Clothes Maketh

I was sitting in an airport not long ago with time on my hands (three hour delay), and so I watched the passing scene. I noticed how unique our footwear has become.

Though 95% of the passersby were in sneakers of some sort, very few wore the same style. Yellow Nikes, black Hokas, retro bright red Keds, beat up deck shoes… we have a lot of choice regarding our tennies, and we enjoy exercising it. Not so much, the clothes we wear on a traveling day. Jeans and T-shirts, yoga pants and turtlenecks, more jeans, leggings… I saw only one truly impressive Joseph’s coat sort of jacket, but the rest struck me as drab, casually fitting, and uninspired.

Mass produced. This got me thinking about clothing in Regency England, which might have been “ready-made,” a new concept for the time, but was in the vast majority “bespoke.” Your clothing was created, or at least altered, to fit you. If your household had any sort of means, you chose the fabric and the color (or your mama did), and the cut was designed for your particular dimensions. Even the London tailors turning out the standard gentleman’s morning coat had brand-specific patterns to distinguish their coats from the other guys’ and they measured each customer meticulously to ensure a perfect fit. (Just for fun, speaking of which, some Zack Pinsent.)

As somebody who was a little taller than average and considerably wider than average (in places) for most of my adult life, I have pretty much never found clothing that fit me. Even now, my calves are so “sturdy,” that extra-extra wide half chaps don’t fit, and the triple-wide ones gap hugely at the top to accommodate the circumference of my splendid gastrocs.

I have in the entirety of my life, come across a few outfits that felt luscious on me, were the right colors for me, and made me feel more ready to take on the world. They flattered my physique and reinforced a persona I wanted to project. Part costume, part robes of state, and perfect for me. I have seen that mountaintop, though not often and not for decades.

Shopping for clothing generally became my idea of purgatory. Going naked would be worse, so off to Chico’s or J. Jill I would go, looking for elastic waist bands and wide cut everything else and feeling like a misfit. (Please note: If not for stores such as these, I would have nothing business-casual to wear. At. All. I am not dissing them.)

All of this is to say, those Regency ladies and gents had something I have only glimpsed. Within the limits of budget and time, they could make or have made for them the clothing they enjoyed wearing. Right down to whether cuffs were embroidered with violets or roses, and how much embroidery on the bonnet ribbons would be added to match.

“How do I want to look?” was a different question for them than it has been for me. I have considered the query successfully answered if I looked “presentable.” Maybe it’s time to up my game in the sartorial department, and now that I am less wide, maybe the project has a better chance at happy outcomes. I look good in raspberry, for example (most people do). I like purple with dashes of green and peach…

How much consideration do you give to your wardrobe? Do you have a few outfits that you love to wear? What is special about them? If you could have an ensemble made just for you, what instructions would you give your seamstress or tailor?

PS: A print version of The Dreadful Duke is available on Amazon and pre-order links for The Mysterious Marquess are live.



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12 comments on “Clothes Maketh

  1. Bespoke clothing. My ultimate dream. I grew up in some bespoke clothing, just not bespoke for me. My aunt and grandmother sewed. My older cousins were blue-eyed blondes. To this day I avoid pastels. And I was and am short and curvy… 34K anyone?

    My mother-in-law to be made my wedding dress. It was perfect.

  2. I am still working from home . Leggings, sweaters and fuzzy socks make up my wardrobe.
    I have a jean jacket that I can pair with jeans and a nice top or sweater if I go shopping or to lunch.

    I bought a no iron button down shirt with pink stripes…thinking Spring. It’s fit perfectly and it doesn’t need to be ironed!! Yay!

    I have 2 dresses..sheath type for an upcoming dog show. I have blazers and a jacket to match. Both dresses are comfortable .

    My favorites outfit is my plaid, flannel LLBean nightgown. It keeps me warm at night and it’s cozy…and has pockets!

    I think of. Color, cut and comfort when I buy clothes.
    If someone made me an outfit that’s what I would tell them.

  3. In my younger days I gave a lot of consideration to my wardrobe. I loved to shop for clothes.

    I had a female boss once who decided to share her bonus with the rest of us in the office. She gave all us ladies a gift certificate to a place that analyzed your coloring (winter, spring, summer or fall) to determine which colors looked best on you. We made a fun evening of it and all went together to have ourselves analyzed.

