonder what everyone thinks the clothing manufacturers should do. Women's bodies vary widely. It would be hard for a clothing manufacturer to produce clothing that fit every women perfectly, and especially without using stretch. As far as I know, the only way to fit every woman would be through tailoring or custom making each garment. Is there another way? Or can you clarify what you feel clothing manufacturers are failing at and what you think clothing manufacturers should do about it? What are you looking for from them?"

    ***

    My comment on the original post related to fit and body image and the designs of the fashion industry and I actually do have an idea of what I would like the industry to do more of. Simply put, I would like to see more variety.

    I agree that RTW cannot be made to fit everyone perfectly but I often find that it basically doesn't fit anyone very well.

    The industry trend setters choose a silhouette that is "in" and then suddenly that silhouette, graded up and down for sizing, is all you can find in the major chain stores (pricey or more affordable). It even pervades the Big 4 patterns.

    Those whose bodies are not designed for by the "in" silhouette either have to turn to custom made clothes or small expensive counter culture boutiques... or they have to live with the fact that the clothing that is available to them isn't really going to look good on them (eg. stuck with an empire waist cutting them across the chest because they apparently aren't "supposed" to have breasts that big - personal experience here)

    The current silhouette (so far as I can tell) is based on the current runway look, which means that all clothes are designed for a tall curve free form.

    This is nothing against women who do have this figure. It's their turn to be lucky. 50 years ago my silhouette was in and women with today's silhouette were padding out their shoulders and breasts to match it.

    It's not what the stylish silhouette is that bothers me so much as that we are reduced to one and one only. This forces so many of us to fight with our bodies in order to look "fashionable".

    If everything you try on is unflattering, you're going to believe that the problem is you, not the clothes.

    I would like the mainstream industry accept that their clientele (rich and poor) is full of people of all shapes and add some more variety to the shapes that make the design cut.

    It would broaden the whole industry and allow for greater creativity on the part of designers because they would have a larger creative arena to play in.

    Instead the few people with the power choose what is "trendy" and "tasteful" and the rest of us are stuck playing in their tiny little sandbox to the best of our resources and abilities.

    Just my pie in the sky dream.

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  41. I think the problem is that fine and fiddly line between critique and criticism. Critique is constructive---that shirt would be more flattering if the front were cut more generously so it didn't gape---whereas criticism is purely negative---you look like a tramp with your tits hanging out of that shirt. (for example). However---critique is really only useful if a) it is presented to the person being critiqued, and b) that critique can be acted upon by the person (and part of learning to take critique is knowing what to ignore, too... for example, perhaps she tried on the larger RTW size of the blouse and it fit across the bust but looked like a tent everywhere else, so she picked the gaping as the lesser of two evils).

    On the other hand, Gertie's original post was basically framed as a "name your pet peeve" piece. Not bad or good, but the kind of invitation that's going to bring up nit-picking and criticism. We probably all need to remember to take these responses in context, and---like a critique---not take them too much to heart. Different people will have different tastes---you're not going to get me out of my low-rise, spray-paint tight stretch denim jeans anytime soon ;)---and pet peeves are extremely personal.

    On another topic, a lot of the posts have touched on the issue of presentation and personal grooming/extreme casualness of dress and behaviour. I think the casual vibe in North America a lot of people have complained about has less to do with throw-away consumer culture than it does with our cultural desire to have our worth be judged on ourselves, not our packaging. This begins with the demand for race and gender equality, but I think the increasingly casual wardrobes of our time reflect a different level of the same mentality---not only am I just as smart and competent as a white man, I'm just as smart and competent in my comfy yoga gear as I am in a three-piece suit. I should focus on the core of me---my fitness, happiness, health---rather than spending an inordinate amount of my energy on maintaining the kind of coiffed and elegant looks my grandmothers sported. For the record, I don't know that we are *actually* putting less emphasis on appearance---you could probably argue that we spend more time/money on grooming/makeup/vanity fitness than at any other time in the past---but I think that's where the casual drive comes from... and I'm not entirely convinced that that's a bad thing.

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  42. I specifically didn't read the comments in the original post because I knew it would only reinforce my feeling bad about the clothes I am trying to make. I have attempted to make multiple pieces - all of which I have considered unwearable garments. This label (and the accompanying frustration and tears) stems largely from unmatched polka dots at seams, funny wrinkling/gaping and other pet peeves of snarky people out there. Should I let the negativity of others influence me (my feelings or my clothes) at all? No. Does it? Yes- to the detriment of my self esteem, my pleasure in sewing, and my looking forward to participating in this community at all.

