Those who have been reading my blog posts for a while know that my primary resource for making inspiration of all kinds (clothes, shoes, ceramics, nail art!) is pinterest. It’s probably not anyone’s favorite, nor most efficient, platform to manage ideas and images, especially with ads placed every 4 or 5 pins (and lots of diet advertising! have y’all noticed that??), but it’s what I have been using the longest and it meets the admittedly low bar of my personal needs. Occasionally I will scroll through my boards to sort through them, getting rid of images that no longer seem to suit my style or interest. But one garment has been immovable from my “Clothing Inspiration” board ever since I pinned it years ago, and whenever it pops up for me I feel a deep, wistful longing at how absolutely perfect it is and how I wish I knew exactly how to make it.
The garment, as seen above, is a flowy, figure skimming jumpsuit with wide legs and fluttery sleeves, cinched in with a matching belt. The silhouette is fantastic, immediately bringing to mind a 40’s vintage glamour that feels both dynamic and comfortable at the same time. But what stands out to me the most with this jumpsuit is the color blocking of the stripes, which I assumed were created by using a specialty fabric in a smart way, maybe a panel fabric which would allow those shapes to be constructed into the jumpsuit. For such a simple silhouette I feel like I have never seen anything quite like this piece, and throughout the past several years as my style has changed in big and little ways, my love for this jumpsuit has remained fast and steady.
In all honesty, figuring out how to make something is probably my favorite mode of creating, and I pinned this jumpsuit in the hopes that one day I might be inspired to sit down and work out how to bring it to life, most likely with the help of multiple patterns that I could hack together, although I couldn’t even imagine how to replicate those cool stripes.
Imagine my surprise when I was recently perusing the Know Me patterns site to get links to the Beaut d’jore pattern I made for my previous blog post and I stumbled across this new pattern, an absolute dead ringer for the beloved vintage garment I had been coveting for years.
I couldn’t believe it- it was like my prayers had been answered! I was immediately thrilled at the prospect of being able to make it from a trusted pattern brand (I really love the MimiG for Simplicity brand) but I also had some complicated feelings that it was such a direct knock off of the vintage jumpsuit. I understand that there are no truly “new” ideas that haven’t been done before in the world of fashion, which is the foundation of how both RTW fashion and Big 4 sewing patterns operate. Both indie and fast fashion brands knock off what they see on the runways from the big name designers, and those big name designers have historically knocked off their ideas from what they have seen queer folks and BIPOC communities wearing out in the real world. There is no copyright law saying that clothing designs can’t be repeated or recreated by others (although there is a community of people in fashion trying to change that) and it all seems very…ethically ambiguous. While I recognized all of this logically, I couldn’t help that it still felt a little sticky for me: generally people expect an attempt to be made to either elevate a copied design or to put their own spin on it (I’ve heard that the fashion school design rule of thumb is change it 10% and then it’s new again). The new Know Me pattern seems to be a direct copy of the original design, down to the color choices- the only real difference I note is that there is no color blocked stripe that follows the armscye on the replicated jumpsuit. They do offer a view of the garment that is made into a short romper, unlike the original which is long pants, so I suppose that counts as making a design change, too, but one could argue that its not really different enough, as the legs simply got chopped off.
In the midst of me trying to process my own feelings about Know Me pattern, the issue at hand was amplified in the sewing community this past week when a well known (and one of my personal favorite) indie pattern brands released a design that is a knock off of a RTW indie designer’s dress. Some argue that the details, like where the zipper is placed and the fact that a jumpsuit version is offered, are different enough to the original that it is no longer the same garment, but personally I saw the resemblance between the two garments immediately.
People seemed to choose sides quickly and to call out the other side for their lack of understanding, and I admittedly had a knee-jerk reaction to the whole debacle, too. As an artist and maker who does occasionally sell her illustrations and ceramics, I am SO HYPER AWARE of where my inspiration comes from, what pieces of that inspo have wound up in my final pieces, and what my own maker’s mark looks like. I see nothing wrong with copying the art of others for my own personal enjoyment (replicating a dress I have seen in RTW fashion or a creating a ceramic mug with a design technique I’ve seen online), but I draw the line when it comes to profiting off of those items. I’ve sided with so many indie artists who have had direct copies of their creations land on websites like Shein and Zara (insert throw-up noises) with no available recourse, so for it to happen within our beloved sewing community just didn’t feel great. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, you know?