    Fortunately, my own instincts were pretty good (I was a winter) and I didn’t have to buy a whole new wardrobe (smile). But it did explain why those pretty pastels never looked good on me.

    Now I’m old and have mobility issues, so I look for clothing that is loose and easy to get in and out of. Thank God for memories.

  4. I used to spend a lot of time on my wardrobe as I have always loved fabrics and colors and sewing. I sewed almost all my clothes until college. Then I switched to jeans, a shirt, a sweater, and a navy lined skirt to wear to dinner in the dining hall. I did sew the dress I married in and a few others afterwards but gave it all up in my 30s, when I started wearing slacks and jeans to work (finally allowed after too many yeas of “women must wear skirts and heels to work” rules). When I gained weight in my middle age, I switched to dresses (vanity kicked in when I would have had to buy the next size jeans). Since I’m retired and have lost weight, I wear capris a lot when I have to leave the house (Florida) but I am still wearing my lounge-y dresses around the house even though they’re all way too big now. But that makes them pretty comfy. My favorite dresses are what I call “tea length” and style. They have waists and a skirt that swirls a little and I felt “pretty, oh so pretty” when I would wear them.
    I don’t think I would have an ensemble made for me since I prefer to see something done before I choose it (probably why I bought a new house that was already built rather then one where I had to choose the fixtures and floors and all that stuff). I think I don’t have enough of an imagination.

  5. I would love to have jeans and pants made to fit ME. Room to sit without binding. And big, beautiful, usable pockets. Shirts with looseness in the body, for freedom of movement. T-shirts with sleeves that cover the upper arms. Styles I like, in sizes that fit. Subdued colors.

  6. As a shorter-than-average person, I am occasionally lucky enough to find a pair of “capri” pants that fit me perfectly for length. More often, however, I must cut 4″ off a pair of trousers and machine-stitch a hem (jeans, hiking pants) or hand-sew (dress pants). I do have 2-3 off-the-rack dresses that fit well, are packable and give me confidence when I wear them. My dream is to have a tailor who would restyle my high-quality jackets to skim my figure and fit my frame so that I look finished and polished, rather than borderline sloppy!

    • Amen. I can buy pants/skirts that don’t need hemming, but what do you do with a dress that needs to be taken up at the shoulders and waist? Or, as you said, a jacket, esp. a lined one?

  7. I once had an outside tailored to fit me precisely when I was living in Chicago. It fit me well for that summer, and then never again! Some years I was thinner than when I had it fitted, some years I was larger, and I was so sorry that I had that beautiful top and pants tailored to fit me so well at first!

  8. Ahhh…. the issue of clothing one’s body…. My mother was a tailor and I learned a lot about how well-made clothing was constructed which has been both a blessing (I know how something “should” be made) and a curse (when it’s not done well/properly)!! That said, two of the best investments I’ve ever made for my closet have made A Lot of Difference in how I approach getting dressed every day.
    #1 was the aforementioned colour consult and the realization that there are several shades of each colour and, because of the undertones, that one needs to always check clothes in the light they’re going to be worn. E.g., no pink for me unless it has blue undertone – yellow undertone Will Not Do!
    #2 was a wardrobe consultation and teaching. It was initially expensive but has saved me A Lot Of Money over the years and, despite being older with a different life, I always feel great.
    Because I am blessed, I will be in London while the Tate is showing Sargent and Fashion – now those people did not have to worry about whether something was washable!! And they had staff!!!

  9. Unfortunately Zack hasn’t updated his UTube channel in quite a while, although what he has is very good. However, Bernadette Banner’s UTube channel is active. She doesn’t post as much as I’d like but what she posts is gold. She makes her own clothes, including corsets, and will have a critique on historical movie costumes (she was a NY theatre costume designer at one time). She also has other people who know the costumes of other countries e.g. Korea and they will critique foreign film costumes. She shows how to hand sew and tailer. Has even written a book called Make do and Mend, if I recall correctly. Very interesting. Kirby Allison also has a UTube channel that is much more into the modern bespoke fashion, however, the stores he goes to have made bespoke shirts, hats, shoes and suits for 100’s of years. He has gone to woolen mills that have made plaid fabric for 100 years. Both he and Bernadette are based in London. If you are interested in period clothing I would recommend these.