Friday, January 27, 2012

Sliding Into First Baste.

(Part 10 of the series "The Island of Misfit Clothes")
Chapter 51
Welcome back to the cutting board, students! We return at long last to the Misfit Clothes series this week. Lest you've forgotten, we were in the midst of cutting down a three-piece suit with a capacious 45 inch chest measure, to a perfectly-fitting 38 (or whatever your measure happens to be.)

When we left off many weeks ago, we had gotten as far as our side and shoulder seams disassembled and mark-stitched. This week, we're going to trim out the edges of the side seams and baste them together with a basting stitch; a long tailor's stitch that will hold the seam firmly in place until we do the final seam stitching.

Firstly, find where you've stashed your suit over the Christmas holidays! It's been over a month, what with one thing and another, and I wouldn't be surprised if you've lost track of where you were. Make sure you have all of the suit parts, and the needle and thread you used last time. You'll need scissors, tailor's chalk, a steam iron and an ironing board this week, and have a damp washcloth on hand as well.

The first thing to do is lay out the back panel of the jacket on the ironing board, with the "wrong side" facing up.

Turn the edges out and warm up the iron. It should just be hot enough to produce steam; not too hot, or you   run the risk of scorching or "shining" the fabric.

Run the iron lightly over the unfolded crease until it lays flat. By "lightly," I mean start with the iron ⅛" above the fabric at first, and let the steam do the work. The steam will "relax" the fibers quite a bit without any direct contact. Gradually decrease the distance until the iron barely skims over the surface of the fabric. Sweep the iron up and out, in short overlapping arcs as shown. Don't try to press out all traces of the crease; just work until the fabric lays flat on its own.

When the fabric is cool again, use tailor's chalk and mark a line ½" out from the mark-stitched seam. 

Then cut right on top of the chalk line with scissors.

Fold the new edge over at the mark stitching.

With the iron, press down the edge tight. Now is the time to use plenty of pressure, and a fair amount of steam, but still keep the temperature down just to the steaming point. Go slow, and fold and press up the seam inch by inch, using the point and leading edge of the iron, as shown.

When the entire seam is pressed, hold it flat to the table. The middle of the curve probably won't lay flat no matter how much it's ironed. The reason is simple: the edge of the fabric has to stretch around that curve when it's folded over. The steam and pressure will stretch the fabric to a certain extent, but there's a limit. In the old days of tailoring with thick wool, you'd shrink the fabric at the middle of the curve, which would draw the cloth in to where the stretched edge would lay flat. That would also help the back sit in naturally to the waist, and give a nice three-dimensional curve to the back panel. High-end bespoke coats sometimes still use this sort of stretching and shrinking for the waist, but most modern fabrics are too thin to manipulate like this. So what do we do?

Here is the solution: make three or four tiny nips at the center of the curve, about an inch apart and ¼" deep. This will impart a little extra "give" to the edge in that area.

Press down the seam again until it lays quite flat and stays there. This finishes this part of the side seam; now do the same for the other side.

With the back part done, turn your attention to the underarm part of the side seam. Open the seam and press it down, just like we'd done previously.

Then mark in the chalk line and cut along it, the same as before. But now you see we have the opposite problem as before: the seam curves out instead of in, so the turn-under is too long, and ripples and buckles are a result. "Ah," you might say, "all we have to do is stretch the outside of the seam until it lies flat. Right?" Close...but no. To stretch the fabric straight along the seam here would result in the bit under the arm having a sag when all is sewn up. Instead, we'll stretch the entire panel across so that the curved seam becomes straight. Then the turn-under will present no problems, and even better, the two halves of the seam will line up. 

Stretching an edge straight sounds more complex than it is. Simply hold at the outer point, and tug the inner point. The fabric will handle a fair amount of force, so don't worry there. Use the iron to get the fabric good and steamy to relax the fibers. A damp cloth can be used here to "sponge" the fabric as well, which is the old-fashioned way to do the same thing.

After tugging the panel into shape by hand, use the iron to set it by holding the iron down with one hand as you tug the fabric with the other.

And here's what it looks like in action. The yellow line is the original position of the fabric, the arrows are the direction of motion, and the red line is the final position.

When the edges are turned under and sponged, stretched, and ironed in place, this is the result. Notice that the edges now follow the same curve. This small but important detail -- stretch the seams to match the curves -- makes all the difference in making neat, flat seams.

The first step in making those neat, flat seams is running a basting stitch. It's a series of small horizontal stitches that just nip both sides of the seam, separated by an inch or so...

...and when the thread is pulled taut, the seam is drawn firmly together.

