My friend Jodi recently shared an article with me from Seamworks Magazine1, in which they try to compare and contrast buying clothing and making your own. I think they make an honest effort, though as they themselves note, there are so many variables it can be very difficult to make a direct comparison.
We in the sewing world talk about this all the time, and my initial knee-jerk reaction is, of course it’s not cheaper to sewn your own clothes. I get questioned all the time, “can you make shirts for me too?” when others see the shirts I make for my husband. Sure I can, if you have the budget and time for a fitting fee, multiple sessions, and don’t mind each shirt costing between $150 and $300 – or more.
Afterwards, the more Enlightened (or perhaps just polite) will say they didn’t realize it cost so much to make a shirt. The less enlightened just start in on how they can get shirts at the chain store for $30, and I should be selling them cheaper, and how dare I? Then depending how much mental energy I want to expend, I might engage then for longer, and remind them that I would be one person, making a one-off custom shirt, and that I can’t even get the fabric (even “cheap” fabric) for $30.
The article does a good job of discussing things like bulk purchasing, manufacturing at scale vs. single-person whole-process, and reminding us of the human cost of making things as well: all the things I usually don’t have the mental energy to explain to the complainers.
But I digress; as Jodi said, the article is a good conversation starter, and it certainly got me thinking. Since I get so many requests to share my clothing making, even though this is ostensibly an embroidery blog, I thought I’d share my thoughts with you.
My initial thoughts back to Jodi were this: It is an interesting article, but I think they forgot to talk about one thing: the value and longevity of clothing that fits the individual. If I have a pair of jeans that fit really well, I might keep them longer, be inclined to repair them repeatedly, than I would a pair that are only “good enough”, and remind me they are uncomfortable in some way with each wearing. Too, with such cheap fashion available, I imagine the human psyche would value them less and feel more at ease tossing and buying cheap clothing more frequently. (Never mind that they are usually of such terrible quality that you only get a few wears anyway.) Even if I spend $300 on a good blazer, if it doesn’t fit well, I’m still going to get much less use out of it and get rid of it sooner than if it fits, so in a way, I think sewing for yourself, or having your clothing made for you, can be less expensive overall. And Jodi also remined me of other reasons we sew, like how much joy it brings us to create, which makes sewing for yourself more valuable.
So in a way, making your own clothing can be less expensive, especially when you consider the costs of buying clothing; not just the financial cost, but the mental, physical and emotional cost. How many of us have spent the entire day (or two days) scouring every store in a mall, only to walk out empty-handed? And while my tribulations clothing-shopping are related to my shape, it’s not only the large-busted who can’t find anything. I know many smaller, taller, shorter and larger people who just don’t fit into ready-to-wear. For instance, I can go into a “plus-size” store, try on their largest size blouse, and it can still be gaping and pulling at the front buttons, while the back is so capaciously large, I could put a friend in with me. Why? Because my 52” bust is not split 26 inches in front and 26 in back as the blouse is. My back is all of 18 inches wide, and the rest is up front. There’s no way anything off the rack will ever fit. So, I sew.
I know, all of this has been said before, and I am very much aware of the privilege I enjoy in having the budget and free time to sew. Most people won’t though, and it pains me. This is especially because so many of us are judged on our appearance (or perhaps I should be more direct and say so many of us judge others based on their appearance), and much of what people find negative in our appearance is due to ill-fitting clothing. Yes, this segues into a whole other subject, and no, custom clothing for everyone won’t cure the world’s ills, but think of how often you judge someone because their clothes look poorly, and it’s just because they don’t fit.
I will finish up by saying that, whether in the end it is cheaper or not fiscally to sew your clothing, I think, considering the pleasure of well-fitted clothes and the joy making something can give you, it is far more valuable to sew for yourself.
1 Seamworks Magazine “Is it Cheaper to Sew Your Own Clothes” March 2022 issue