Sometimes I’m contacted by and/or meet people who incite something in my spirit automatically. This was Alexis. She contacted me via IG message one evening with a gown concern... and not just any gown, but her main pageant gown that she was scheduled to compete in less than 2 weeks later. She had just received it earlier that day. It was made overseas and the delivery had been delayed. I could feel the anxiety in her inquiry.
The biggest issue was a large section of illusion mesh in the bodice. It was meant to be skin tone but was a poor match and very visible. This is veryyyy common with illusion sections. It’s borderline impossible to create an invisible panel. Skin, especially brown complexions, feature so many shades throughout the body. Even the most fine tuned coordination will likely show. I always caution clients when they express interest in this type of looks. Sometimes they end up being a great compromise but other times I suggest a sheer that matches the garment instead or a full construction edit that removes the need for an illusion panel. It is fabric after all and it has its limitations. An “illusion” is just that and will never be the same as the real thing.
Now, a small insert is one thing but Alexis’s illusion section was large— spanning from the front bodice, around the sides and shoulders, and across the entire back. She and I both agreed that it “had to go“ and she suggested boning and/or straps as a replacement. We chatted about the pros and cons of both options. I could tell that she had a general comprehension and vision for gowns and their make-up. She was also willing take advise and do what was necessary to make things happen. Since I had a slightly lighter workload, I agreed on a next-day appointment to take a closer look and see what could be achieved.
By the time she arrived the next day, part of the illusion mesh had already been shipped away from the rest of the bodice and I couldn’t help but chuckle. I had told her not to worry about much until we looked at it, but I could see the wheels turning in her mind. And... I get it. Clothes are my livelihood and I always want them to be the very best they can be. When you’re trying to envision a result, sometimes you just got to... see it. I don’t encourage clients to take scissors to garments before coming to me, but to her credit, she made some clean and thoughtful cuts. (Plus, it was just mesh, which doesn’t fray... and it was going to come off anyway.)
The next blaring thing that I noticed during her try-on was that although they back panel was meant to be an illusion panel to match a beautiful, brown complexion, the zipper that ran through it down center back was.... khaki. Bruh. Khaki. Like tan. Like wtf. Like... that type of thing blows me. It’s pointless. I understand maybe you can’t match the exact brown, but that means you didn’t even try, because I know they make zippers that are deeper than tan. It killed the vain attempt at being “unseen.”
Anyway, we quickly decided to chop the mesh the rest of the way off, but had to make sure we were replacing it with an element that still made it wearable. Engineering is a big part of garment construction. Unfortunately, you can’t just move or remove parts because it may affect something you never thought of. For us, replacing the mesh with straps meant there was not a way to hold the front up over the shoulders, but then it dawned on me that the sides of the appliqué wouldn’t stay down on the own. It was a thick, flat beaded piece that would never curve around the side of the body without something forcing it. *cue pageant hack* Alexis said she would glue it down. And that, my good people, is the reality of this fashion world. That was the sacrifice that was chosen because it was still a better option than that mesh.
In addition to these edits, we decided to turn down the neckline edge of the applique to give her a better proportion. It was a bit large for her small figure. It was also sort of long and caused a large ripple in the front stomach area. I suggested shortening it only to take a closer look and realize.... it. was. GLUED. ON.
Now, those who know me know that I am vehemently opposed to glue on fabric. Unless you’re attaching something that literally cannot be stitched (e.g. rhinetones), it’s a cop out. It’s faster and more cost effective to use adhesive but it‘s damage and risk is almost never worth it to me. Glue always leaves residue behind and that’s IF you can lift whatever is glued down off. The process makes any potential alterations challenging or impossible. Glue residue is not only visible, but also awful to then stitch back through. We had to leave that alteration as a hypothetical once I gauged whether or not I could successfully lift the applique off to start.
Lastly, we discussed an option for adding a cape on the back for added drama. She showed me a few examples and I could see the draw. We talked about size, shape, and placement. I eventually suggested 2 separate capelets on each strap, that way her arms were less restricted by the maximum fabric width and she could have more options for how she interacted with them on stage. There was a small issue with the tightness of the slit also, but the thinness of the fabric made alteration too risky. We didn’t want anything to rip.
Short on time, I gave Alexis a few options for sourcing straps. I thought rhinestones would be a good match for the style of the dress. She took that task on while I completed the other alterations and dropped her choice off at the studio for me to add. I ordered the fabric for the cape let’s on color-matching faith (as I generally like the security of a swatch but ain’t nobody had time for that). Kudos to being VIP with the fabric retailer because shipping was super fast.
Alexis and I kept in communication about timing and costs, agreeing to fit in what was possible with the understanding that may not be everything. There was a chance the appliqué glue wouldn’t budge and the capelets may not make it.
With a little tricky heat application and a lot of elbow grease, I was able to separate the glue in the applique. When I replaced it, you damn right I used a needle and thread. (It had to be handsewn because you can’t put beading under the machine... hence the original cop out.) This meant I also had to stitch around the entire circumference of the piece instead of onyk the overlap since it was lifting away where the old bodice mesh was cut.
Time constraints made the deadline and thus pick-up a bit tricky. Alexis had to call in reinforcements to collect the gown on her behalf when it was ready. Her last update included straps, neckline, and appliqué adjustment, but she didn’t know that I was able to complete the extra capelets as well. To be transparent, I was tired the night before and even tweeted the rhetorical question of calling it quits or just doing a little extra because my spirit felt someone deserved it.
I am really glad I intuitively chose the latter. The message I received from Alexis when she realized made it all worth it. The icing on the cake was seeing the recap of her pageant with The whole look in action. She was STUNNING! And she earned the placing of 1st runner-up! Where a week before a gown was in shambles and she was contemplating dropping out.
Perseverance, y’all. Diamonds are formed under pressure. 💎
Plus a reminder that following your heart and using your talents to empower others is what makes the world a beautiful place.