Friday, August 26, 2011

Want. Get. Have.

 (Part Eleven of the series "Dressing the Average Guy.")
Chapter 29
Welcome back, Average Guys, and to the rest of you as well. Last week I took you on a crash-course in taking your measurements, so that when you go out to lay your hard-earned lucre on a suit, you end up with something that will fit. Remember what we learned earlier this year: correct FIT is THE most important aspect of clothing.

There are four factors that determine how good you look in a suit: the fit, the style, the fabric, and the label -- in that order. Without good fit, nothing else matters.

You can have the sharpest, most expensive, up to date, famous-maker suit you can afford -- but if it doesn't fit, it will never look as good on you as even a tatty, dated, no-name piece that's nevertheless tailored like a glove.

Given two suits that both fit you equally well, one that's more classically styled but with lower quality fabric from a nondescript label, will still look better than one that shows dated fashion fads, (like '80s low crossovers or '70s wide lapels,) even if it was a high-end suit originally.

The other factors demonstrate a similar relationship among each other, e.g.,
between two suits that fit perfectly and are well-styled, a high-quality fabric is preferred regardless of its maker.
So, with your measurement numbers in hand, I'm going to lead you on a hunting expedition. Here's where the rubber meets the road -- all the theory in the world won't help you without practical experience. Because this is SO important, I'm actually going to go out in the field and do this with you. I'm not content to be a man of mere conjecture, so let's go out and concretize these hypotheses with some footwork!

Let's set some groundrules before we go:  this is no girly-girl shopping trip; it's a manly hunt for manly clothing. One: we target one store. We're not bees flitting merrily from flower to flower -- we stake out one field and raid it. Two: we go in with a purpose, knowing what we want, and our objective is to leave with it. Period. Three: Ruthless efficiency. No browsing, no dilly-dally, no "Oh, isn't this nice?" nonsense. Get what you came for, and do it by parting with as little of your money as possible. Four: no endless try-ons. See it, get it, leave. Sounds like fun, huh? Well, you're right. Done well and in a manly manner, "hunter's shopping" is quick, easy, and yes, even enjoyable. (Just don't let your girlfriends know.)

First, I'll get my dimensions from last week, and to keep them handy, I'll actually write them on my left wrist in ballpoint ink. Don't judge: it's an old habit, as well as just happening to be the handiest spot for me. I'll write my shirt size [15½-34], half my chest measure [17½"], half my yoke [8½"] and my actual sleeve [25½"]. For my trousers, I'll put down my actual waist [31½"] and my trouser outseam [41"]. Then the jacket measures: the shoulder [18"], half the chest [19¼"], full length [34"], and sleeve [25½"]. Jot your numbers down in whatever shorthand or grouping works best for your recollection.

Now, figure the sort of outfit to which you will set your sights. In my case, I need a complete suit suitable for autumn weather. I already have a closet full of winter-weight tweed, so I'm going to keep my eyes out for a wool sports jacket of plain cloth, or maybe something lighter weight and tweedy. My closets have their share of light-colored cotton and linen trousers, so I'm going to look out for heavier wool greys and patterns for the season. Just to round things out, I'll find a shirt and a tie as well. I'm going to look for colors in the fall spectrum: rusts and golds, browns and greens. (I'm also limiting my clothing to "in spec:" nothing that has to be altered later. This is a trip for wearable as-is!)

The store: to show that it can be done, I'll go to a completely ordinary second-hand affair. Not in a fancy section of town, no estate sales -- just a regular place where wives drop of the stuff after they clean out their husband's closets. With luck, we'll find some good items with provenance and a bit of history, in good shape, but not shiny-new, and at a really good price.

The time: no longer than half an hour, and hopefully closer to fifteen minutes. That's right, forest rangers -- we're going from zero to a wearable outfit in fifteen minutes. The secret: have a plan (we have), know what you're looking for in advance (we are), have your measurements (we do), and carry your measuring tape (we will). If we don't find what we're after in thirty minutes, we're gonna walk out the door. Ready?

Here we are at our shop, at the men's section. We have three racks full of suits, a wall full of shirts, and several long racks of trousers: all unsorted, all different sizes. We'll bag a jacket first. This is a simple affair: just go straight to those jackets whose color and pattern appeal to you, and the first thing you do is, while they are still on the rack, get a good look at the fronts. If it still looks appealing, take the tape, and take a quick measurement across the front just under the arms, pulling out any slack as you do so. 

Here's a nice tweed, let's check it out:

Nope. 20 across the front is a 40 chest -- a little too slack for me. Move on.

Here's a cool plaid wool, let's measure:

Nope -- another 40. Ditch it. Next!