The seam can be basted with the jacket laid flat, but it's a little easier to do with the jacket in place on the tailor's form, so back on it goes.

Start the stitch at the bottom edge, and work your way up.

This shows the process of stitching. The catch-stitches draw across from right to left, with the connecting stitches showing on the top side in long slashing diagonals.

The finished basted seam.

Repeat for the other side.

The wonderful thing about basting stitches -- indeed, the very reason they exist -- is their ease in ripping them out and re-doing them if the seam isn't exactly what you want. This is a good seam, tight, smooth, and even, with no puckers or wrinkles. If your seam doesn't look like this, keep trying until it is. There's plenty of time to play with position, then the final backstitching will lock it in place. And that's what we'll do next time.

Click here to go to Part Eleven of The Island of Misfit Clothes.

Click here to go the next essay chronologically.

Click here to go back to Part Nine of The Island of Misfit Clothes.

Click here to go back to the previous essay chronologically.

Click here to go back to Part One of The Island of Misfit Clothes.

Click here to go back to the beginning.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Just feel those Golden Globes!

Chapter 50
Most people don't understand the intricate machinations that underlie the Golden Globes and the Hollywood  Foreign Press, the red-headed stepchild of The Academy and their awards shows. Most people don't care, actually; they just want to stare at the pretty stars for a few hours. Actually, the Hollywood Foreign Press is a small group of southern-California based journalists over the world, who after WWII, thought it would be nice to boost morale by sharing what they thought were the best movies made that year. This, of course, led to giving out awards, which naturally led to televising those awards. At their heart the HFP is a philanthropic organization that doles out money to film-related charities. In a brilliantly circular scheme of self-funding, the organization gets its cash from selling the broadcast rights to its own awards show. It is a perpetual hype machine, running in an ouroboric endless cycle, feeding off of itself while producing nothing of substance. So, it's sort of a model system for Hollywood itself.

The year's first awards gala kicked off this year just as you might have expected. Red carpets, forests of elegant dames in acres of shimmery drapey stuff, and mobs of gabbling correspondents drooling all over their microphones and trampling each other to be the first to ask The Question to any random actress who has been reduced for the moment to a posturing mannequin: "Who are you wearing?"

The men, as usual, were for the most part, black-clad, slightly bewildered, and looked uncomfortably out of place -- a stark contrast to the gals, who, dressed well or not, have all somehow learned to compose themselves. Who stands to the task of directing the spotlight on the men? Who cares enough to demand accountability for the sartorial choices of the species? Who will point the finger of judgement at insanely wealthy, entitled actors and bellow at them, "JUSTIFY YOUR TUXEDO!"

Me, that's who. 

Let's turn our resolute gaze toward the good, the bad, and the ugly, see if we can find some trends, perhaps some bad habits, and certainly some bad decisions. As is our tradition here at Dress Like A Grownup!, we'll inspect the fellas on the red carpet upon their arrival, so (theoretically!) we're seeing them at their freshest and best. We'll play around with contrast, exposure and such to give the clearest views of the details, if needed.

We will start, as we should, with the man everyone was forced to stare at (and listen to) all night, hostbot Ricky Gervais. As you can see, Ricky went open-collar, but otherwise quite tasteful, with bespoke three-piece peaked lapel evening wear. The waistcoat has a generous collar, in contrast with the rather stingy coat collar. The coat itself is well-shaped, with sporty slashed hacking pockets. The trousers are traditionally striped, and the perfect length, just breaking over the instep of the shoe. Except for his choice of chest fur instead of a bow tie, very well-done. 

Oh, except for one small detail. It's not actually black, it's THIS color. What a difference a hue makes! As nice as this would have been in black, the poor color choice make him quantum leap into a cross between a Prom date and a circus ringleader. A shame too, because it's otherwise a well-made suit. But then again, Gervais isn't exactly known for his taste. Which is why he was chosen to host.

Let's continue along the Walk of Shame with some other bad choices. Here's Zachary Levi, also dressed as a prom date. This is just wrong. The skinny little lapels, tight chest, and short length is a disturbing enough trend, without adding the flapped hacking pockets and the close set double buttons. At least his pants aren't too long. And sadly, that's really saying something.

Ben Kingsley, a man who should know better, in a long tie. His trousers are pooling around his ankles. Let's face it, he's in a black suit, not a tux. That's fine for the Press guy standing behind him; but the man actually attending should be dressed a cut above the staff.

Viggo Mortensen, your press badge is at the check-in table. Oh, wait, you're not with the press? Then why are you dressed like that??

Here's David Duchovny, who apparently thinks he really is with the CIA. This sort of Man-in-Black minimalism just isn't appropriate for an honest-to-goodness black tie event.