But I can admit now that I was failing to see the nuance here. Thankfully lots of people online shared their own perspectives of the whole debacle and it was incredibly helpful in allowing me to learn about experiences outside of my own privilege. Our dear sewing extraordinaire, Grace (wzrdreams for the real sewing heads out there, lol) commented that a lot of RTW indie designers, including the one embroiled in this particular controversy, *do not actually have extended sizing in their clothing, so for a pattern designer to make a pattern available in sizes that will fit a larger range of bodies feels more than a little punk rock. Whether you want to admit or not, fatphobia is rampant in our culture at large but is particularly insidious in the fashion industry, and making nice clothes accessible to a massive part of the population feels very anti-establishment in the best way.
*another point of contention in this argument (that I again only know about through the posts that plus sized folks have shared online), is that a lot of RTW brands will say that a garment goes up to size 18 or larger, but those sizes will suspiciously ALWAYS be out of stock as soon as it hits the online store, leaving people to believe they aren’t actually manufacturing those sizes, they just want to seem inclusive. This particular RTW indie designer is no exception, with her dresses going up to a size 18 which seems to have been sold out for ages, and on top of that, there is no actual size range listed for size 16 and 18- the size guide weirdly stops at size 14, so I can’t even tell you what size an 18 would accommodate! The size 14 goes up to 47″ which is not very extensive IMO.
Yet another opinion I saw being consistently shared is that the customer base for the RTW dress and the sewing pattern are not overlapping. The original RTW dress retails for $1100. Someone who is seriously considering buying that dress is not likely to see a dupe sewing pattern available for it and then say “oh, nevermind, I’ll just spend $16 on the sewing pattern and make it myself instead”. Not saying it isn’t possible, but it doesn’t seem very likely. The intent and inspiration behind the hobby of home sewists runs across the board, but there is a large consensus of people who don’t want to spend lots of money on high quality RTW garments if they can make comparable designs themselves that are less expensive, are actually in their size, and fit well. So the idea that the indie sewing pattern company is taking away business from the RTW designer just doesn’t hold a lot of water.
Finally, the concept of “stealing” designs from other creators (which is shaky at best if we can all agree that everything in fashion is just being re-envisioned and recycled for new customer bases at this point) feels a little trickier to navigate when you consider that the original RTW dress in question is adorned with an embroidery technique that seems to be a copy of something that originated from the handiwork of indigenous makers. Considering that the RTW designer is profiting off of that craftsmanship, many would call it appropriation. Furthermore, I read a comment that said that neither party can take credit for inventing a croissant sleeve on a fitted, waist-defining dress with a zipper – all of those design details have existed before, in numerous configurations, and will continue to exist in the future. While I don’t know all the details of the embroidery embellishment (because none are given on the designer’s website), I think it’s fair to say that, at the very least, both parties are benefiting from the ideas of others.
So, given all this information, where do I side now? Who is right and who is wrong? I am coming to the slow realization that there is no such thing as I actively try to rewire my own brain to stop categorizing our complex world into binaries of right/wrong, yes/no, good/bad. I can hold both of these things to be true, that 1. it is uncomfortable to see another company , no matter how much smaller and lesser known than yours, take the idea of something you have designed and recreate it for their own customer base, and 2. that turning popular designer items into accessible sewing patterns for a community of people who would not otherwise be able to enjoy them is amazing, and seems to have a hugely positive impact.
I do think it’s important that people not call out this indie pattern design team specifically when quite literally the vast majority of sewing pattern companies, no matter how big or small, are doing the same thing. Burda, Grasser, Big 4 and tons of other indie pattern brands see a need in the market they are trying to serve and then do the work to meet that need. Does this make it okay for them to “steal” other’s designs (“steal” is a loaded work but the most common one used in these conversations). As my good sewing friend pointed out to me, does selling knock-off designer bags actually take any money away from mammoths like Chanel or Hermes when you consider that the customer base for those knock-offs wouldn’t be able to afford the astronomical prices of the originals in the first place? Why should only rich people be able to live a life of luxury and looking expensive? Is it okay for smaller brands to “steal” ideas from bigger brands? What about the other way around? Can anything be considered right or wrong when you’re working within the framework of a capitalist and consumer-driven society?
