Off the Rack ~ A Pinch Under the Bust for a Better Shape

I recently discovered the online retailer Unique Vintage. They carry loads of pinup brands like Bettie Page, Sourpuss, and so forth, and also have their own in-house brand whose prices are, I think, a little on the high side. However, they have frequent sales and recently had a selection on sale for a mere $25.

I own a ’50s-style, full-skirted green and white striped dress that I got at H&M years ago and totally love. But it doesn’t fit quite right any more. It’s a little too tight in the bust and too short in the torso. So I’ve been looking for a replacement for some time, and UV’s green “Seeing Stripes” dress was a perfect replacement, especially at $25.

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At 37”-29”-41”, I am exactly between the brand’s Medium (36” bust and 28” waist) and Large (38” bust and 30” waist) on the size chart for this garment. I ordered a large to be on the safe side—and it’s a good thing I did because the bust just closed without squishing me. Unfortunately, though, the waist and underbust were really unflattering and basically erased my shape. At such a low price, though, it was totally worth the experiment of taking apart part of the bodice and tailoring it to my body. Here is how I did it:

First up, the original dress and the difference when I pulled it taut:

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Some closeups of the construction:

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The bodice has two layers of fabric. The inner layer has boning along two seams on the front and two seams on the back. Thankfully, the outer (visible) layer is just plain fabric, making it easy to alter. I wouldn’t really want to tackle altering boning.

The back seam.

The back seam.

The front seams. You can really see how square the bodice is when laid flat. It doesn’t taper in at the waist at all.

The front seams. You can really see how square the bodice is when laid flat. It doesn’t taper in at the waist at all.

Overall, I determined that I needed to take in the seams under the bust in a dart shape to make the bodice curve under my boobs and fit tightly around the rest of my torso and waist.

The first thing I did was shorten the straps. Even though I have a long torso, apparently I have squat shoulders because straps are always too long on me and I’m forever shortening them.

All I did was fold over the strap on the inside of the dress and sew it to itself along the top of the dress. I need to tack that extra loop down, though, because it likes to sneak out.

All I did was fold over the strap on the inside of the dress and sew it to itself along the top of the dress. I need to tack that extra loop down, though, because it likes to sneak out.

Next I pulled the bust up under my boob to assess where I would need to start sewing the top of the dart.

Next I pulled the bust up under my boobs to assess where I would need to start sewing the top of the dart.

I pinned the spot where my finger was. As you can see, the pins are quite a bit lower than where the breasts actually stop.

I pinned the spot where my finger was. As you can see, the pins are quite a bit lower than where the breasts actually stop when the fabric hangs straight down.

On the inside of the dress, I marked the pin spot with chalk.

On the inside of the dress, I marked the pin spot with chalk.

Next, I unsewed the bodice from the skirt. Since this skirt is very gathered, you can take out as many inches from the bodice as you want and still be able to easily reattach the skirt with it looking the same in the end (more on this later).

Next, I unsewed the bodice from the skirt. Since this skirt is very gathered, you can take out as many inches from the bodice as you want and still be able to easily reattach the skirt with it looking the same in the end (more on this later).

I sandwiched the bodice fabric along the seam and pinned it from the chalk mark down to the skirt. I then sewed along the pin line, starting at the chalk mark.

I sandwiched the bodice fabric along the seam and pinned it from the chalk mark down to the skirt. I then sewed along the pin line, starting at the chalk mark.

When you first start sewing, I’d recommend starting about a centimeter above your dart and sew along the existing seam, then carefully move to the pin line at a smooth angle. This way, you’re guaranteed that the new seam will match up with the old one.

Additionally, I didn’t actually measure how much fabric to take in, I just pinched it and estimated. As such, I didn’t take out quite enough fabric the first time. But it’s very easy to make the bodice even tighter by simply sewing it again, further in, and perpendicular to the first line I sewed. No need to remove the first sewn line.

Okay, next:

Here’s the new bodice still unattached from the skirt in the two spots. I also placed pins in the spot where I want to sew all the layers of the bodice together, to keep them smooth and in place when the dress is being worn.

Here’s the new bodice still unattached from the skirt in the two spots. I also placed pins in the spot where I want to sew all the layers of the bodice together, to keep them smooth and in place when the dress is being worn.

It’s fitting better already!

It’s fitting better already!

