The so-called tailors in this town don’t seem to understand that cutting fabric patterns is like applied geometry, men’s cuts are straight lines and angles while women’s cuts are soft curves and angles – to get the measurements right – you need the ‘x’ and ‘y’ coordinates of any given point of measurement!
By Fareeha Qayoom
nce upon a time I had a standard (British) size 2 figure. That was back in my teens. In those days too I could never find clothes that actually fit. Even the tailored clothes would be at least 3-4 sizes too big. In my twenties, I slowly started putting on weight but the problem with clothes remained. I still couldn’t find a tailor that could cut a pattern that actually fit.
Not that I was fat yet. It was only 5 pounds weight gain here and there but over the years eventually the weight started piling up – by 1998 I was size 10. Unfortunately, more responsibility at work meant less leg work and more sedentary desk jobs. Stress, 16-18 hours a day five to six days a week, little sleep, junk food and no exercise took its toll too. I went through most sizes to eventually land at my current size 16 (European size 44). However, my love-hate relationship with clothes continued. No matter what size I was, I could never find clothes that would actually fit – off the rack or custom made to fit. When I was thin, the clothes were too big. When I was big, the clothes were too big and really ill fitting.
Since I couldn’t find tops or suits that actually fit, eventually I started wearing over sized men’s polo’s to work – not that, I had to buy them, they were free samples and a perk of my job. Since they were men’s polo’s (Kohl’s and Chaps size Mediums), they were also ill fitting (most local vendors didn’t make women’s wear) but at least they were free and I didn’t go through the frustrating exercise of buying that perfect fabric, having it stitched and letting it sit in my wardrobe gathering dust because it didn’t fit. In those days, I didn’t team jeans with them but perfectly acceptable business casual trousers– twill chinos – (I maintained a business casual dress code). I had quite a free wardrobe going built-around free samples from Gap and Banana Republic for women (made in Bahrain size 12, 14 and eventually 16), and lycra twill pants for girls (size 12, 13) from Wet Seal (made in Pakistan).
Besides, I was so busy and stressed out at work, I had no time for clothes. I would grab a chino (women’s wear) and polo (menswear) in the morning and would be on my way to work. Between sizes 10-16, I never even noticed my weight gain since the tops were ill fitting anyway (or the rapidly changing fashions) – it was too sudden, all within the span of three years (1999-2002). I was too busy putting out fires at work to notice life was passing me by.
I eventually switched jobs but the level of stress or the mess making abilities of vendors didn’t diminish in the next job either! However, the pace slowed down a bit from mega-hectic to just hectic. Even though, it was another high-stress job, however, my weight gain eventually stopped at size 16, because by this time, I had noticed what was happening to me. On and off I would try to walk it off – 4 to 6 months I would religiously walk at least 5 days a week and drop down couple of dress sizes but then I would give up because work was hectic again or something else would crop up that was more urgent, quickly gaining the lost inches. Unfortunately, the buyers worked in seasons and deadlines would mean that I would have to put in late hours at work to compensate for vendors’ inefficiencies. But I did hold steady between sizes 14-16 for a long bit. I was still doing a 16-18 hour a day, five to six days work week.
A time came when I left the export apparel industry behind and joined the world of publishing; (the jobs in middle management dried up around 2005!). My timings became more regular – 9-5 with only slight spells of late hours before deadlines. Unfortunately, clothes were no longer free, however, I was too used to the convenience of work uniform (knit top and chinos) and separates to give it up now, but luckily for me, Next Stores opened up in our town and they catered for size 14 and size 16 women as well. (Levi’s doesn’t recognize women over size 8-10). I stocked up on my jeans and waved good bye to chinos.
Unfortunately, when you put on weight, your figure is no longer standard or indeed well proportioned. My genetic makeup means that more pounds pile on my tummy than at any other place, besides, I have an unhealthy lifestyle (I am not sporty or into exercise), plus as a family, we are fond of high carbs, fats and protein mix foods (in other words, not fond of raw vegetables, fruits or grains or cereals!), take away, sweets and junk food, and hobbies (and a social life) that don’t require a lot of physical activity. Unfortunately for us, we have all inherited the fat gene as well; so too many strikes against us.
Age means I burn fewer calories now. I make an effort to lose weight every six months to a year every couple of years so when I am walking, I become somewhat better proportioned size 16 or size 14, otherwise, I fluctuate between size 16 and 18 on my top half and my jean size fluctuates between size 14 and 16. My legs are standard size (in other words, they are still proportioned) so I never have a problem buying jeans that fit but because of my tummy, I have a problem with my tops – size 16 (or indeed size 18) doesn’t fit right. I am no standard hour glass anymore. In other words I have a problem figure that needs well structured clothes to compensate for poor proportions around my middle.