In a perfect world, indie patterns would be able to do what the Big 4 companies do when it comes to licensing some of the well known designers in fashion, and this indie pattern company in question could have released their pattern with a nod to where their inspiration came from with no love lost. Can you imagine your favorite indie RTW company teaming up with a reputable sewing pattern brand to bring you a cool design that they signed off on? Most RTW indie brands don’t have the bandwidth or know-how to release sewing patterns of their popular designs (if they are aware of the at-home sewing community at all) so collaborating with an established sewing pattern brand could be an absolute game changer. Of course I don’t know how the financials of this would play out and it might not be a worthwhile endeavor for either party, but I don’t think it’s wrong to dream of the ideal world we want to see, ya know? My friend James (an indie fashion designer who made some waves on the last season of Netflix’s Next in Fashion) and I have been dreaming of this very such thing- he knows he has a clientele of people who can afford his pricey pieces but he also wants his work to be accessible to all, and we like to brainstorm about a flagship store that sells his clothes and also sells fabric by the yard and accompanying patterns to recreate his designs for the home sewist. Just imagine the possibilities!
Okay so that was the tea, now let me get back to this Addie Masters jumpsuit! Once I saw the Know Me pattern on the website, I immediately went to my pinterest page to see if I could find out any more information on the original design. In a matter of moments I was taken down a rabbitthole learning about the original designer of the jumpsuit, a woman named Addie Masters who made a name for herself in mid century fashion circles for creating Hostess wear. And this is where I felt the most bothered- there was no mention of Addie Masters’ work anywhere on the Know Me pattern or on the blog or social media of the influencer attached to the pattern, even though it seems she is the clear inspiration for the piece. I used to be really keen on vintage shopping and would always marvel at how many fun, unique, well-made pieces I would find that had no designer tags on the inside. I could tell that many were made lovingly by either a home sewist or indie maker without a well known brand to advertise, and I would feel a bit sad that their names didn’t follow their creations through the years. Of course this is par for the course for most vintage finds, but it still left me wanting.
The fact that a stunning piece of history has survived long enough to be celebrated with the original designer’s name intact but it isn’t being recognized by the company profiting off of that design is so disappointing. Like I’ve discussed, this happens in the fashion world all the time, but I think I expected that a brand built on celebrating the ideas and creativity of sewing influencers (who I also consider to be independent makers and thinkers) to treat this with a little more sensitivity. I mean, the concept of bringing gorgeous vintage garments and ensembles to life in a modern way with better instructions and modern construction techniques is a literal DREAM! I support the shit out of that idea! But it would have been so amazing for them to highlight the origins and lean into it instead of ignoring it like all the other big corporations tend to do when they “take” inspo from others.
Anyways, this is just my opinion and I do respect the fact that others will have different ideas about the exchange of designs and ideas in the fashion world. But this blog is about me and my feelings, haha! The only thing I could do to appease my own discomfort with this whole issue was to shine a light on the work of Addie Masters, who isn’t super well known today, but whose work has absolutely influenced fashion over the years. So if you’ve kept reading thus far, please come along with me for a quick but hopefully insightful glimpse into the work of Ms. Addie Masters!
Masters (1901-1983), an aspiring actor who attended design school while working as an extra in Hollywood, became an influential west coast designer during the mid-century and was grouped with a cohort of other women designers (called the Affiliated Fashionists) known for their “swimsuits, patio pajamas, play clothes, and relaxed separates”. As an introvert and proud member of the Stay-At-Home Club, this description is like music to my eyes; patio pajamas?! Swoon.
This period of fashion coincided with mid-century architecture in California which took advantage of the sunny, warm climate by incorporating more outdoor living spaces, elevating the way people entertained in their homes. The garments of this time period, designed for both maximum comfort and maximum style, embodied the cool, relaxed California elegance that distinctly set it’s vibe apart from the east coast aesthetic, and set a new trend of the era. Masters and her fellow west coast designers ushered in a movement of casual couture in a time where women were still expected to be buttoned up and corseted when socializing in affluent circles.
