Thrift store shopping

You don’t know this yet so I may as well tell you; I don’t like clothes. For the most part. Actually, I don’t like going through the bother of acquiring them via shopping or sewing. I’d rather prefer that they grew on bushes and one could snag what’s needed in passing. The clothing I like best are items that miraculously appear. A friend mailed me a pair of cover-alls that he found in his dumpster and I wore them for years. Anyway, while my views are extreme, you’ll find that garment industry people largely do not care about clothes. We are the first to cheerfully agree that we are the worst dressers. There is a reason (!) that some design houses semi-dictate the wearing of either all white or all black. It’s because the designer knows we’re such losers taste-wise, that we need some sort of fashion guidance. I swear. All of the garment industry people are laughing themselves sick at this point because they can’t believe I had the nerve to say that. I wish you could hear them.


Anyway, I’ve always meant to write about a great way to teach yourself without resorting to the input of others because I went shopping for clothes today (those who know me best are minimally applauding at this point; my son hugged me saying I needed “positive reinforcement”). My favorite store is the Family Thrift Center on Alameda. The owner buys his lots from the east coast and there seems to be a lot of designer and better brands, sometimes even some vintage pieces. Anyway, sometimes I can stomach the trek there but today was more of a necessity because I’m having a clothes-crisis. For somebody with a scrawny butt, I tear out the seat of a lot of jeans. Actually, it’s not my fault. It has a whole lot more to do with the fact that back pocket placement needs to be rescaled so the lower pocket corners aren’t resting precisely over the area of greatest stress in lateral expansion. The underlying denim is stressed by expansion and 2 layers of denim stitched on top of it and it wasn’t designed to tolerate the stress of movement and application. I mean, that’s just simple ergonomics. Anyway, before I was justifying my wearing of butt-ripped pants, I was saying that the basic premise is that you go to your local thrift store and find garments that contain elements that you’d like to master. Or, not that you necessarily choose to master at this time -you have to mull things over- but you’re curious as to how it’s done. This is the first step in what’s known as reverse engineering.

Now, you have to be mindful to find what you need. It’s no good to study a poor example and taste has nothing to do with it. I just say that because I’ve done this thrift-store exercise with designers and they tend to pick the wrong things. First off, Do Not Buy Something Because You Like It. That’s entirely the wrong reason. The first thing you should buy is a man’s suitcoat or sportcoat and it must have a full lining. Sportcoats with only a half lining will not teach you anything about bagging a jacket so it’s a waste of your time. For this exercise, you want to get an older men’s jacket, something made between 1950-1975. Check all of the labels and tags. If you can find sew-in labels with the ILGWU crest (international ladies garment worker’s union) , that’s a definite consideration. If you can find a jacket made in Hong Kong -of any time period- that’s another keeper. It doesn’t matter if the fabric is ugly, has moth holes in it or whatever, just buy it. You can always wash it or have it drycleaned before you work with it. I usually wash them first, cold water, no dryer if they’re wool (stretch it out a bit while it’s still damp). If they’re silk, just wash them. I don’t know why people freak out about washing silk when there’s nothing delicate about it. Ounce for ounce, it’s the strongest fiber there is. As a matter of fact, the US Airforce uses silk cables to brake fighter jets when they land on aircraft carriers. The only delicate thing about silk are the dyes. At the converter’s, the fabrics aren’t always processed to the extent that the dyes no longer bleed.

Try to select a jacket with only one vent in the back. Double vented styles are too confusing to read because there’s so much going on. Also, don’t get a double breasted jacket for the same reason. If you select a style without a back vent, it should have a sewn in lining. By that I mean the lining and shell must be joined rather than each layer hemmed independent of the other.

When you’re ready to work with the jacket, turn it inside out. Along the back seam of one sleeve, you’ll find the closure seam. Open that. Reach your arm into the jacket, grab a handful of the outer fabric and pull it through the opened seam. Work it through slowly. I know that at times it will seem that you can’t get it to come through the sleeve opening but keep working it. It won’t fall apart and the clothing police will not come and get you for this. While you’re pulling the thing through, you’ll find “tacks”. This is where the lining has been tacked into place within the seam allowances of the shell fabric. You’ll find tacks at the lowest part of the armhole, more tacks located an inch or two above the hem, and then some around the collar area. There may also be tacks where the shoulder seam hits the sleeve cap. You can take out all of the tacks if you think they’re getting in your way but you don’t really need to. When the jacket was made, the tacks were sewn before the jacket was turned so you should be able to reverse the operation. Anyway, once the thing’s been turned, I know you’ll find plenty of interesting things to look at!

These are some of the things you’ll find inside that you may want to adopt:
You’ll find wigan, a bias-cut strip of hair canvas in the sleeve hem. Depending on the styling of the jacket, you may find this in the jacket hem too.
You’ll notice the entire front of the jacket is either fused or interfaced.
The back shoulder, back neck and back armhole areas will be fused or interfaced in (usually) one continuous piece.
Any hem area will be fused (where you’ll find the wigan).
Pockets: you will note there’s an extra layer of interfacing in the pocket inset area. Also, the seam allowances of the pocket welts may be anchored to a seam off to either side with a strip of hair canvas. I never worked at a company that did this step but I like it. I think it makes for a more stable pocket.

You’ll probably find a whole lot of stuff going on in the front shoulder area and right next to that is a bunch of sleeve stuff. The layers in the front shoulder are a chest piece, and no you can’t buy some too because each factory has to make them specific to each armhole/chest of each style and for each size no less. Making the patterns for chest pads was one of the things I liked least, 3 layers of stuff to make one component and each layer had to be a different size so it’d stack correctly (snore). The sleeve is easier. You’ll find a strip of flannel, lamb’s wool or something similar sewn into the sleeve cap. You may notice that the strip looks as though it might not have been sewn in “correctly”…it was, we do that on purpose. The shoulder pad will also be stitched to the seam allowance of the sleeve cap (the sleevehead is sewn in first). The shoulder pad is usually not sewn to the shoulder seam which is another great idea to copy. That’s all I can think of for now.

If you do all of that, you’ll learn more than just our secrets. You’ll learn one I could never hope to teach you. Promise. I expect that some will figure that out before they start.

Back to something really important, like resolving my clothing crisis. I’m thinking I should pander toward the designers I already know -after all- what’s a blog without blegging? I think they should just send me clothes so I can dispense with the formality of shopping entirely, don’t you agree? Okay then, send clothes, but no yellow/green and nothing strapless. Please.

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