A few weeks ago, an online order arrived. It was by a young slow fashion label that promises to stick to materials like khadi to create contemporary styles using traditional techniques such as block printing. Unlike others, this brand paid close attention to details, even asking for measurements while ordering. The garment ticked every style box. There was, however, a slight issue. While the length was perfect, the armhole, shoulder and chest area needed altering. Luckily, they were simple adjustments; nothing a good tailor couldn’t solve.
This order by The Summer House was one of my more successful recent ones. I would have liked to wear homegrown Indian brands more often had their contemporary offerings fitted better. And with craftcore (themed around handcrafted items) being the current buzzword of fashion, India has much to offer.
Gauri Verma and Karuna Launguni’s independent fashion label Jodi Life, for instance, is popularly known for its easy, global yet very Indian approach to ready to wear. On me, however, it did not work so well.
“Sometimes it is to do with fabric, natural fabrics often are harder to work with than polyesters or knits,” explains Launguani, when asked about the fit issue. She goes on to defend India’s conscious fashion fits: “I buy from many Indian labels and find the fit as good as any international high street label.”
It doesn’t seem so. Fit remains a big issue with local labels. Very often even an excellent tailor cannot save the garment—either it is made for tall and thin bodies, or is just a tent that can drown you. While it’s the colour or the silhouette that first attracts us to a garment and then the fabric, it is essential the item feels good against the skin and, most importantly, fits well. This is why garment construction or the pattern-making process is key. As Christian Dior once said, “Without proper foundations, there can be no fashion.”
It’s something retailers are aware of, says Liane Wiggins, head of womenswear buying at London-based e-tailer MatchesFashion that retails some made-in-India brands.
“Fit, silhouette and paying close attention to detail across sizing for all different body types and shapes are incredibly important to us as a buying team when selecting a product,” says Wiggins. “We know our customers will return again and again to brands they know that work for them, whether that be the perfect T-shirt or ultra-flattering trousers.” With this in mind, they just launched a Wardrobe Foundation edit which focuses on fit.
It’s chic to repeat
The fashion industry produces over 100 billion garments a year—a fact that the pandemic has highlighted yet again, pushing the world to reassess its consumption habits. The good news is that more people, especially the younger generation, are looking for words like “sustainable”, “circular” and “ethical” when they shop. But nothing says “conscious” more than buying clothes that are repeated—and this is where the role of pattern-making becomes vital.
In our conversations on conscious consumerism, not enough stress is put on the importance of pattern making, especially in Indian fashion. It is the clothes that fit you well that you’re likely to repeat.
If the cut of a garment by a home-grown label makes the wearer look a size bigger, or if the armholes are too tight, the consumer will not enjoy wearing it even once, irrespective how sustainably it is made. Fashion needs to make you feel good, and it is important to invest in pieces that are repeat-worthy. #BuyLessBuyBetter should be every fashion brand’s mantra.
So why do homegrown labels pay less attention to pattern-making than they do on, say, fabric and crafts? Possibly because India has a tradition of draping and not stitched garments, or because many fashion labels today are founded by stylists, investment bankers or homemakers instead of trained designers. What’s more, India still does not have a national size chart to follow. Many tried, but in a country with so many body types it can be quite a challenge. The fact we have amazing masterjis who create sari blouses that fit you like a glove means it must be possible to overcome these issues and get the pattern-making on point.
To overcome the fit issue, I end up buying more forgiving kurtas and kaftans. Even then many they need tweaking. Sometimes I buy a men’s style of kurta from Fabindia or Good Earth—the leaner cut seems to work. Kaftans often have too much volume and can make you huge. When a brand gets the fit right, it makes them a label to bet on.
Fit is an art that is the heart of good fashion. The key to this is pattern-making, knowing how to manipulate and shape a flat piece of fabric to conform to the curves of a woman’s body. This is the winning ticket for brands that want to cater to the growing tribe of consumers who want slow and sustainable fashion.
The size factor: How to know what fits best
The best way to know how something fits is to wear it, of course—so always check the return policies of a product even if you try it at a store. Sometimes you just need to check how it looks in your home environment, in the mirror you see yourself in every day. A well-cut garment should always flatter.
While buying online always check the size guide, but even that sometimes cannot be a definite indicator. Have your measurements taken every six months by a good tailor. I always buy a little bigger than smaller when in doubt. A little wiggle room is always welcome. Also try to sit in your clothes when figuring out the purchase—what fits well when you are standing may not look so good when you sit.
Some no-nos are buttons that gape, zips on jeans should not be seen and shirt cuffs need to sit below your wrist. Shoulders must fit properly—they are the hangers of your clothes, if they do not sit well, there is no hope. And the waist is the heart of a garment, so pay special attention to the area. A waist can be taken in but moving it up and down is hard.
Dress Sense is a monthly fashion column takes a look at the clothes that we wear every day and what they mean to us.
Sujata Assomull is a journalist, author and a mindful fashion advocate.