Friday, October 28, 2011

Aaah! They're Coming This Way!!

Halloween Special
Chapter 38
Turn the lights down low, bar the doors, grab a shotgun, and hide under a blanket! It's the last week in October, which means the debut of a brand-new Dress Like A Grown-up tradition --
The Scariest Thing
I've Seen This Year!
(cue theremin music)

Men have dressed badly all year long, and I have dutifully poured my acerbity and venom into exposing as many of the most egregious examples as I can. But, there is always one example that is so monstrous, so unspeakably inhuman, that it deserves mention as having set the low-water mark of men's fashion for the entire year.

I have always made it an apothegm on this site that dressing and acting like a grown-up are inextricably linked. The correlation works in both directions: Men that dress like adults, by and large, act like them; and men that act like adults usually dress like them. Men that have not made the leap into adult clothing, conversely, tend to act like boys: immature, impulsive, rash, often with little heed given to the personal consequences of behaving with an abridgement of legality or morality.

This year, we have a book-perfect, living example of what happens when everything goes horribly, totally wrong -- our very own tailor-made, perfect-storm Zombie Apocalypse. A pack of zombies stalking the streets, moaning "Braains...braaiiiins..." have a one-dimensional mission: eat the brains of the living, create more zombies. They pursue this mission relentlessly. They don't follow the logic to its conclusion: when everyone is a zombie, there will be no more brains.

Yes, I'm talking about the Occupy Wall Street crowd. Now, I know you're probably suffering media overload on the subject, but stick with me on this. These little knots of people have spread across the country, and indeed over the planet, parroting their shrill and infantile stock phrases and holding their placards aloft. My purpose here is not to get all political...but notice the way these people are dressed, correlated with what they are saying, and the way they are acting.

These are not the destitute and mentally ill homeless, living over a grate in the city. They are functioning adults, most of whom have college educations, many with higher degrees and better things to do. Productive things.

The reason for this poorly-dressed turnout is simple: They are dissatisfied that large corporations lobby for the government to have more power, and in return the government enacts laws and regulations favorable to large corporations. The liberal man sees this as a flaw in the corporate structure; the solution is to give the government supreme control over regulating the corporations. The conservative man sees this as a flaw in government; the solution is to reduce artificial governmental control and let the free market regulate the corporations.

Don't ask any of the people here to verbalize that, though. Many of them -- I would hazard a guess that most of them -- don't understand the concept. It's not their fault, unfortunately...It's the direct result of being raised in a deeply flawed educational system. They have not been taught history, civics, economics, government, ethics, logic, or rhetoric. Instead, their school years have indoctrinated them with a philosophy that everyone is equal, everyone is right, everyone deserves to win, you don't keep score, and everyone gets a trophy. It's no wonder that, when released into the real world, they are unable to cope with a society that does keep score, that does recompense hard work with great rewards.

They have no knowledge of the Great Experiment, the formation of a self-governed democratic republic, which had never to that point been tried; or just exactly why this was such a revolutionary concept; or the responsibility of the governed to maintain a stable system through sober knowledge, attention to history, and the warnings of the mistakes of others.

What we have, instead, is man at his most base and selfish. What they see -- all the reason they can make out of the Occupation that they themselves are participants in -- is simply: They have. I do not. I want what they have. It's not fair.

I guarantee you, this is the same toddler you saw in the department store with his mother twenty years ago, throwing a tantrum on the floor to get his way. He's learned no more effective form of dissension in all that time.
It's a third-grader who sees his peer with a nicer pencil-box than he has, and burns with jealousy that he does not have as nice a pencil-box. He then has the option to whine to his mother until she buys him a nicer pencil-box, or, failing that, he beats up his classmate and takes the pencil-box for his own. (That's assuming the teacher doesn't ban pencil-boxes as too inflammatory an item to possess, or dictates every student must have exactly the same pencil-box, to prevent such outbreaks of jealousy.)

