“Fashion is in the sky, in the street. Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening,” said Coco Chanel.
I wouldn’t say that I’m a slave to fashion, but I would say that my clothing has to be a slave to my life. Long before I started sewing clothing, I was fairly practically minded with my sartorial choices. Shoes had to be walkable. Clothing had to work in various situations. My most pervasive question for any shopping experience was, okay, but where will I wear that? If anything, I have to say, I’m more willing to take a risk now that I’ve started sewing than I before I sewed.
Through sewing I have tried new styles, like my current Indian lifesaver, a style I honestly never though I would be into, the Maxi-dress. I made my first of these two years ago, but it wasn’t until I was planning my move here to Mumbai that I put my maxi creation into high gear, and since I’ve arrived here I’ve already made three, (posts to come, I promise).
Perhaps that’s in some ways counterintuitive, because I work so much harder for each piece of clothing now than I ever did before (although sidenote, trying to find something worth buying from my college Urban Outfitter’s store’s sales section WAS in fact work, don’t get me wrong) but I somehow don’t mind trying new styles and sometimes making things which I know I might never wear again for one event or as a Halloween costume. Maybe it’s because I value my labor very little, or maybe it’s because the process is enjoyable for me so if the product isn’t re-usable I don’t mind giving it to a thrift store to be a staple in someone else’s life. Generally I try not to do this, because I think it’s wasteful, so I try to find things a home with a friend first, but I figure if someone else can get something out of my clothing, why not.
But beyond those rare exceptions, and experiments which have mixed results, I do find that functionality is my watchword, with life, and with clothing. My shoes are all bought on the basis of walkability, and my clothing is stitched based on how wearable it is, how it will fit into my life and what I need to do day-to-day. This can be, in its way, a little limiting. In the period of my life when I was biking to work I was, consequently, not churning out pencil skirts. Obviously we all sew for the seasons, the climates we live in, the times of year and materials that we crave.
Sometimes sewing this way ends up helping people out. In the dead of winter I often construct beachey wear for my mom to take to Puerto Rico. For a vacation to Morocco my friend Emily needed tunics and pedal pushers, not the normal things she would have usually asked me to make her, and I was able to whip up some options without her filling her wardrobe with store-bought options she would never use again.
And now that I’m here in Mumbai, functionality has taken on a different meaning. Dressing for a different country, especially one that has different standards of modesty and different expectations of women than the country from which I’m coming, is a challenge. I’ve written the first of many exhaustive (I anticipate) perspectives of this over here, so you are welcome to check that out if you chose to do so. Look, I didn’t move to a tiny village somewhere like this lady, I’m in Mumbai, which is, frankly, comparatively a safe and easy city for women in which people dress in all sorts of ways, and while a majority of people I see on the street are dressed in Saris and Salwar Kameez (does anyone know how to make that plural? Asking for a friend), there are a surprising amount of ladies in shorts out there, not to mention skirts, dresses, capris, and everything in between, in Indian and Western styles and fabrics. But I still consider my wardrobe carefully before I leave the house, not just because people around me might be conscious of it, but because I want to be comfortable, but still look like myself. This isn’t a vacation, but it’s not New York, either. I have to find a way to make the look I like work for me.
Hence my hemline adjustments. The Hemline index may not be a viable economic theory, but for me, hemline adjustment is a cultural move anyway, so I don’t mind all that much.
As I said, the maxi dress and I have a back and forth relationship, we are the Sam and Diane of outfit-person pairings, sometimes wildly in love, sometimes at complete odds. So while I’ve grown more into the look, I still need other things. We are in an open relationship, let’s say. And as a short person, I think for me a kind of modified tea-length, maybe let’s call it iced tea length? doesn’t look too shabby, and it solves a lot of my open rickshaw exposure concerns.
This skirt is self-drafted with big box pleats to use the most of this fabric, which I found on my second fabric shopping expedition in Mumbai to Mangaldas Market (SO much more on that in its own post) and just adored.
AM I RIGHT? You can’t see it but the background has a kind of cool scouring thing going on too, so it’s just idea. Planes plus color all for less than 5 US Dollars a meter? WHICH IS EVEN LONGER THAN A YARD? I want to go to there.
See, it’s not quite tea length, but it’s not knee-length either, it’s in a weird in between space, otherwise known as where I like to live. It was a very basic construction, pleat, stitch, add a waistband, zipper, buttonhole, hem. BOOM. Hemline? Adjusted.
Oh, I also made the shirt. It’s a Grainline Scout T. I’ve made at least 5 of these. Can’t stop, wont stop. It’s a woven t-shirt. What’s not to love? I made this in a silk twill with a really light weight, it’s just heavenly and breathes beautifully in the sticky Mumbai heat.
In this photo I think you can see the weave better. It’s just lovely.
And there you have it, one step towards a Mumbai uniform.
What about you? Have you changed how you’ve dressed or, more importantly, what you’ve stitched when you moved somewhere new? Or when you’ve gone somewhere new? How much do you think about the clothing culture you’ve entering when you travel or move? Does it alter across your country or within your state? Inquiring Leahs want to know.