Monday, 3 March 2014

The Great Dress Trying-On Experiment

Today I went and did something I have been meaning to do for months: I went to a department store  and tried on a TON of dresses with an eye to figuring out what shapes of dress, if any, suited me. And since I am ridiculous, I took a lot of dressing room selfies to illustrate my experience, which I am now going to force upon you.

The shop I chose had some HIGHLY questionable fabric and design choices. I mean, seriously questionable. Don't think I was there going OH THIS IS CUTE, I MUST HAVE IT. More often I was going WHAT AM I PUTTING ON MY BODY, DEAR GOD. I tried on a bunch more than this, but some of them were just variations on a theme, so I picked out the better (still not great) phone photos, and the funnier failures. I was concentrating on shapes/styles of dress only, so I really didn't pay any attention to the colour or to design details like the fabric or the neckline, since all of those are well within my control when I come to make anything myself. I also didn't get the size right a couple of times but I didn't bother to correct this, so a couple of the dresses are kind of ill-fitting.

I am going to lead with the most flattering looks, of course!
So the biggest winner was the dress on the left (for sale here, if you want better images!) . If it hadn't had a really annoying cowl neckline, I might actually have bought it because it looked so good on. It was a straightforward one piece knit dress with a straight skirt and three quarter sleeves. The two big design features were that first, it had a sort of metal clip affair, over on the left of this image, which ruched the bodice over the abdomen. I LOVED that features and found it really flattering. The other thing was that it had a cowl neck, which I hated. It came up really high on my body and sort of sat on a boob shelf plus, ugh, even moving around enough to take the photos kept making the facing flip up. REALLY cute other than that though.

The dress on the right (for sale here) was also a pretty big win for me despite the fact that the actual dress is seriously hideous in my opinion. One of my friends said it looked like I had hunted and killed a grandad armchair, and I think it looks like the flock wallpaper my grandparents had in their house c. 1981, so, you know, I was never EVER going to buy this one. However, the princess seam and colour block look really worked for me. I really would never make anything with a neckline that high and the hip fit was tight while the bust fit (which is weird for me), but the general idea was good.

Still pretty good!

Surprise of the day -- the dress on the left is a classic shift shape. It's sort of alarming as a dress -- a ton of lace and huge heavy white collar and cuffs -- but I loved the shape on me. Again, I would never buy this particular dress, but I was instantly sold on the body shape. I pretty much came home and instantly looked for a pattern to replicate the shape of this dress. This is very weird because normally I would never have dreamed of even trying on a classic sheath dress, since I've always heard they were very much made for the kind of long lean body type or else full hourglass, of which I am neither. It gave me some really nice hourglass shaped curves though that I liked a lot.

On the right is a fit and flare dress with a sweetheart neckline colour blocking (for sale here) -- basically a Collette Macaron but with a slightly fuller skirt. It's also a size too big -- they didn't have my size -- so it really doesn't fit at the waist or above the bust. I already knew I liked fit and flare (although that look is overall a little more girly than I aspire to, which is why I'm excited that some of the more tailored options look good as well) but I've always wanted to see what a Macaron looked like on me but never wanted to make one. In conclusion: just say no to the Macaron, for me at least.

Dubious. Also, dalmation spotted
This is the dress I am most dubious/unsure of (for sale here). It's more of a sundress, very casual. It has an elasticated waist and it's just a little pullover dress with a slightly blouson top. I didn't feel like it had a huge amount of volume in the front of the dress but, uh, the effect on me is not great. I actually think it looks ok from the front, but as soon as you look at it from the side it's like WOW, I HAVE A LOT OF BUST, OK. Plus, the waist pulled ALL the way up until it was almost an empire seam on me. I feel like I would probably have to really think about how to get a pullover dress like this to work on me -- surely there must be a tipping point between THIS IS REALLY A LOT OF UPPER BODY VOLUME and like, sure, the upper part of this dress is unfitted but I'm not actually going to fall over from being top heavy.

Dress on the right? Seriously the most unflattering thing ever. I look like a brick. SO much upper body volume. Waist pulled up. No shaping at all. AWFUL. I guess those square/totally unfitted styles are not going to be my thing, ever. And the one on the left is just awful too, not just because of some design features but because I just can't look past how hideous it was! It was allegedly the right size, but I needed to up a size for SURE. The actual shape isn't entirely bad given it was too small, but (not really visible in this shot) it also had a wide waistband that hit me right where my abdomen has a bulge, and clung to it. REALLY not flattering. At all. Also, it was made of this hideous neoprene fabric that was like wearing a pink lace swimsuit. Vile!

So, next post on this topic will be me trying to match some patterns and ideas to my dress-related findings. My big picks so far: I'm suddenly coming to LOVE everything wrapped, and am definitely planning on some wrapped dresses and faux wrapped dresses. This is based not on anything I did today but the experience so far of wearing the New Look 6150 top (surprisingly wearable with jeans despite the problems) and Burda wrap cardi that I made. For YEARS I resisted wrap tops/etc and now I feel like this was probably a mistake. I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT. Also, fit and flare is probably always going to be a big thing for me, also some empire waists (but not all). Based on this though, I am definitely adding sheath dresses with good waist shaping to the mix, proceeding with caution on anything remotely blouson, and definitely DEFINITELY nothing shapeless.

Thins I still have left to consider: they didn't have a shift dress in my size to try on. My feeling is that unless it had some serious waist shaping (french darts, maybe, rather than side seam darts?) shift dresses plus my bust wouldn't produce a look I liked. I didn't bother with any of these dresses that are like long t-shirts or tents. Every like that just hangs straight from my bust and looks terrible (and also: pregnant). I have ZERO idea if drop waist would suit me and strangely feel a strong aversion to finding out. Not sure what, if anything, that leaves!


  1. I admire you for trying on so many dresses. I despise dressing rooms and trying on clothes. I really appreciate how you actually analyzed and shared. Perhaps I should do some trying on with pictures. I don't know if I would share, but it would be a great exercise. I also agree with you on the silhouettes that worked well on you.

    1. I do too normally! I hate it with a passion in the ordinary run of things and end up shopping online most of the time. That's why it's taken me MONTHS to actually go do this. However, I actually found it quite bearable, mainly because nothing had to fit! Nothing had to work at all! It didn't matter if it all looked utterly hideous, because I wasn't buying anything, I was just looking for the sake of SCIENCE (and dressmaking). It was a whole new mindset for me and much easier to bear than most shopping trips as a result. I share because, to be honest, I have nobody in my real life interested in this level of detail about clothes and sewing, so I write it down in my blog just so I won't explode from unexpressed sewing thoughts.

  2. I think that all of the dresses look fantastic apart than the last two. What a great exercise to do, for science!

    1. It really was helpful! It's set all sort of mice running around on wheels in my brain about what to sew this spring/summer, anyway :D

  3. What a brilliant experiment! The first two dresses look amazing on you (ignoring the ugly wallpaper fabric) and the last two look like they were on a different person. I'm thinking this may be something I should do, but I really really really hare trying on clothes. Who does though?

    1. I also really hate trying on clothes but this was strangely bearable! You just have to go in thinking that it doesn't matter if everything looks terrible, because all you're doing is an experiment rather than shopping. Normally I'm all concerned by whether I'm going to find something and will this fit and oh god, I can't wear this. So it was actually strangely freeing!