The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Discussing the Duro

The whatsis? The latest, now beginning to depart, rage was the Duro Dress. It's been popular enough that many people have heard of it or can recognize it on sight, but most people don't really know why it's called "Duro". Well, this is the Duro. A lot of times when people first see it, they squawk, "What?! This looks like some 70's day dress!" Yes, that was sort of the point. (You'll have to scroll down the page on that link.) He had an interesting start that surprised even him. Naturally, since he became screaming famous, knock-offs have abounded, including in the pattern world. You can find Duro's at Hot Patterns, McCall's, Simplicity, Simplicity Plus-sized, Butterick, and perhaps others that I haven't found or have forgotten about.

And I? What do I think about it? I bought the McCall's version. What? I bought a raging fad? Must mean it isn't really all that popular of a fad. (Or else I've got a fever.) Sure enough, there are a fairly large number of people who just don't "get" the Duro. There are those that say it is unflattering; or looks like maternity wear; or looks 70's; or only looks good on sylphs; or just plain looks like a sack. I think we get closer to the truth of the matter, though, when we start hearing complaints about it "not looking sleek enough", or "not very sophisticated".

As I have repeatedly said, who you are greatly influences what you want to wear. Generally speaking, those who live in the city wish to wear city-wear. And, generally speaking, those that don't, don't. Also, as I have mentioned before, fashion isn't practical. And if you are really living a country life, you must dress practically, because dressing impractically will greatly hinder you in everything you do, not to mention having the large probability of causing you bodily harm.

So when I look at the Duro, I like it for the same reasons many people don't like it: it's practical, it's comfortable, it provides complete range of movement, one could easily imagine themselves washing dishes after dinner in the heat of the summer, or picking cucumbers in the morning. Thus, it is very nearly anti-fashion. One does wonder what his mother and aunts were doing in 1970s Lagos (again, you will need to scroll down on that link to see what I'm talking about).

Now perhaps this is not all that is being spoken against the Duro. I must confess that I think it needs to be carefully handled in ordered to come out right, and all the non-carefully-handled dresses certainly give the rest of the versions a bad name. But this is where personal tastes in clothing comes in, so probably a lot of people will be disagreeing with me from here on out (if they didn't start before this).

I find that there are two common problems concerning the inset bands. One is to use a band that is a very harsh contrast and has little or nothing to do with the rest of your fabric. Usually when this is done, they use black; but sometimes even an extremely dark version of a color that is in the fabric is used. Regardless, the effect is harsh, discordant, and hard--probably an effort to "modernize" or "make more fashionable". The other problem is to use the same fabric for both the bands and the dress. This spoils it completely--what is the point of the design lines then? It is usually done in an effort not to "appear too trendy" or have a more "timeless" design. The funny thing is that both of these examples are quite common--they're both shown together on the Simplicity pattern, for example.The Duro looks best when the bands are done in similar, though different, fabrics. The idea is to harmonize the fabrics, while still allowing there to be enough difference in color/texture to show the design lines.

Another major problem is using the wrong kind of fabric. With this design, it is essential that you use a very soft, very drapey, non-bulky fabric. Anything less, and of course you will find the dress bulky and un-flattering. There are gathers in this design. Done in a drapey, non-bulky fabric, this simply provides soft fullness, and even shaping. Done in a bulky fabric, these gathers build up mass until they overwhelm the wearer. Anything that makes crisp or full gathers should be avoided for this dress. You would be better off going with a fluid (choke) polyester, rather than a bulky weave of cotton. Of course, the best thing to use, in terms of drape, would probably be silk--but I am sure rayon would be nice, as well. And it's not to say that cotton wouldn't work--only that you should be very aware of the weave and drape of your fabric. So go ahead and use cotton--but a soft cotton, not a stiff one.