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  43. Let me preface this by saying that I feel things may have gotten a bit out of hand here. I don't think that it's humanly possible to never critique others and to ONLY think/say nice things all the time. We all do it from time to time, whether we admit to it later or not.

    I think that we may be getting a bit hypersensitive due to our own personal insecurities of our bodies, income & fashion choices. Generalizations about ill fitting garments are not meant to be personal attacks on any one size, culture, class, etc.

    I admit that I can see how it would be very easy for some people to take comments aimed at improper fit and assuming that it is snark about someone's size. I don't however see how that can be applied to their income level.

    Overall I feel that most of the comments were aimed at the unrealistic perception of our own bodies that many of us have. Our society today glorifies thin, scantily clad celebrities and we have been trained to believe that we need to be the same. It saddens me that a woman's beauty, no matter what her size or shape, is detracted from because she is wearing improperly fitting clothing.

    We have such an emphasis based on wearing the right size number, that we often forget that no one is seeing the tag inside. They are however seeing that you can barely walk/bend over because your clothes are too tight. That's what most of us were commenting on.

    I agree that many women out there don't have the luxury to examine their every detail in the mirror before leaving the house. Most women can't afford the time/money to be dressed in meticulously tailored clothing. That doesn't mean that they need to be wearing clothing the same size as their child's, exposing their undergarments or about to bust seams/buttons all day long.

    I don't believe that anyone commenting on the previous post was meant to be hurtful. I think that many of use were just being honest with ourselves. We all have negative thoughts about others from time to time, that doesn't make us bad people, it makes us human.

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  44. I agree with Kelly, to a point. Nothing aggravates me more than all the fashionista wanna-be's out there who read the fashion mags then judge others for being "so last year". However, I disagree with her point that poverty often forces peopel to wear ill-fitting clothings. I shop thrift/resale shops quite often. While I'm not poor, many customers in such shops are. Even though thrift shops cater to the poor with rummage sale prices there are women that pile their carts full of clothes way wrong for their body. Similary I see many women clearly well off financially that look frumpy, dumpy, and in denial about their size. I must disagree with Kelly to a point because it's not always money. Some people simply have no clue how to shop for the body they have - no matter what their budget.

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  45. I can't remember the first post criticize, or even refer to the poverty of the clothers, but rather the ill fit and inappropriateness. Kelly's post, however, sounded a bit like a cry for absolution.
    Being poor is not an excuse for absence of taste and slovenly dressing. Museums and libraries are free, go and develop your taste. Threads and needles are cheap, learn to mend and alter your clothes. Where there is a will, there is a way.

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  46. When considering fit, I find myself in between two positions:
    1 - When I sew for myself perfect fit is an absolute must - gaposis of the armscye or back-folds due to a lack of sway-back-adjustment are out of the question. So as a rule, my homemade clothes FIT.

    2 - I don't have the time to sew my entire wardrobe myself. Hence I have to make do with store-bought items. In those cases, I find myself choosing cheap items, for the simple reason that I have expensive eyes - the things that I like are way out of my reach.

    When walking to work, I often wonder why storebought clothes fit so badly even on young and well-muscled people. Perhaps it's time for the clothing manufacturers to take the forward shoulders of many, many officeworkers into account when constructing their blocks.

    I mean, it's one thing to havv lumps and bumps, that the clothes need to skim over, but when rtw clothes don't even flatter slender youths - something is wrong...

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  47. I'm a little disturbed by the turn this comments thread has taken ... I don't currently sew (University student, no time or space, may change after I graduate - so fit issues don't yet bug me in the same way as they do other readers!) but love this blog and read fairly frequently.

    In defence of Kelly's reference to classism:

    The claim is not "poor people are badly dressed".

    The claims (as I understand them) are more like:

    -having enough time to stop and focus on your clothing (e.g. learning how to hem pants) is a class issue

    -having enough time to shop in lots of different places to find something that fits you well at a price you can afford is a class issue

    -having the knowledge and skills to sew / alter clothing can be a class issue

    -having the energy to stop and make your clothing something you focus on and a priority to sort out is a class issue

    I am absolutely /not/ saying that anyone's income determines whether they can sew / their taste / etc etc etc.

