I purchased this tank top from H & M the second week of July in 2012. I remember this because I was frantically scouring the mall for clothes to take with me to a family vacation. That’s what I always did for vacations; a profoundly unhealthy habit of accruing a whole new wardrobe just for a short trip. Cheap clothes that fell apart in minutes.
I haven’t bought a single ready-to-wear clothing item since. Almost two years for both me and K! Okay, I’ve gotten some socks and underwear for K, but aside from that, nuthin’.
A more logical person would have waited until the two-year mark to talk about this since “22 months and 3 weeks” is rather awkward and underwhelming to say. However, M was having a rapidly depleting underwear crisis and because of his refusal to wear handmade boxers, I went to The Gap two days ago. That stirred up an eddy of emotions for which I was unprepared, and I wanted to jot them down before I forgot. This could also be considered a long-winded precursor to my thoughts on Me-Made-May that I’ve been trying to organize in my head (which will be much shorter, I promise).
So here are the sentiments…
Emotion #1: Surprise
It’s not as though I haven’t been in any retail stores in the last couple of years, but I haven’t spent any extended time looking at RTW clothes up close in a long time. I was surprised about a couple of things. First, how simple all the clothes seemed to be. “I could make any of this,” I thought. Not in an I’m-all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips way or anything, but with genuine astonishment. I kept mentally deconstructing all the clothes that caught my attention, and filed through my brain archives of patterns I had at home. For most of the garments, I didn’t even need a pattern.
The other surprise was K’s behavior. She was with me and was helping me pick out M’s underwear (yes, I know that’s weird, but she loved it and instantly gravitated toward the brightest pinks). What I couldn’t get over was how she completely ignored the kid’s clothes. Not even a glance at the sparkly tees. She was obsessed with the flip flops because I’d been promising those for a while, but it was as though she knew instinctively that I wouldn’t buy her any clothes or maybe she has too many already so she’s not interested. Either way, I was agog the whole time.
Emotion #2: Peace
Apparel stores have always been minefields for me. It was a constant struggle to find clothes that fit or looked half-way decent on my abnormally long torso, too big chest, short legs and non-existent waist, and it was hard to tell what would set me off into a very unhappy place. It could be mild exasperation at the way a top emphasized a bulge, or it could be a mental tirade at myself for not sticking to my diet when a pair of jeans shortened me to troll-like proportions with elephantine legs. In extreme cases, I held back tears of frustration (oh so embarrassing and oh so true) because the clothes and mirrors reflected a vision that was so far from what I’d hoped. The clothes all seemed to be meant for statuesque or skeletal frames — all wrong, that’s how I felt.
Once in a blue moon, though, I would find something flattering, and for those rare moments, I shopped constantly, like Juan de Leon Ponce searching for the Fountain of Youth (which is allegedly a myth, by the way). Maybe this store or this season will have clothes to make me look normal, to make me feel pretty, I would think. I was horrified on a cerebral level that I was so caught up in the superficiality, but I still partook regularly in the emotionally charged ritual. Trying on clothes was like having the mother of all PMS attacks. Imagine when I actually had PMS!
In The Gap with K a couple of days ago, I didn’t feel even a glimmer of an urge to buy anything. Sure, we got the flip flops and I tossed in some socks for K along with the underwear. But this was all pragmatic and easy and there was no desperate sensation attached. I wasn’t trying to fill a void in that clichéd way through material goods. Part of the reason I went on a fabric fast is because I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t continuing the same cycle with fabric. I’m happy to report that I’ve been mostly successful on the fabric front too (there were some necessary purchases but they were minor).
Through sewing and making my own clothes, I finally feel….unemotional about my uniquely shaped body. That it is what it is, and it’s a good, strong, functional body. Peace.
Emotion #3: Triumph
And that realization was a triumphant one. I felt like I’d conquered a shameful secret, or perhaps let it out into the wild to roam elsewhere far away from me. And with triumph comes…
Emotion #4: Freedom
I have so much to say about the media and the imposed ideals and trends and negativity, but I will spare you. On a sunny afternoon in a shop at the local mall, the overarching emotion I experienced was freedom. “I don’t need any of this,” is a powerfully freeing thought. “I can make something better that I love,” is an even more powerfully freeing thought.
We left the shop, I took K’s hand and that was that. Oh, and she wore her new flip flops all the way back home:
37 thoughts on “22 Months and 3 Weeks”
I love this post! My handmade wardrobe is still growing and I’m still figuring out what suits me but you’ve articulated a lot of the reasons why I think it’s worthwhile to work on it here.
Thank you, Mel! I still have a ways to go before I feel completely happy with the construction quality of my handmade clothes, but things are definitely improving! 🙂
What a wonderful post. Thanks for sharing. I didn’t think about this in detail before, but I now feel that I share many of your thougths and feelings!
That’s so validating, thanks Annika!
