To achieve a totally individual fashion look, make it or make it your own. No need to aspire to Dolce & Gabbana or Dior. Even if your sewing skills extend only as far as threading a needle, even if you cannot operate a sewing machine or read a dress pattern, you have enough talent to personalize items of clothing you already own. With a little imagination, a bit of inspiration from Pinterest perhaps, and the ability to sew a button on, you can achieve a unique look.
Ribbons and things
Long before the days of internet shopping and throw-away fashion trends, our grandmothers and great grandmothers knew a thing or two about the beauty of ribbons and trimmings and things. They decorated their hats with floral sprigs, their labels with clips and brooches, personalized their hankies and gloves, and even their coat linings, with ornate monograms. My grandmother sewed zig zag trim in different colors round our party dress hems to identify three sisters’ dresses coming out of the wash.
When you adopt a style and adapt your clothing and accessories, there’s no fear of walking into a room to find someone else wearing the same thing. You can dream up a whimsical twist, change the buttons, pop on a Peter Pan collar, give a cardigan a grosgrain placket, add sequins to jeans, or tie a polka dot ribbon into a bow around your waist.
Depending on your age, you may remember when a stroll along main street or a foray into a major department store might include a fun visit to a haberdashery where pink feather boas, rainbows of felt, and pretty lace might come in handy for a doll’s dress, Halloween costume, or adding to the playroom dressing up box. Are those days over? I observed that the last of the sewing departments in London stores quietly drifted away or whittled down to very little stock in the 90s. Luckily, over there there are plenty of flea markets, antique fairs, and, of course, the “button lady” stall at Portobello Market. Well-known V V Rouleaux in Marylebone Lane is probably Europe’s première collection, a destination for designers and non-professionals, too.
Oodles and oodles in San Francisco
On pretty, tree-lined Sacramento Street in San Francisco, where Pacific Heights borders Presidio Heights, I happened upon an old time corner haberdashery, a treasure trove called The Ribbonerie. One can hardly imagine this many kinds of ribbon in every width, shade, and texture. French wired, Jacquard, Scottish tartans, Swiss dotted, striped, velvet, metallic, grosgrain, and vintage are beautifully displayed on antique spools, in drawers, and on shelves right up to the high ceilings. Rummaging through the 50 percent remnants and discount trunk, I found a $10 spool of red, white, and green tartan that decorated an entire Christmas tree and all the gift boxes beneath it.
A bride guide
Owner Paulette is visited every day for her wonderful collection and sound advice by brides and wedding planners from near and far for that special touch to gather a bouquet in a vintage ribbon, for matching bridesmaids’ dress sashes, to adorn a flower girl’s hairband, for tying around favors and programs, for bows around church pews and dinner chairs.
While the shop at 3695 Sacramento Street is a delightfully old-fashioned cocoon of color, Paulette is very much into the 21st century. The Ribbonerie Facebook page features classes in French-style Cartonnage, Rococo wreath making, ribbon flower making, and more with museum credential expert instructors. Create your own wedding party boutonnières; full blown cascading corsages of blooms for a lasting bouquet or room décor; buds, blossoms, and leaves to decorate the wedding cake.
Worth making a trip to San Francisco, for there’s nowhere else like The Ribbonerie west of the Mississippi, or maybe not even on this side of London.