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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

67

A Femme's Guide to Improvement: Couture Hacks

One of my biggest bugbears is when things that are not couture are labeled as such. (See: Juicy, Alexis, Xtreme, Wildfox.) Yes, the word just means “sewing” or “dressmaking” in French, but it’s come to be understood as shorthand for haute couture over the years. And something is not technically haute couture unless the person who designed it is a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, the clothing is made to order, the label has a workshop of at least 15 employees in Paris, and the label presents a collection to the public twice annually at the Paris shows.

So much for your lesson in rules governing super-expensive clothing that none of us will ever be able to afford. Now let’s steal some of their tricks and make our clothes a little nicer!

1. Add some strategic hooks-and-eyes
There’s a bit in one of my favorite books, Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado, where Sally Jay, the hapless, safety-pinned, pink-haired American-in-1958-Paris twenty-something heroine, goes for cocktails among the sophisticates at the Ritz, and describes herself thusly:

Very jeune fille I was, jewelless and all (the pearl necklace that I’d lost had been given to me, as a matter of fact, by Uncle Roger), and as full of safety pins as ever. I probably had one safety pin to every two of those gorgeous creatures’ tiny, gleaming, well-sewn, well-hidden hooks-and-eyes.

I always imagine that all the elegant hooked-and-eyed ladies look like Audrey Hepburn, also at the Ritz, in How to Steal a Million. Anyway, sewing on a hook-and-eye is neither hard nor time consuming, and isn’t just handy for finishing the tops of zippers.

My favorite way to use them is between buttons on fitted shirts, as it keeps them from gaping open. Sure, you can use disposable stays or double-sided tape, but this is a more permanent solution that costs less and, once done, is faster when you’re already 20 minutes late for work and trying to peel the backing off a tiny piece of tape. I’ve used a contrasting thread here to make it easier to see, but you’ll probably want to use a thread that matches your fabric. Sewing them on isn’t tricky: Put a couple stitches in each loop of the hook and the eye, and then sew the back of the hook down (to keep it flush against the fabric). You want the hook on the outer part of the shirt, where the buttonholes are, and the eye between the buttons.

2. Cover those hooks-and-eyes
This is an awesome finishing touch for bigger hooks-and-eyes, the type used for fastening coats, jackets, and blazers.

You can either add one yourself to an open jacket, or cover ones already on a piece of clothing. First, attach it, as instructed above. Then, using a blanket stitch, cover it in the thread of your choice! Start with a long thread — about two yards — doubled on the needle. (For the first-timers, this just means pulling the ends of the thread even once it’s on the needle, and knotting it off so you’re left with an extra-thick “thread.”) Now watch the video:

3. Chain hems
This is a trick invented by one Mme. Coco Chanel. You may have heard of her. The chain that’s now seen all over Chanel handbags is a slightly larger version of the same chain that Coco started sewing onto the hems of her jackets and skirts, and that are still found there today. Chains are what make hems on the runway drape and swing just so. (I used to think there was a secret extra-swingy walk that only couture models know how to do, but no. The clothes do it for you.) You can get a lightweight chain at a hardware store if you don’t have access to a notions (a.k.a. sewing) store that carries chains and weights. Make sure you get something that won’t tarnish too much — ask your hardware store guys — double up your thread again, and get to work.

Push the lining back, anchor the first link tightly, and then, every three or four links, stitch it in place. (Every single link wouldn’t just be overkill: It would stiffen the hem too much and make it bulky instead of swingy.) Wanna be a little different? Use a double length of ball chain, as pictured, instead of a link one. Now you fancy!

Previously: The Multi-Purpose Wooden Pallet.

Lucia Martinez reads too many old poems and tries to be a lady.

67 Comments / Post A Comment

Stacey Brook

Lucia, the misuse of "couture" is TOTALLY one of my pet peeves too! Etsy sellers, god bless em, do it all the time and it drives me nuts. The word "couture" is treated almost a synonym for "fancy." NO PEOPLE. Many of you are incredible clothing makers, but you are not coutouriers. And forget Juicy and Alexis (who kills me). That's just comedy.