Ooh, a nice rough tweed with multicolored yarns. It looks a bit wide in the shoulders, so I'm not even going to bother to stoop down to take the chest measure, just a quick check across the shoulders.

Whoa! 19 inches. A little too broad for my taste. Move on.

Hey, this is interesting -- a plaid wool in some nice fall colors. Its buttoning is a three-roll-two, which is kinda different, as well. Let's pull out the tape.


Nice! We have a 19½...your chest measure plus four inches is a good fit, usually, and this 39 is right on target. Let's spend a few more seconds and take some further measures on this one.

The sleeve length is 25¼. That's nearly bang-on.

The shoulder is right at 18 inches, too. This is looking REAL good now.

Total length: a hair over thirty. That's at the short end for me, but well within specs for this rather sporty style. This is starting to look like it was hanging here just waiting for me. I'm sure it will fit now, and I haven't even taken it off the hanger or checked its tags! Total time in the store, so far, by the way: less than seven minutes.

This brown plaid could look dated if the details are too '70s. A quick check of the fronts show the lapels are just a quarter-inch more than half of the front chest: in other words, classic proportional standard. Throw it in the cart, and we're done here. Let's move over to the trouser racks.

Trousers hanging by their waistbands are easy to check: since you've worn them all your life, it's fairly easy to "eyeball" if they're going to be grossly over- or undersized. When you find something that looks close and is an appealing style, pull your tape across the waistband for an instant "go" or "no go."

Argh. Most of these are huge, with measures in the 18-24 inch region. (Remember you're measuring half the circumference.) This one? 15. No go. Remember you want something a bit larger than your natural waist.

Here's an interesting one. 16 inches...that's very close. It will be a little snug: another half-inch in the measure would be perfect, but nothing else here approaches that while being even close to the right length in the outseam. I really might like these, though. I haven't worn corduroy often, but I like the color and texture of these. They would go well with the jacket; very autumnal.

A quick check of the length finalizes it. A 41½" outseam can't be beat. In the cart it goes. We've burned a lot of time in the trouser racks; checking and rejecting sizes because we didn't want to have to alter anything. At twenty minutes in, though, we've got a good pair of trou that will fit well.

The shirts are easier to fit: just find a fitted size that matches your numbers and you're set.

A couple minutes of frantic tag-checking results in a 15½ -34 in an appealing shade of green. A quick check of the sleeve length from the cuff to the back of the neck shows it is indeed right at 34, and the shoulder seam is around about 25. Ka-ching! In the cart it goes, and we're up to 24 minutes in the store.

But wait! What if you see a shirt that just says 'M,' for instance? Well, here's a medium sized shirt. Nice one, too; let's see if it will fit.

Measure across the inside of the collar from the button to the buttonhole. H'm...a 16 incher. That would be a little loose on me.

The yoke is nearly 11 inches -- that's pretty extensive. To find the sleeve length, I'll measure out to my own half-yoke measure, 8 1/2 inches...

...and then from that point measure down to the cuff. Well lookee here! 25½. Not surprisingly, the chest measures out to 20 inches. So it would be very roomy, and the shoulders would be slouchy, BUT it fits well in the sleeve, and very nearly in the neck. As a casual fall shirt, I could pop for this. The fact that it's not only nearly new, but freshly professionally laundered and pressed with heavy starch, won me over. Put this one in the cart too, and the clock says 26 minutes have passed.

Turning our attention to a tie, it's a simple matter of sussing out those that just don't work from the one that does. Here's one! Add it to the cart, and we are in the checkout line with two minutes to spare!

So for twenty-eight minutes of my time, I have a new sportcoat, trousers, two shirts, and a tie. If I hadn't sprung for the extra shirt, and had bent my rules about getting trousers that needed no altering, I would have saved probably nearly ten minutes, and might have made it out in just over fifteen minutes.

This is the outfit, as-bought, as soon as I got it home. (Still a bit rumpled from its time in the shop: the application of a shot of steam from the iron did a great deal of good later on.) The jacket, in addition to fitting well, is quite well made, with a goodly amount of shaping and waist suppression.

Of greater interest, perhaps, than the fact that the entire shopping experience was less than thirty minutes, is that the entire spree cost me sixteen dollars and fifty cents. Really?! Yes, really: the jacket for five, trousers for two and a half, tie for two, and two shirts for three-fifty each. Proof positive, I believe, that dressing like a grownup doesn't require great amounts of time, effort, or money -- good news for students and professionals alike.

An update: since the time this blog was written, my new outfit has accumulated many miles of wear, is still in my regular wardrobe rotation, and has received some very nice compliments. Greater proof that any suit, well-worn but worn well, can be just as stylish and fashionable as any other.

