Alternatives to Gwynnie Bee, part 2

Since I lost weight last year, I’ve been in the size 12-14 range (on the high end right now thanks to several stressful events, sigh). Since the turn of the year I’ve been threatening to stop my subscription to Gwynnie Bee (written about previously here and here) because they focus on plus sizes and their selection in sizes below 14w is less than ideal. Yet I keep on finding enough items to fill up my virtual queue. And the other day they added NYDJ jeans to their offerings – not a huge plus for me since NYDJ is always too short for me, but maybe one of the cropped pairs will work for summer.

Occasionally I do an internet search to see if anyone’s come out with a Gwynnie Bee equivalent in smaller sizes. There are a few out there, although none seems perfect for me. Le Tote is recommended by several bloggers, but only goes up to a size 10. CoutureSqd has a wider size range and is cheaper but you only get one shipment per month, as opposed to GB and Le Tote’s ‘as many as the mail will bring’ exchanges. The newest option to me is thesixohsix, which seems to focus on designer casual wear, and is a straightforward rental service – you choose the item(s) you want to borrow and they send them to you for a 10 day rental period.

The one that gets the best reviews is StitchFix, which is slightly different in that it’s not a rental service; they send you a monthly box of items to try for potential purchase. Everything is returnable if you don’t like it, but there’s a $20 styling fee each month (applicable to your purchase if you make one).
I’ve got so many clothes right now I can’t really justify a StitchFix subscription, but I am definitely considering it for the future. Anyone tried any of these services?

Revisiting the Gwynnie Bee experience

Back in September I wrote about Gwynnie Bee and Twice. I have had nothing but great experiences with Twice, which is an online consignment store. I have both bought and sold there and recommend it (although I’d say beware of your wallet if you’re a thrifty shopper like me; it can get addicting.)

I wanted to revisit my experience of Gwynnie Bee, too. I’ve been a happy subscriber since last June, but I do have a couple of reservations. Just to recap, real quick, Gwynnie Bee is essentially Netflix for clothes – for a monthly subscription fee, you get a number of garments out at a time. You can keep them as long as you like and swap them out whenever you want.

One of my reservations is totally not their fault – it’s that their primary audience is plus-sized women. Although they do claim sizes 10-28, the bulk of their items is only available in sizes 14w and up. And I’m a 12 or 14 depending on brand, so a lot of their items don’t go small enough for me. The other is rather more under their control: their packing and shipping has seemed to get slower and slower. It regularly takes two business days after I’ve told them I’m returning an item for them to get the next item out of their warehouse and in the mail. This seems awfully slow to me, when the whole point of the service is that they should send out replacements right away. It doesn’t help that I’m all the way across the country from them – they’re in New Jersey and I’m in California.

I would still recommend them to any plus-sized woman who is looking for a more varied wardrobe, especially for office wear. I don’t know if I’ll keep my membership much longer, since a) I don’t have to dress for an office and b) I’m not plus-sized anymore, so clothes are easier to find in regular stores.

“Fabric had to be got”: quilting then, refashioning now

A few weeks ago I wrote a roundup of recent books on refashioning garments for While I was working on the story, it occurred to me that refashioning is the new quilting. What we have a lot of these days is cheap clothing that might not fit us that well or serve our purposes. What refashioners do is turn these unwanted items into something that fits better, suits a style better, or serves some completely different purpose than what it was originally intended to do.

Early quilters started making patchwork quilts because fabric was so precious to them. Even small pieces of fabric were worth keeping and reusing however possible. When a length of fabric had been used for a garment, altered and patched, maybe cut down into a smaller garment for a child, and finally worn out, there would be parts of the fabric that were still usable, and they could be combined with other small pieces to make a quilt to keep someone warm.

I’ve often thought that nineteenth century housewives would be horrified at the fact that most of us quilters these days go to the fabric store, buy lengths of fabric, and then cut those perfectly good pieces of fabric up in order to sew them together again in a different arrangement. As Sandi Fox points out in the fascinating book Quilts: California Bound, California Made 1840-1940, which I’ll be reviewing for the San Francisco Book Review’s next issue, those traveling overland to the west had challenges that regular folks didn’t: “The equipment they required – needles and pins, thread, and a small scissors – could be carried in their pockets, but fabric had to be got.”

I’m no expert in medieval clothing, but I’ve read that a lot of garments were made in basic shapes and sizes no matter what your size, and made to fit using temporary adjustments. For example, you’d have a loose smock underneath a corset-style bodice which was laced up, and could obviously thus fit different ladies and during different stages of life. (It’s not like you could head off to the Pea in a Pod store every time you got pregnant.) Sleeves would be separate from a jacket and laced together, so either could be replaced or cleaned separately; the same with pants (which is why they’re called pants, plural, in English, not just pant, because the legs used to be separate from one another). It’s a different approach to the same goal as quilters, using a precious resource (fabric) in ways that made it easy to reuse for the next purpose or the next person’s need.

