Monthly Archives: January 2017

When it comes to clothes, the best-dressed have got it made

On any given day, in downtown lofts, Santa Monica ateliers and dozens of studios across Los Angeles, dressing rooms are filled with men and women who are slipping into suits, dresses and jeans that fit as if they were made just for them — because they were.

They are donning custom-made wedding gowns, dress shirts, even entire wardrobes. Whether they were propelled there by the frustrations of poorly fitting commercial clothes or by a sense of style that isn’t part of the trend du jour, they’ve discovered the rewards of made-to-order clothing.

Before you pull out that credit card, however, it pays to learn the lingo, adjust your expectations and otherwise heed the advice of practitioners. We’ve asked experts in custom-made suits, wedding gowns and other garments to offer their guidance on the custom-clothing process.

Choose the right specialist. A tailor typically concentrates on menswear. A seamstress or dressmaker is usually trained to make clothes according to patterns you provide. A designer may have styles that can be adjusted to suit your preferences. A patternmaker may not be skilled at design but can create or alter patterns to achieve a perfect fit.

“If you came to me and asked me to make you a dress, I’d have to turn you away. It’s a different pattern set,” says Los Angeles custom tailor Art Lewin, who has three master tailors — one each for coats, trousers and shirts. “None of them touch each other’s jobs.”

Scrutinize styles and samples. Ask to see photos of previous work featuring real-life clients in the clothes, and finished garments to give you a sense of the tailor’s or designer’s style and capabilities. Some custom clothiers can also give you fabric swatches to test against your skin and color palette.

Check out the machinery. “You can’t get professional results in a little shop that has an iron made for the home. It won’t set the seams, stitches or finishes the same way,” says Catina Ferraine, a custom designer in the Los Angeles Fashion District. Look for industrial steam irons and sewing machines, dress forms and tailor’s dummies, a three-way mirror and good lighting. Only skilled operators can master professional machines that can create 5,000 stitches a minute, compared with 800 for top home machines, Ferraine says.

Talk the talk. Communicating visual ideas can require a precise vocabulary — or else lots of photos and trying on sorta-kinda-right garments. Karl Thoennessen, founder of Rouge Territory Denim Goods, gives his custom-jeans clients a glossary of denim and tailoring terms to help them more accurately describe the jeans of their dreams. He also explains the measurement process so that they better understand how to adjust the fit. For example, a waistband measurement won’t correspond to the wearer’s waist circumference if she’s wearing jeans low on her hipbones.

Insist on detailed measurements. For a suit, Lewin takes 38 different measurements, a process that includes measuring each arm, thigh and outseam separately to accommodate variations across the body. For clients who wear a large wristwatch, Lewin’s tailors will cut a cuff to hide or reveal it. Women should be sure to bring the shoes they’ll wear with pants or even dresses to judge the most appealing hem length.

Familiarize yourself with the unfamiliar. If you’ve never worn an evening gown, wedding dress or satin vampire cape trimmed in ermine, you’re probably going to need to try on a few approximations. “Carefully study what types of dresses look good on you,” says Hanna Hartnell, a Santa Monica-based custom wedding gown designer. “Unless you’re a fashionista, you often don’t know what kinds of long gowns look good on you.” Hartnell also suggests that you look at well-dressed people with your similar body type and copy their look — at least in the dressing room.

Have a fitting, or several. It is sometimes a leap between the imagination and the reality of wearing a custom-made garment. The fabric may not flow or feel right; the pockets, buttons, collars and hems may need adjustments. “Even the best pattern may not perform the same way on your body,” says Thoennessen, who has developed samples of basic jeans styles to help clients visualize the fit.

Make your own sample garment. “If you’re investing in a custom piece, it doesn’t take very long to sew a quick mockup in a fabric that’s similar weight or somewhat close to it,” Ferraine says. The Los Angeles Fashion District is full of inexpensive polyesters that can approximate silk, muslin that can stand in for wovens and low-cost substitutes for your pricier stretch fabric or knit.

