Friday, August 22, 2014

Alternate Sartoreality

Me and Dad on my wedding day

I can see a lot of life in you,
I can see a lot of bright in you,
And I think the dress looks nice on you,
I can see a lot of life in you.
—"That Dress Looks Nice On You," Sufjan Stevens

As a young Christian, I learned somewhere along the line that caring about your appearance was wrong. It even had a special name: vanity, a word that, in spite of all I have learned since, I have still not learned to associate with small handheld mirrors or combination sink-and-cabinets.

I say "learned," but I can't say that this was an idea anyone actually ever set out to teach me. It may have been implicit in some Sunday school lesson somewhere, or maybe one of those old Hanna-Barbera Bible cartoons.1 Maybe I just got it from reading Jesus' words about not worrying about what you should wear.

Anyway, it's not like I needed a religious reason not to care about what I looked like: it was not a focal point of interest for me much before college.2 I liked t-shirts from Target with weird slogans on them, old ratty jeans, and whatever else felt comfortable. My concern about dressing nice being a form of vanity was real, but it mostly served as a convenient excuse to ignore my parents' advice on personal appearance when the subject came up.

~   ~   ~

One of my best friends in college was a delightful young woman who lived on the same floor as I did in the dorm. We connected over shared interests and worldviews, but especially because we were both committed Christians at a university with a predominantly secular student body. One major item of difference between us was my friend's meticulous concern for her appearance: she dressed impeccably whenever she left the dorm, and clothing choices were a frequent though minor topic of conversation with her. So, naturally, I asked her about it one day.

She explained that dressing nice for her didn't feel like vanity—she wasn't seeking a sense of superiority over others, or prioritizing small details that did not matter instead of caring about weightier topics. Instead, she did it as a form of self-care: dressing well made her feel happy and confident, which were especially important for her at college, which she found to be an often intimidating, even depressing, place.

This made sense to me. Not right away, but eventually, and without much further persuasion on her part.

So I started doing it, too. I learned to dress myself well, and then did so when I needed to feel especially happy or confident. First day of class? Wear a nice shirt and some slacks. Going to a party full of people I don't know? Throw on a tie. Taking an exam I hadn't studied that well for? What the hey: put on a suit for that one. I dress pretty nice most of the time now, because it makes me feel happy and helps me get things done.

~   ~   ~

These days, I try to avoid buying something if I can find a way to make it myself, or do without. Not primarily because I value frugality (which is a deeply ingrained value for Anna in a way it probably will never quite be for me), but because participating in late-stage industrial capitalism usually feels slightly dirty to me.3 So when I had a mind to buy myself a nice, fitted shirt the other day, it occurred to me that I could make one instead, maybe.

I have a rack full of button-downs that have quietly gone unused or under-used since I realized that off-the-rack shirts don't fit my slender frame very well at all and started buying fitted shirts instead. A regular shirt from a department store is designed to be worn by men of varying builds, and I am decidedly at the narrow end of that variation, so I end up kind of swimming in all the extra fabric:

That red line is roughly where my actual body is inside this shirt
My wife owns a sewing machine and graciously offered to show me how to use it. I looked up how to alter men's shirts online, but I found all the sewing terminology confusing, so I decided to just wing it on the grounds that these shirts were expendable.

I began by checking my shirt to see how much I could afford to lose; the first one, a plain blue number, seemed like it could comfortably lose at least an inch on each side and in the arms. I turned the shirt inside out, and sewed a line about an inch from the side seam on each side, turned roughly 90 degrees once I got to the armpit, and drew a tapering line down the sleeves to the cuff:

As you can see, I ended up doing the sleeve twice after deciding to take a bit more
Anna taught me a trick for sewing in a straight line, which was to try to keep the fabric aligned with the edge of the metal plate on our sewing machine:

This is the "after" picture; I wisely opted not to try taking a photo during the actual sewing. 

Another trick is to just sew down one of the stripes in the shirt, if it has them:

And that was pretty much it. The results have been pretty positive. This is the blue shirt I started with:

Maybe slightly baggier than I'd like, but decent for a first try. Here's the shirt from earlier, before and after:

It's probably slightly too tight now, though that may be alleviated somewhat once I actually cut off the material I've sewn off from the rest, which is just sitting inside the shirt right now. Probably the best result is this one:

It's got a little bunchiness in the armpits, but otherwise it turned out great. All three are vast improvements over wearing baggy unfitted shirts, and they'll all probably go in the regular clothes rotation now that they actually fit me decently.

~   ~   ~ 

So if you're a slender dude with access to a sewing machine, and your shirts are baggier than you want them, I say give this a shot. Definitely start with shirts you don't care about, and get some advice on how to use a sewing machine if you don't already know. Good luck!

1. Note: I can't technically confirm this, but I'm willing to bet that these were at least a little bit racist? Last time I saw one I was probably just entering teenagerhood, so my critical thinking skills were still in their nascent stage. If memory serves, though, the main characters are two white people and their wacky brown friend of vague ethnicity, which sounds kinda wack.
2. Aside from really wanting a beard as soon as I could get one, of course, with unfortunate results:

That beard is composed of like 7 hairs 
3. Just to take one example: Amazon, so beloved by consumers of our generation for its convenience and low prices, achieves said convenience and prices in part by being terrible to its employees. Its business model also seems designed expressly to destroy other businesses. I'd say these are uncommon principles for running a company these days, but I'd be lying: those are the only principles in town right now. And they suck.

1 comment:

  1. I face the same problem, and never even considered this. You are inspiring. That last shirt turned out great!