Gawd, where did August go? I hope I’m not the only one who blinked and missed it. In fact, this entire year has been sailing by at light speed. My sewing (and knitting, reading, gaming…basically anything that takes time) goals are also speeding by, unmet. Probably because I spend way too much time online, looking at other patterns and fabric and blog posts rather than working with what is actually in my stash. And I KNOW I’m not the only one guilty of that, either. 😉
But one of the things that I’ve noticed from all of my studying of other seamstresses’ completed projects, as well as looking through RTW websites for ideas, is that there are certain aspects of fit that are non-negotiable. Essentially, regardless of a person’s style and fit preferences, there are a few key areas of garment fitting that will automatically make a person look as if they are wearing the wrong size, period. So, in order to avoid looking like your clothes shrank, or that you are in denial about your true body shape/size, here are what I consider to be the non-negotiable aspects of fit:
1. Sleeve length on jackets, blazers, and coats
This is something that I deal with frequently as a petite woman, and I know that tall ladies with long arms have it even worse than I do. The full-length sleeve on a tailored outer garment (i.e., NOT hoodies, slouchy sweaters, sweatshirts, etc.) should always end somewhere between the first and last joints of the wearer’s thumb. This allows for the sleeve to rise with the bending of the elbows without flashing shirtsleeves or forearm. Anything longer than this and you look like you borrowed your dad’s suit jacket (ask me how I know!), while any shorter and it appears as if your blazer shrunk in the dryer and you haven’t yet bought a replacement.
A perfect example of the sleeve-too-short problem can be seen in the model photo for this suede jacket for sale on the White House Black Market website:
The end of the sleeve does not even cover the model’s entire wrist, which means that when she bends her elbow or does anything besides letting her arms hang straight down, the cuff is going to expose a large portion of her forearm. Aside from it not looking correct, it is also impractical for cold weather wear. Wrist drafts suck, right?
NOTE: Obviously this aspect of fit only applies to full-length sleeves and not 3/4 or half-sleeve lengths. So if you find a jacket that you adore, but the sleeves are wrist-length, consider cutting them to 3/4 or half length so that it looks intentional.
2. Puckers around button plackets over the bust
I see this so often lately, particularly from seamstresses who prefer vintage styles and like to eliminate all of the ease from the patterns before even making a muslin. I enjoy showing off my figure, but I also like to look as if my clothes fit properly. We can display our figures just fine without also blinding people when our buttons give up and bail out due to lack of ease.
This picture from a She Finds article about fixing button gaps shows what I mean:
While there are certainly quick, temporary fixes for button gaps, the correct way to fix the issue is to avoid it entirely. Including enough ease in the construction of shirts with button plackets is a requirement for proper fit. If you are looking for something more fitted, try patterns with princess seams and bust darts to add shaping around the bust and waist curves. Do not rely on removing ease to “fit” a shirt to your figure, unless the shirt is made from knit fabric and does not involve a button placket.
3. Pants hem length
Another area that I am more than familiar with, although my legs are somewhat long for my height. This can be more tricky for those who like to alternate between heels and flats, but it really does make a difference in whether your pants look correctly fitted or not.
According to the United States Navy uniform regulations, our dress pants should be long enough to just touch the tops of the soles of our shoes. There should be a slight break (aka, wrinkle) in the front of the leg, as it will need to extend past the instep in order to be the correct length in the back.
I like to use this standard as the best practice for my professional wear, as well. Ideally, my hems end about 1/2″ – 1″ above the floor, which keeps my legs from drowning in a floor-length pant leg. Taller ladies frequently have the opposite issue, or what I would call “unintentional floods”. Do y’all remember the floods trend from back in the 90s/early 2000s? Do people still do that on purpose?
Oh, apparently they do:
My grandfather (God rest his soul) used to wear this exact combination of pants, socks, and shoes. While I loved him dearly, I did not use him as a personal style guide. Go for a midi-length skirt or some capri pants if you want to show off your socks and shoes – much like the issue with jacket sleeve lengths, what matters is that the length looks intentional rather than accidental.
4. Misplaced shoulder seams
I love a good dolman sleeve. Raglans are awesome, too. As a wide/square-shouldered petite gal, it is hard to find a jacket that fits my arm length (see issue 1) and is not also too narrow across the shoulders. And this is an issue that not only affects the appearance of the garment, but also the practicality – if the shoulders of a jacket or shirt are too narrow, it will not allow for full range of arm motion.
Conversely, a jacket with shoulder seams that are too wide will end up making the wearer look like an inverted triangle – this is especially bad for those who are naturally inverted triangles, who will thus look like a pair of shoulders mounted on top of a broomstick.
Something like this poor model on the Zara website:
In theory, the fit-and-flare princess seams at the waist of the jacket would balance out the shoulders (which they refer to as “dropped” – no, that’s not what a proper dropped shoulder looks like, Zara. This is just piss-poor fit). But this model has a long torso, so the faux hips fall about a foot above where her actual hips are. And her shoulders are about 3″ narrower than the shoulders of the jacket would lead you to believe.
Ideal shoulder seam fit places the seams just above the outer edge of the shoulder. This allows for full range of motion and shows the actual shape of the shoulders beneath the jacket. If you have sloping shoulders and would like to look more square, small shoulder pads under a correctly aligned shoulder seam will do the trick. If you have narrow shoulders and would like more width at the shoulder line to balance out wide hips, go for a jacket with a shoulder detail like a ruffle or a puffed/gathered sleeve cap like Vogue 9016 View D (OoP):
In summary – choose style elements to correct or accentuate aspects of your figure without compromising on fit. Style is a matter of choice and what works for your taste and your shape. Fit is about looking like your clothes were made for your body rather than someone else’s.
Honestly, one of the main reasons why I make my own clothes is because my figure is difficult to fit in RTW. I am 4’11”, with a short torso and a big difference between my bust, waist, and hip measurements. And I know from reading many, many sewing blogs that there are others among us who sew for the same reasons. Since we have the power to fix these fit issues, they should not be in our finished handmade garments; that is the type of poor fitting that we should expect in clothes made for other people’s bodies.
There are many resources both in print and online that teach alteration methods to allow seamstresses to attain the ever-elusive perfect fit for our own figures. A lot of them are free, too! Huzzah!