Known for her epic house parties that started in the day and continued until late in the evening, Masters coined her most well known garment, “hostess pants”, made in a long culotte style with luxury fabrics in vivid colors, for women to comfortably entertain her guests in. Her bathing suits and “beach pajamas” (which could also be worn pool side) graced the pages of many vintage fashion magazines, and her “wrap rascal” dress, a simple wrap dress that I unfortunately could not find any pictures of, was also a big hit.
When the war came, many American designers had to alter their signature styles because of fabric restrictions, and Masters abandoned her flowy, yardage-heavy hostess pajamas in favor of simpler, less fabric hungry silhouettes. But the war also put a lot of lesser-known designers like Masters on the map since the country didn’t have the same access to Paris fashion houses as they once did- Vogue and Harpers suddenly had no choice but to start paying attention to the locals. When Masters revisioned her brand after the war, she was inspired by the influx of out-of-towners coming to visit west coast ranches. Many were vacationers but there was also a trend of couples seeking a quick divorce in Nevada, which they could obtain after “living” in the state for 6 weeks.
Given the unfortunate moniker “Ranch Dressing”, Masters began designing rodeo shirts for women- billowy, heavily ornamented blouses to pair with slacks and denim jeans that embodied the spirit of ranch life. These became popular as many women would purchase these garments as a wearable souvenir to bring back home and show off to friends. Of course, cultural appropriation rears its ugly head here with Masters embroidering native imagery onto the fine silks of some of these shirts, which is a shame, but certainly not a surprise. I find it so fascinating how Ranch Dressing was all about playing the part of a ranch dweller for wealthy city folks who knew little to nothing about the real lifestyle of ranchers. It reminds me of the ballerina trend I have seen RTW brands pushing lately, with ballet flats, leg warmers and leotards plastered all over the UO and Anthropologie websites (I don’t shop at these anti-LGBTQ companies, but I periodically look for shoe and outfit inspo there).
It was also around this time that Masters started taking “inspiration” from southeast Asian culture and incorporating saris into her work, pairing them with coordinating bathing suits that could be worn pool and beach side for entertaining. While I personally think that saris are an incredibly versatile and wearable garment and love the thought of different cultures being able to enjoy them, I am less enthusiastic about Masters using them in her work when given the context that few to no Indian or Indian American designers would have had the privilege of showing and selling their work to Americans at that same time period, to the same audience, and at that same price point.
Addie Masters was quoted as saying that women are “most beautiful” in their own homes, which is a sentiment I really appreciate and I think of as something to aspire to. If we expand the idea of what and where “home” can look like and be, we can imagine it as the place where we are most comfortable, the place where we feel the most like ourselves, where we experience peace and calm, and see our inner selves reflected around us. Home can be a stationary structure with walls and a roof, or it can be a person, a community, a tree, a city- anything you can think of that makes you feel safe and turns you into your most authentic self. And that is where people tend to be the most beautiful: wherever they are protected and free.
Welp! This was a long ass blog post and took a lot of turns given the buzz that’s been happening this week on social media, so if you read this far, I appreciate you bearing with me! Initially I just wanted to share my latest make, the Know Me patterns jumpsuit, but then I decided to do a bit of a book report on Addie Masters since she was left out of the conversation of that pattern, and then things got intense within the sewing community and after marinating on it for a few days, I wanted to share my thoughts. At the end, it was too many ideas to include in one post, so I will share my jumpsuit next week. If I didn’t make this clear already, I truly respect and understand both sides of what is going on and not on some Switzerland shit- it’s impossible for me to choose a side because I don’t think either one is incorrect in their position. It’s a pretty uncomfortable position for me because I am historically someone with strong convictions and opinions, but it also feels like honesty and growth. I love the idea of aging into someone who can find compassion and understanding for more than one side at the same time. Not about like, racism or transphobia or ableism, but for stuff like this? It feels safe to explore a position of empathy and thoughtfulness for all the parties involved. I like the thought of seeing myself as a more flexible, less rigid woman as I get older. Again, thanks for reading, everyone!