The next step is to reattach the bodice to the skirt. I decided to first remove more of the skirt from the bodice. I used a seam-ripper to remove everything in between the two bodice seams. Then I had to re-gather the fabric evenly and sew it back on.

Gathering fabric is really easy. You start by taking a flat piece of fabric and bringing a needle and single thread back and forth through it at wide distance. This is called a basting stitch.

Gathering fabric is really easy. You start by taking a flat piece of fabric and bringing a needle and single thread back and forth through it at wide distance. This is called a basting stitch.

Once you’ve sewn all the way across the entire piece of fabric, you pull the thread from each end and it will create the gathers. You can slide the fabric back and forth across the thread to get it evenly spaced or to make it the same length as the flat piece of fabric to which it’ll be attached.

Once you’ve sewn all the way across the entire piece of fabric, you pull the thread from each end and it will create the gathers. You can slide the fabric back and forth across the thread to get it evenly spaced or to make it the same length as the flat piece of fabric to which it’ll be attached.

Once I got my gathers evenly spaced, I pinned it to the bodice using a lot of pins. I wanted to be sure the gathers would stay in place and not un-even themselves while being sewn to the bodice.

Once I got my gathers evenly spaced, I pinned it to the bodice using a lot of pins. I wanted to be sure the gathers would stay in place and not un-even themselves while being sewn to the bodice.

A view of the pins from the gathered side.

A view of the pins from the gathered side.

This is a step that would best be done with a serger—the machine that sews three rows at once. Look at the inner seam of the bottom of a tee shirt. That’s what a serger does. The serger’s stitches look nice, keep fabric from rolling, and allow for stretch.

Since I don’t have a serger, I’ll sometimes sew a straight stitch, then sew a zig-zag stitch along it, and then another straight stitch along the other side of the zig-zag. It doesn’t allow for stretch, but otherwise it gives almost the same effect. Since I wanted the gathered seam to match the rest of the pre-existing gathers as much as possible, and I wanted extra strength to hold the gathers together, this is what I did here.

The three stitches from the flat bodice side.

The three stitches from the flat bodice side.

The three stitches from the gathered side. It looks a little messy since my sewing machine is ancient and has a hard time with many layers of fabric, but with such a poofy skirt it’s invisible from the front.

The three stitches from the gathered side. It looks a little messy since my sewing machine is ancient and has a hard time with many layers of fabric, but with such a poofy skirt it’s invisible from the front.

After finishing with the skirt, I tacked the bust in place in the two spots I had pinned before. I also removed the bow because I thought it looked stupid and was ruining the nice effect of the gathered bust. I might attach it to the back of the skirt, though. Here’s the final product:

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It may not look like that much of a difference from the way the dress started, but it feels completely different and looks much more flattering, in my opinion. Clothes that are tailored to my body really feel great!

By the way, that H&M dress that I replaced will be at the Busty Swap Darlene is hosting August 2, in case anyone wants it!

Off the Rack ~ Fitting the Bottom Half of the Hourglass: Freddies Jeans Reviewed

Eeeeeeee I got my Freddies of Pinewood jeans! The company is an absolute treasure and I could not be happier with these garments.

First off, the customer service is really great. I wanted the 1940s Button Pants, but my size was sold out, so I emailed Freddies to ask if they’d be restocking any time soon. They responded within 48 hours. After I received the pants, I had a question about laundering them, and they responded within mere hours, and continued emailing with me throughout the day.

Second, the shipping is insanely fast. I placed my order July 2, it was shipped July 3, and it was delivered to New York July 7. Are you kidding me?? Things shipped within the US don’t arrive that fast! I was a little put out by the shipping cost of £23.25 (about $40), but I understand denim is heavy and the cost really matches the speed and includes a tracking number. Would I pay less for slower shipping? Ehhhh probably. But it’s not an option, and I love these pants enough that I would pay it again. If only I didn’t have to worry about customs fees, I would order more at once!

Next up, let’s talk price. At first glance, these seem a little expensive at £55-£65 ($94-$111), but that price includes VAT and Freddies subtracts VAT automatically for non-European customers! It doesn’t seem to be advertised anywhere, but when I dropped items into my cart and put in the US for shipping destination, the prices were suddenly about 17% cheaper. So these end up costing little more than a new pair of Levi’s, only they fit way better.

Okay, let’s move on to the actual pants! As mentioned, the first ones I picked out were the 1940s Button Pants, which are heavy, 100% cotton twill, not denim. When I first tried them on, they seemed a bit big in the waist and I was really disappointed. I considered washing them in hot water and/or using the dryer to shrink them a little, but they’re dry clean only (meaning I will actually wash them in delicate, cold water).