Click here to go to Part Twelve of Dressing the Average Guy.

Click here to go to the next essay chronologically. 

Click here to go back to the previous essay chronologically, Part Ten of Dressing the Average Guy.

Click here to go back to Part One of Dressing the Average Guy.

Click here to back to the beginning.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Measure of a Man

 (Part Ten of the series "Dressing the Average Guy.")
Chapter 28
For those of you who have only recently joined us on our odyssey of sartorial superiority, here at Dress Like A Grownup!  we follow along several concurrent curricula, in order to help the greatest number of people at different levels of erudition. While we gladly plunge into topics at the advanced levels of your M.S. (Master of Sartoriality) right up to your Ph.D. (Philosopher Dandy), we mustn't forget that everyone must at one point start at the beginning. It is at this most basic matriculation, the young (or not so young) man who has just discovered the Great Secrets of dressing well for himself, to whom we dedicate this week's installment.

And hello again to my esteemed Average Guys! Lest you become overwhelmed by the minutia of dressing well, let's take a step back and breathe easy for a moment. All the theory and fluff in the world isn't going to help you actually find a good suit without a little help. You already have the weapons in your arsenal to discover what style will work most effectively, how a good suit is supposed to fit, and what the basics of dressing well actually entail in broad strokes, as we have covered this in our series over the previous months.

You are looking down the barrel of Autumn, with a universe of suit choices ahead of you. Perhaps you have already found a good secondhand shop or estate sale that has offered up a good, stout, vintage classic suit that is right up your alley. If you are like most members of the male of your species (and you are), you are a hunter. You like nothing more than to walk into a shop, look for Something, find it, pay for it, and leave with it. An indescribable sense of accomplishment floods your soul, and life is good.

Not so good is shopping with a foraging female of the species. They walk into a shop looking for nothing in particular, and after wandering every aisle -- twice, -- they collect a cart-full of items that MIGHT fit. After trying everything on, they put half of it back, forage some more, try on more stuff, and after an hour or two may have decided to purchase something...or maybe not.

Ripping your hair out and seething in silence is not healthy for your constitution, your relationships, or your hairline. Unfortunately, there's nothing I can do about shopping with your gal; but I can make life easier for you when you hunt for your own clothes.

Most references will tell you to buy suits using sizes. In answer to the question, "What size am I," those same sources will tell you to use the size of a suit that already fits you, in a stunning display of circular reasoning. What are you to do if you're an Average Guy, starting out from the singular piece of information that his tee-shirt size is "M"? No fear -- I shall show you everything you need to know.

In addition to the circular reasoning problem of not knowing what suit fits you until you have a suit that fits you, even if you did know your suit size -- what do you do with vintage suits that have had their labels removed, or were originally made bespoke and never had labels? Or a suit that has been altered, and the size isn't actually the size at all? The simple solution is to find and know some of your basic measurements. You can then, with a small tape measure carried in your pocket, quick-check a suit's measurements while still on the hanger, obviating the forage-guess-try-on-and-discard cycle we men despise so much, in favor of the clean and quick on-the-rack suit hunt.

You can take these measurements on the tailor's form we discussed a couple of weeks ago, or right on yourself with the help of an assistant. It is possible for you to take direct measures on yourself, but some of these measurements are easier than others.

First, we'll take the measures for a proper shirt.

First, get your actual chest measurement. This is taken around the chest just under the arms. Hold the tape loosely and inhale -- you want this measure to be a little "easy," not too tight. This measure will come in handy later.

Measure across the yoke, from shoulder-seam to shoulder-seam. If you don't have a dress shirt, just measure between both shoulder points.

Then measure down the length of the sleeve. (Since my tailor's form has no arms, I've shown you this measure as taken on myself.) One person can manage it as shown: pin the top of the tape measure at the top of the shoulder seam (or at the shoulder point,) and let the tape fall through your hand as shown. The cuff should sit just below your wristbone, so measure to that point.

To find the "measured size" of a dress shirt, add the sleeve length you just took to half of the yoke measurement -- the sleeve is measured from the back of the neck out to the cuff. In this example, my yoke is 17 inches, and my sleeve is 25½ inches. Half the yoke is 8½ inches, added to the 17 inch sleeve, which reveals this shirt to be a size 34.


To find your neck size, simply measure around the base of your own neck. In my case, 15½ inches.
(This is indicated as part of the shirt size: thus, the shirt that fits me best is a 15½ -34.)

Now let's move on to measuring trousers.

To get a waist measurement, take the tape the same way as for the chest measure, but run it 'round at your waist: about two inches above your hipbones, or just below your navel. Add about two inches to this measurement: you want your trousers comfortable enough to breathe and eat in, not too tight.

To find the length, put the end of the tape at the waistband, and let it fall down the outside leg seam of your trousers, while wearing shoes. Running the tape under your instep and pulling it snug with your other foot is a handy way for one person to do this alone. The cuff of the trouser should just cover the top of the shoe as shown, so measure to that point. (This can also be taken without trousers, by just holding the tape in the proper place.)

This measurement is the leg -- but the "measured size" of trousers is the waist seam and the inseam measure. The inseam is difficult to take alone, but the difference between the inseam and leg is the rise, which in most cases is around 8 inches. All this means for you is to subtract 8 from your leg measure to find the trouser size. In this example, my actual "waist measure+2" is 33½ inches, and my "outside leg-8" is 33 inches; so a trouser sized 33½ -33 would fit me. Since trousers don't usually come off-the-rack in half sizes, I would round down to 33-33 to find the best fit.

Now we'll measure for a jacket. 


Take the shoulder measure the same way as for your shirt. If you don't have a jacket, just take your measure across your shoulders as you did for your shirt, and add one inch.

Take the measure across your blades as well, between both shoulder seams. Some people have very prominent shoulder blades, and the jacket must account for the shape of your shoulders. If you don't have a jacket, take this measure over your shirt, from the middle of your arms and across your blades.


The chest measure is taken the same way as for your shirt; under the arms and rather easy. If you don't have a jacket, take the chest measure that you did for your shirt, and add four inches to it.

Next, find the sleeve length. This is taken from the top of the shoulder seam, and straight down to the bottom edge of the cuff nearest the buttons. Notice you are measuring straight down the grain of the fabric, not following the curve of the sleeve. If you do not have a jacket, this measurement is the same as the actual sleeve measure of your shirt.

Next find the length of the jacket. This is taken from the back of the neck right down to the hem.


If you don't have a jacket, there is a work-around: remember that a classically proportioned jacket should be long enough that you can curl your fingers under the hem. Hold the end of the tape at the back of your neck, and let it fall down your back. Curl your fingers, and, while holding a pencil or skewer, point horizontally to the tape. The jacket's length should be no longer than this, and may be no more than three or four inches shorter, according to the vagaries of fashion. (This holds for most sport coats and jackets; obviously, there are specialty coats for winter and formal occasions that may be longer.)

The "measured size" of a jacket is simply the chest measure, with the length of the back and the sleeves estimated by a very inaccurate S, M, L, etc. Having all the additional measurements you've taken here, will help you find a jacket that actually fits, and fits well, without all those excessive try-ons. Trust me now, and thank me later.

When measuring for a waistcoat, there are three measurements with which to be concerned.

The chest measurement is taken the same as for the shirt and jacket. If you don't have a waistcoat, take the chest measure that you did for your shirt, and add one inch to it.

The neck measurement is taken from the shoulder seam and down to the point of the vest's crossover. This is merely for comparison, for convenience's sake later. There is no set point here: it can be as high or low as you wish. (Measuring from the shoulder seam is because we will be taking quick measurements, while the vest hangs on the rack. Bespoke measurement is taken from the back of the neck and around, so this will not give you the "official" size.)

The length is taken from the shoulder seam (again, bespoke is taken from the back of the neck; we shall not) down to the lowest point of the fronts, which should be about four inches below the top button of your trousers. You want to insure your waistband will be covered by your waistcoat at all times. This is another measure taken for convenience's sake.
Armed with this numerical ammunition, and with a small, stealthy tape measure, you will be able to stake out your territory, scope out your quarry, and be able to get a suit in your sights, pull the trigger on your credit card, and be out the door with that suit in your trunk before it knows what hit it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Time to Put Up Your Toys

Chapter 27
The countdown to the end of Summer marches on -- the beginning of the next school term is just around the corner. Millions of school children, (and a goodly number of teachers and professors!) will soon feel the crush of reality bearing in on them; as do we all, as the carefree styles of the calescent days of July slowly give way to the breezy chills of September.

As the jackets and ties and buttoned-down Oxfords of sobriety take over our wardrobes, it's time to say a fond see-you-later to your short sleeved summery Aloha shirts, tropical patterns and florals, and pack them away for their ten-month annual hibernation.

But wait! Just how do you pack away seasonal shirts, anyway? Sure, you could just stuff them in a sack and throw them in the attic -- but wouldn't it be nicer to be able to take them out of storage in a store-fresh, ready-to-wear state?