Michael Fassbender: leather? Really? What part of this ensemble did you think was a good idea? 

Chris Colfer, you are a fashion tool. An egregious mistake of this caliber once, maybe twice, I can see. But every time, tiny narrow shiny little-boy jackets with low-rise, too-long, skinny pants? You look like an underfed bobble-head with big feet. There, I said it.

Seacrest, you may be in a bow tie, but the same rules apply. Narrow tuxedos are not flattering. They are awkward.

Fortunately, Indiana Jones is here to give a demonstration of the other end of the fit spectrum. The under-the-belly button point and long, shapeless lapels are a wee bit dated. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a 30-year old long as it was classically styled to begin with. But then again, Harrison Ford, at 70, has earned the right to wear whatever the hell he wants to. 

Steve Buscemi. Poor Steve can't seem to find a tux that fits him, ever. I almost feel bad for constantly beriding him at these awards ceremonies. (Almost.) This is one of his best attempts in a while, but if you've been following The Island of Misfit Clothes series, you can instantly see the problem is a too-long front balance. The long tie doesn't help, but I still contend that tall, thin Buscemi could have a smashing bespoke tuxedo made for his size and posture...if he wanted to.

Rob Lowe: Decent tuxedo, but the tie kills it. Owen Wilson: Ditto. Keith Urban. Same. And Kidman looks like your freakin' mother. Did she dress you too? 

Come on, people, what about black tie is confusing to you? Bow tie. Bow. Tie. 

Lest we get too depressed by this miserable turn-out, let's turn our attention to some attendees that actually put some thought into their attire. 

Adam Levine comes close to greatness. First, notice what a difference a white shirt and proper bow tie makes! Maroon 5 bandmate James Valentine wears nearly the same thing, but with a blue shirt, and the effect is ruined. But Levine's dinner jacket is almost perfect. Look at the tailoring! the curve of the sleeves, the shape of the fronts! The lapel is sublime: perfect width, perfect length, perfect shape, perfect grosgrain sheen. If I had to nitpick, I'd call the total length in the arms and skirts a scant inch too short. But those trousers! Notice how the clean, tailored effect is ruined by the low-rise, wrinkly pants, and the triangle of shirt showing under the jacket button. Swing and a miss, Adam.

Judd Apatow, similarly, missed out on a key detail. Yes, his trousers are wrinkled. But it's the expanse of shirtfront that offends black-tie sensibility. Any black-tie outfit needs a strong horizontal cut just above the natural waist, whether that be high-waisted trousers, a cummerbund, or a waistcoat. Without it, the torso is lengthened and legs are shortened -- exactly the opposite of the elegant effect black-tie strives for. 

See what a difference a simple cummerbund would have made?

 It's all about illusion. Let's take Peter Dinklage as an example.

 Now before you cry foul on me, Dinklage has become fabulously famous and wealthy on account of his height, makes no aspersions about it, and plays comedic roles that poke direct fun at his stature. He also, of necessity, needs his clothes bespoke or semi-bespoke. The rules of black tie apply to him as well, and he could benefit from them as well as anyone. His jacket is well-cut and the lapel shape suits him. The extra length in the sleeves and trousers unfortunately makes him look shorter, as does, paradoxically, the long tie.

Contrary to belief, long ties do not automatically add height. 

Simply wearing classic black tie would have done much more for him, as seen here.

While we're on the subject of dismorphism, there were several fellows at the 'Globes whose large frames were done no favors by their choice of dinner jacket. Cory Monteith and Jonah Hill, no featherweights, were made to look even larger, merely by the size of their lapels. 

Monteith isn't overly large, but his jacket makes him look more big than athletic. The problem is primarily in the lapels. They are too short, too narrow, and too shapeless to harmonize with his broad chest. 

Here is one possible solution to the problem. A lower button point and higher lapel notch would emphasize his height, and a well shaped, broad, peaked lapel would give shape to his chest, definition across his pectorals, and proportionately minimize the waist compared to the shoulders. Increasing the cutaway at the front further reduces the bulk at the waist. A small design change, but one that completely changes the look of the jacket.

Jonah Hill is another matter. More stout than athletic, this choice of tuxedo results in a look akin to a barrel balanced on chopsticks -- entirely the opposite effect that formal wear is intended to do. The fault is enitirely that of trendy fashions: the skimpy lapels and skinny legs of the minisuit is to blame.

The solution is a simple design change. Traditional peaked lapels, broad enough to cover half the ample real estate from neck to shoulder, do the trick. Lowering the lapel notch to below the collarbone gives more visual interest to the upper chest, minimizing its girth. Wider trouser legs are required to visually balance his top and bottom halves.