This doesn't translate into the real world, of course, and the Occupiers have had a hard time adjusting.
I don't expect the Occupiers to be experts in economics: it's called the "dismal science" for a reason, after all. I would expect them to use a thing called "common sense" as the basis for logical thought. Apparently, though, common sense is not something one is born with: the everyone-gets-a-trophy education has apparently not fostered its implementation.

But it should be self-evident that it makes no sense to pursue simple redistribution, for there is not a set amount of currency in America. A man with big green isn't taking that money out of the pockets of someone else. It simply isn't a zero-sum game. Money is earned --created-- not just re-distributed from one place to the other. The creation ab nihilo tack doesn't work either: the government can't just print a million dollars per person so everyone has enough. That would devalue the currency to zero -- if anyone learned about pre-WWII Germany in schools this wouldn't even be an issue.

A real, proper rally for political change is a largely boring and tedious affair: after gathering to garner attention, one clearly sets out one's intention for instigation of that change. What follows is an internal political process, involving committees. Aw, but hey, man, that's boring! Let's just hang out and let someone else work out the details! And by "details," we mean absolutely everything after the "let's just hang out" part of the plan.

I said I wouldn't devolve into politics, and I won't. Let's concentrate on what the Occupiers are wearing. Or rather, not wearing. In light of their childlike mindset and dependency, it is no surprise that when hundreds of them gather together, with a common, (albeit ill-thought-out,) purpose, the result is that things turn into The Lord of the Flies, and does so surprisingly quickly.

What followed soon after the very first day, was a harrowing example of Man at his most animalistic. If they had organized a microcosmic proto-city of Occupying humanity on Wall Street, as a demonstration of the feasibility of their intentions, it would have done much to further their cause. Instead, we are treated to howling, braying, shouting, half-naked subhumans.

With no thought given to anything other than the individual, the extended mob has devolved into a chilling display of the herd mentality. It stands as a heartbreaking reminder of how close, and how quickly, civilized humanity can descend into barbarism. Or it would, if students were still taught history; for this sideshow is not a unique occurrence. It has happened again, and again, and again, throughout the ages.

Men behaving like adults look after themselves, and after their group, and are able to behave with a semblance of order. They have a well-developed sense of subjective consciousness: in other words, the ability to see themselves "outside their own eyes," from another man's perspective. The Occupiers, conversely, are seemingly completely unable to function without an overseeing authority, and unable to suss out how they are perceived by the rest of the world. Their cries for complete governmental control are understandable, in light of their inability to do something as basic to humanity as cleaning up after oneself.

The distressing images of grown men acting in such an infantile manner, is more scary than hordes of mindless zombies. Zombies are dead, slow-moving, easily dispatched, and instantly identifiable. These Occupiers are live, flesh-and-blood humans. Their loudness and tenacity may have the inadvertent political pull to influence much smarter humans in the political sphere to enact laws simply to appease them. At least, like zombies, they are easily identifiable: those who see the correlation between dress and maturity have had their fair warning.

The problem with a self-governing democratic republic is that the people have the power to vote themselves into a different form of government. And they will realize, all too late, that once they have voted themselves into that more restrictive form of government, they will find that they can't vote back out of it.

And that's scary.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Waist Not, Want Not.

(Part 4 of the series "The Island of Misfit Clothes")
Chapter 37
This week, we are continuing our journey into the badlands of bad fits. In your quest for adult attire, you will inevitably come across a very nice article that doesn't quite fit; but you will be tempted to wear it anyway, and make do with "close enough." This nearly always doesn't work, for the maxim will come into play that fit trumps quality: a lesser-quality item that fits you will nearly always look better than a high-quality item that doesn't fit. Well, there's no excuse for that now; for I am here as your safari guide, and the secrets of simple alterations are being laid bare before you, week by week.

As is our wont, we're moving from quick-and-easy fixes to tackling ever more complicated projects. Today, we'll continue our look at trousers. Last week was a quick waistband nip to take in an extra two inches. This time, we'll conquer a grossly outsized pair, and look at the situation from a different angle -- literally.

