I get this lots of times in my class and it’s one of those things that students don’t even know to ask – where’s the shoulder?! I guess it shows how fashion has so moved the goalposts that basic things like the shoulder placement aren’t really considered. Part of this is due to the fact that for so many decades if you aren’t model/runway thin you have to to buy the size to fit your largest part – hips, bust, tummy or whatever, and that means your shoulder almost never fits. It either drops off your real shoulder or the garment is so tight that the rest of the garment doesn’t fit.
Here’s what happens – on the left the jacket shoulder line is off the shoulder, and even at this, she can’t close the jacket, so it’s a trade-off – more off-the-shoulder and maybe close the jacket, or less off the shoulder and can’t even get the jacket on. What sort of sitting is this anyway?….it’s RTW fitting! Then on the right, she has got the shoulder in the right place, but she’s paid a horrible price. The bicep is mercilessly tight and there is no hope of ever closing this jacket in front.
A Repeated Problem
And here’s the worst part – this doesn’t have to happen – this is all that is available to consumers and that’s why this happens all the time, and like anything repeated enough times, it becomes a habit, and after a habit it becomes natural and after it’s natural then it’s the only way things are done! And that works both ways – that means if you repeat a technique enough times it becomes a habit and more it becomes natural – remember that when you see a new technique that you think you can’t do. But for us here, this is the wrong habit and the wrong natural!
I love using this photo of Octavia Spenser at the Golden Globes, cause this jacket is so beautifully tailored to her. Loved seeing her that night in this beautiful garment because watching her move in the garment, I could notice that she was at ease and not crammed into a style. The picture to the right is her out on the town, and although the jacket doesn’t close, it at least comes close, and most importantly her shoulders are on her shoulders where they should be. Below are some other important women leaders and no one would even think of QEII being out in something that is not immaculately tailored for her, nor would Angela Merkel think of being out in something that doesn’t look really nice on her cause her creds would go down the drain otherwise.
Taking it Apart (OK don’t laugh!)
Let me show you just how absurd this look is. We would never think of seeing the Queen of England in a getup like this on the left. It’s totally frumpy and makes her look even older than she is. But let’s take it apart, cause there’s some interesting aspect here that you can compare to the real Queen on the right. Starting with what’s closest to the face and you see the shoulders – they are off the shoulder and they are sloping which really exaggerates her bust and makes her look way fuller busted than she is, and she’s got a pretty full bust naturally, so we don’t need to accentuate it. Then we have the open jacket/coat. And if you notice the Queen never wears a coat or jacket hanging open. For one thing, her close actually fit her (they are all made for her) and for another, it’s sloppy and unkept looking and that’s not how a professional looks.
So it’s not like this can’t be done, but most importantly, the shoulders are really the closest feature next to the face, and the face is the first part of the body to see. You don’t look at someone’s feet or knees to identify them – you look at their face. And the shoulders are in the closest vicinity to the face, not the bust, waist, hips, back, silhouette, legs or any other part of the body – it’s the shoulders.
Learning From What Tailors Do
The other really important feature of the shoulders is that basically, this is what every garment hangs on. OK, maybe not your skirt and pants, but whatever goes with the skirt or pants, hangs from the shoulders. A dress, jacket, coat, tunic, shell, blouse, shirt, bolero, tee-shirt – everything but the skirt and pant, hangs from the shoulders. And in men’s tailoring, one of the most important features in a custom-tailored suit is the drape and most importantly the drape of the skirt. The drape in tailoring parlance means hang and drape of the skirt means how the jacket hangs around a gentleman’s middle and below. If the hang is sloppy it’s not acceptable; if the hang is hung up at the waist, that’s not acceptable either.
Here’s my point. On both of these men, the hang of the skirt is meticulous, but it’s not really what’s happening with the skirt – it all starts with the shoulders, and this is what any good tailor will tell you. Gov. Christie has a very wide girth in the middle, but because his shoulders have good strong construction, definition and hold up well, they are in proportion to his middle with makes him look very well dressed even though he’s got a huge girth. Dwayne (“The Rock”) Johnson looks excellent in his suit even though his shoulders area hugely wide and his torso is very small in comparison. As well he had enormous biceps but because the shoulder has been constructed well, leaving enough room for the large biceps, the jacket hangs well and looks very smart on his difficult to fit body. We sewists can learn from tailors and this is one thing that we can take to the bank – that if the shoulder is in the wrong place or if it’s not constructed well, nothing else with the garment will get any better. That means that if the shoulder is bad, the bust, waist, hips, tummy, fanny, legs, back, silhouette – nothing else will be anything better than bad, and most likely worse than bad. That’s how important the shoulder is.
What Designers Wear
This is a very interesting group of ladies – They are all designers – from left to right Mary Katrantzou, Anna Sui, Maria Grazia Chiuri (Christian Dior) and Sarah Burton (Alexander McQueen). Notice a couple of things – none of them are waifs or even close to model thin, and all of them have broad shoulders, and even they have problems with the shoulder seam being on the shoulder. For me, this shows how normalized and pervasive the ill-fitting shoulder epidemic is. Both Katrantzou and Chiuri have waistbands on which helps a lot, and Katrantzou has on a knit top that takes away a lot of the bulk that the dropping shoulder line causes. The belt at the hipline is getting old while the belt on the waist is very new looking – see how much more modern the belt at the waist or just above the waist looks? That’s the newer trend that’s taking over.