Now let's start climbing up the sartorial asymptotic curve. The further we go, the more nitpicky and disparaging we'll get. There's no winning here, just approaching an unreachable ideal.

Mark Wahlberg misses on the low trousers, although their length is good, and his lapels are a good shape for him.

Matthew Morrison, by simply adding a waistcoat and pocket watch, jumps light-years ahead of his skinny-suit wearing compatriots...but we cannot turn a blind eye to those insignificant lapels, or the cheap construction of that button-four waistcoat itself.

Why am I so against the modern trend to short tux jackets and teeny tiny lapels? It goes to the very purpose of the dinner jacket itself. It is leisure wear -- it's supposed to be comfortable, langorous, easy to move and dance and lounge in. It is, simply, party clothes. It's not a bindingly stiff, uncomfortable strait-jacket.

To show this, let's compare Colin Firth and Ricky Gervais side-by-side. Gervais is in his odd-colored suit, Firth in black tie with self-faced lapels. (Ideally, those lapels would be grosgrain silk.) But look at the difference the width of the lapels make! The cut of their coats is actually very similar...but Gervais' coat looks tight, narrow, constricted, stingy, small, and high-strung. Firth's looks broad, welcoming, generous, elegant, natural, and comforable. Firth looks more athletic and broad shouldered, as well. 

Brad Pitt illustrates an interesting point. He is doing nothing wrong, sartorially speaking. Bow tie, waistcoat, even a walking stick. (Okay, it's a cane, but it will do just as well as an accessory.) His tux is, in fact, just okay. But compare "just okay" to Angelina Jolie, whose dress is definately not "just okay." In simple proximity to such exacting and perfect fit, he by comparison looks sloppy and mismatched. Tuxedos are not an afterthought, they are a complement to the accompanying dress. The lesson: If you are going to stand beside an eighty- thousand dollar dress with Angelina Jolie inside it, you'd better be prepared to at least fly to Savile Row for a bespoke ten-thousand dollar dinner suit. Anything less will simply not work.

Compare this to The Clooney, who provides an evenly-matched complement to Stacy Keibler, primarily through sheer force of will. While his outfit is very nice, it's not a blockbuster.

Leo DiCaprio certainly looks, at first glance, well put-together. The trouser legs are a bit long, but the jacket seems to fit.

Or does it? Look at what happens when he moves his arms very slightly rearward -- the lapels pull out, and the strain is seen all along the front. A tux that looks good at rest but can't handle any motion isn't a tux at all...just a badly executed concept. Can you imagine dancing in this?

Surpringly, one of the best-dressed gents there was not over 50, knew how to bend the rules, and pulled it off without losing his way. Ryan Kwanten, in an inky-black velvet smoking jacket, hit the right notes, but where most of his age group fell short, Ryan followed through. Patent leather balmorals and trousers that actually fit put him in the top ranks. The jacket was cut well, but the matching velvet bow tie pushed him near the top.

But the real rarified air, where reside those who truly know what black tie is, demands perfection. And there was one man who hit it closer than any other.

Gerard Butler was that man. It didn't get more correct than this. Patent-leather balmorals, of course. Trousers that just break over the instep, with grosgrain stripe at the side seam. Five-button scoop-neck lapelled waistcoat. Grosgrain-faced peak lapel one-button jacket with jetted pockets. Shirt studs, fold collar and bow tie. All in midnight blue, and all tailored to fit. And worn correctly -- jacket open, and not looking like he's attending a funeral. This is party wear, worn to a party.

So what did we learn from the festivities? First, that although there's still no shortage of trendy minisuits among the young, waistcoats are making a comeback, and more men are wearing their trousers at their shoes instead of on the floor. Let's hope that trend continues. No one stood out as remarkably brilliant in their interpretation of Black Tie, which may just be a sad commentary on how low we've set the bar for ourselves. We are reminded that how you wear what you wear is still important. But perhaps most importantly, that men do not live in a vacuum. Black tie carries with it a responsibility to put in just as much care, attention, and money into your evening wear as the women do, or the purpose of spending all that money on her gowns and fittings is lost, and the effect is ruined. And men, after all, have it easier in the end -- for even the most expensive tuxedo is a practical, wearable item of clothing; while the most expensive couture gown is good for little more than standing in.

There are plenty more extravaganzas in the offing for 2012, and not all of them are in Hollywood, if you know what I mean. It will be quite a trip to see who dresses like a grownup this year.

Stay tuned.

Click here to go to the next essay chronologically.

Click here to go back to the previous essay chronologically.

Click here to go back to the beginning.