Hip, Hip, Hooray!

Some people just have vintage bodies. And I ‘m not referring here to those bodies that were physically constructed in 1940 or earlier. I mean some people (me, f’rinstance) just don’t have the physical construction to weather the fickle whims of modern fashion. Skinny jeans? Drop waists? Structural origami pleats right at the hips?

Ahhh. The hips.  Depending on her personal lexicon, hips are the symmetrical, side-mounted, convex portions of a woman’s body that may occur anywhere from the bottom of her ribcage to the tops of her thighs. For dressmakers and costumers, these are typically defined as the “widest part of your lower body,” regardless of actual location. No matter where a woman points to her hips, they are the defining characteristic of her shape.

As we all learned as kids (and were much later convinced), our bodies come in all shapes: apple, pear, hourglass, square, spoon, rhombus, bunch-of-grapes, whatever… your hips are who you are, how you walk, and are largely unchanging, no matter what happens to the rest of your body.

In middle school, a guy I knew called my best friend and me “String Bean and Pea Pod.” 17 years later, you can still tell which of us is which. After all kinds of potentially shape-shifting events –growth spurts, mono, freshman-15, yoga, post-college weight gain&drop, wedding dresses, baby–we get closer and closer in actual weight and dress size, but our shapes are still our own.   

My point is, whether you are whittling your waist or going up a size or two, the specific curves that carry you down the street are unmistakably you. And they have got to be flattered!

Which is why I was so frustrated on my annual Black Friday shopping extravaganza. Completely counter to our usual laid-back shopping tradition, AMA and I entered the fray at the downtown Seattle Nordtroms with actual quarries to be hunted: Cocktail dresses.

First mistake. Never ever go shopping on the busiest day of the year with an actual objective. Far better to simply soak up the atmosphere, get some lunch, and be pleasantly surprised should you stumble on a fantastic thing.

AMA was on the hunt for a “work appropriate but sexy” all-purpose LBD. For me, somethinganything fun for a couple of winter-evening weddings. Since she’s an hourglass amazon, AMA headed straight for the sprawling glitzfest of “Special Occasion,” while I tried to make somethinganything work out of the slim pickings in Petites.

I was so excited to see the retro-chic influence of Mad Men on the racks and hangers! Fitted dresses! Defined waists! High waists, even, and bateau necklines with clever tie backs! And shaped-for-hips skirts! In a record-breaking 12 minutes I was in a dressing room with 8 lovely dresses in my size.

But, ah! The hips. I have them. They are firmly, blatantly located at the tip-tops of my thighs. (Yes, I have the anatomical ones at the actual hip-bones, but those are not the hips that define my definite pear-shape and with which I contend while shopping. You might call them the “horizontal extensions of my ass.” I shall continue to call them “hips.”) The thing is, I don’t need someone to impose a set of hips on me. Which is what all the designers of those 8 lovely dresses were hell-bent on achieving.

Not a single one of them was working with my curves, or even making allowance for them. Rather than using a flexible fabric or employing a strategic drape, shapely hip seams were firmly, blatantly located wherever the designer thought they ought to go. I was left with a great-fitting bodice, too tight skirt, and these empty flaps of fabric somewhere in the middle. Ooof.

AMA found a fantastically flattering banded stretch dress in black with a conservative neckline and body-hugging sex appeal. Even after another store or two, I went home with no cocktail dress, a vague sense of disappointment in myself and my darn misplaced hips, and something casual “that might work for the office.”

The next morning, I had new resolve and a new plan. Screw Nordstroms. (All due respect). Screw modern knock-offs that can’t hold a candle to impeccable tailoring and a savvy fabric selection. I headed down the hill to Glenna’s on Broadway, my favorite vintage shop in Tacoma, for a perusal of fashion artifacts from a time when a 5’3” size 6 (then a 10) with hips just might be a common, catered-to shape.

And I found it! Champagne, heavy satin, and a perfect fit right off the vintage rack. A high ruffled v-neck, a slight a-line skirt, and a wide-belted waist give balance to my distinct proportions. It’s the perfect, flattering, vintage dress for my hips and their busy winter-wedding circuit, and I’d never find it at the mall.


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