Signs point to the likelihood of the cost of fabric going back up again – this ‘golden age’ of relatively cheap fabric and clothes is coming to an end, more than likely. I wonder if future generations will still make quilts by cutting up new fabric, or whether patchwork reuse will make a comeback. I bet that refashioning will continue to become more popular, too.

Thrifting overload?

I haven’t posted many sewing projects recently, I know. I’ve had really good luck at my local thrift stores recently, and my closet and drawers are plenty full. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time feeling like it’s worthwhile to sew or buy something at retail when I am fortunate enough to be able to pick nice things up secondhand for 5 or 10 bucks. I live a casual lifestyle, and I have the time to go thrifting, so I could easily buy all my clothes secondhand if I chose to. Somehow that takes the shine off sewing for me – I know I’ll spend more time and more money and the product won’t be as good because I don’t have industrial tools or decades of experience. [Side note: this is also probably partially an example of the self-critical process that Ira Grass talks about in this interview, where a newish practitioner can see what’s wrong with their projects but can’t fix them yet.]

Anyway, not to be all ‘woe is me’ about that, but that’s what’s been going on in my head. I’m still very interested in sewing as a creative process, but right now I’m not that motivated to actually make things for myself. And my interest in daily fashion and outfits for “real folks” is growing, so I’ve thought about going to a hybrid blog that includes daily outfits, thrifting scores, as well as the occasional sewing project. I don’t know if that project would fit best here or should exist somewhere else, so it’s easy for those only interested in sewing can easily opt out. If you have an opinion, or if you read both daily fashion blogs and sewing blogs and would read a blog that includes both, I would love to hear what you think.

Thrifting Thursday: Birth of a cheapskate

I was thinking more about thrift store shopping and my experiences of it, after my post last week and this conversation at Already Pretty. The town closest to where I grew up didn’t have a thrift store, but the church we went to did sponsor a used clothing ‘shop’. My mother used to volunteer there when I was a kid, and I hung around and played hide and seek around the racks. From my childhood recollections, the selection was pretty dire. Perhaps it was because it was a rural area, but people didn’t donate perfectly good clothes; they wore them till they wore out, or until they were hopelessly out of date. So there was a lot of 70s polyester doubleknit and bell bottoms happening during my 80s childhood.

Nowadays, there’s more disposable fashion, and in my area there are up-to-date thrift stores, including those who get new unsold merchandise straight from the retail stores. When I first moved to the San Francisco area I was really surprised at what was available in the secondhand shops, including the consignment places (most of which have gone belly-ups since, thanks to the economic downturn, except the ones that only sell pricey designer stuff in the wealthy suburbs).

I know there are plenty of folks who prefer to shop secondhand only for designer or vintage items. Me, I tend to dress more practically and I am perfectly willing to buy something originally from a mall store at the thrift store, as long as it’s in good shape, flatters me, and is reasonably priced. I figure that these donated clothes are going to be shipped overseas or used for fiber recycling if they’re not worn until they’re worn out, and I might as well extend the useful lifetime of a garment if I can. As a result, a lot of my ‘regular’ clothes are thrifted, particularly as I’ve been self-employed recently and I have the flexible structure and time to spend going to the thrift stores and searching through the racks.

Thrifting Thursday

I went to college in a small town which was nonetheless much bigger than anywhere I’d ever lived. There was one thrift store downtown; I can’t remember now if it was a Salvation Army or a Goodwill. Being a college student on a limited budget, I spent a lot of time there searching through the racks. One time I found the coolest handmade housedress. It was a printed calico with a very bright print and had unfinished seams, but it happened to fit me perfectly and I wore it probably way too much. I used to wonder about the woman who made it. I do the same when I find homesewn garments in the secondhand stores now – is this woman still alive? Does she still sew? What made her donate her clothes?

I’ve been wanting to expand my thrift store horizons beyond the 3 or 4 nearby shops I usually visit, so when I was down in the South Bay for other reasons the other day, I went to the San Jose Savers. I have to say that my reaction was mixed. It was a lot bigger than the Savers that’s closer to me – nice because the aisles between racks weren’t so narrow – but as far as selection it was on par at best. It’s difficult to judge a thrift store’s selection based on only one visit, as it can vary so much. I was happy to see that they carried patterns, which I’ve never seen at the other Savers.
thrift store patterns

I picked up these three lovelies for a buck each. The first is a collection of sewing room accessories from the 90s, including SM cover, pincushions, sewing kits, ironing board cover, hams, etc. I really should make covers for my machines, especially since they live in the garage near the dryer and lint ends up everywhere. The second is a P/P pattern for shoulder pads and a chemise. I’ve already got another shoulder pad pattern that I’ve never used, but you never know, right?
Simplicity 7166
The third is a simple dress – I’m thinking the view on the far left, sleeveless with a sweetheart neckline, would be a great summer housedress for hot weather. Maybe sometime I can donate it and someone else can find it and wear it, and wonder about me.