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I was going to move the buttons over a little, but ended up deciding against it. I must have been having a skinny moment or something when I first tried them on, because when I put them on later that night they felt better. Leaving them as is also means there’s enough space to tuck in a heavier shirt if I so wish.

These pants are very high-waisted and very wide-leg. Here’s a picture when I first got them and hadn’t put together a real outfit yet, which illustrates it well:

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And here’s me in an actual outfit of a loose blouse and chunky platform sandals. It’s a bit more ’70s than ’40s:

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With the bagginess and high waist, these don’t do my rear any favors, but they are so comfortable and I think quite flattering from the front. They make my legs look a mile long and emphasize my small waist. Plus I can pair them with wispy, shapeless blouses without looking like a blob!

Let’s get a couple closeups of the details, shall we?

The buttons on the left side are functional, they’re how you open and close the pants.

The buttons on the left side are functional, they’re how you open and close the pants.

I love the big, swooping front pockets. They give a bit of a nautical feel and are nice and deep for holding my iPhone.

I love the big, swooping front pockets. They give a bit of a nautical feel and are nice and deep for holding my iPhone.

The back has a pair of long, high-placed pockets.

The back has a pair of long, high-placed pockets.

Next up are the New Jeanies, after which I’ll discuss fit and figuring out your size.

I was initially a little hesitant to get another wide-leg pair, and then I found a photo of a woman wearing the slimmer-legged Jeanies, which looked awesome! They’re a perfect blend of vintage styling but with a modern cut through the leg. When I wore them out, one friend said I looked like I’d been doing some riveting.

The Jeanies are 100% cotton denim and have a super high rise, front placket pockets (again deep enough to tuck away my phone), belt loops, a hidden side zipper, and fairly slim thighs and legs. Here’s a photo when I first tried them on, which shows the height of the waist and length and width of the legs:

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Here are some shots of the jeans as part of an outfit, this time with a button-up blouse and flat shoes (plus a cameo from my puppy!):

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I think these are a lot more flattering on my butt than the much looser Button Pants. Again I found the waist a tiny bit big, but in this case there are two buttons, so I just use the tighter one.

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Wearing them on the first button, as I think is intended.

Wearing them on the first button, as I think is intended.

Wearing on the second button, which I prefer.

Wearing on the second button, which I prefer.

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The zipper is hidden inside the left pocket. Clever!

The zipper is hidden inside the left pocket. Clever!

In looking at my outfit photos, I don’t think these even look all that high-waisted, but they certainly feel like it when I’m walking around. In fact, it’s a little hard to bend over, but I’m sure the denim will loosen up with wear. And it’s a small price to pay to avoid plumber’s butt! These are easily the best fitting off-the-rack jeans I’ve ever owned.

The Freddies listing notes that these are not so good for curvy girls due to a slimmer thigh, and I tend to agree. Although they’re fine once on, they’re a little hard to pull over my butt. The sizing chart lists a difference of 32cm between waist and hip, and I would suggest ladies with a bigger difference than that avoid this particular style. My difference is 30.5cm.

This brings me to my next point: How to figure out your Freddies size! It is super easy. Every single pant has its own size chart right in its listing. It’s more than just waist and hip, though. The charts also include rise, thigh (single thigh laid flat), width at hem, and inseam length. Waist and hip are still the most important, though, so pay close attention to those and don’t worry about the size number.

For example, whereas I normally wear size 28 or 29, based on the actual measurements I needed a 30 in both these pairs. The Button Pants match up to my waist perfectly (74cm) and the Jeanies are 2cm bigger at 76cm. Since denim will stretch out with constant wear, and since I found the waist in both pants could stand to be a wee bit tighter, if you’re between sizes I would suggest sizing down if you are closer to the lower number, but go up if you’re closer to the larger one. If you’re right smack in the middle, you should email Freddies and ask their advice.

I can’t wait to place another order! I have my eyes on the Rivet Jeans, the Norma Jeans, and maybe even the Dungaree Dolls overalls. Too bad I can only fit two pairs per order to avoid reaching the US customs limit of $200! Maybe they’ll have a sale at some point and then I can squeeze in three pairs.

