Friday, 21 October 2011

Some Thoughts at the 3/4 Mark

It's hard to believe that there's only a week left of the Project. This October has gone much faster for me than other years. I'm still decently fond of my dress, too, which is unusual. Maybe I'm getting better?

Anyways, I was noticing in the Facebook group some of the girls talking about their dresses starting to look shabby and/or actively fall apart. My own dress (thrifted jersey wrap dress) is looking pretty good except that the seam on the front side of the wrap seems for some reason to have stretched out so the front of the dress is longer than the sides and back. It got me thinking about buying cheap ready-to-wear clothes.

I prefer to buy thrifted clothing whenever I can. Buying online from little handmade shops is a nice idea but without being able to try garments on, I know I would probably waste money on things I thought would look good on me, but didn't when they came. I don't like shopping at malls or big-box stores though, for a lot of reasons-- ethical concerns about the sourcing of the fabric, the integrity of the design process, and outsourcing of labour for one, and for another I'm not a fan of the way buying mass-produced garments goes against two of the tenets written into the Dress Project motto-- pro-creativity and anti-conformity. That said, buying more conscientious and creative garments can seem like an unnecessary expense to those of us without a lot of spare cash.

But is it? If you bought a mass-produced dress at a cheap price (and I'm not trying to make anyone feel bad about doing that; I'm going in a different direction), how have you seen it hold up? Is the fabric pilling or stretching? Are the seams unravelling? Is it holding it's shape? If not-- stop and consider.

You've been wearing that dress for twenty days.

Just twenty.

The inspiration for the Dress Project, as you probably know, came from some remarks my grandfather made about the dressing habits of the frugal Dutch immigrants who settled the area I lived in in the first part of the century-- one dress a week and one for Sundays. Another group that I find inspiration from is the pioneers-- I think of the Ingalls family buying the fabric for one new dress a season and making over outgrown clothes for the next child down. For many of us, though we may have saved money, supposedly, by buying a $10 dress, if it's wearing out after twenty wears, it's really not saving us money.

I had never noticed or thought of this, because if you're not wearing that $10 dress every day, you might find it wearing out after six months of ownership without realizing that you've only worn it a handful of times in that six months.

I remember a quote from a Japanese craftsman that I read on the Kitka Design blog:
"Professor Oda pulled out a scarf and a pair of leather gloves that he has ... owned for over 40 years. He held up his scarf and told me that when he was younger he purchased this wool scarf that was well beyond his salary. It took him a very long time to be able to afford it, but he purchased it with the intention of having it for at least 25 years. That, he said, is the magic number. If you can’t pick a product up and say confidently that this product will serve you well for a minimum of 25 years, it is not a good purchase."

I saved the quote when I read it because I thought it was sound and sensible. But I think one of the big takeaways from this year's Project for me is going to be a concrete sense, which I never had before, of just how much sense it makes to buy this way rather than just buying what's cheap.

What about you? How's your dress holding up? Where did you get it and how much for? What are you learning?

*Not sure of my image source here. Please let me know if you know it.


  1. I love the quote you included! I dress is holding up alright, but it is cheaply made and a $5 find from Ross. I love vintage and have been inspired to continue to pursue this passion by purchasing that way all of the time.

  2. I'm one of the ones who posted that my dress was not holding up so well. It's piling and I pulled a string out when I stepped on it while getting up off the ground. I never expected it to last beyond the 31 days though because it only cost me $5 on the Target clearance rack.

    Buying vintage is not an option for all of us, and not because of the price tag. There are virtually NO vintage clothes that would fit a plus-size woman as myself. I could probably afford to buy higher quality clothes, but would have to sacrifice in other areas and that's not a choice that works for me.

  3. Jennifer- there's obviously no one solution that works for everyone and if you choose to invest your money in other places than a high-quality wardrobe, that's your choice.

    I do question, however, whether what you're saying about having to sacrifice in other areas to buy quality garments is really true. If you buy one single $60 garment that will last you several years instead of 12 $5 garments that only last one month of the year, I think you will wind up spending less on clothing in the long run.

    The very fact that the mainstream garment industry has us trained to think a month or two of wear is a fine length of time to use a garment is revealing-- it's an industry that wants us to buy often and change our minds often.

