I first learned about the concept of regular everyday people visiting a tailor for their regular everyday needs several years ago when I began my obsession with the TLC show “What Not To Wear.” On the show, stylists Stacy London & Clinton Kelly surprise their “client” for the week with the promise of a whole new wardrobe and a whole new outlook on life. The catch? That they must agree to throw all of their current clothes away if Stacy & Clinton deem them inappropriate. Oh, and also, they must agree to show America the “secret footage” that WNTW has been collecting of them over the past two weeks. On national television. Would you do it? I would!!! In a heartbeat! Please! Take my fancy wardrobe from Target, I dare you!
The thing that got me hooked on the show is not the über staged surprises they set up or the kitschy banter between Stacy & Clinton. No, what I love about the show is that these two stylists can seemingly take any body shape and any wackadoo personality and help that person find a wardrobe that makes them feel comfortable and confident in their own skin and at the same time allows them to participate in modern-day society without scaring small children and job opportunities away. They seem to be up to any challenge, which made me start to believe that my extremely difficult to clothe body might actually be dress-able after all.
The biggest lesson I’ve taken away from the show is that a tailor is my new best friend.
I’m short. 5’2” Not the shortest in the world, but short enough to make it difficult to buy pants and wear them off the rack. When I was in high school, my mom taught me how to sew by teaching me to hem my own pants. She would help me pin them, but I had to sew them. And there was no keeping the original cuff of your jeans as an option. I felt good about myself if my stitches didn’t show through to the outside of my pants leg. In my mind tailors were for Italian gangsters and greedy Wall street employees with slicked back hair. Tailors were for make-over scenes in RomComs. I’m not sure I even knew that a tailor was a real thing.
And as a result? I thought my body was misshapen, wrong and therefore ugly. Ugh. How wrong and how gross I was.
The first tailor I went to was the lady at my local dry cleaner. Honestly, the concept of dry cleaning was fairly new to me as well. Growing up when something said “dry clean only” we either did not buy it, or we translated the tag in our minds to read “hang dry only.” So the dry cleaners, where they ironed our shirts FOR us, was already blowing my mind. The window decal that read “alterations” finally enticed me when I had a pile of new pants that I wasn’t wearing because they were too long and pinning my own hem was proving to be disastrous and terribly terribly uneven. I started with a pair of jeans, trying them on in the tiny alterations changing room that was hidden behind the mirrored walls. The woman wordlessly pinned my pants, looked up at me for approval before giving me a quick “ok” and leaving me to change my clothes.
Imagine my surprise when I picked up my jeans a week later with the original cuff and a tag that read $8. Eight dollars?!?!????!!! I had wasted so much time in my life hemming pants!!!
I became obsessed. I brought in pants after pants after pants. I had her take in an old bridesmaids dress to make it look less bridesmaidy. She lifted straps, nipped in waists and hemmed away at absurdly low prices. My life was changed for good.
I’ve since moved on from the quiet alterations lady at the dry cleaner. Now I bring my pants and dresses to a tiny woman named Therese at Abaya Alterations near the Sunset Junction in Los Angeles. Therese never smiles when I walk in and if I bring her a garment that was not made to her liking, she will tell me all about it, complaining how they skimp on quality. But she’s fast, she’s inexpensive and she is a true craftsman. She has completely transformed dresses for me, nipping a little here, a little there. Without my having to give specific instructions beyond pointing to a gap in the boob-area and making a sad face. She gives her opinion when I don’t know what I want and she listens to me when I do. It’s like going to a jewish deli and letting the little old lady waitress tell you what to order then yell at you when you don’t listen to her. I’m always game for that. Therese is makes me feel like a stockbroker in an 80’s gangster movie. Special. Privaledged. Deserving. A person who’s pants fit. A person who does not trip over her too-long dresses. Plus, I can usually get her to crack a smile by the time I leave. So it’s totally worth it.
I really am amazed that it took a stupid (read amazing, I love you Stacy & Clinton!) television show to convince me that I was missing something so major in my life – well-fitting clothes. But hey, it took an episode of Oprah to get me to buy a new bra, so I don’t know why I’m so shocked. How many of you are suffering in too-tight jeans or ill-fitting shirts? Well suffer no more! Go find yourselves a tailor! The alterations lady at the dry cleaner is a great place to start. You too will be amazed at how $8 can totally change your life.