Off the Rack ~ Urkye “Floresy” Dress Reviewed

Urkye recently introduced a bunch of new dresses, including two really cool colorblock options, the Esy and the Floresy, each in three colorways. I immediately knew I’d be buying one, but stupidly waited to see if Urkye would offer a coupon or a sale.

I really wanted the Floresy in the green on black color, and I kept checking to see if any sizes were selling out, a warning that I needed to snatch up my size before it was gone. And then all of a sudden one day all the 36’s and 38’s were gone! Now that I’m looking again it seems more green sizes are back in stock, though with low availability. In any case, I ended up buying the black on purple color while I could.

I was going to order 38 o/oo since my 36 oo/ooo Kieska dress is a little tighter than ideal, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise that I could only get 36 oo/ooo because this dress runs much looser. In fact, it’s actually a little too loose and also has a couple other issues as well.

(I’m wearing a 65HH Comexim Magic Blue bra in all these photos. And as always, click the photos to see them larger.)

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The biggest issue for me is that the chest is baggy under my bust. It’s quite bizarre, because it fits just fine in the upper half. It’s as if my boobs are too high up for the dress.

Note the ski slope shape under my boobs instead of the fabric curving along the underside.

Note the ski slope shape under my boobs instead of the fabric curving along the underside.

Here’s how I expected it to fit (or at least closer to this).

Here’s how I expected it to fit (or at least closer to this).

I definitely wouldn’t size down to a 34 because it’d be too clingy on the rest of my body, but I’m fairly certain a 36 o/oo would be an improvement.

The second major issue is that the hips aren’t shaped quite right. Where the black fabric meets the purple on my hips, the sides come to a distinct point. You can even see it a little in Urkye’s own photos, but until I got the dress I just assumed that was bunching up like you always get walking around in a tight jersey skirt.

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You can really see it when you lay the dress out flat. The hips are shaped with an actual point instead of being a smooth curve.

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Now, altering the hips is a really easy fix. I just have to turn it inside out and sew a new curved line at the pointy spot. But I’m not totally sure what to do about the underbust. Ordinarily, I would take in the sides a little leading from under the sleeves to the waist. But with all the seams, and since this dress is shaped with a contoured, three-dimensional chest instead of a flat plane, I’m not sure how much of a difference that would make. I’ll have to do some pinning with the dress on my body to see what I can come up with.

My last disappointment with this dress is that the contrast between the purple and black is not as noticeable as I had hoped. It’s quite dark and they kind of blend together unless you’re standing in direct sunlight.

All that being said, there are some positives here. For one thing, I love the length! I’m so sick of super short dresses that hike up when I walk and end up barely covering my rear. This one stops halfway over my knee when I first put it on, and hikes up to a reasonable length just a couple inches above the knee when I walk around. I can sit and bend down without worrying about flashing someone.

The fabric is also wonderful. It’s 92% cotton and 8% elastane (aka spandex) and feels smooth and cool against the skin. It’s a little stiffer and thicker than my old Kieska dress, so my bra band isn’t as visible and it doesn’t show visible pantylines. I also think it’s just a cool, edgy-looking dress.

I still really like the green color and am so tempted to order that one too, but I don’t really think I can justify it since size 36 o/oo is not in stock and the fit of 36 oo/ooo is so off.

Off the Rack ~ A Visit to NYC’s Town Shop & Some Mini Bra Reviews

This week I went into a brick and mortar bra store for the first time in my life. I saw a Cleo bikini in a shop window and stopped in my tracks before I realized I was standing outside Town Shop (in NYC). It was 30 minutes before closing, so I popped in just to see what they had on offer.

I was immediately approached by a saleswoman who asked if she could help me. I asked if they carry size British 28G. She was confused by the specifier “British,” but I clarified that I just meant brands like Freya and Fantasie. I noted that technically American sizing would put me in a higher letter. I’m not surprised she was a little confused, though, since there are barely any American brands that carry big cup sizes and use the American sizing schema. In fact, the only DD and up American brands I can think of all use British sizing (Claudette, Parfait, etc).

Anyhow, the saleswoman took me straight to a fitting room without even browsing the floor. She then returned with five or six bras all in size 28G. I was excited to see a few styles I’ve been wanting to try for years (Freya Gem and Rio, Cleo Lucy). Not being shy, I whipped off my shirt to try them on, at which point the saleswoman marveled at my beautiful new Ewa Michalak bright green lace bra (the S Musisztomiec).