Oh, my! These are laughably large. They won't even begin to stay up on their own, and no amount of belting or bracing will help. Most people wouldn't even think of buying something so outsized...but I liked these trousers. They have double reverse pleats, the wool is butter-soft and warm, and I like the pattern. They're made well, are already fitted with brace buttons, and have a watch pocket. A thrift-store bargain for a could I not buy them? All that remains is to take 'em hard can it be? Let's find out.

We have over four inches of girth with which to do away. It seems like an overwhelming amount of fabric to make disappear -- but it can be done without too much trouble. It's too much to put into the pleat-deepening technique of last week, though. And besides, that watch pocket's in the way; and there's no way I'm getting rid of that.

Another reason to shun the front-pleat method: most of the extra stuff here is in the seat. The outseam already runs nearly vertically up the leg, the last thing we want to do is throw it further forward. The fronts aren't overly wide, considering the waist size: these trousers have been made larger by adding extra in the back half, so we'll simply un-make it larger.

There's plenty of room to do this, looking at the distance between the rear pockets. There is easily an extra four-plus inches here that can be taken out; the pockets are almost 'round the sides! Simply taking in the rear seam looks like a good idea.

This, of course, is by design. The more expensive ready-to-wear trousers are often made with extra "lay-ins" up the back seam for just this sort of alteration. The (non-bespoke or made-to-measure) tailoring shops can make all their trousers to the same pattern this way, and simply vary the amount of room in the seat.  It makes it easier to fit a pair to the prospective purchaser, and to continue to fit him through the years. The give-away is the split waistband: you can see the seam at the rear.

The tell-tale sign of a split-waist trouser from the outside is the rear belt loop. Split-waist trousers have one belt loop in the very back to hide the back seam; trousers with a one-piece waistband usually have two loops in the back.

The first thing to do, obviously, is get this loop out of the way if we're to make any headway here. You'll notice the back loop is different from its brother loops: its bottom edge isn't tucked up into the waist. Removing it is then a simple matter of cutting the stitching, and it'll lift right off. Inside the waistband, you've probably noticed this particular pair has an interior hook-loop, another mark of a higher-end pair of trou. It's just tack-stitched on, so remove it and keep it (and the belt loop) in a safe place.

The bottom edge of the inner band is probably tack-stitched, or loosely hand basted in place. Cut those stitches out to the middle of the back pockets; that's enough to give us room to work.

Flip the inner band up. With split-waist styles, you'll notice there is extra waistband inlay tucked under; usually enough to give a couple extra inches as the owner's corpulence expands.

Unfold the waistband inlay, and flip one side over to reveal the straight line of stitching that holds the two halves of the inner band together.

Cut that seam to separate the inner waistband halves. Start as shown, and work down to the top of the outer waist.

When you get to the outer waist, fold the halves open and slice down to release the two halves by cutting the seam. Work carefully! You don't want to cut the fabric. Don't cut all the way down into the back seam yet; we're just separating the waistband for now. You'll see why in a bit.

'Wait!' I can hear you say, 'My pants don't have a waist like that!' Well, worry not; if your particular pair of trousers doesn't have a split waist, the above steps are much simplified for you: just get a sharp pair of scissors and cut the waistband at the back. That's right: just snip it right in two, and move on from there; you can treat it like a split-waist from then on, because, well, you've just made one!

Before we go further, let's stop for a breather and get an idea of what we're aiming for. This diagram is what you'd see if you looked at the right side of your pair of trousers, taken apart at the seams and laid flat. You can see the back seam on the far left side: follow this line down from the waistband. It runs in a straight line down to where it makes a radius turn under the crotch. The black line is where the back seam is now. The red line is where we're moving it to. The green line is the new crotch radius that we will have to made to match up to the new back seam. The blue X is the extent of the removal of the old back seam. Notice that the crotch point, at the common end of the blue and green lines,  remains the same.