L M
L M

@Stacey Brook THE EVIL EYE. that was the evil eye one, right? alexis?

ejcsanfran

@Stacey Brook: STRONGLY AGREE! And since I'm a guy, can I throw in my objection to "bespoke" for something other than a suit or shirt that is (like haute couture) measured and fitted to the gentleman acquiring said garments. Not to be confused with "made-to-measure" - which is a very nice thing! But it is not bespoke.

Plus, who would object to wearing prêt-à-porter? It sounds so fancy!

Stacey Brook

@Lucia Martinez I think the whole evil eye thing was between Gretchen and Tamra, wasn't it? Alexis is the one who doesn't believe in gay marriage, and enjoys being subservient to her husband (her words, not mine). And of course, she's the one with her own clothing line of CLASSY "couture" (mostly spandex) dresses. She is a national treasure.

Stacey Brook

@Lucia Martinez Andy Cohen also pointed out during that season that there is a porn star named Alexis Couture (who started her career long before the housewife's fashion line was launched), which really takes that branding to the next level.

L M
L M

@Stacey Brook omg. OH EM GEE. of course there's a porn star named Alexis Couture.

L M
L M

@ejcsanfran ps yes you can. bespoke >made-to-measure > tailored > ready-to-wear. the male hierarchy.

ps it is my dream to get my girlfriend a bespoke suit. but I do not have $5000+.

redheaded&crazy

That reminds me... I have some buttons that needed sewing on, oh, probably about three years ago...

I really like the idea of using the "hooks and eyes" to hold together gaping blouses... probably far cheaper than the Stacy and Clinton classic of getting everything tailored always!

Melusina

Chain hems! It all makes sense now. How did I not know about this before?

ejcsanfran

@Melusina: Yeah that was a total mind-blown-but-now-it-seems-so-obvious-face-palm revelation. I can't wait to start bringing this up in conversation as if I'd always known it and implying that those unaware of the existence and purpose of chain hems are hopeless rubes.

itmakesmewonder

@Melusina DITTO, DITTO

scully

@Melusina I really would love a video of the chain hem being sewn and then in action! I am trying to picture Chanel catwalks in my head, but it's not working!

L M
L M

@scully the vid is of the jacket of a vivienne westwood skirt suit that has a flared hem... maybe I'll persuade the gf to do a chain hem in action vid.

tambourinetrees

it's like curtain weights for your skirts! and you could totally just put it inside the hem so nobody would know it's there and your skirt would swing LIKE MAGIC

arletterocks

@tambourinetrees My aunt was a dancer when she was young and used little lead fishing weights in the hem to make her dress flare out when she twirled. It was also a tearaway skirt - near the finale she'd let it fly right off to show the much much shorter one underneath! This is when she ran away to join the circus as a young woman and lived in a little wooden gypsy caravan with a straw mattress for a bed like in "Wind in the Willows."

Damn, but I'm the boring one in my family.

DrGirlfriend

I am so excited by the chain hem idea. What sort of skirt should you use it on? I'm guessing it won't be much help on a pencil skirt, which doesn't swing at all...

L M
L M

@DrGirlfriend anything with any kind of a flare, or godets, or an A-line, if it's big enough, or a circle skirt if it's made of wool, I think.

thebestjasmine

@Lucia Martinez Wrap dresses? To keep them from flying away in the wind?

L M
L M

@thebestjasmine oooh yes. nice heavy jersey ones, though. cotton knits wouldn't bounce back.

Ophelia

@thebestjasmine oh, GOOD idea. The combination of eye hooks and chains might be the best thing to ever happen to wrap dresses...

L M
L M

@Ophelia also there. all my wrap-anythings have a hook and eye sewn in at the sternum

thebestjasmine

@Ophelia Seriously, right? I saw the hook and eye stuff, and was like "oh, this would be perfect for wrap dresses instead of that safety pin at my mid thigh/boobie area" and then I got to the whole chain thing that blew my mind.

QUESTION, though -- how do you figure out where to put the hook and eye on a wrap dress so that it doesn't gape oddly when it's all wrapped up? Does someone else have to measure you for that?