    Right now I'm in maternity clothes, which, like plus-size garments, has a smaller pool (and fewer high-quality options) from which to draw, but I'm still trying to approach it from a more long-term mentality. It's a bit of a learning curve but I'm hoping I can build both a maternity wardrobe and a regular wardrobe that can last through my childbearing years :).

    Not trying to judge your position, of course; you have to figure out what works for you and this is just the lesson I'm learning from the Project. Other people will learn other lessons.

  4. This is the second year that I've done ODP and both years I made myself a dress from some gray Italian wool that I got dirt cheap from a fabric store that was moving. Each dress cost me less than $20, took less than 4 hrs worth of sewing time, and wore amazingly well. I LOVE my OD this year and have already purchased some stretch cotton to make another one.

    One thing to consider when making/buying a dress like the October dress is how the fiber will hold up. As someone who has been sewing/interested in fibers for over 20 yrs, I can tell you that under circumstances like ODP, wool is one of the few fibers that will really stand up to this kind of wear. Even high quality cotton, linen, rayon, etc. will pill, stretch and wear out with every day wear. They also require more frequent washing, which significantly reduces the life-span of the fabric.

    I would encourage all the ladies who participate in the ODP that are not standard sizes to consider learning to sew or paying someone to make you a few well fitted garments that you can wear over and over again. The cost/use ratio is amazing. It is worth it to wear the same few items over and over if they fit you, make you feel beautiful, and look good wear after wear.

    (For the record I am 5'8". 200lb, and a size 16 and often struggle to find vintage/used clothes that fit)

  5. I also struggle to find good clothing that fits. I am petite, and even many petite cuts don't fit me well because I am long waisted and have very short arms and legs. The dress I bought was from a boutique where I have bought dresses before that have lasted several years. This one was originally priced at over $80, on sale, marked down and I got it for $25. It is a petite cut wrap dress and fits me very well.

    Mine is one that is pilling and has some snags. Mostly because of the fabric I believe. It is a polyester/rayon blend. Even if I wear an apron while cooking, I know one snag came from forgetting to put one on while working in the kitchen, and I bumped against the underside of the counter just the wrong way.

    I will be looking for my next October dress. I can't imagine wearing a wool dress in 80 degree weather, but I will see about buying a good quality dress that I can have altered to fit my small frame.

  6. I understand what you are saying Janie. If a $60 garment would really last me through 30+ wears it might be a better investment. However, when I look at places that sell $60 garments, I don't feel encouraged that they will work much better than the dress I have now. It seems to me that most of the money spent on clothing goes into the design and marketing side of it, not the quality of it.

    And it really is true about having to sacrifice in other areas to even afford more expensive clothing. I'm sure the details of why that is true would bore most people, but we try to live close to our budget and not live extravagant lives.

    Sewing is something I'd definitely like to do, but I've made other choices about how to spend my time for this season of my life. By shopping the clearance racks, I can often buy garments for less than the cost of fabric, saving myself time and money.

    Honestly, at the end of the day, I really just don't think I can bring myself to spend that much money on my clothes. Most of what I buy is second-hand anyway, which is my own small effort to not buy into mass consumerism.

    @Domestic Individual - If only wool were an option in sunny Florida! I'd have no idea where to even start looking for those durable fabrics that would last for years and work in FL without ironing.

  7. Just as an fyi--most people think of chunky sweaters when they think of wool, but it is a very versatile fabric and comes as thin as gauze. My dress was made out of wool crepe--a relatively light weight fabric-- and lined with a cotton/rayon blend. I wore it for a trip to CA when most of the days hovered around 75* and came home to 80* weather in Chicago, so it went out in the warm weather. For me, the biggest issue was that the dress be sleeveless and not too long so I could wear it with capri leggings and sandals if it got too hot...

    If you are looking for a cooler fabric that is long wearing, hemp is the textile to watch for. Unfortunately it is hard to get in the US without special ordering because of its relationship to other banned plants. It is the cream of the crop of durable, light weight and cool fibers and is worth the investment. However, it does wrinkle like linen and cotton, so it may be best in a knit for something like ODP.