Great post! I’ve had those same dressing room moments where something much different than the mental map of my body is reflected back, lumpy and jiggly, horrifying. And I think that there’s some magic item in the gap that will fix it all. Making my own clothes didn’t kick the habit. It was being pregnant or nursing for pretty much the past 6 years. None of the clothes would work well anyway, and it’s a pain in the ass to clothes shop with kids.
It’s SO tough taking kids clothes shopping – I just now remembered that I didn’t go shopping as often when K was between the ages 2 and 4, too much work! 🙂 I do love the clothes you make for yourself and your kids though, Tara!
I love this post!
I totally share your feelings.
I do shopping as well, for tees, socks and undies for me and the girls. But most of their clothes are made by me.
I spend almost the whole trip to the shops looking at stitches and tags to read about where they were made and materials 😛
I’ve been at Zara a lot this year because I have one very near to my place, just to go through and leaving without anything. That’s funny.
I also hate to be in a line to pay… pffff…
Oh, I love Zara. And you make the most beautiful clothes for your girls! I’ve also noticed you’re sewing more for yourself! Wonderful, Diana!
I’ve stopped buying clothes in retail stores too. Now I am able to sew most part of the garments I see, and sometimes I make knockoffs of the dresses I like the most. Now I’m sewing a dress which would cost 190 euros at store, and I’ll probably spend not more than 20 euros for it. For me, that’s the best part of it.
Yes! That’s definitely a thrill when you can make a quality garment for far less than what it would retail. Of course, the opposite can be true for sewing, but when you factor in the other costs of sweat shops and such, a little extra $$ on fabric doesn’t seem so daunting.
So true! Have a nice day!
You are amazing!! I have only sewn myself a couple of garments, most of them not particularly flattering. I would like to change that, and I’d love to sew more for my little girl. You are an inspiration!
Oh thank you, Sarah! From experience, it takes a while before figuring out what types of styles/fabrics/cuts work on each individual body — I haven’t figured it all out by any means, but I’ve sewn enough and painfully sifted through enough photos of myself to be able to see what works more than others. And it boils down to practice practice practice, I think. What I love about sewing is that you can always improve and there’s always more to learn. I never get bored!
Yes, freedom! You voiced that beautifully. And so wonderful you got to experience that with K.!
What I also notice, is that I have a new appreciation for well made things. One of my students gave me a great bag made from a used truck tarp as a gift. Somehow – apart from many other reasons – I am enjoying it even more, because I can see the wonderful quality, the clever design and construction. And maybe also because I have not bought anything I could sew myself in such a long time.
Too true, Ute! I’m so much pickier about quality now. Even though my sewn garments aren’t perfect, I put so much care into them and strive to make each project better than the last. And I notice that about other handmade products too!
What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your journey, and congratulations. It’s weird to go back, isn’t it? I’m not sure why, but The Gap sticks out to me above and beyond other stores as a place of sweaty misery from my teen years. Now I know I need more length and width through the shoulders, another through the waist and I’m kind of a rectangle compared to the so-called average – fit challenges that can be solved by not much fabric. How fascinating that K didn’t have much energy around clothing for herself – I’d be curious to hear how about her attitudes towards shopping in the future. Wouldn’t it be amazing if she didn’t get as involved in that cycle of searching for some of her worth in a retail store?
Thank you, Morgan! It IS weird to go back – I think particularly a big box store like The Gap. There’s this gorgeous boutique in Fremont called Les Amis which is one of my favorites but I can’t afford any of the clothes there. I would love to wander in one day to see what I experience. I’m betting that I’ll be pleasantly surprised there too and will be inspired to make even more beautiful clothes. And yes, I’m so curious to see how it all shakes out for K – I’m afraid she’s going to retaliate against all homemade clothes when she’s a tween….;-)
This is the best post ever on WHY to sew our own clothes, and keep sewing till we get good. Thank you!
Thanks, Arlene! I’m dead serious when I say that sewing has totally changed my life!
Wow. That’s really inspiring. Thank you for sharing x
Thank you for reading, Clare!! xo
I loved reading this, Sanae. I do buy my own clothes – because I’ve been nursing for all of about 2 years over the last 10 – and am currently not nursing now, but only since about March and then will start again when our baby is due in August. My body has changed shape and size so many times that I often stick with t-shirts and skirts or jeans, often from J Crew Factory store, GAP or Target. Nursing means no dresses (for the most part). I don’t shop a lot for my girls, but when I recently went to Target to pick up a few Tshirts for them I was surprised by how inappropriate a lot of the clothing was for young girls, especially the swimming suits. It made me glad to make their clothes, too. And I guess glad to also have the option to buy the basics. Though I would love to know more about ethically made clothing. I was choosing J Crew and GAP because they were rated well in my book called something like – the Healthy Planet Shopping Guide. But then GAP and Target were implicated in the Bangladesh factory collapse and I haven’t heard the best things about J Crew either. Dan was skeptical of the ratings from the start. It’s so hard to know what to do…
I thought the same thing too when I went to Target some time last year – the clothes seemed so racy for such young kids! And I imagine that all major retailers are inevitably entangled with less than ideal production practices given the focus on the bottom line and profit. When I worked for a major technology company, I dealt with India a lot and was horrified to learn about their pay rates and working conditions. Tech sweat shops were what they were — It’s such a shame and it’s all so challenging!!
