Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Meant to Be? Or Tailored to Fit?

Some time ago, I came across a truly wonderful find at Paper Dress Vintage on Curtain Road in Shoreditch. A two-piece Mary Quant. Olive green dress and matching jacket, with a sweet blue and yellow floral pattern on the dress bodice and jacket lining and collar. The shade wasn't one I'd usually go for but the whole thing was just so fabulous that I had to try it on. The colour actually suited me quite well it turned out, the fabric was lovely and soft, the whole thing dead comfortable and the perfect length...

... but JUST too big! I was utterly devastated. I wanted it to fit, I willed it to fit, I squinted and pretended that it fitted. But sadly, it wasn't too be. The dress could have worked with some adjustment as it was a pretty simple shift. The jacket, on the other hand, would have required a fair bit of restructuring. The sales assistant, clearly seeing how heartbroken I was, informed me that they had a tailoring service, if I wanted to take advantage of that. I pondered very hard, more seriously than I have ever pondered alteration services but in the end, I walked away.

Although tailors can be amazing, there is something that just doesn't feel right to me about taking a vintage item that has survived intact down the ages, and then nipping and tucking to make it fit you. Especially when it's an iconic designer item, and so perfectly structured and made to begin with. It may sound a bit melodramatic but to me it seems like it wouldn't be a genuine item anymore. In this case, it wouldn't have been Mary Quant anymore, it wouldn't have been what she had designed, it would have been a new garment, even with the most skilled tailor.

So I maintained my philosophy of "if it doesn't fit, it wasn't meant for me and some other girl that comes after me will be the perfect new owner". It's actually one of the things I love about being an almost purely vintage/second-hand girl. Not only does it naturally keep your acquisition rate down, it makes it all the more special when you do find something that not only looks perfect on the rack but looks perfect on you too (such as this amazing find last year). For that reason, if it requires anything more than, say, a hem adjustment or a couple of simple darts (both reversible), I'll leave it behind.

What are your thoughts on modifying vintage items? Do you like your finds unadulterated or do you enjoy the challenge of making clothes work for you? Alternatively, do you use tailoring and altering services? Do you think I'm mad for my thinking that it wouldn't have been Mary Quant anymore if I'd modified the jacket? Do you feel like crying when you see, for example, a 1940s dress that was clearly originally knee-length, hacked off to be made into a mini (I once encountered a whole shop full of such abominations)? Or do you like personalizing and modernizing old items? I'd love to hear your comments.


  1. I am a bit naughty and tend to buy things that are too big and alter them, but I know I will cherish them as much as the next person! I do like your take on it though, if it was meant for you it would be a perfect fit xx

  2. Oh I am with you on this, though I must confess I have no qualms altering anything from the late 70's/80'onward but anything older I would totally avoid altering (unless it was a small change buttons etc, or a repair) as radically changing anything older would just be plain wrong, if it doesn't work as it is then, as you say leave it for someone else.
    I do have a gorgeous 1940's blue velvet dresses that doesn't fit at all well (how did women back then have such skinny arms?!) but I would rather keep it to gaze at rather than to hack at it to make it fit.

    Ps.Love your new header!!

  3. It's quite a tricky one, this. Your ideas are a good idea though. Does keep things special. I have a skirt that was a smudge tight, so I was pleased when I saw that someone had added darts to the waistband. Once removed, it became perfect. It can be (and obviously is) quite sad to have to leave something beautiful behind - I almost get like I owe it to the article - but it can be a good guide about what to buy, as you say. So lovely when it fits perfectly, "like it was made for you"! I recall a friend who, many years ago, used to chop and change old clothes to create something completely new to sell. I can't recall now whether they were vintage though. I know that she'd chopped down a real earthy leather coat so would fit a lady. I regret not having the money at the time to buy it, especially as 2 months later I could have.

  4. I like to keep things as they are. I recently darned a hole in a wool skirt - it was close enough to the hem that I could have shortened it, but I'd rather keep it as original as possible.

    Like you, I leave things because if they're not meant for me, their real owner is out there somewhere...

  5. Thanks for all your comments, ladies. Interesting to read all the slightly different perspectives. I definitely agree with Wendy's observation about late 70s onwards being less sacred in terms of altering though - I realised that after I'd written the post. It would still depend on the item though. If I found one of the lovely 70s dresses from the V&A Ballgowns, for example, I wouldn't touch them because the lines are so lovely, they could be easily wrecked.

  6. I don't have the easiest body to fit (petite, thin waist, but lots of curves from top to bottom), so I'm not opposed to altering vintage garments, though have only had it done a couple of times, and then it was fairly minor work. I share your feeling that there is something intrinsically special about the fact that a piece has remained intact for decades, and will often try and find ways to make as "almost perfect" garment work, instead of shipping them off to the tailor (such as a adding a belt, wearing a long shirt tucked in, layering a piece that's too big or small, etc).

    Wishing you a stellar weekend, honey!
    ♥ Jessica

  7. I think it depends on the item. I wouldn't have touched a Mary Quant either, because it's a Mary Quant. I am always altering vintage though. I often shorten things if I think they will be more flattering and I am also happy to take things in. I know that I am going to give it a good home and I know I will wear it more if I alter it so I dont really see a problem in doing so. I think it's definitely different for designer pieces. xx

  8. I like your theory about leaving an item if it doesn't fit keeps your acquisition rate down...if only for me! I have bought a number of pieces that I will never fit in to, just because they are beautiful and I couldn't bear to leave them languishing in the op-shop. I do alter pieces, but only to the extent that they can be altered back in the future, i.e. I NEVER cut off hems or seam allowances. And I am eternally grateful to previous owners when I come across a piece that has been left a generous hem or seam allowances. It is all part of the delight of vintage.