Remember: when you take out extra fabric, it has to have somewhere to go. In a perfect world, we would take in the crotch point and upper thigh to the green dotted line as well. (The movement wouldn't be as extreme as it looks; I've exaggerated it a bit for clarity.) The problem -- moving that particular point is quite difficult! It joins all four parts of the trousers, and can play havoc with the balance of all the parts. The fortunate thing -- trousers that are cut larger don't put a lot of extra width in the legs, proportionately speaking, unless they are truly elephantine. So we can take in the back, ignore the crotch point and leave it as-is, and at worst you'd have a little more room down below, but not noticeably so.

Now let's turn back to the article in question, and find out just where that red line is supposed to go.

To find where our new back seam needs to be, turn your trousers inside-out and put 'em on that way.  I'm using my tailor's form, but it's easy to perform this operation right on your person while you wear them.

Pinch the waistband to fit, and pin it at the top to hold it in place.

Starting at the top of the waist, pinch in the excess fabric and pin it, all the way down to the turn of the crotch. Pin carefully, obviously, if you are wearing them at the time. 

To check yourself, try the trousers right-side out (again, carefully!) and make sure you're not too tight in. The pins will make puckers and gaps, so don't expect it to look perfect -- this is just a rough check, after all.

Turn the trousers inside out, and put them on a work surface or ironing board so that you're looking at the inside of the back seam with the crotch radius at your left, and the inner waistband turned outwards.

Sweep a new line with your tailor's chalk from the crotch point up to the first pin. This is the new crotch radius, the green line in our diagram.

Your pins will not be in a straight line, most likely, since you were wearing your pants when you pinned them. That's okay. Using a straightedge, find the straight line between the uppermost pin at the top of the waist and the lowermost pin. It should be nearly parallel to the existing back seam. Chalk in this line, the red one in our diagram.

Now take your pins out, and re-pin just outside the chalk line. With pins on one side of the line and the original seam on the other, your chalk line is registered and aligned across both pieces of fabric, ready to sew -- and now you know why you haven't taken out the back seam yet! If both sides were loose, matching them again evenly would be tricky.

Now you're ready to sew, and yes, a machine is quickest and easiest for this. Run a machine stitch (or alternatively, hand sew a running backstitch) along that chalk line, starting over top the crotch point and working upwards to the waistband. Use a medium-length stitch, say, 8-10 to the inch. Go right up to the top of the outer waistband -- but don't continue up to the inner band just yet!

Now that you have a new seam, get rid of the old one. Start an inch or so inside the crotch radius, after the divergence of the seams, as shown here. (Many trousers use a multiple chain stitch on the rear seam: if you are lucky you can cut the threads at the red X and "unzip" the entire seam from bottom to top in one pull. Originally it was sewn that way to be easy for tailors to alter, now it's easy for you!)

Lay the trousers out and flatten the new, now considerably wider, inlay. Press the seam flat.

Fold the inner band over, matching the middle seams, and press it flat as well.

Unfold the well-pressed inner band again, and now sewing the inner band is easy as matching the halves together at the crease you just made, and sewing right along the crease line!

The inner and outer bands should now line up perfectly. If they don't, now's the time to pull the seam and try again: it's a small step that makes a professionally finished difference. Tuck the tails of the lay-in up inside the band, hold them up in place with a small tack stitch, and iron it all flat again.

We're in the home stretch now! Take your belt loop and stitch it on the same way it came off; usually bar-stitched underneath at the lower end, at topstitched at the upper end. Since I had that inside hook loop, I'll go ahead and tack that on too. Just those little finishing touches.

Tack the bottom edge of the inner band in place again. In this case, little catch-stitches every couple of inches into the pocket lining, and a baste-stitch across the lay-in itself.

If you didn't see it for yourself you wouldn't believe it, but this is the same pair we had started with! To the uninitiated, a tremendous and miraculous feat, it now fits snug and trim, with no trace of the ballooning waist we started with; but you, well, you know the secret now, don't you?