Amazing. Your words are so inspiring, and your whole attitude. You’re obviously teaching and influencing K in an extremely positive way too.
PS I made myself a grey linen dress from a Japanese pattern book today, how very Sanae of me!
Oh, you’re so kind, Sophie…I can only hope that I’m setting some sort of positive example for K. I fumble and trip and make a lot of mistakes all the time though.
Hooray!! Grey linen dresses are the best!! 🙂
I am not there yet, but it is the idea that you are communicating that I feel when in the retail store looking for clothing. I made my first article of clothing for myself last week. So much more satisfying than buying unflattering clothing off the rack. I’m following in your footsteps, slowly, but I am going to get there!
That’s awesome, Amber!! So happy to hear you’re venturing into sewing clothes for yourself and I totally agree that it’s leaps and bounds more satisfying than purchasing RTW. I’m still plodding along a little haphazardly, but I tell you, starting with that first item of clothing made a HUGE impact on me.
I love this post! Very inspiring! I often dream about having a handmade wardrobe for myself and the kids. It would be great to add the husband in there but he has so many clothes as it is, I rarely buy him anything anyway. I used to love to shop for new clothes when I was in my twenties. But I have found after two kids and entering into the back half of my thirties, my body just isn’t the same and I get frustrated with a lot of RTW. I, too, will look at certain items and think “I can make this”. My daughter will even look at a dress in a store and ask if I can make her one just like it and that right there makes sewing for my family worth it!
Ha, I made a shirt for M when I first dipped my toes into sewing years and years ago (what was I thinking? And it was a slubby silk that he did NOT like and the fit was terrible), and M has remained suspicious of my sewing ever since. Also, the sheer amount of fabric required to make something for him makes me dizzy (he’s much taller than I am and very muscular), so I’m sticking to clothes for me and K at this time 😉
I love it when K asks me to make certain outfits too — which was what I was expecting at the GAP but nope. I think that surprised me more than anything else! Thank you, Meghan!
this post is just plain wonderful and so inspiring. Starting to sew was like openig a pandoras box for me: i now see clothes in a whole new way. Here in europe we constantly having a sociol-cultural (i googled that word!) discussion about clothes, and where they came from, and if it’s right to let 6-year old girls of bangladesh sew our clothes just to buy them for 5 or 10 Euro less. My feeling is that many, especially younger people start to rethink their clothes buying habits.
Nowadays i’m far away from a self-sewn wardrobe but i more and more enjoy making my own clothes. I recently start to dream of buying 2 yeards of a beautiful liberty tana lawn for making an blouse for me instead of dreaming to buy one in the marcopolo-store nearby. So i totally understand your approach and had loved to read about it.
Greetings to you
I still wear many of my store-bought clothes, Marit, but I definitely feel like my attitude towards clothes in general has changed dramatically since sewing. I think a lot more about where the clothes came from, who made them, and all the other factors. Plus I just love that I can make something the way I want it. I hope you get your tana lawn dream comes true 🙂
This was great to read. I think we can all relate to your experience on some level. I’m endlessly irritating family and friends by saying “but you could make that!!” – which must be pretty annoying for the non-sewers. Since I purchased my serger I have become especially attuned to the ease with which one can whip up t-shirts and other basics. I’ll never go back to buying from the chain stores.
Thanks for the wonderful thought provoking writing, as always.
Thank you, Bella! I feel the same way about not wanting to buy clothes. The challenge of trying to make a unique, beautiful garment is too good 🙂
Can totally relate to this post , buying new jeans is akin to torture – I have only bought one brand in the past few years because I find it so hard to get a pair to fit. I think you have a beautiful curvaceous body and it is quite normal. The models used in advertising are actually the deviation from the norm but we are so bombarded with images of willowy slim women we think that is normal. When I look around the street I see all sorts of shapes of women – I am with you on the long torso, short legs front and find trouser shopping the hardest to find a flattering pair. My mission is to find myself a good pants pattern to put an end to trouser shopping anguish!
Oh thank you, Lisa! That’s very kind of you. I agree that the images portrayed in the media are incredibly unrealistic, and I was actually in the industry that involved retouching those advertising images (very disturbing and eye-opening). I’m on a similar mission of finding the comfiest and most flattering jeans pattern!
Yay! What a beautiful post. This is so true. Clothes shopping always felt exactly the same thing for me…hunting for the stylish items that fit a huge-hipped, small breasted, wide waisted woman who wants to feel beautiful. Now, I make my own. Total triumph. Thanks for so much wonderful MMM14 posting, I’ve loved following along!
Thank you Melissa! This whole making your own clothes exercise is so rewarding, isn’t it? It’s very possible that I’ll never buy another item from a store again! In fact, today I browsed through a VERY high end boutique out of curiosity and realized that the $200 dress I was looking at was basically an elongated Wiksten tank. Crazy!