Many people also complain of a "maternity wear" look. I think this issue is the biggest problem when people put too much of an emphasis on the under-bust band. Remember, the key here is to harmonize, not make harsh lines. The bands don't all even have to be of the same fabric. Look at this McCall's pattern, especially the Green Lady. Now look at Simplicity's pattern, the lady in Paisley and Black. Which one looks more like maternity wear? To my eye, the black lines harshly divide up the body: bust and belly. The green dress is a dress with a sash. The eye is not so quickly focusing on a horizontal line across the body, but has time to appreciate the up and down lines on the bodice, visually lengthening the torso. If you would most like to maximize this effect, I would make the up-and-down bands in a slightly more dominate fabric than the under-bust band. (I say "dominate" because a lighter color generally tends to cause something to appear to take up more space. Using a much lighter color at the waist would be counter productive.) Small buttons up the front would also encourage the illusion of length.

However, I would advise against making the under-bust band the same color as the skirt. Because there is fullness both above and below this band, it can read as an area of strain if it is done in the same color. When it is done in a distinct yet harmonious fabric, it does read as a sash--controlling the fullness and pointing out that just because there is a lot of room in the dress doesn't mean you need every square inch of it to keep your body covered. Of course, Hot Patterns and Butterick skirt this issue (no pun intended; it just popped out that way) by using A-line skirts instead of gathered skirts.

You must also be aware of skirt length in order to avoid the "maternity wear" look. The shorter the skirt, the more it looks like maternity wear. The under-bust band comes closer and closer to visually cutting the body in half, and it draws more attention to the waist and the gathers there. Look again at the McCall's and Simplicity patterns, but this time pay attention to the skirt and bodice proportions. Which do you find more flattering? To my eye, the Lady In Paisley looks like she is wearing an over-grown top--perhaps her older sister's clothes? The Green Lady looks like she is wearing a dress, albeit a very loose and relaxed dress.

Another thing I have noticed that I think contributes to the "sack" complaint is sleeve length. Often times this dress winds up with a 5/8ths sleeve. It is not a short sleeve. It is not a 3/4 sleeve. That means it looks like you screwed up. Either you were trying to make a short sleeve, and picked a size to large, or you were trying to make a 3/4 length sleeve and you ran out of fabric. Of course, neither could be true. The McCall's and the Simplicity both seemed a little confused about that. Well, let me be definitive for you--do one or the other, but don't hedge your bets. Personally, I do like a long short sleeve. But I define that as a sleeve that, when you bend your elbow in a right angle, just barely or not quite touches your forearm. As soon as you get beyond that, the sleeve starts to look like an "oops" instead of a deliberate choice. Also, if you have ever worn sleeves like that, you will find that they tend to catch on your elbow, which is very annoying.

Then there is the issue of fullness. How much do you need and where do you need it? The McCall's pattern places the gathered fullness of the skirt at the center front; perhaps you would also be getting fullness when you tied the sash in the back. The Simplicity gathers the whole skirt around. I think that's going a bit overboard--you can have your soft fullness and freedom of movement without adding the bulky gathers all around the your body. I'm inclined to go McCall's way, or perhaps even a gathered panel in the front and in the back. But I wouldn't have any intention of putting gathers over my hips (unless I was going for the full hoop skirt look) because it would visually imbalance me. If your shoulders are wider than your hips, you may wish to do gathered panels over the hips; but otherwise, fullness right over the hips will draw the eye downward and make you appear heavier than you are.

Bodice gathers are just as important. Most people seem to realize that the bust gathers are taking the place of darts. Therefore, I was quite surprised to see that anyone who has gathers in the back bodice only has them at the center back waist! If you are using kimono sleeves, you really don't need gathers in the upper back bodice. But if you have set in sleeves, it makes more sense to me to put gathers in at the back of the neck as well, and use them to replace shoulder darts--thus giving you a much nicer range of motion in the back. Having back waist gathers only is like having a back waist darts only. In order for anything to fit you properly in the back, it really ought to have both waist darts and shoulder darts. If you intend to convert your darts to gathers, you ought to treat all your shaping the same.

Bottom line? If you are looking for a sleek, edgy, fashionable clothing: the time is past, if it ever was time, to make this dress. If you can't resist trying anyway, I suggest you go for the Butterick (or the Hot Pattern; the styles are pretty much the same, but the price tag isn't). But if you are looking for a comfortable dress for any manner of practical things, with a bit more in the way of distinctive detail and comfortable fit than a burlap sack: not only can you make this dress work, I think you'll enjoy it. My vote is for the McCall's.


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