I’ve written a lot of columns about cleaning out your closet. I’m a ruthless editor with high standards and no remorse. If it doesn’t fit, is out of style, looks better on the hanger, or doesn’t work with the rest of your wardrobe, toss it, I always say. I’ve given away clothes that still have the tags on them. The Salvation Army has more of my clothes than I do.
But times have changed, and so has my tune. The dirty secret behind the relentless winnowing of my wardrobe was having an excuse to fill the closet back in with new finds. After the Summer of the Recessionista, the acquisitive adventure is gone. I actually dread shopping and spending money and having more things. So I’ve begun looking at my clothes in a completely new way, asking what can be salvaged? What can be transformed?
Even those of us who can sew a straight seam aren’t miracle-workers. It’s time to add an excellent tailor to your speed dial. Good tailoring isn’t cheap, but the expense is worth it if you get further use out of a back-of-the-closet malingerer that deserves a longer life. The best candidates are expensive suits and dresses, as well as unique vintage finds, which tend be both well-constructed (making them easier to take apart) and made of high quality, durable fabric.
What should you expect when you take a piece in to your tailor? It stands to reason that you can make anything shorter and tighter, but it’s much more difficult to let something out or lengthen it. So what if you’ve put on a bit of weight, or are heavily invested in vintage, which was typically cut with a shorter waist and for more narrow rib cages and shoulders?
All is not lost, Barbara Slusher, owner of Sew Chic alterations on Broadway, says. “We can sometimes take extra yardage from the skirt or sleeves to lengthen something, or we can order custom fabric to piece in.” Your clothes should, of course, be impeccably cleaned before you take them in (tailors are not dry cleaners), and it helps to have an idea of what you want the final result to be. “Customers often bring in inspiration photos or patterns, and then we evaluate their figure type and what we have to work with to make a final recommendation” Slusher adds.
Be creative and open-minded. You can completely reinvent an existing garment by modifying the sleeves, neckline, or hem, cutting a dress into a skirt or even skirt and top, and sometimes even making a long skirt into a pair of pants. Refitting can also include updating buttons and trim or adding lace, cording, or ribbon.
In college, my mother invested in four yards of exquisite black moiré silk to make a ball gown. I’ve seen many photos of her in this gown — first sleeveless, with a high mandarin collar and jet-studded black sash, then with a low scoop neck, embroidered silk illusion sleeves with tight, high cuffs and a velvet ribbon at the waist; finally, a jaunty turquoise taffeta cummerbund and bow at the back.
I mentioned the dress to her while writing this piece, and she reminded me it had one last incarnation. I wore it myself — illusion sleeves, cummerbund, and all — to a homecoming dance in high school, after cropping the floor-length skirt into a mini. I’d completely forgotten, but it just supports this old message coming back into vogue: with excellent fabric and a strong, simple silhouette, it’s better to remake it than renounce it. •
Where to get it
Sew Chic gets busy around the holidays and before Fiesta, so call ahead. (210) 363-7562 or mysewchic.com. Also check the Current’s 2008 Best of San Antonio at sacurrent.com for more tailor recommendations.
BUY BUY LOVE
Elizabeth Ciarfeo Jewelry & Angelina Mata Couture Two of SA’s top designers offer late-game holiday Hail Mary passes with jewelry and fashion: ready for the party, ready with the gift. Mimosas, vodka, and food by Sabor a Mi catering will fortify you for wardrobe and present strategy. 5-8pm Wednesday, December 17. AnArte Gallery, 5800 Broadway,