Clothes Aren’t Just For Skinny People – No Matter What You’re Told (Or See In The Stores)
This puts this problem in focus now and shows how even professional designers (who know better) either have no choice or can’t/won’t do anything to make this correct. If professional designers do this, what does this say to the rest of us? It must be okay – or normal! Well, the truth is that for designers who do custom or couture design, must be able to fit every figure type, and don’t kid yourself, if a wealthy doyenne comes to a couture show and wants to buy the latest style on the thin model, the designer will make it up and it will fit the more plump shape of the doyenne and he/she knows that means fitting the shoulder correctly and flatteringly. And if the designer can’t do that, then he/she is out of business.
So it’s a real conundrum when Tim Gunn asks designers why they won’t design for plumper, fuller shapes and they say it doesn’t interest them….like fitting their own bodies doesn’t interest them. There’s a huge disconnect there and it’s no wonder that the consumer is left in the lurches and worse, left with minimal choices when it comes to fitting the fuller figure. After all, if the designer won’t make an effort why should the rest of us.
But then along comes women in professional and leadership positions and they do want to look nice, they want to look responsible, they want to look modern and they don’t want to look kooky or trendy or fashion victim and who do they go to? They go to designers who will make garments specifically for them; garments that are specifically tailored to fit their exact size, shape, and style. This is the only place left to get garments like this…..unless you sew. And if you do then you are ahead of the curve and you can make garments that not only look good on you but they also are flattering and comfortable to wear.
I carry most of my weight below my waist and in my hips, so if my shoulders aren’t in proportion, then the whole silhouette is off. As well when the shoulders hit correctly then everything else looks good – even my big hips! But it all starts at the shoulders. Once you know this, it isn’t hard. Yeah, yeah – I hear you….”Well, Claire, you’re hips aren’t that big!” No, they aren’t because I have them in balance with my shoulders and my waist. THAT’S why I look like I don’t have big hips even though I do!
But There’s A Catch
I hear you now, “Uh-oh, Claire – I knew it was coming!” Yes, it’s coming, but it’s not incurable or so hard you can’t solve it…..here’s the catch: the shoulder is THE HARDEST PART OF THE GARMENT TO ALTER. It’s fraught with all sorts of rules like part of it creates more room when you take in the seam and less room when you let out the seam (and no, I didn’t get that backward – I promise). While the other part does have less room when you take in the seam, and more room when you let out the seam. But where does the one start and the other take over?….how do you know where that is?….how do you make the alteration so that it works? Those are all very good questions. But the truth is that you don’t really need to answer those questions because you are going to start with the shoulder fitting. That’s why you always pick your pattern to your shoulder size because it’s the hardest part of the garment to alter. Makes sense doesn’t it.
Not only that but the other alterations that you make below the shoulder are a lot easier to make – swayback, full bust alteration, large bicep, higher/lower waist, large waist/small hips, small waist/large hips, one hip higher than the other, one bust higher than the other – anything else you can think of is a much easier alteration than having to alter that dang shoulder. And with the shoulder being so close to the face – it’s not like a hem or hip problem, it will really show and there’s not much you can do about it.
Let’s go back to the girl in the black jacket. With the help of a few alterations, this girl can have a very attractive jacket that flatters here and she wears the jacket, not the other way around. Obviously, the one on the right is the better look. So let’s start at the top.
Yes, I added some shoulder pads in the garment, but the truth is that with her broad chest and biceps, she needed that balance. Look at Octavia above, and you can see that she has the same structure in her shoulders. I’m not talking about 1980s shoulder-pad-mania here, I’m talking well-structured and well-made which requires some structure sometimes.
So there are lots of issues here, but they are all curable:
And that’s a mouthful right there. I could do a whole course on that subject alone, but instead, I wrote up some wonderful resources to use for this. They are all included in the Sleeve Resources (In order of how you should view them):
The bust area is integral to the sleeve/shoulder area, as it’s the fitting of the bust that can cause so many problems and bulk in the bust and underarm area. To help with that are these dart resources. In order from beginner to advanced:
Almost always my resources are written to give you not only what to do, but why I do what I do. This is the way I teach, because 1) I don’t want you to think that sewing is a mystery and that only those who have divined the right karma from the universe can sew (something I used to believe in spades!!!!) and 2.) this allows you the knowledge of how to think through the solutions to your fitting questions. so that you can determine the direction of how you want to sew your solutions. Frankly, there are usually 5 or 6 correct answers, and I’m stupid enough to think that I have all of the answers. I don’t. Part of what I do when I get a new fitting problem for a client is work through the fitting problems one at a time, starting at the top – which is the shoulder. Remember if you get the shoulder right, you almost halfway there!
PS – as a side note; my techs and I try to do the best we can to make sure all the HTML and links are working, but we probably have missed something. If that’s the case – PLEASE let me know – I REALLY do want to know so that I can fix it. As well, if there’s something that doesn’t make sense, I want to know that too – I really do. As I’ve said before, I learned to sew so fast from my wonderful mentor that I’ve forgotten what I didn’t know and really do want to hear what you don’t know so I can teach it to you. I don’t want you to have the feeling I did when I couldn’t learn to sew and before I found my mentor…that I thought sewing was like some sort of secret society that only certain members can belong to if you get invited and if you don’t get invited, well too bad — that’s NOT what sewing’s about. It’s a fulfilling and learning activity that’s an outlet for your creative ideas and energy!
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