The rear view does show some signs of the slight extra width that still remains in the rear thigh, since you know to look for it -- we did not take in the crotch point; but that is a small and easily overlooked problem. Your goal, that I will help you reach by way of this series, is to take large, glaring, egregious errors in fit, and make them into small, unnoticeable, tiny errors, with the least amount of work possible. You are not a tailor, so you can judge your work by the degree of improvement, rather than the degree of absolute perfection. "Is it better than it was?" is the question, and we can answer an unequivocal yes. If you chase the demons of detail to the nth degree, down that path leads madness -- you will reach a point where it becomes obvious that the only way to achieve perfect fit is with bespoke tailoring, and few can afford that. It is much more satisfying to take what you have, and by some greater or lesser degree, simply make it better than it was.

The benefits of split-waist trousers are, not only are you following along with the built-in, designed method of taking the waist in, (which is cool,) but the process works both ways: it's just as easy to let the waist out. In fact, it's the only way to let the waist out, for you need the lay-ins to give you the extra length. A one-piece waist is 'set,' and while taking in is a piece of cake, nothing can be done in the other direction.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Going to Waist

(Part 3 of the series "The Island of Misfit Clothes")
Chapter 36
This week, we'll continue in our mode of thrifty self-alterations by looking at the most common of trouser faults: a waistband that's too large. There are several different ways to save a pair of pants that would otherwise be unwearable. The best way, of course, is to take it to your tailor; who will detach the waistband, re-shape the side and rear seams, and reattach the waistband, resulting in a pair that fits you perfectly.

But that's not the only way! There are workarounds that are nearly as effective, and are quicker, easier, perfectly acceptable, and well within the scope of the average guy to do himself for free.

Let's look at the easiest way to take in the waist of a pair of trousers first. It's a quick and dirty method, to be sure -- but it is invisible to the observer, and completely reversible with a minimum of fuss. Most importantly, it works, although best when you need to take out no less than two inches. You'll see why in a minute.

Here's the pair we'll be working on. A couple dollars at an estate sale for a nice pair of corduroys was too good to pass up...but I knew they'd be a little large when I got them.

And so they were. Not tremendously large, but unwearable without taking about two inches out somewhere; so this method will work just fine.

This is the area on which we'll be concentrating: around the front belt loop and the first pleat on both sides. The waistband will be shortened behind the belt loops on each side by an inch, and the pleats will be deepened by an inch to match. If this sounds daunting, don't worry -- let's go through it step by step.

First, using an X-acto knife or a seam ripper, cut the threads at the top of the belt loop that attach it to the waistband. Be careful not to cut the fabric, just the thread. Keep the blade parallel to the fabric and work slowly until the top of the loop comes free. Pull out the cut threads.

Next, turn your attention to the inside of the waistband. Cut the threads that tack the inside of the band down, extending a few inches either side of the belt loop. If the lower end of the belt loop is tacked through the inner band, as shown here (just to the right of the knife blade,) carefully cut through it as well.

Then, underneath the inner band, you will see where the waistband itself is sewn to the legs. The pocket lining may be sewn in with it. Cut these threads as well, and the waistband should separate from the legs. If the waistband is topstiched, (that is, with the stitches visible from the outside,) it will be easier to simply slide the blade under the waistband from the outside to release the stitches.

With the waistband detached and the pocket lining pulled back, the pleat will be revealed. It may be tacked as shown here: the upper and curved red lines show the additional stitching that holds the pleat in place. Cut these threads so the pleat is free. The short red lines show where the bottom of the belt loop is attached (you will note we already cut the lower of these stitches two steps ago.)

Turn your attention to the outside of the trou. The belt loop may be retained by a line of stitching: although some belt loops use the waistband seam itself to hold the belt loop on.

Release the belt loop if necessary, by cutting through the last point of attachment. Put the belt loop itself aside, in a safe place.

Now all the necessary threads are cut, the belt loop removed, and the pleat released.

Make a chalk line at the rearmost edge of where the belt loop was.