Set out terms of ownership. “It’s good to ask if you are going to be charged separately for the patterns, and if so, do you own the patterns, in case you want to have those styles made by another dressmaker?” Ferraine says. “Also ask if you will have a discount for having additional versions of the same jacket made.”

Be clear about additions or changes you don’t want. “A lot of dressmakers try to play designer, which is OK to a degree, if they’re just adding some creative flair,” Ferraine says. “But if they want their stamp of artistic expression on everything they do, they may not be the person for you.”

Chip could let smartphones see through walls — and clothes

In the not-too-distant future, your smartphone may be able to help you see through walls, cardboard boxes, paper and even clothing.

Scientists from the University of Texas at Dallas have designed an imaging chipthat measures invisible terahertz light waves that is small enough to fit on a smartphone and inexpensive enough that normal people could actually afford to buy one.

Terahertz waves can be detected through opaque surfaces such as paper, walls and clothing — enabling a person with an accurate terahertz measuring device to see beyond what our visible eye can see.

Some applications of this technology, which is still in development, include early detecting of skin cancer, finding studs hidden in walls, finding hidden cracks in vases and authenticating documents.

As for the creepy applications (such as seeing through clothes), rest assured that Kenneth O, professor of electrical engineering at UT Dallas and director of the Texas Analog Center for Excellence, who led this research, has considered them.

“The major concern for this technology is privacy, so we’ve made it that you need to place the imaging device very close to the object you are looking at,” he said. “We are talking about a distance of 10 centimeters, so it would be very difficult for someone to sneak up on you and…you know.”

Scientists have known about terahertz waves for a long time, but the devices that measured them were prohibitively expensive for most people, and also large and bulky.

O and his team’s imaging chip, which was made with CMOS technology, is small and cheap.

“This is literally small enough that it can be placed on the back of the cellphone,” he said.

Hillary Clinton’s wardrobe, Paul Ryan’s suits: Do clothes matter?

Which designers does Hillary Rodham Clinton wear?

An interviewer in Kyrgyzstan got the equivalent of the hand when he asked the secretary of State that question during a panel discussion in December 2010. Clinton’s response: “Would you ever ask a man that question?”

Her comment went viral Tuesday — way after the fact — when Boston Review posted that snippet from the interview on its Tumblr page.

What’s especially cringeworthy about this exchange is that just moments before, Clinton had addressed a young lawyer’s question about how women could succeed in today’s world. “[I]t requires, for a woman, usually in today’s world still, an extra amount of effort because I think it’s — the fact that women are still sometimes judged more critically,” Clinton answered. “If you are in the courtroom or you are presenting a case, it still is a fact — and this is not just in Kyrgyzstan, this is everywhere — that when a man walks into a courtroom, it’s rare for someone to say, ‘Oh, look what he is wearing.’ But if you walk into a courtroom, or any young woman walks into a courtroom, people are going to notice. And that will be an additional requirement that you have to meet.”

Why the moderator would ask Clinton about her designer preferences — though he did preface his question by saying it was silly — after she’d just expressed frustration over the amount of attention paid to what women wear is a little puzzling. But is it so offensive?

Clinton is a dynamic, powerful and smart leader worthy of our respect (and a million more memes). That does not mean that after a long interview, the moderator is totally in the wrong to wrap things up by asking some lighthearted questions about Clinton’s favorite movies, Chelsea’s first words, where she likes to vacation and, yes, what she wears. And it’s not as though she’s completely thoughtless when it comes to her looks, as an April 2012 article in Elle pointed out. “She’s a bottle blond! Do you know how much work that is?” wrote Rachael Combe as an aside.

True, I’ve written that I didn’t think it was fair to criticize gymnast Gabby Douglas’ hair or to say thatactress Jennifer Lawrence didn’t look hungry enough for the starring role in “The Hunger Games.” But that doesn’t mean I think image is irrelevant.