L M
L M

@thebestjasmine I tend to put it on and mark where I need it to stay closed with a pin or chalk. aim for the top of the bra, between the cups. not too high, or it'll be dowdy, like one of those cami-bra infomercials.

thebestjasmine

@Lucia Martinez Girl, wrap dresses never look dowdy on me, the problem is getting them to look even vaguely professional since my boobs persist on hanging out. Maybe this hook and eye scheme will let me be able to wear a wrap dress to work without wearing a sad cami underneath.

DrGirlfriend

@Lucia Martinez BRILLIANT YOU ARE!

DianaPrince

@Lucia Martinez And today I learned what a godet is! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godet_(sewing)

Also all those other amazing things you taught us. Ok bye, I am going to go sew hooks and eyes on all my buttoned things now.

L M
L M

@xx-xx-xx don't forget the movie you've seen at least five times! preferably Die Hard.

DianaPrince

@Lucia Martinez That would be How to Steal a Million, coincidentally. I think I've been watching it at least once a year for oh... ten years now? Audrey Hepburn + Peter O'Toole + heist movie + set in Paris + that tiny little car of hers = the perfect movie. Plus, I had a very PG childhood, so movies from the 60s were my introduction to grown up movies.

L M
L M

@xx-xx-xx her hot pink givenchy coat makes that movie for me.

KeLynn

Wait what! Chains! I had no idea! I need to go to Home Depot immediately!

Are there specific cuts/styles where chains are most or least beneficial?

L M
L M

@KeLynn see above :) @DRGirlfriend's right, they'd be useless on a pencil skirt, but anything else would be fair game. fabric-wise, nothing too light, woven would work better than a knit. if you had a really heavy jersey or something like that, a super-light chain might work well.

kadabra

If you use thick double chains and sew them loosely, they clink very, very slightly as you walk. I asked my Parisian great-aunt what the noise was, and she said, 'that's the sound that Elegance would make, if you taught it to sing.' She wore converse with Chanel suits, and crushed on Daniela Sea: I would love to be her when I grow old.

L M
L M

@kadabra YES. I love her. I love awesome forebears.

kadabra

@Lucia Martinez Yes! She also told me, 'stain the cheeks and lips before foundation',
'always smile at old men',
'expensive bras, cheap knickers',
'don't lie until it's absolutely necessary. Then, Queensbury rules',
'if a man touches you on the Metro, it is entirely fair to knuckle him in the face.'
I loved her.
(Do you think we could have a 'things my favourite wrinkled women told me?' on Hairpin? But, there's probably already been one, and I've yet to find it...)

L M
L M

@kadabra my grandma gave me three rules for life:
1. when single, never date fewer than five people at once
2. drink scotch
3. get yourself something nice after a breakup. (and by nice she means mink.)

DrGirlfriend

@kadabra The sound of elegance?!?!? Good lord, your great-aunt is awesome. I am putting double chains in everything I own in the hopes that the sound of Elegance will occasionally overshadow the sound of my own natural Clumsiness.

raised amongst catalogs

@kadabra Oh, man, I now feel so validated by the "expensive bras, cheap knickers" advice. Thank you, and I thank her, wherever she may be.

Diana

@Lucia Martinez

My grandmother's rules:
1. If you find a perfect lipstick, buy three in case they discontinue it.
2. If you think about an item three times after walking away from it, go ahead and buy it.
3. Money doesn't buy happiness, but if you do it right, it can buy free time.

Fear Biter

Sort of an aside, but OHEMGEE The Dud Avocado!!! Best book ever in the history of evers!! Totally awesome if you read it back to back with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which is what I did last summer.

Dizzy

@pixie in p Agreed! Have you read The Old Man and Me also by Dundy? Because you should.

Girl Wonder

@pixie in p Yes!Yes!Yes! I read that book in 1985 and it has been one of my all time favorites ever since. I so wanted to be her. Sigh.

Diana

@pixie in p

The best part about reading any of Elaine Dundy's books is that anybody else who has ever read them will be so excited to see the cover that they will stop you on the street and tell you how much they enjoyed it, and then you will feel like a member of a secret club! You are a Dundyite now.

Inspector Tiger

omg, little hooks! I will feel so fancy! And chain hems. I never knew! Why did I never knew? Just a question: How to I wash the chain hems in the machine? (Like, wouldn't they harm the machine itself?)