Let's look at a chart to get a better idea of where we're going with this. The blue is the waistband and the green is the leg. The top figure is where we are now: the primary and secondary pleats are shown, as is the position of the removed belt loop. The red line represents the chalk mark we just made. The middle figure shows how we are going to take in the waistband: fold back the band at the chalk mark by 1 inch. This results in a 1/2 inch pleat behind the belt loop, and an extra inch of leg remains that has to be taken in. The manner of deepening the leg pleat is shown, by marking the new pleat 1 inch forward of the old pleat line. The bottom figure demonstrates how by taking that marked line, and bringing it back to the original pleat line, the pleat is deepened by one inch, whilst keeping it in the same location.

This is how to bring in the waistband. Just fold in the outside of the band; not both sides together, and pin it in place.

Mark the leg pleat as previously shown in the diagram. This shows the marking of the pleat line.

Pinch the pleat together until the two chalk marks line up, as shown here, and pin it in place.

At this point, you can see there is no reason to necessarily keep your pleat in its existing orientation: in fact, you can introduce a new pleat to plain-front trousers just as easily. The top figure shows how to do this with a regular American-style forward pleat; the middle figure shows how easily this can be made into a European-style reverse pleat. If you have existing pleats, you can merely deepen them, make two medium-size pleats, three small pleats, or (as the bottom figure shows) even make a reverse box pleat. At this point it all comes down to your personal sense of style -- and one style isn't more or less correct than any other. In our example here, we'll stick to basics, and continue to deepen the forward pleats of a double-pleat front.

Now back to reality. Take your waistband and open it up flat as shown. Fold in the inside of the band to match the outside and pin it in place. Now run a single line of stitching down the fold, close to the edge.

Wait, I can hear you saying to yourself, do you mean stitching by hand with a needle-and-thread, or by machine? Well, either way works. There's nothing wrong sewing a running backstitch by hand, but it takes a while, especially working through all the layers we have here. Machine sewing, in my opinion, works best for this fix. Use a simple stitch, set fairly long; say 6 to the inch. Don't be intimidated by the sewing machine. Just remember not to make a rookie mistake and set the stitching too tight: you're not welding sheetmetal here. (You always want stitches to be weaker than the fabric itself: if anything rips, you want it to be along a seam, where it is easily repaired.)

This is what it should look like after stitching. As you can see, it doesn't have to look perfect -- but if you want the job to look more professional, it is possible to do the front side and back side separately, and match the thread to each.

Turn the band over, smooth it down and pull it snug. Press it a bit with an iron if you need to. Tuck the leg back into the waistband: since both parts are now the same length, it should fairly fall right in place. Tuck up the tail of the belt loop into the waistband just far enough that the waist stitching will catch it, and pin it in place. If your waistband was topstitched, the next step is easier for you: just stitch along the lower edge of the waistband where the old stitching was. You can sew through all the layers at once, or hold the inner waistband out of the way for a more professional look. This pair is internally stitched, so it's a little more tricky.

For internal stitching, fold the waistband over, pull the inner waistband out of the way, and line up all the raw edges, as shown here. Pin the layers together, and re-sew everything along the original seam line. Remember to catch the tail end of the belt loop! When you've made the seam, fold everything the right way 'round and press it down.

The last thing to take care of is the belt loop. Sew the bottom tack in place, and then sew down the top edge. One half is now complete -- all that's left to do is the exact same thing for the other side.

Here's the pair after the alterations; it hangs correctly now, and I can just barely get a finger in the waistband -- as it should be.

As you can see, the alteration is very nearly invisible. The seams in the waist are hidden behind the belt loops, and the extra width in the leg is tucked into the pleats. As I mentioned last week, when altering anything, a major consideration is where the extra stuff goes. In this case, it's all doubled up just each side of the front center line. Since there's already extra stuff in the pleats, adding a bit extra is not a problem -- as long as it's only a couple of inches. You can't tuck much more up there, since the pleats will get too deep, and may start to billow out at the front thigh. The side seam, too, needs to run straight up the outside leg: too much taken out up front, and the side seam may start leaning forward, which looks awkward.