Of course it would -- and that's what this week is all about! What follows is a step-by-step tutorial that will show you how to pack away your summer funwear in a way that would make any valet green with envy. Step into my den, and I'll demonstrate my starching, ironing, and folding procedure. If you haven't been introduced to starching or ironing in your masculine adult life yet, this will be an excellent point of departure for you!

First, let's discuss starching. Putting away shirts in a starched state will insure they stay clean and wrinkle-free until you need them again next year, as well as rendering them exceptionally easy to fold and pack off. There are many different brands of commercial starch available, in both spray and liquid form. Well, forget 'em, we're gonna make our own -- from scratch! It won't be nearly as expensive as the bottled stuff, and it will be a good deal stronger.

It's important to note here that starch is starch, whether it is made from corn, rice, potatoes, or whatever's in the pre-bottled stuff. The stuff you use on your laundry and the stuff you put in your gravy: identical. So let's get cookin'! Join me in the kitchen...

You'll need a good-sized pot. This doesn't involve anything that's not basically edible, so you can use one of your regular cooking pots. Put two quarts of water in, set it to a boil, and then lower to a simmer. Now follow along with the filmstrip. (All of these images can be super-sized by clicking on them.)

1: Measure out a quarter-cup of starch (I'm using cornstarch, available in the baking aisle of your grocery.)
2: Add the starch to a half-cup of cold water.
3: Mix with a fork until the starch powder completely dissolves.
4: Add the dissolved starch mix to the simmering pot, and turn the heat off. You want the starch to hit the water just under the boiling point for maximum effectiveness.

5: Using a wooden spoon, stir the pot constantly, until the mix turns from white to translucent, and thickens to the consistency of thin paste. This should only take a few minutes of stirring.

Voila -- two quarts of starch, easy as that! Now, a couple thoughts while we wait for our pot to cool off a bit.

First, before you ask, NO, this is not the recipe I use for starching my Razor Squares. That is a century-old concoction that involves many different ingredients and is considerably more difficult to make. (No, I will not tell you what it is.) For our purposes, this quick-and-simple basic starch will work just fine.

Second, yes, I'm using cups and quarts. You won't find me using milli-deci-anything. Call me old-fashioned, but I like the standard measure just fine, thank you. Just remember: two tablespoons to a jigger, two jiggers to a jack, two jacks to a jill, two jills to a cup, two cups to a pint, two pints to a quart, two quarts to a pottle, and two pottles to the gallon. Easy!

Now that our starch has cooled somewhat, let's move the pot to the den, where we have some clean shirts, hangers, and an ironing board awaiting us.

I strongly recommend latex gloves: any barrier between you and this rather hot sticky liquid is a good thing. Simply take a shirt, and immerse it completely in the starch.

Use your wooden spoon to push the shirt under, working out the air pockets and getting it thoroughly wet. The spoon is also handy for fishing the shirt back out. But there is plenty of room in the pot to add more shirts! Stir them around like shirt soup, making certain they are all wet right through.

1: Fish out the first shirt by the collar. Let it drip for a bit, then run it over the spoon as shown to draw some more water out. This is important, because the next step --
2: -- is to hold it high by the collar and methodically squeeze the water out from the top down. The water should be off-scalding to the point where this won't give you first-degree burns. (The gloves really help here.)
3: Fold the shirt in half, then in half again,
4: and gently wring the entire thing out. Don't overdo it: we still want it to be damp, just not dripping.

Unfold the shirt, let it hang free, fold it sleeve-to-sleeve, and lay it across the ironing board onto a towel. Continue with the other shirts in the pot the same way.

Hang the shirts on a plastic hanger. Take care to fold the collar down, straighten the sleeves, and generally adjust it so it hangs as wrinkle-free as possible. This will save you much grief later, trust me.

Hang your shirts overnight until they dry out completely; in your laundry room, or your shower curtain rod, for instance. Some love the natural outdoorsy scent of clothes line-dried outdoors.

And so we wait...

Until the next day! Notice how stiff our shirts have become; they are standing horizontally like flags. Perfect.
Now we'll go on to the ironing. You'll need to set it about medium-high, with a full head of steam. (Dampness relaxes the starch; when it dries it stiffens up again.) If your iron doesn't crank out copious amounts of steam, a spray bottle of water, or more traditionally, a damp sponge, may be needed to relax the starch as you iron.

What follows is a very thorough and methodical method of ironing, which is sure to get every seam, every corner, every inch. Is this really needed? Yes, it is. Unlike regular out-of-the-dryer ironing, heavy starch doesn't like shortcuts; and this method will pack a shirt away with absolutely no wrinkles. None. It will take a while to learn at first, but there a logic to the method; it will reveal itself to you as you work. The more shirts you do, the quicker and more automatic the process will become as you gain practice and experience.