    But isn't it clear that having more disposable income / spare time / energy (that's not needed for other more necessary things) / space (e.g. for sewing equipment) affects your ability to dress yourself well? And I think that those factors are fairly clearly class-related.

    Again, it's not deterministic, but if you are Kelly's example of someone who really does use all their time / money / energy just in the daily process of living / feeding their family - someone telling you that if you just took the time to take your pants to the dry cleaners and get them hemmed and it would only cost $X each and you'd look better - but if you don't /have/ that much time / energy / money to spare ... then you don't have it. And nobody should make you feel bad about that. It's perfectly reasonable advice if you know that person and know they have the (perhaps relatively minimal - depending on their income level and how far away the drycleaner's is!) time, money, and energy for it, but if it's someone you're just passing on the street you don't know that.

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  48. Go tansitis!! I really agree with the latter part of your comment. I am a mother of two young toddlers, and most days out of the month I do dress like a slob! Worn jeans, blah t-shirts, I don't care! But I spent the first 23 years of my life feeling like my outward appearance was the most important part of me, I was bound by other peoples opinions. I was stuffing myself into too tight jeans, and tight button downs (yes, that gaped at the boobs!)becuase that was what I was "supposed" to be wearing.

    My casual dress while I'm at the grocery store or the park says that I am confident in myself and my own beauty (inside and out) in my comfy jeans and flip-flops. However, when I do have special occasions and I can whip out that nearly perfectly tailored handmade item I do feel great. So, keep it coming Gertie, I love your blog and everything you do!

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  49. I have to admit that I didn't read each and every comment on the original post. But I did read a lot of them and mostly they entertained me and made me aware of style/fit problems that are quite often the same in all the different countrys the commenters came from. It also was fun to compare while reading if I have seen these "mistakes" or even committed them myself. :)

    I have seen some of it and worse. If I am offended by the way someone looks (and this is happening as I have my limits as everybody else) I try to look the other way.

    But if anybody likes advice I can only say that clothes matter and most time of the day you are seen by other people who are going to judge you within the split of a second unconsciously because of the informations you are giving them optically.

    We judge because we are human. I really liked that most comments showed that there are people who not only think "bah" but who are able to distinguish between clothes and people and are thinking about why those clothes don't fit or look the way they do. And this is a step forward (even two if there are still people thinking judging in itself is bad.)

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  50. Fit issues are very personally agonizing issues. It has to do very much with time money and the way you feel about your body. I can sympathize with how clothing is very much a class struggle (and trying not to freeze my ass off waiting for the bus). So is it any wonder that a woman on the street has an ill fitting blouse? There are probably a host of reasons why; weight gain/loss, kids, no time to shop, no money to shop even if she wants to... I could go on. But on the issue of fashion policing, there is a stark difference between noticing to better yourself and berating others.

    The reason I sew is because I can have wonderfully made, quality pieces that fit perfectly and are one of a kind for nearly nothing while enjoying a personal hobby. When out and about I do notice the fit issues, but like some of your readership DID point out they also notice line, shape, form and a general love of clothing, which I think is where this all stemmed from in the first place.

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  51. Want to Sew for MyselfJune 9, 2010 at 11:45 AM

    I wasn't offended. People who care about fit and clothes construction naturally notice ill-fitting clothes. How could they not?

    What matters is the tone and the target. Several months ago, The Sewing Divas had a piece critiquing Hillary Clinton's clothes, and it included snotty phrases like the jacket [?] "isn't doing her any favors."

    That was sexist -- men aren't discussed like that. And stupid -- she's Secretary of State, not a fashion plate.

    I think criticism is fine so long as it focuses on technical issues (the armscye should have been redrafted), is not personal, and is not ridiculous or obviously sexist (I don't care what female executives are wearing. I want them to do their jobs, just like their dowdily dressed male counterparts).

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  52. Want to Sew for MyselfJune 9, 2010 at 11:59 AM

    Although I don't agree with Kelly's objections, I believe she was extremely tactful in presenting them. When I disagree with an author, I'm much more direct. :-)

    But as I said, I truly didn't take the original discussion as classist or excluding in any way.

    I'm not sorry Kelly's response was posted. Different views should always be welcome.

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Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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