If there’s one piece of advice that I’ve absorbed from What Not To Wear‘s Stacy London (a polarizing figure, I know), it’s that one should have her clothing tailored. As much as humanly possible.
Think about it: the fashion industry caters to a very limited range of sizes, and sizing between brands– and even between styles– is an often imperfect science. While I happen to have a body type that most would deem “easy to dress,” I’m also about the height of a fourth grader. Or a really big toddler. I don’t know, whatever, most children look the same to me. When I have my pants hemmed (which is an utter necessity, not a choice), there’s usually about eight inches of loose fabric to be axed. Enough to make a bandeau top, or at the very least one of those fake bandana headbands that we all wore in 1999.
Hemming, for many, is a given. It always has been for me. But what if all of your clothes could fit better? I bit the bullet a couple of years ago and decided that yeah, mine definitely could. From there, I set out to find the best tailor in the DC area. Because you know, go big or go home.
Well, I found her. Cheryl Lofton‘s custom tailoring abilities are second to none. She’s also a badass, and a lovely human being. I’ve known Cheryl for a couple of years now, and have taken countless garments to her shop in Shaw. Almost every coat in my closet and all of the dresses I own have been touched by her magic hands. Isn’t it expensive, having everything altered? Sure, but I’ve never been one for math or budgeting; numbers are ugly things. (But seriously-– I’d rather own less clothing and have it all fit like a glove.)
Cheryl comes from a long line of tailors, all of whom have worked for D.C. elites, including presidents and first ladies (like the lovely Michelle Obama). Though she tried to resist for a while, she couldn’t suppress the talents that run in her blood. Now she owns the family business, continuing a 75-year Lofton legacy. She was kind enough to share her fascinating history with me, as well as a few insider tips.
I know your family has been tailoring in DC for generations. Who taught you how to sew and build garments? Did you always know you’d go into the business?
I learned to sew by several different means. Of course you already know that my grandfather was a tailor, and he did teach me lots about sewing. But he was old school, and believed that women were to be seamstresses and nothing more. He spent time making sure I could be a good tailor’s assistant like all the other women who worked for him. In order to learn garment construction, a woman would have had to be enrolled in his tailoring school which was for veterans– most, if not all of whom, were men.
All the boys in the family got to learn how to build men’s clothes from the ground up, but not the girls. Well, I was born a feminist and a tomboy, so I was determined that I was going to learn to make boy clothes. I watched everything my grandfather did and then went home and tried to do it on my mother’s sewing machine. It also helped that my boy cousin (and the favorite to take over the family business) would show me things that he had learned about sewing boy clothes when nobody else was around.
My mom actually taught me a lot, not only about sewing but also about fashion. She was a mother of five and needless to say, there was no money for designer clothes. My mom could whip up an outfit in a heartbeat and was always fashion forward. I was always in awe of how that clump of fabric on our dining room table/weekend cutting table would be transformed into an awesome ball gown by the end of the week.
My father was in the upholstery business, and that helped too. I watched him for countless hours in the basement of our home transforming furniture from old and lack-luster into something bright and beautiful. He taught me everything I know about clean and piped edges.
I actually had no intention of going into the business. I used to see my grandfather and father covered in thread on a regular basis and decided that that was not an option for me. I wanted to be in advertising, and went to school for it. During my college years, I was able to make money by altering and making clothes for my friends, and that’s really where it began for me. I loved transforming ill-fitting clothing into perfectly fitted garments that made a statement. Immediately after I finished college, my grandfather became ill and passed in that same year. My father passed as well a few years later, and none of the boys in the family seemed interested in all that my grandfather spent his life building. I could not let the business die, and that’s how I came to be in it.
What makes up the majority of your business? (Weddings, custom gowns and suits, tailoring?)
The majority of my business is definitely alterations. The wedding business is good, but it’s seasonal, where as alterations are all year round. I used to do more men’s than women’s alterations, but I have put a lot of effort into educating women about their need for alterations over the past few years, and now it’s finally paying off. Now women are finally starting understand the importance.
Tell me your pet peeves when it comes to fashion and fit. What are the biggest faux pas that you see?
1) Wearing a skirt that’s too big in the waist but fits in the hips. Why: Because unless its spandex, its still going to rotate on your body. Then you’re walking around with a vent that belongs in the back of the skirt in some weird place, like on the side.
2) A hemline that falls smack in the middle of you knees. Why: Because knees are anatomically ugly. I don’t care how pretty you think your knees are, they should not be the focal point of the outfit. Go above or below the knee.
3) Button up shirts that gap open right at the bust line. Why: Because people can’t focus on what you’re saying if their busy looking at your lace bra. I have developed the perfect fix for this. (The first commenter can get this on one blouse for free!)
4) This is the first runner up for the worst pet peeve: Jeans that don’t fit in the waist or the length. Why: I don’t which one is worse, jeans that drag on the ground or jeans that sit three inches away from your actual waist but fit in the seat. Jeans are meant to be sexy on men or women. That can’t happen if they don’t fit properly, and yes, jeans can be altered. Many tailors don’t want to do it, but keep looking until you find one that will.
5) Drum roll please… Wearing the sleeves too long on anything is hands down the worst offense. I have been known to run after people in the streets with a business card in hand for this one. Why: because it makes your entire outfit look both too big and unpolished. The proper sleeve length is at the wrist bone, give or take a little. Sleeves should not come down to the knuckles. Don’t ever tell your tailor or seamstress to adjust your sleeves based on raising your arms up in the air or driving or typing, whatever. If you do, I promise your tailor will talk about you when you leave. Sleeves should be adjusted with your arms relaxed and at your sides… period!
What’s the best fashion advice you can give?
I would say that everyone should focus on his or her personal look. People all too often focus on the trends, and they may not work for your body type or your personality. You will save yourself a lot of time, money and heartache if you stay in your look lane and avoid having a fashion collision.