Off the shelf woven shirts are big on the shoulders, armholes, sleeves, and bust and a little tight on the waist. Also the height is all wrong. They are built for long- waisted women or may be taller women. However, having a big tummy doesn’t mean that I don’t have a waistline. I do. Unfortunately, for me I still can’t find a tailor that can cut a proper pattern for tops. However, women’s knits are a better fit so I end up buying more knit tops than woven tops off the rack. The designers would call me a modified apple or a rectangle.
With Next stores open in this town, it might have solved my problem of buying clothes that actually fit a bit better (meaning I no longer have to buy men’s jeans or knits tops) and which also don’t require me robbing a bank as they hold big sales twice a year with unannounced little sales between seasons which make their clothes affordable and a bargain, it still doesn’t mean that I can find woven business casual shirts that might be a perfect fit. Besides, their knit tops fall a little short on the modesty stakes – they are usually less than tunic length, short sleeve or sleeveless and the necklines are little lower than comfortable so they are not actually work appropriate though they are perfectly decent.
Luckily for me, the publishing industry has no dress code –winters are easy. I can team my jeans and knit tops with leather or knit jackets or a professional looking cardigans and sweaters – its instant power dressing, besides a jacket gives me better proportions (it hides my problem middle!) and is a more modest option than just a plain tee. However, I needed another thin layer for the summer months.
For the past few years, I have been looking for summer jackets in thin fabrics. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any ready-to-wear options in town. Finally, last year around November, I had a brain wave. I thought why not get some custom stitched? How hard could it be? There were loads of fashion school graduates around – I could try one of them.
A close friend of mine had just opened up a dress work shop at home and she was churning out designer clothes for the busy socialites. (She is a bit expensive. She charges around 3-5k for stitching a regular shalwar suit for example). I mentioned that I wanted a few jackets stitched for my summer wardrobe. (However, I also told her I didn’t want to look like Benazir Bhutto – thank you very much!) She told me why not try her dress shop? She quoted a figure around 3.5 to 4k per jacket and this didn’t include her profit; just the cost price. I thought it was a bit steep and I said so. She was actually quite offended with my honesty.
My logic was quite simple. In Pakistan, custom made (couture or be-spoke) fashion is actually cheaper than ready-to-wear. (Next stores biz casual jackets retail for 3-3.5k on sale for example); so technically her prices were a bit high since it didn’t include the cost of fabric – just stitching, with fabric included the cost of a jacket could jack up to 4.5-5K. Furthermore, since she wouldn’t be designing me a jacket but copying from an existing sample, I thought she shouldn’t be charging me designer prices for her work.
I didn’t want a lined jacket, just clean finished, with facing where required and over-locked. She insisted the jacket had to be lined. (Whatever happened to the customer is always right?) I asked if she would make me a sample free of charge to check the fit. She told me the fit sample would cost me the same amount as an actual jacket. Hmmm. So I gave her 2.5 meter fabric and an existing sample (an imported jacket in size 12 that no longer fit me width-wise but was still a fit height-wise which I never got around to giving away) and told her not to line it. This was back in December 2009. However, my expectations were low. So I didn’t give her an expensive fabric for the first fit sample or follow-up on her delivery.
In the meantime, I scouted around in my acquaintances and came up with one potential designer with the necessary designer training. She is an ex-Fashion School graduate. She also taught there and she was working as ready-to-wear designer for a friend of mine at his factory. She was also one of his most promising designers. I had high expectations of her.
She quoted me a price – 2k for stitching that included her tailor’s cost of 1.5k and her profit of PKR 500. (This was more reasonable. Men’s tailors’ charge 2.5-5K for the entire suit – jacket and trousers- depending on their capability and name, I knew that already). We settled on 5 jackets to be completed before the advent of summer. This was back in January (2010). We also went window shopping at Saleem Fabrics to scout for the fabrics available and their prices. However, since she was moving to Islamabad, my sister counseled me to give her only one jacket to see how she performed instead of investing in five fabrics and their stitching upfront.
I went and bought 2.5 meters from Bareeze which cost me around 1.5K. The jacket would be costing me 3.5K when finished (same amount as Next Stores biz jacket on sale!); but I thought since I would be wearing it frequently, it would pay for itself and would prove to be a bargain in the long run. She asked for a payment in advance so I paid her the total amount up front (a big mistake). I again insisted that I didn’t require lining since it was intended for the summer and would be worn over a tee anyway.
