That Perfect Shirt

(…for a given value of perfect)

This is the story of Kitty yanking out all her fur while trying to design the perfect shirt for as many women’s bodies as possible, preferably without having to personally fit them all one at a time. 

If you read my last blog on what makes a shirt fit properly, you already know how challenging it is just to get reasonably good fit.  But I wanted this new design to have all of the following assets too:

  1. A simple enough line so you could wear it often, but also stylish enough that it doesn’t look like you bought it at Fast-Fashions-‘R’-Us.  Basically, you should be able to wear it under a business blazer AND a Victorian corset equally appropriately.
  • Some adjustability.  Much as I would love to have a separate pattern for each common figure variation (bust size, hip size, waist length, sleeve girth, etc), we’re not a mega-corporation with a sweatshop.  One Kitty can only sew so many things in a day, and we don’t have room to carry (or store) thousands of shirts.  Which means that there would need to be built-in features made for flexing around your diverse shapes.
  • Affordability, within reason.  Everybody needs a shirt that fits.  On the other hand, a truly custom-fitted, hand-made blouse, constructed with decent materials with all the fine details I’d like it to have, tends to cost about as much as a small car.  So, compromise is going to be a thing.

So this is the design so far:

We’re going with a standing collar because it gives a finished look without being generic.  I started with a front that closed all the way up the neck, but nixed that idea in favour of this neckline with a narrow V-shaped notch.  Seriously, no one can handle something buttoned under the chin unless you have a swan-like neck and chiselled jawline.  I actually really love the way this neckline turned out — oddly elegant and elongating.  Totally worth the dozens of attempts that it took.

The sleeves are three-quarter length, lightly gathered into a narrow cuff.  The cuff echoes the collar and pulls the look together, and the gathering adds a definite but not over-the-top softness.  Also, it accommodates more kinds of arms, softening the skinny and making room for the billowy.  I can’t be the only one with massive biceps compared to the rest of me, right?  And three-quarter is a universally flattering length, which also happens to look great even if your arms are an inch or three longer or shorter than average.

There is no way to adjust the bust fit on a fitted shirt that I know of.  I suppose I’ll just have to make these in multiple cup sizes.  Oh well.  But it’s worth it!  See how marvellous a shirt can look when it correctly cups your bosom and actually nips in at the waist?

The upper back actually has a built-in adjustment for a forward shoulder.  This is the one alteration you really need that you didn’t know you needed; almost EVERYONE needs it in this age of computers.  Your shoulders and neck curve forward more than they used to back when everyone was out chasing antelope or show-jumping on horseback.  This is why store-bought shirts sometimes fall back off the shoulder and, in extreme cases, crawl up and try to choke you (lots of people avoid high necklines just for this reason, and this is why you often have to pull your shirt down in the front).  See how the shoulder seam is shifted ever so slightly forward?

The blue ribbon in the previous photo is where a conventional shoulder seam sits.  It’s a very small change, but it ensures that the shirt will stay put on your shoulders.

There are adjustable lacings in the back.  Firstly, no one has the same waist length, and secondly, you may have no bum, an average bum, or a really fabulous bum with the full swayback deal.  A little manipulation of these lacings will help most of us skirt the issue, just enough to achieve decent fit.  I detest sewing loops, and I tried many ways to get around it, but I had to admit defeat — the lacing system really works well, and adds a nice detail besides.

It’s so much simpler to make the hem straight all the way around, but stark horizontal line right at the hip doesn’t do us any favours, especially in a crisp fitted item like this.  Ergo, we have a gently curved hem, which is a headache to sew correctly, but makes your legs look longer and enhances your curvature.  It’s subtle and you wouldn’t consciously notice it, but believe me, it makes a difference.

I’m satisfied (for now) that this us the best off-the-rack shirt I can make.  I realize that everything looks good on Amelia, my trusty and completely inhuman-looking dress form, but honestly, this looks halfway decent on me too (linebacker shoulders, Hanoverian bosom, no waist, hip-deficient, bum-less, truly epic biceps), which is rather a feat for any blouse.  There is a reason you’ve never, ever seen me in a button-down-style shirt before.

I may have ripped out all my hair while stitching the million or so sample shirts to get to this point, but hopefully it will be worth it in the end.  The plan is to debut these (yes, with different cup sizes) in April at Calgary, so come help me test out the prototypes. Then as usual, I’ll probably end up making a host of changes based on your suggestions.

Next up: Steampunk goes to Hogwarts.

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