We would be lying if we said clothes were meaningless. Our appearance conveys a message; it helps put people in context. It’s what Northwestern University researchers recently dubbed “enclothed cognition.”

“Clothes cognition is really about becoming the clothes themselves and having them direct who you are and how you act in the world,” study author Adam Galinsky told ABC News’ Serena Marshall and Lana Zak.  “When we are putting on a suit, we are not only giving impressions to other people but we are also giving an impression to ourselves.” He continued: “If you put on a black T-shirt, you become more aggressive. You put on a nurse’s uniform, you become more helpful.”

Given that logic, it’s not entirely out of bounds or vapid to ask Clinton what designers she prefers. Her clothing selection could possibly help empower other women who want to follow in her footsteps.

And, though we may not give as much thought about what a man wears, it’s not totally off our radar either. Just ask Rep. Paul Ryan, whose baggy suits not only make him look like a little kid drowning in his dad’s clothes but have also been the topic of recent national conversation.

Earth-friendly clothing that doesn’t involve burlap

Eco-conscious and sustainably produced clothing has long been associated with murky-colored, burlap-reminiscent items focused more on sending an Earth-friendly message than on looking runway-ready. So as Earth Day approaches on Tuesday, it’s good to know there are now some chic, sustainable options. From sourcing fabrics to creating hangtags, each of the brands highlighted here considers impact on the Earth in production choices and uses recycled materials as often as possible — in some cases, building an entire line on repurposed materials.

Amour Vert

Based in: San Francisco.

The look: Day-to-night pieces, including splashy print blazers and matching shorts, silk dresses and tailored, menswear-inspired jackets.

The practice: The brand uses only organic and sustainable fabrics, such as organic cotton, linen, silk, tencel and recycled polyester, along with low-impact dyes. Amour Vert packages all products in biodegradable bags.

The price: $75 for solid T-shirts to $300 for tailored jackets.

Side note: A tree is planted for every T-shirt purchased from the line’s T(r)ee collection.

Faherty Brand

The look: Beach-to-street separates for men and women. Plaid button-downs, Baja ponchos, sweatshirts and floral print bathing suits are collection mainstays.

The practice: Each swimsuit in the line is made of Lycra blended with polyester fabric that contains six recycled plastic water bottles. All cotton used for the rest of the line is organic.

The price: $135 for a men’s plaid button-down shirt to $325 for a women’s eyelet caftan. Women’s swimwear ranges from $85 for a bikini top or bottom to $115 for a printed one-piece suit.

Side note: Faherty Brand was started by twin brothers Alex and Mike Faherty, who previously worked in finance and as a designer at Ralph Lauren, respectively.

H&M Conscious Collection

Based in: Stockholm.

The look: A Flamenco-inspired collection that includes hand-embroidered, matador-style boleros; blush-colored leather bustiers, and a full lace wedding dress.

The practice: Organic cotton, leather and dye are used throughout the line. H&M also employs women in India unable to leave their homes for work. The women hand-embroider many pieces, helping them earn an income.

The price: Conscious Collection pieces range from $14.95 for a textured knit tank top to $549 for a lace gown.

Side note: For the spring 2014 collection, H&M teamed up with Ever Manifesto, a think tank and publication dedicated to promoting sustainable practices in fashion. The issue created around H&M’s Conscious collection features Pharrell Williams, Liya Kebede and Amber Valetta.

The People’s Movement

Based in: Solana Beach, Calif.

The look: Lace-up oxfords, skimmers and feminine wedges in neutral solids and graphic prints.

The practice: The line upcycles single-use plastic bags that are cleaned and brought in from Bali, Indonesia, and parts of California for use as the main material in the shoes. In the company’s first year more than 175,000 plastic bags were reused to create footwear and accessories.

The price: $55 for a solid-color ballet flat to $89 for a printed high-top sneaker.

Side note: A portion of sales from the People’s Movement is donated to 5 Gyres, an organization that aims to stop plastic pollution.