Part of what makes couture so expensive is the fitting process. Think about how much the human body varies from person to person. There are so many body types – how do you make one design look the same on everyone? Garment construction techniques help democratize fit. Certain designs and alterations require advanced techniques and mathematical precision to achieve the desired silhouette. Let’s take a look at this winter ensemble from the Stieg Collection.
At first glance, the dress seems simple enough: a shift dress that seems to be cut from two pieces, a zipper at center back, and a lovely contrasting plaid sleeve inset that crowns the neckline.
The stark white fabric of this shift dress hides a lot of details. It also appears deceptively simple because it’s on a dress form, and not the person it was made for. Look at this 3/4 view:
There are bust and waist darts that shape the dress to the body. Darts control excess fabric in garments. They effectively “mold” the fabric into the desired silhouette. Darts are usually placed in the most contoured areas of the body: the bust, waist, and hip areas. The triangle under the armpit is a gusset, which is an inserted piece of fabric that allows for a greater range of motion.
Gusset illustration courtesy of Rosewilde & Canderly
When a client would order from the Utah Tailoring Mills, exact measurements were taken. The size and angles of the darts, gussets, and other details varied from client to client. This means that each seamstress had to craft every one of these garments with skill and attention to detail. There was no one-size-fits-all pattern. Fittings were also required to make sure that the fit and silhouette were correct. Ready-to-wear garments don’t have details like this, which makes a trip to the tailor or the use of accessories necessary if the fit isn’t correct.
I did mention that it was an ensemble. There is a matching overcoat, executed in the same plaid that was on the sleeve and neckline of the dress. The overcoat is really fabulous. There are no closures, so it drapes over the body in such an interesting way. However, I just really marvel at how the seamstresses matched the fabrics. The plaid is carefully matched at the shoulder seams. Also, there is a pleat that runs down the center back that is matched perfectly. The pleat is undetectable unless you look carefully and pry it open by hand.
All images of The Stieg Collection are courtesy of The Baum School of Art.