L M
L M

@inspector_tiger erm. well, this isn't usually the sort of thing you do on machine-washable clothes...the heavier fabrics best used with chain hems are typically dry-clean ones.

Ophelia

@Lucia Martinez This is going to sound crazy, but...what if you attached a light hem-chain with snaps? Then you could take it off to wash the skirt/dress if it wasn't something you would dry-clean.

L M
L M

@Ophelia def not crazy. (wait, people have washable dresses? is this a thing?)

melis

@Lucia Martinez People actually dry clean their dry-clean-only clothes? Because if you just set the washer to 'delicates,' it very rarely ruins them.

L M
L M

@melis 1. I hand wash my dry clean clothes, unless 2. the MSRP is more than $200 or 3. they are made of woven wool, as most of my suit pieces are.

no way in hell am I dumping my westwood/jil sander in the wash.

(also that comment was a joke. I just don't have any technically washable dresses, with two cotton knit exceptions.)

theharpoon

I Dryel unless there are stains.

melis

@Lucia Martinez Well, we've already established that you're the best lesbian ever, so it doesn't surprise me that in the arena of fabric maintenance you surpass me as well.

But I bet I've had more gin than you today!

L M
L M

@melis you have! I have had none :(

HoliandIvy

@inspector_tiger
Jil Sander might be the best lesbian ever, but Lucia Martinez is doing an EXCELLENT job.
Also, I would caution skirt hem chains if you wear tights or stockings. Small shot or fishing weights in the hems would work better.

L M
L M

@HoliandIvy yes yes yes! cased lead weights, if you can find them, are awesome. (steal them from a rare books library if you must, they're that awesome.)

The Lady of Shalott

Goddamn, I am putting in some chain hems IMMEDIATELY and it is NOT SOON ENOUGH. I shall be fancy! I will swish through the halls and everyone who sees me will envy me! I will quite possibly screw up on one of the stitches and swish through the halls, not noticing that a loop of chain has fallen beneath the hem of my skirt and I look like I've been screwing a mechanic with a strange fetish!

DrGirlfriend

@The Lady of Shalott Are you my friend Maggie? Because you sound just like her. I love Maggie. So if you are her, "HI!" If you're not, then I think I may love you, too.

The Lady of Shalott

@DrGirlfriend I am not anybody's friend Maggie, unfortunately. But I am OK with being loved! I love you too!

Ophelia

I love this post, partly because you don't have to use a sewing machine for it. I am terrified of sewing machines (which, given our previous discussions here, I realize is completely bonkers).

jenjen

as an unrelated aside, your manicure looks great.

L M
L M

@jenjen thank you! it was my first pro one in, um, a year. happily well-timed.

annah

holy crapsauce! this will fix my most giant fall/winter style problem: how skirts always stick to and bunch up over tights! it always made me so angry when women would natter on about layering their skirts and dresses to extend them into the cold season, it never worked for me but now i will be the master of mid-weight skirts over tights! i am GIDDY.

L M
L M

@annah also: slips! or just stitch in a lining?

PistolPackinMama

I love a beautifully blanket-stitched hook-n-eye. It makes that friendship bracelet knot of which one did so many as a kid seem worthwhile.

L M
L M

@LateyKatie I wonder if Chanel made friendship bracelets.

Roaring Girl

Wait, you mean there is a way to make A-line skirts look less like umbrellas for my legs? Also, you mean I don't have to line my linen skirt, thus defeating the purpose of making it out of linen in the first place, just to keep it from catching on my bicycle shorts? Hot damn!

totallyunoriginal

I just moved so I can't wait to unpack and put a hook-and-eye into every top I own. I'm no longer going to fear the wrap dress either, now that I know there's a simple fix to keeping everything in place.

Sensory Homoncula

in regards to placement for hook&eye-- "the pucker always points to the place where the garment is too tight." Wearing the garment, stand in front of a mirror and flex your body with semi-normal movements until the shirt starts to gape over your bewbies or the wrap skirt comes unwrapped. The triangle of the puckers will point to the place where the strain is occuring. That's where the H&E needs to go.

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