The fascinating exhibit of garments designed by costume legend Edith Head at the El Paso Museum of Art underscores not only the value of rich fabrics and innovative design, but also the fundamental, critical importance of fit in fashion.
It’s all about fit. When you see “Designing Woman: Edith Head at Paramount,” you notice that garments are fitted to perfection. Not pretty good, but to perfection.
Whether you are looking at a tailored suit or a finely draped evening gown, the lines of the fabrics and the seams are precise. Superb fit is a key secret of couturiers and the difference between looking good and looking amazing.
The first time I saw the exhibit, I went with my sister from Florida. All the gowns and garments hung perfectly on the dress forms that were selected and sometimes modified to mimic a particular actress’s exact body measurements.
The exhibit gave us a whole new appreciation for fit. My sister said she was going home and tossing anything that didn’t fit her perfectly.
Exhibit curator Charles Horak, founder and director of the Plaza Classic Film Festival, has said that finding the proper dress forms was much more difficult than even locating the movies shown in the festival. The process took weeks and weeks of research.
Women in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s were much smaller than today’s typical figure. For instance, the smallest dress in the exhibit – a red and white sundress worn by Elsa Cardenas in the 1963 movie “Fun in Acapulco” – features a 19-inch waist, virtually unheard of in an adult today.
The search for available small dress forms finally led to a firm in France, where women are more petite than the average American women, for whom American dress forms are designed.
The exacting work done by the costume designer who repaired each of the exhibit’s garments and matched them to dress forms reminds me of the incredibly detailed and expert work that our own alterations professionals do here at Tres Mariposas.
Alterations professionals, costume designers and restoration experts know things the rest of us wouldn’t dream of. They are true craftswomen in the sense that each task they undertake is one of a kind and requires ingenuity and creativity.
The lead alterations professional at Tres Mariposas is Elvira Eckermann. We often call her our in-store magician. Her world is about exacting fit, detailed work, and making women look much, much better.
Proper alterations will show a gorgeous woman off to her best. Similarly, good alterations can camouflage the less-than-perfect body.
For instance, Elvira says that a woman with a small waistline should not be wearing a so-so fitting garment that hides her beautiful waist.
Often a waistline needs to be shortened or shaped to better fit a client, she said. But how many people know that they can look significantly better in a dress with the right tailoring?
It’s amazing how much difference a simple alteration can make, like shortening sleeves or adjusting a side seam.
But not all alterations are simple by any stretch. Elvira says one of the most challenging alterations is narrowing the shoulders of a garment, which requires absolute precision for the best fit.
First the seamstress takes off the sleeves and carefully recuts the shoulder line. Then the sleeves are carefully sewn back into the modified armhole, a task requiring considerable skill, says Elvira. Truly it is the work of an experienced expert.
Whether one of Elvira’s alterations customers buys a garment from our store or brings in something she’s bought elsewhere, the goal is to make her – and her outfit – look great.
Any woman interested in looking her best would do well to focus on fit while shopping. You are likely to find that higher-end clothing tends to be designed for proper fit, rather than just what is the most economical use of fabric.
Yet even the most expensive garment can sometimes be improved for better fit with expert alterations, the kind of tailoring that Hollywood actresses had in their movie studios’ costume departments.