A dress that fits, for all

At 5'10", buying dresses is an exercise in frustration. From mid-priced to designer, the dress is tuggingly short–and I'm only hoping for to the knee.

Bear with me, petite possums, this post might interest you, too.

Clothes: Parisienne sensibility, sized for real women

Designer Muriel Dombret of Clothes

I recently visited Belgian-born, Paris-trained designer Muriel Dombret, owner of the chic boutique Clothes, in Ottawa, Ontario. 

Clothes manufacture on site, so will custom-fit length, body or sleeve and offer various fabrics from a selection of Italian linens and wools, as well as offering ready-to-wear. Sizes run from 2 to 16.

(Larger sizes require specially-milled fabrics, which is why many small shops don't offer sizes above 16 or so.)

I chose the "Emma" dress in citron stretch cotton:

and a custom-fit version of "Lolita" in navy:

Orders via the website are for ready-to-wear only, due to the specifics of custom fit.

Men's outfitters have always offered custom tailoring or on-site alterations for ready-to-wear. Why have such services vanished for women? Why don't more designers address women's size diversity? 

This is not "to the knee"!
In the e-shopping world, Boden offer two lengths for Misses' dresses and skirts (but no Women's sizes) and J. Crew have quietly added some dresses up to 20– but would you call this dress "to the knee", as they do?

Standard sizing veers ever smaller, shorter and tighter and the higher the price point, the more the clothes are designed for mannequin figures.  

A peek into Clothes
This isn't just a strapping North American problem. The "Any Body Buenos Aires Team" claim that 70% of Argentinian women cannot find clothes in their size, and say:
"The largest size most non-specialty stores in the capital carry is about size UK 8/10, which leaves approximately 70% of Argentine women hard-pressed to find stylish clothes that fit, despite the size laws that exist to combat the problem."

Size 6, standard-proportioned women may be rolling eyes. But I'm thrilled to buy a dress that won't look borrowed from a friend.

Dobbin: Workhorse designs cut for grown-ups

Dobbin's Juliet stretch ponte dress, $168

Jessica Gold Newman and Catherine Doyle's just-opened online shop Dobbin promises "classic and vintage-inspired silhouettes made of designer-level European fabrics in flattering fits made for real bodies of all ages"– and free shipping both ways for US customers.

Check out their description of the "Dobbin Fit", which made me sigh with relief. More pieces will be added to the presently small line; Jess says they will offer more length options, too.

I only wish more designers would accommodate our various sizes and body shapes in luscious fabrics. If you've found any of these rare sources, please share your finds with us!


Unknown said…
Very nice dresses. I agree to find a good knee length dress is tricky and I am a fairly standard 5' 7'.
Anonymous said…
I love Muriel Dombret's clothing, however it seems more like a bricks and mortar store, not setup for online shopping. That is my big beef, that Canadian retailers are 15 years behind the U.S. and the U.K. and miss out on a huge volume of sales because of it.
Duchesse said…
Anonymous: As I mentioned, you can order standard sizing from the web site- which one could not do even a year ago. Many small boutiques-and not just those in Canada- do not *want* to be online retailers fulfilling a huge volume. (In fact, your post made me realize I haven't found my most-enjoyed things at such vendors.)
Susan B said…
I love the dresses you chose, Duchesse. Very nice lines. The challenge for petites isn't just hem length, it's also where the waist (if there is one) hits. But at least it's easier to shorten the hem of a dress than lengthen one...
Kristien62 said…
I love both of the dresses you chose, but the brown is stunning and the colors must be so flattering with your hair. I am going to check the web site. Wish I could take a quick trip to Canada, but the agenda is full for the next month.
You've done very well Duchesse. I like both those styles and they will be versatile options that you can dress up or dress down.
materfamilias said…
I know you rarely do WIW posts, but I would love to see you in that Citron dress -- it's marvellous! So simple, elegant, but with the punch of such an interesting, rich colour. (of course, I could just come to Montreal . . . ;-)
Susan said…
Check out the website for Allie Coosh, a Dallas designer. She designs clothing for all sizes and does lots of custom work. Paulette, the designer/owner also uses designer fabrics.
Fritinancy said…
In retail-speak, "to the knee" means "to the top of the knee." So, yes, the J. Crew dress falls to the knee--as does the Dobbin dress. It's a more flattering proportion for most women than mid-knee or bottom-of-knee, which can look dowdy.

