Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about ease. In fact, I wrote about it recently in my column for Sew News and thought I’d talk about it a little bit here, too. And since I received this beautiful book on Dior, published in conjunction with the exhibit at the Musée Christian Dior in Granville France, I thought it might be fun to illustrate this post with images of Dior’s designs. I’ll explain shortly.
First, ease. There are two types of ease: wearing ease and design ease. Everything you wear has some sort of ease to it, thus the term “wearing ease.” Any garment needs to be a little wider than you are so you can breathe and move and be comfortable, even in very fitted garments. (With knits and stretchy fabrics, the ease happens naturally because of the stretch and give of the fabric, so some knits will actually have negative ease–meaning that the width of the garment is narrower than you are. But let’s save that discussion for another blog post, shall we?)
Different people may prefer different amounts of wearing ease, but everyone requires some amount of wearing ease in their clothing. For example, let’s say you and I are both the same measurements and we both want to wear the same fitted dress. (Maybe we’re dressing as twins, I don’t know. Just pretend, OK?) Anyway, we may find that you prefer the dress to be tighter or looser than I do, even though technically we’re the same. But in general, wearing ease allows a minimum of 1/2″ (at a waistband) and a maximum of 2″ (at the hips) of extra room in a garment. It’s vital that you have room to move and breathe, so wearing ease is a necessity.
Design ease, on the other hand refers to the additional room in a garment. This is truly more of a design detail, intended to give a garment a particular silhouette and fit. And this is where I think a lot of women, especially women who are just starting to sew for themselves, get tripped up.
In my experience, a lot of women seem to think that design ease is the same thing as a bad fit, or an unflattering fit. Believe it or not, design ease can actually work to your advantage! Tight or fitted clothing can be less flattering than clothing that has a little more room in it. I use design ease to my benefit all the time; my lower half is wider than my upper half (in other words, I’m “pear shaped”), so I use design ease to balance myself out. (I can talk more about how I use design ease in my own wardrobe another time, if you’re interested.)
The word “silhouette” is basically just a fancy term that refers to the shape of clothing and how it defines the shape of body. By adding volume, we can change how the body is perceived. More volume (i.e., more ease) can either emphasize or draw attention away from a particular part of the body depending on how that volume is used. Different body shapes will be better suited to different fashion silhouettes. But since there are lots of ways to use design ease to create balance, don’t let yourself get trapped into thinking just one silhouette works on your body. If you’re broad on top or don’t have much of a waist, a looser fit that skims your body can actually be more flattering than something with little design ease that hugs your curves. The key is balance. You might find that you can wear a loose tunic with lots of design ease if you pair it with leggings or skinny jeans. Or maybe you wear a fitted top with wide-legged trousers. In most cases you won’t want to add volume everywhere, but it can work to your favor if you use it well.
Even M. Dior, the emperor of the fit-and-flare, wasp-waisted New Look, used design ease in a variety of ways. I love the A-line jacket in the third photo. He balanced the volume of the jacket with a very slim skirt. Dior had a lot of fun with volume and ease in his designs and didn’t restrict his work exclusively to the wasp-waisted look, even if that’s the silhouette for which he is best remembered.
So when you find a particular silhouette that suits you, play with it! And don’t be afraid to try other silhouettes, too. You may very well be surprised at what works for you.