Now, before you say anything, I know my ironing board is ratty, rusty, and stained. I do not apologize for this, nor should you -- a well-used board is a badge of honor, for it shows that you properly iron your clothes. Now follow along:

1: First, attend to the collar. With the shirt label-side down and the collar open, stretch the collar out with one hand while drawing the iron slowly towards it.
2: Flip the shirt over, and iron the other side of the collar, this time pulling with one hand and drawing the iron away from it.
3: Put the shirt shoulder over the point of the board, and pull the shoulder seam tight at the yoke.
4: Then pull the yoke seam itself tight.
5: Iron to the corner of the yoke seam at the shoulder, then sweep the iron down to the midpoint of the yoke. (Image is ironing into the corner)
6: Turn the shirt around so that the other shoulder sits over the board's point, and do the same with the other half of the yoke. (Image is sweeping the iron down the yoke.)

This completes the collar and the yoke.

7: Put the left front panel on the board so that the point sits inside the shoulder. Pull the front of the shoulder seam tight.
8: Then pull the side seam tight.
9: Iron down the side seam from under the arm to the bottom seam.
10: Run the iron down from the chest pocket to the bottom seam in several passes. Pull the bottom seam tight, run along it, then pull the placket tight and run up the placket, holding the neck point out and ironing up to it.
11: Iron above the pocket, sweeping out to the shoulder point.
12: Change the position to the right side front, and repeat the procedure. (Image shown is ironing out to the neck point and sweeping over the pocket.)

This completes the fronts.

13: Set the back on the board so the point sits inside the right shoulder. Pull the bottom seam tight, and the back tight against the point.
14: Crease the back pleat, and hold the endpoint in place.
15: Drop the iron straight down on the pleat to set it.
16: Sweep the iron down from the shoulder down to the bottom, covering the entire board. Iron along the bottom edge last.
17: Center the back over the board and sweep from the yoke to the bottom. (If you have a center pleat do it now.)
18: Repeat the procedure on the other shoulder.

This completes the back.

19: Set the shirt face down with the sleeves out. Pull the sleeve's bottom seam tight.
20: Align the ends of the sleeves, with the seam at the bottom, and pull tight to find the top crease.
21: Iron from the sleeve bottom seam, up the opening, and sweep in to the shoulder seam.
22: Flip the shirt over and iron the other side as well. Repeat for the other sleeve.

This completes the ironing of the shirt -- now we'll move on to folding it. Now that everything's starched and ironed, this won't be difficult at all!

1: Lay the shirt on its back on the board with the fronts open, and smooth it out.
2: Bring the fronts together, and button the second-from-the-top button, the bottom button, and every other button in between.
3. Bring the neckpoint up, and smooth down the front under the collar. Pull the shoulder tight to find the crease point of the yoke.
4: Iron the yoke from the neck to the shoulder, and sweep down the base of the collar.
5: Fold down the collar right at the turnover seam, and pull out the collar points while holding the pivot point at the placket. You will find a point where the geometry allows the collar to sit tight and smooth against the front of the shirt, and not bind against the yoke. (This sounds more complex than it is.)
6: Drop the iron down on the points of the collar. Don't iron the whole collar flat -- you don't want a seam where it turns around the neck.

7: Holding the shoulder with one hand, and the bottoms with the other, flip the shirt over.
8: Smooth the shirt down, making sure everything is laying flat and there are no wrinkles.
9: From the shoulder crease at the collar-turn, fold the left side over straight down to the bottom. Pull the fold tight, smooth it down and iron it.
10: Using the shoulder seam at the sleeve, flip the sleeve to the outside. Smooth the crease down. Note that the geometry of the sleeve is such that a small triangle of the fabric of the sidebody will turn over as well to allow the sleeve to lay perfectly flat.
11: Flip the sleeve back in again, and iron the sleeve down.

12: Fold the right side in, the same as you did for the left.
13: Fold the sleeves in the same fashion as well.
14: Turn up the tail and double-check that the side folds are equal -- the button should be right in the center. If not, re-do the right side slightly further out or in until the dimensions are equal, then iron the right side down.
15: Using a wooden skewer helps here. Fold the bottom third of the shirt up.
16: Pull the skewer tight while holding the fold to work out any wrinkles. Do this again, to make a three-part fold.

17: Turn the shirt over, and you are done! This tight, starchy package will pack very well as-is. But, for the finishing touch, you will need squares of tissue paper.
18: Place the tissue on the board, with the folded shirt at the bottom edge.
19: Flip the top third of the shirt over.
20: Fold in the tissue paper from both sides.
21: Flip the top of the shirt back over the tissue.
22: Fold the tissue over the shirt.