My own request: that e-tailers include an objective measure of skirt/dress length (center back to hem, waist to hem) in inches/centimeters.
Mardel said…
The problem for tall people, like petite people, is more than just total length. The proportions are often off. The store that I shop in now, that sells the Lafayette 128 NY clothes also provides free alterations for women, one of the few stores I have found to do so.

Both of those dresses are stunning, and are great examples of the kind of thing I am always looking for and hope to be sewing someday.
Anonymous said…
Deja Pseu has pinpointed the petite's common problem: waist length. It's so disappointing when an otherwise beautiful dress or jacket bunches up at the back because the narrowest part of the garment hits one at the top of the hip instead of the waist.

I love it when online retailers give detailed measurements of clothing, though it can lead to some depressing news. Browsing through Net a Porter's sale list last night, I found more than one size 10 dress made for a 30" bust, 34" hip. In what universe do these designers live?

Anonymous said…
P.S. Your two new dresses look very chic!

Anonymous said…
I think perhaps I am blind, because I cannot see a place on the site to order clothes?

Do you just see the item and email or call?

HB said…
Your selections are lovely! I hope you will treat us with a WIW post.

I grapple with proportion and fit issues and am getting to the point of making my own dresses - something I used to do in my pre-professional life. The cost for poor design/fit is endlessly frustrating; as is the relative lack of talented alterations specialists in my city. I think, too, that I tend toward slightly more "classic" styling (not styles) and construction which just isn't available in ready-to-wear at or near my price point. Of course, if I had four figures to drop on a dress, I would be less constrained on that front; funny how the levels of expenditure have such a noticable demarcation of quality in design.

As for the to-the-knee description, even with my extensive years in retail, I'd never sell that as a knee length dress. It's soundly above the knee. But every inch of fabric costs so volume sellers skimp here and there on the length of the garment pieces along the grain in order to get more units for the dollar.

Enough griping, though! I think a good resource for custom design is in the young graduates of fashion design programs. What I see on the runways, and the ambitious work these designers are doing, is of very good quality for the price; many of them have etsy shops as their virtual storefronts. It's a fast-changing landscape, though.
Muriel is a very stylish woman and her dresses look fab. I'm tall like you and have a long body so, with more fitted styles, my challenge is to find a dress where the waist is in the right place!
sisty said…
Thanks -- you've provided me with an "aha" moment.

About five years ago, when I was at the thinnest I've been for a while, I treated myself to a made-to-measure suit from a local dressmaker. It was gorgeous, and I got a lot of wear out of it.

Now that I've put on a little weight (OK, about 15 pounds worth) I had dismissed the idea of having another piece of clothing made, wanting to wait to lose weight first.

But why? It's more important than ever to have good quality clothes that fit at my current size, since the selection is so much smaller now then it was when I was a size 8
Anonymous said…
The Dobbin fit sounds great, but the actual size charts look pretty standard. And the pants have the same front and back rise for every size from 2 -16. This seems very odd.
jgold said…
Hi Anonymous: You actually caught an error, so Catherine and I must thank you! The rise of the pants is graded 3/8" front and back on each size. It is true we go by industry standard sizing however the things that make our pants special are the following:

- the Italian fabric used by more expensive high-end designers
- the overall streamlined cut of the pant and straight legs creates a slimmer silhouette
- in the canvas pant (the Stanton) the back button-elastic waistband detail allows for a custom fit pant
Anonymous said…
You should look at an Australian designer Leona Edmiston. Her clothes are so flattering. https://www.leonaedmiston.com/
The frocks are lovely. The sale items are fabulous. I am addicted. They are so flattering. My 5'10" friend is a recent convert. Jacinta from Australia
Duchesse said…
pseu: Yes, she also adapts the wasitline as she has the patterns- it's not just "alteration".

