It’s all about the process.

by Erin on May 22, 2006


Helen Cherry nouveau dress
I was pointed to this site last night and there were lots of lovely dresses there, but this is the one, by Helen Cherry, that I was still thinking about this morning. Obviously, the fabric is very close to my beloved Liberty of London, if not actually from their looms, and the shape is elegant and simple. I wish the picture was clearer, because I really suspect a little smocking or tucks at the waist, which would be just the kind of unexpected, witty touch I'd need to see to even think about paying $400 for a dress.

I used to think that if I were fabulously wealthy (and if you really think about it, I actually am, compared to 99% of the world) of *course* I'd hire someone else to sew up my dresses. No more hemming, no more redrafting, I'd just dump the fabric and a rough sketch on someone else's sewing table and show up for a fitting or two. But the more I think about it, the more I realize how much I'd miss the process of actually putting dresses together, of feeling that exhilaration when the sleeve cap slides in nicely to meet the armscye, and the fascination of watching the way the needle bites into the fabric, drags the thread down to meet the bobbin, and then runs away again.

When you think of it that way, I'm reluctant to pay $400 for a dress, not because I think it's an unconscionable amount of money (it isn't, really) but because I'd be paying someone $400 to have my fun instead of me. It'd be like hiring someone to go on your vacation for you and then showing up two weeks later to collect the snapshots.

So if this dress calls to you as an object (and you wear a size 4, 6, or 8), click on the image to go buy it. Where would you wear it? What would you wear with it? If this calls to you as both an object and a process — how would you make it, and make it your own? I think, for this one, I'd extend the shoulder line a little for a bit more sleeve, and I'd maybe trim the neck with a wide bias band of the same fabric — I love that look where a fabric with a strong vertical element is banded with the same element on the diagonal.

For summer, I'd love to wear this with a little 3/4 sleeve cardigan in that same blue, with my favorite Fornarina cream-and-blue spectator ankle-straps. In winter, brown tights and shiny brown leather round-toe wedges and a thicker sweater … I'd probably hit Toho Shoji on Sixth Ave to get cheap blue ceramic beads to make a choker to go with it, too, and then take the necklace off before I walked out the front door, as I always do. Or maybe tawny topazes …

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

JuliaR May 22, 2006 at 9:27 am

“and then take the necklace off before I walked out the front door, as I always do.”Why do we do that? I have beads and things and I put them on and like the look but then I take them off before I go out. Same with scarfs – love ‘em, have ‘em, don’t wear ‘em.

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Gigi May 22, 2006 at 9:56 am

Gee, Erin, you could whip up something like this in an evening!

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Anonymous May 22, 2006 at 11:04 am

I don’t care for the print. The design is fine, but I’m actually not a fan of any smocking at the waist of anything – it’s never comfortable.Your outfits described sound insane – but very you. I don’t know where you go dressed like this, but God bless you for trying.

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Becky O. May 22, 2006 at 11:37 am

What a lovely detail at the waist! The pintuck/inverted pleat/smocking is a very elegant touch. as far as the price goes- don’t look, Gigi is right, “just” whip one up yourself!I see a bit of spakle at the neck and no cartigan for me, You just have to move the the climate the dress is suited to : )

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Sara May 22, 2006 at 11:39 am

This is the primary reason I don’t buy dresses anymore! (Well, that and the fact that RTW dresses never fit me…ahem.) Putting them together is so much more FUN and satisfying than buying off the rack. And when people ask, “Where did you get that dress?!?!” you can say (with a touch of haughtiness), “I made it.”

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Dr. Julie-Ann May 22, 2006 at 1:00 pm

I’m with Sara (including the RTW not fitting part). I agree that there is a tremendous satisfaction in the process, but I love it when I get to say (and I do!), “Thank you, I made it!” when someone compliments me on how pretty my dress is.

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Anonymous May 22, 2006 at 3:00 pm

Out of curiosity, what’s wrong that you can’t fit into RTW? I don’t know a single person who can’t wear this – it’s the first I have ever heard. Seems strange!

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Anonymous May 22, 2006 at 3:43 pm

So you don’t know ONE SINGLE PERSON who is bigger than a size eight (the biggest this dress comes)? Or who is short-waisted, or long-waisted, or broad-backed, or has one shoulder higher than the other (this very common) or who is bigger than a B-cup (which is what most clothes are sized for, regardless of weight)?Wow, what a narrow life you must lead.

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Melissa May 22, 2006 at 4:56 pm

Erin, I’ve been reading A Dress A Day since being lucky enough to see you speak at GEL 2006, but have resisted leaving a note. Until today. Why? Because the Elizabeth Charles site that you linked to is causing me too much pain with the longing and the needing to put all of those dresses in my closet.So I shake my fist at you. But in an admiring way, of course.

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Shiny Blue Black May 22, 2006 at 9:24 pm

Sorry, but whatever which way you look at it, $400 is an unconscionable amount of money to pay for a dress. Especially this kind of dress. Even if one were Melinda Gates.That’s probably the median income where I come from.Which isn’t to say my parents / brother don’t regularly spend that on clothing. But, IMO, it’s still unconscionable.

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Anonymous May 23, 2006 at 12:06 pm

I get more comments of the “Omigod, I love what you’re wearing!” variety when I wear homemade clothes than anything off the rack. And people are always astounded that I’ve made it. Even at the fabric shop. Process is large part of it, but I’m also in it for the compliments.Andrea

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Floridaprincess May 23, 2006 at 11:29 pm

I like this Elizabeth Charles site.Thanks for posting this site. Prices out of my budget, but I had a good time looking. I like Karen Walker’s clothing some of it not all of it.

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