As I tried each bra, I commented on what I liked or not, what I thought of the fit, and so forth. We went back and forth on fit a little, but the saleswoman was polite and not at all disagreeable. For example, I thought one of the Freyas seemed unusually tight, and she tested the band and agreed, but said she didn’t think it would be a good idea to go up a size since it would stretch out. I liked that with each bra I tried on, she tugged here and there to make sure everything was situated in the right way. I especially appreciated when she yanked up on the straps to make sure the underwire was right up under my breast tissue where it should be. If only I could have a bra assistant with me every morning!

It was a little trying that I had to ask about price with each and every bra. I would prefer if she had said the prices straight off the bat. In fact, I was actually ready to purchase one bra she said was $53, but then later she double-checked and it was actually $60-something (which I wasn’t quite prepared to pay).

I ended up not buying anything, but didn’t feel pressured to do so at all. I’ve read a lot of stories of women feeling pressured to buy after a saleswoman has spent all that time with them. But when I said I was going to skip it, she just said okay, thanked me for coming in, and left me to get dressed. I think it helped that it was so close to closing time. In fact, I almost felt a little rushed, but honestly that was kind of what I was hoping for. I just wanted to pop in, see what they had, and pop out. I’ve no idea if the experience would be different on, say, a weekday morning when things are slower.

Later I checked the prices she had quoted me, and found that they pretty closely matched up with various online sources (barring a sale or coupon). It’s nice to know that they’re not jacking up the prices.

One last little complaint is that I wish Town Shop had more bras out on the floor for browsing. They don’t need to have all the sizes out, but it’d be nice if it were possible to browse at all. I only took a cursory look, but it seemed the only stuff on the floor was loungewear and robes—basically stuff that comes in sizes small-medium-large. I know bra stores have massive inventory when you consider all the sizes, but it’d be nice if they had a small, attractive display of the brands they offer, or even just the newest releases. Still, it was fun and a refreshing change of pace to walk into a store and be able to try on bras in my size!

As for the bras I tried, there were three Freyas, one Cleo, and two Panaches. I didn’t get the names of the Panaches because I didn’t like them, but they did fit better than I was anticipating. Aside from the sports bra, the last Panache I tried was the Porcelain molded strapless bra something like 4 years ago. It was so shallow and wide-wired on me that the wires couldn’t physically be placed under my breasts. It could only sit a couple inches down my rib cage. It was just about the worst fit I’ve ever had in a bra of the proper size.

These two Panaches certainly had too-wide wires, but the shallowness didn’t present nearly as much of an issue, I’m guessing because it wasn’t molded so the fabric was a bit more flexible. The gore was perfectit laid flat, was just the right width, and didn’t stab my sternum. But the shape was quite east-west and somewhat minimized up top, so I still wouldn’t buy the brand.

The Cleo I tried was the Lucy. Normally I need to go up a band in Cleo bras, sometimes also a cup. This one was certainly extra tight, but again not enough that I would need a 30. If I were to buy it, I’d probably start out with an extender until it stretched a bit. The 28G cups also seemed a little small. But I’m not sure if they were actually too small or if the cups just didn’t suit me. They weren’t quite tall enough in the outer corners where the strap attaches so it seemed like I had a lot of uncovered side-boob. Otherwise the shape was the usual perfectly round orbs I’ve come to expect from Cleo.

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I next tried the Freya Gem and Rio, which were easily the best fitting Freyas I’ve ever tried! It’s no surprise that they fit so similarly since the Gem is actually based on the Rio cut, according to Freya’s website. Freya is known for giving a more natural, ever so slightly pointed shape. These two had the natural shape, but less of the pointyness. They also held me in really nicely on the sides, especially compared to the Cleo.

I absolutely love that the black Gem has a baby pink underlay. It turns a basic black bra into something special. For the Rio, I love the fishnet-like mesh on the upper portion. For both of these, the straps are unfortunately a bit wide. I’m still going to buy one of each at some point, but these straps are definitely designed for comfort, not looks.

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The last Freya I tried was the Ooh La La in black. I recall that it was a big hit when it debuted at CurvExpo. I didn’t think much of it at the time (I rarely care about black bras), but it was really lovely close up and on my body. The black isn’t quite as sheer as the photo looks. And the copper embroidered details are much more vibrant and sparkly. It made me think of Halloween. The semi-sheer black and sophisticated details make it really sexy but not trashy. Yet something about the fit just didn’t wow me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it seemed more compact and flattened than the others.

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