Kristien62: Thanks (but I got it in navy as the brown was s/o.)

hostess: These days it's more "dress down" than "up" but that is always a plus!

materfamilias: I would love to lure you here!

Susan: Great! I am always on the lookout for this rare kind of service, for readers and myself.

Fritinancy: Yes!!! Why are there not measurements. Boden excel at that. (And that damn dress still looks an inch and a half above the top of the knee to me.) I find at the knee (so the bend at the back is just covered, or to the bottom of the kneecap far more chic, but if you have cute Nancy knees, do show them!

Mardel: Yes, *you* could sew them. There is quite a refinement to her cut, the draping and the little details that do not show as well on the site.

Anonymous@ 7:40: See "concept" page. In short: call or e-mail. They will also send you swatches.

HB: I toy with the idea of buying a judy, borrowing my old Singer from my son's Gf and ust going for it. But then, I know the kind of 'soft tailoring' Clothes does is deceptively hard. Sigh. Maybe a skirt.

Yes, I have found young designers more amenable. The challenge is the fabrics, many of them cannot afford very good ones, or cannot take a chance tying up limited funds in inventory. (Of course we can buy it and bring it to them; I've had mixed success that way.)

That's Not My Age: She will adjust the waist, shoulder etc. too.

sisty: Absolutely! If you have a local resource like that, you are in luck.

Anon@ 2:52: See jgold's (Jessica Gold's) reply to you below and thanks from me, too. A pair of cheap, badly-cut size 12 pants and a pair of well-cut great fabric 12 pants will be totally different. I'm ordering pants later this summer and will report back.

Jacinta: Great, thanks! I'll order from anywhere in the world and in fact find that fun.
Kylara7 said…
Wow...many of the comments (and the post!) sound do familiar to me. I am also tall ( 5'10") AND long torsoed, so finding dresses that fit my proportions is a constant pain in the arse. They are often two short or the "waist" is floating somewhere up near my lower ribs. Larger sizes often mean "wider" so sizing up doesn't help. I've just resigned myself to lots of tailoring.

Le Chateau in Canada seems to be a reasonable retailer for fashionable "grownup" clothes that fit the yawning gap between teenager/club clothes and suburban mother/matron clothes. Some of us don't want to be either!
Tiffany said…
Those dresses - cut, colour and fabric - are gorgeous. I am slightly wounded, however, that being small (5ft4ish) and skinny (inherited from my father) disqualifies me from being a 'real' woman.
Duchesse said…
Tiffany: Clothes carry sizes from 2 to 16. If smaller than 2, a woman is indeed real, but sized more like a teen (or even tween) than a mature woman.
Duchesse said…
Tiffany: Clothes carry sizes from 2 to 16. If smaller than 2, a woman is indeed real, but sized more like a teen (or even tween) than a mature woman.
Duchesse said…
Kylara7: Le Chateau's cut is too short and narrow for me, and their quality not what I like. I do have friends who have found the odd piece or accessory there.
M-C said…
Specially-milled fabrics for over size 16? You actually believed that?!? I've made size 60 clothes out of 45" wide fabric, on the low side of standard (for a nearly-400lb person). Yes, you may need to use more fabric length, and a customer would have to pay for that. But for a customized operation to pull excuses like that out of thin air is just pathetic..
Duchesse said…
M-C: It's true of retail operations like Marina Rinaldi. Yes, you can work in almost indefinitely large sizes by working with fabric *lengthwise", and by piecing (if the pattern will allow) but in fabric where the direction of the grain is essential to the design, this will not work.

Small boutiques, busy with standard sizes, are not as amenable to the special requirements of working in length-only, so customers like the woman you describe are lucky to have persons like you.
Duchesse said…
M-C: Forgot to add, Marina Rinaldi do have their fabrics specially milled in extra-width.
Melissa said…
In Australia we are blessed by two wonderful designers who include size 18 in their range. They are Anthea Crawford and Perri Cutten. Both designers include smart casual as well as gorgeous evening wear from cocktail dressed to ball dresses. Sportscraft also make some lovely clothes in XL and 18. Even so, it can be hard to find dresses that fall knee length or below and my fat legs look much nicer hidden than displayed.

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