And now you're ready to stack your summer shirts in a dresser drawer, or storage box for the winter! By giving them a proper send-off like this, you'll have a stack of crisp, fresh shirts awaiting the return of hot weather next year.

And next week, we'll turn our attention on replacing those summer shirts -- with something a bit more autumnal. Stay tuned...

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Say hello to my little friend

Chapter 26
It seems like Summer is lasting forever; but in truth August is already here, and the end of the sweltering inferno is finally in sight. Before you know it, Autumn will be upon us, and we will turn our attention again to proper suits and sportcoats. We will lay aside our summer shirts for the year, and break out the tweed! Huzzah!

This is an ideal time to prepare for the cooler months, stock up on the heavier wear, and get your Fall clothes altered, if your clothes (or you!) have changed shape appreciably over the past year. But times are tough for everyone -- the recent recessionary economy and financial unpleasantness means not everyone can afford to buy new autumn suits, or take them to a tailor to get altered. If you can afford to hire a tailor, please do -- tailors need work like everyone else nowadays. But what if you just can't make ends meet as it is? New clothes are a luxury you can't afford if your business is tanking, or you've been downsized out of your position, or are a student, or simply hip-deep in debt.

Well, I'm going to help you out a bit here. Spread over the next several weeks, off and on, we're going to begin a new series of installments on how to buy on the cheap, tailor your suits yourself, look like you spent a lot more, and keep your bank account happy, all at the same time!

The solution for the cash-strapped gent that refuses to compromise his sartorial excellence is simplicity itself -- concentrate on the fit, first and foremost. In future weeks we'll delve into the wonderful world of secondhand shops -- a treasure trove of affordable castoffs, diamonds in the rough that, with a little polishing, can regain their luster. But how do we fine tune the fit of clothes that were made for (and worn by) others, without shelling out for a tailor's expertise? Elementary, my dear Watson: self-service. As with most things, spending less money means doing more of the work yourself. Doing simple alterations on your own can make a sizable improvement in the fit of your clothes, while maintaining the size of your bank account.

Sound daunting? Well, I won't lie -- it is. If you're not familiar with a needle and thread, there is a bit of a learning curve involved. But it's not insurmountable: by the time we're done, you'll be able, at least in theory, to go out, source an inexpensive but ill-fitting suit, tailor it yourself into something quite serviceable, and end up with a "new-to-you" outfit that will save you the heartbreak of parting with hundreds of your hard-won dollars.

It's difficult to do alterations on yourself, because you can't see what you are doing while you are actually wearing the stuff. What usually happens is a tiresome series of trial-and-error try-ons, over and over. It  would be so much easier to have a body double, someone who was built exactly like you are, so you can work on yourself from the outside, as it were...

Shay 'ello to my lil' frien'.
Well, it just so happens it is not at all difficult to make a perfect copy of yourself, a tailor's form, on which you can do all your alterations. It takes most of the time and guesswork out of the process of fitting, and the best thing is, you can make a tailor's form for almost nothing, in the space of a few hours, that will last for years, (or until you change shape.) It will require the use of an assistant for an hour or so, however.

You will need a sacrificial pair of boxer shorts and two tee-shirts, three or so rolls of duct tape, a sharp pair of heavy scissors, a few pounds of polyester fiberfil stuffing, and a can of expanding spray insulation. It's also useful to have several long cardboard tubes and a couple yards of heavyweight spandex-blend fabric. Most of this can be gotten from your local Big Box Store in the craft department. If you have a local fabric store, you can probably get the cardboard tubes for free (leftover cores from bolts of cloth,) as well as the spandex.

Begin by stripping down into boxers and tee-shirt. Cut the second tee-shirt cut into strips. The goal is to have all your bare skin covered from your neck just under your ears, to as far down your thigh as your fingertips can reach, and your shoulders. Use some duct tape to hold your tee-shirt to your boxers, and the strips around your neck and thighs.

Now comes the part where you need your assistant. Taking strips of duct tape, you will be wrapped tightly, neck-to-thigh. Yes, that's right. You are the "positive" of the form, and the duct tape will eventually form a rigid case around you. Work methodically, using two-foot strips or so, overlapping the width of each strip by half, and cover every inch of unexposed flesh, following all the contours of your body closely. You're basically making a torso mannequin of yourself. Start the first layer by wrapping horizontally, wrap the second layer at thirty degrees to the first, the third at sixty degrees, and the fourth vertically. Follow the contours of the body at the fifth layer. The duct tape will by now have built up into a surprisingly inflexible shell.

Some things to keep in mind as you are being wrapped:

Choose as your assistant someone who will take you seriously, and not think you have lost your marbles.

