For a long time, I didn’t know my body. Hell, I didn’t WANT to know my body. It was not my own, it was something I never recognised when I looked in the mirror, I just didn’t want it. Avoiding my body was actually quite easy, I knew clothing stores just weren’t for me; it only took a couple of times trying on pants in a fitting room only to get them up to just above the knee and not an inch higher, that I got over that.
It’s so strange to think back on that person, and so surprising then that I pursued a career in costuming, where I look at and scrutinise bodies on a daily basis. I learnt my trade full time over three years and one of the most interesting elements for me to learn was how to fit a costume to the body. When learning this skill we would use our classmates as fit models, so each would have a turn at fitting and being fitted. We would stand in a special fitting room with floor to ceiling mirrors at the front and back, and one on the ceiling (because why not!?). The fluorescent lighting then made it ten times worse than any department store change room. I remember the anxious growling of my stomach before going into a fitting session that could last hours. First, we would assess the overall fit; are there drag lines, does something need to be let out or taken in. We would examine every curve and the way fabric would fall over it, where the waist was sitting, the fullest part of the hip, if the shoulders sat differently, if one thigh or bicep was fuller than the other, how posture affects fit. It was a process through which there were many toiles and countless alterations, and as uncomfortable and torturous as it sounds, it taught me how to understand and be comfortable with my body. The costumes we made would be anything from an 1880s bustle dress with a corset to 1930s silk satin palazzo pants or 1912 tea dress (see the photo series bellow). Each time as a model, I became better at standing still in front of the mirror. I’d go into a sort of meditative state, where I’d stand tall and proud, I’d breath slowly and deeply, and I began to understand that achieving a good fit for my body is not impossible AND I deserve a garment that fits just as much as any other body.
Up to that point, my body was always just an interim body, and one day, I would graduate into the true body that I was meant to have, that I deserved to have.
I can’t say that I’ve completely come out of that thinking, it still lingers, but I now know how to be present with myself and be critical of that thinking. Accepting and celebrating what I have here and now and sitting still with my body and mind, has become an important practice for me. Learning how to make costumes and clothes for myself is one of the most liberating things I have ever done.
These days I love understanding and examining my curves and lines, my rolls and folds with the same care and precision I bring to other peoples bodies at work. Whether working with a commercial pattern or drafting for myself, I know my body and the adjustments I need to make to get the fit that makes me feel good. For me, learning in a small class and following fat makers is where I began and to continue to learn. There is so much to learn when it comes to fit, and I urge anyone learning how to fit their body to stay curious and kind. Because the right fit, feels like nothing else.
First bodice, skirt and sleeve block toile in the fitting rooms, before fitting. Notice any drag lines? haha
Following alterations to blocks, our task was to create a 1912 Japanese inspired tea dress. Please excuse the early smart phone quality photos!
Second fitting in main fabric. I was definitely well into meditation in the mirrors at this point. We had to stick to a period accurate design whilst constantly altering to find the right fit.
Final fitting. I think my smile says it all. Notice the difference in the drape of the pleats at the front over my hips, the opening of the neckline, and the fit of the belt at my underbust.
Final photo of completely fitted and altered 1912 tea dress. This costume and all its toiles were made by my very talented classmate Rosalie Boland, at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney, Australia.
Jacqui Lucey is a costumier for film, tv and theatre, living on Gadigal land. She’s a slow fashion enthusiast, and always down to talk about making. You can find her on IG @jacqlucey_makes