Three months passed. The so called designer after a lot of follow-up asked me to come in for the fitting. The jacket was short, it was four buttons and boxy with no discernable waistline, the armhole and waist-line didn’t fit properly, I had asked for an empire line cut, it was very loose over the bust and waist and suddenly tight over the hips – it didn’t also fit over my upper arms properly. I asked for pattern corrections, the length was short too – she told me it would be done and she would tackle it as soon as possible.
Another few months passed. I followed up. There was bereavement in her family and she had stopped working for a while, however, she promised me she would tackle my jacket at her first convenience. (By the way, she also lives far away from town so each trip to her home would cost me PKR 500 in petrol!) – The costs were totting up. Two more fittings and same problems – she insisted that she would make me a sample first in grey fabric – I said fine. She also wanted a bigger yardage – 3.5 meters! Two more fittings and the pattern mistakes persisted. I gave her another fabric for the jacket – a cream and tan hounds-tooth check (3.5 meters) and insisted that I wanted the Bareeze jacket back whatever the pattern mistakes (she wanted to keep it!). She could call me back for another fitting when she was ready with the grey pattern adjustments. She never did. In the end, I emailed her that I wanted my fabric back and I would pick it up when convenient – I have to go and pick it up but I have been putting it off since she lives so far away.
I brought the Bareeze jacket home, called another friend of mine for advice. She knows how to sew. She told me to bring the jacket over. After seeing it on me, her advice – take out the armholes, sleeves and the side-seams and give it to her, she would help me fix it. I did that as soon as possible. Since I couldn’t wait for her – I took out a kurta that she had made for me as a birthday present that still fit me better than any other tailored item in my wardrobe. I traced the side seams, did hand stitching to check the fit and voila – the pattern looked much better already. The sleeves and armholes were a bit too technical for me so I consulted a tailor – he told me the armhole pattern was cut for a man, hence, the problem with fitting! He adjusted and re-cut, however, there was still something wrong with the armholes. However, my elder sister helped fix the armholes/sleeve pattern somewhat (she knows how to sew too!) and the tailor stitched it back. It wasn’t perfect but passable; he also helped me secure the side seams by stitching on top of my hand stitching. He charged me PKR 150. So the jacket that was supposed to cost me only 3.5k ended up costing 4.5k in petrol and inconvenience. But at least I was able to salvage it. I regularly wear it to work – and I get loads of compliments! Little do my friends realize the finished product was a lot of hard work! 🙂
For the past ten months, I have not been working out (stopped going for my regular 4 KM walk every day). So I took to wearing my button down woven shirts as jackets over my tees – I realized they give my jean and tee wardrobe a more professional look in the summers anyway. I am making do till I can find a tailor that can actually do the job properly. My younger bro’s advice – go to a men’s tailor – they can’t be any worse – can they? And they would definitely be cheaper…
So what about the other jacket? Well my friend called me for a fitting somewhere back in august (or was it September?) 2010. She had done considerably better job than the so-called trained designer. However, the armhole was again too big. It needs major adjustment, because of that the waist measurement is not correct either – it sits lower on my torso. However, 2.5 meter fabric translated into quite a roomy jacket. She also decided not to charge me for the first fit sample after all. Since she had translated from an existing sample, her work turned out better – it’s beside the point that it took her pattern maker almost a year to construct a single fit sample and it still needs minor adjustments in the pattern. Sigh.
The so-called tailors in this town don’t seem to understand that cutting fabric patterns is like applied geometry, men’s cuts are straight lines and angles while women’s cuts are soft curves and angles – to get the measurements right – you need the ‘x’ and ‘y’ coordinates of any given point of measurement! (In other words, the point of measurement is not suspended in space – to check the width of any given point, you also need to know its relation to the person’s height!) This is basic knowledge; however, most tailors, designers and pattern makers don’t get it. Hence, my continued problems with custom made clothes. Besides, contrary to a popular opinion, just because I have fat tummy doesn’t mean I don’t have a waistline. Creating boxy or rectangular, badly structured shirts or jackets only highlight the flaws in my figure instead of disguising it by a clever cut! A good fit is not too tight or too loose, it is structured to your height and width and skims your silhouette. Unfortunately, finding a good fit is a major exercise in this town!
Going forward, I am seriously thinking of learning how to stitch. The only problem, how to select a good teacher – it seems nobody knows how to stitch in this town! Even the folk at the Fashion School! ■
Editor’s note – March 2015 – Collected the ‘hounds tooth’ yarn dye fabric finally in Winter of 2014. The designer is teaching at Pakistan Fashion School and working on her thesis. 😀 Needless to say, never ordered more jackets from her. As far as the other jacket is concerned, took off the sleeves and converted it into a sleeveless zippered vest – hence, a happy ending.