Stand naturally throughout the process. You don't wear a suit whilst standing at attention, so don't make the form standing at attention either. The more the form stands like you really do, the better.

As your chest is wrapped, take deep breaths and fill your lungs. You want your chest measurement to reflect your deepest breath.

Take care to follow all the compound curves closely, especially your collarbone, under your arms, and below your waist.

Toward the end of your mummification, as your mobility decreases, you will feel increasingly constricted, hot, and oddly claustrophobic. Stay calm, don't hyperventilate, and don't rush the process. The whole wrapping ordeal will take less than an hour.

After you are thoroughly wrapped, your assistant must cut the shell, and may have to assist you in removing it. Since your underclothes are now attached to the tape, you must emerge au naturel. Start the cut at the back of the neck and run straight down the spine, stopping at the small of the back. Pull the back open to the sides and forward, and work your arms out. With your upper torso free, slip the form down and step out of it. If the form is too tight to slip down, increase the cut at the small of the back incrementally.

The relative position of
the interior tubes
Now that your form is complete, it's time to solidify it. Using the cardboard tubes, or a suitable substitute, cut a length that will fit inside the form from shoulder to shoulder. Be accurate enough that the ends of the tube sit just where your shoulder-bone is; this will render the shoulder points completely incompressible and rigid, like your real body. Duct-tape the tube to the interior of the form at the shoulders.

And the position of the legs
Take two long lengths of tube, and run them up the legs of the form to the shoulder-tube, in the form of the Greek letter pi. Tape the leg tubes firmly to the shoulder tube. The end of the tubes should emerge from the bottom of the form where your actual thighbones would be. Cut the bottom of the tubes so that the form stands at the same height that you do. This makes the form very naturalistic to work on, and gives you the very handy ability to alter trousers as well as shirts and jackets.

Now, stuff the form with polyester fiberfil from the slit in the back, packing around the tubes and filling out the form until it is semi-firm. (It doesn't have to be rock-solid, because you aren't.) Close the back seam of the form. Since the form was made around you, it will be slightly larger in circumference. Check its dimensions by taking your chest and waist measurement, and comparing it with the form's. Overlap the back seam slightly until the two measurements are identical, mark the amount of overlap, trim the excess away, and tape the seam firmly shut with overlapping strips of tape.

Now you'll deal with the open ends of the neck, arms and legs. Cut small pieces of cardboard to plug the holes, and use the foam can's "straw" to squirt a little expanding foam behind them. It will seal the cardboard to the form, and make the ends of the limbs rigid. Go easy -- this stuff expands a great deal! If it leaks out around the edges of the cardboard, wait 'til it dries and it can be easily trimmed with a knife.

Next, do the form's hardpoints: using a small, sharp knife, cut tiny slits just big enough to insert the foam straw. The idea here is to make the form incompressible at the same places you are. Squirt a bit of foam under the tape at the hipbones, along the collarbone, and down the spine. Insert the straw fully along the tape, and slowly withdraw it as you inject the foam, to form an expanding bead. It doesn't take a lot: the foam will expand and adhere to the interior of the form, and after it fully cures in a day, it will make a noticeable difference in the form's rigidity at these points.

Detail of stitching

It is entirely possible to use the form with no further work at this point: but you will find it is very useful to be able to pin things to the form as you work, so it is a good idea to cover the entire form in fabric. Heavy spandex is ideal: its stretchy nature makes it perfect for covering the form's compound curves without wrinkling. Just cover one side, wrap it around as far as it will go, pull it tight, and tape it down; then cover the other side the same way. Where the two sides meet, draw the halves together with long stitches. When it's covered completely, edge-stitch the halves over top the long stitches.

I'm not going to go into how to do the hand-stitching here. There are many good instructional websites that are only a Google search away to get you started -- I'll proceed on the assumption you know how to do basic stitching, and if you don't, those other sites can teach you how to do them better than I can. It's a worthwhile skill for anyone to learn, who has even a passing interest in dressing well. We'll be using more hand stitching farther along, so it'd be good for you to get familiar with it.

Dressed and ready
for work
This little doppelgänger you've created will be an invaluable resource on your path to learning to alter and tailor your own wardrobe. It's possible to proceed without it, but the benefits of seeing your clothes fit on an "other you," and the relative ease of doing alterations, far outweigh the small outlay of time and money (and humility!) it will take to complete it.

In coming weeks, we'll take a closer look at practical alterations and tailoring. No, you probably won't get as proficient as a professional tailor, but the result of even minor alterations taken on your own can be a vast improvement over wearing ill-fitting garments -- and no amount of economic hardship should be an excuse for wearing sloppy clothes!

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