Friday, 25 March 2016

The $100 handmade Oscars dress: Is is glamorous to sew your own wardrobe?

It is glamorous to sew your own clothes?
Recently I stumbled across this fabulous image, chronicling the dresses worn by actresses awarded Best Actress at the Oscars for the best part of the last 90 years. It also looks so cute, see:

I was interested to see how many dresses were made by unknown designers, but then yet more excited to see what happened at the 1958 Oscars; Joanne Woodward made her own dress! I immediately hit google images and was thrilled by the incredible turquoise satin frock I found. Of course there were not many colour photographs of the dress but it was so classically 50s and what I read that she had said about her dress was, as a home sewist myself, ever more satisfying:  “I’m almost as proud of that dress as I am of my Oscar.” 

 
However, no matter how proud Joanne was of her incredible creation not everyone agreed with her less is more approach to Oscars dressing. It would appear that even back in the 50s Oscars dressing was still a spectacle and standards had to be upheld. Joanne proudly admitted that "I spent one hundred dollars on the material, designed the dress, and worked on it for two weeks” . But this kind of frugality (however fancy) was not to everyone's taste and Joan Crawford is said to have complained that "Joanne Woodward is setting the cause of Hollywood glamour back by making her own clothes." Which got me to thinking; is it so terribly unglamorous to sew ones own clothes now, in the 21st century in same way is was considered by  some back in the 50s? Today dressmaking is for many, myself included, not a necessity but a joy, an indulgence, to be enjoyed at ones leisure completely separate from necessity. Back in the 50s off the rack clothes were more expensive than now and it was commonplace for people to make their own clothing in a way that has now become so completely removed from our own experience of cheap high street clothing at shops like H&M. I wonder which would cause more of a stir at the 2016 Oscars: turning up in a dress made yourself or a dress from Primark? I know which would look better for sure! Additionally, I feel there is a glamour, a specialness, to not wearing something off the rack designed for the masses but instead wearing something this is tailored, fitted and designed especially for you, and for most this is a luxury only afforded to those able to do it themselves.

Your decision on whether you consider dressmaking a glamorous pastime I think relies heavily on your perception of the old fashioned because it is still, in many ways by many people, considered to be an old fashioned thing to do. And it is this which defines many peoples attitudes toward sewing- do you see the past as a glamorous treasure trove of ideas to be borrowed, or simply something old to be moved on from and quickly overtaken by new technologies. I do not think it is a coincidence that many modern sewists and sewing patterns include 'vintage' style designs in their sewing repertoire; these are people who appreciate a vintage aesthetic and sewing your own clothes is closely linked to this. 

 
If anything, I know that in my own limited experience people are usually so incredibly impressed if you can stitch your own outfit because the skills of dressmaking have been lost to many over recent decades, which actually makes me sad. I feel sad to think of women (and men for that matter) never experiencing my joy at finally completing a challenging  project I've been working on for weeks, or the satisfaction of noticing your skills improving over time. To create with your hands is a unique kind of therapy which keeps me sane when work is hard and life is difficult. 

So, what do you think? Do you feel dressmaking in the 21st century is a joyously indulgent, therapeutic and (dare I say it?!) glamorous pastime? Or old fashioned but not in a good way? I would love to know what you think!

That's all for today, thanks for reading and happy sewing x o x o

How dressmaking makes me feel: