Sewing and the 80/20 rule – life lessons from the sewing machine

Two completely different blog posts arrived in my google reader today – one having to do Halston and almost-Halston sewing patterns from the 70s, and the other having to do with the 80/20 rule that motivational and self-help types like to talk about. I think it was Woody Allen who said that 80% of success is just showing up (20% effort)? The way I understand the 80/20 rule is that 80% of your efforts are your solid bedrock, and 20% are the flourish that give you your creative and competitive edge. I’ve also read a variation that 80% of your returns come from that 20% of your efforts.  Kind of like a cake… you can have a delicious cake base (the 80%) but it’s the frosting (20%) that’s the make or break between a sale or not, or how much people anticipate and enjoy it. So, the 20% is an intensely valuable little zone.

Anyway, the juxtaposition of these two posts, side by side in my reader, was interesting to me. Peter of Male Pattern Boldness was asking, just what is the difference between a Halston pattern from the 70s, and a nearly identical pattern from the same period? I’m a regular in the high end department store in town (not like I buy there… ha! I’m pawing clothes for inspiration!), and I sometimes ask myself, what exactly is the difference between a $600 dress here, and a $120 dress elsewhere?

I know that some… well, many… cynically disparage high-end fashion as being ‘just a label.’  A top is a top is a top.  I wonder how many of them have really paid attention to the elements of garment production. Probably very few; I’ve known a number of people who confess to being intimidated by high end fashion. Which I kind of get – my SO was suit shopping a few weeks ago, and doesn’t have a lot of options outside of Big and Tall stores, which he really doesn’t like for good reason. Their stuff tends towards the horribly unfashionable. I agreed to scout out some places for him to see what they have in his size, and when I came up to the super high end menswear shop in Vancouver (Harry Rosen), I paused. I didn’t go in. I was intimidated.

While a top is a top, and a jacket is a jacket, I’m starting to appreciate that it is the 20% that makes so much of the difference. So much of it is about the subtleties in cut, never mind the flattering placement of prints, and plaids that match. I once saw a D&G shirt with narrow pinstripes – which formed perfect chevrons at the darts. That kind of precision sewing is the difference maker. It’s the chains used in jacket hems, and the petersham ribbon used to cover a zipper. It’s the use of decent lining – not acetate – and knits that recover their stretch.

I now think maybe it’s that 20% that makes people what to throw up their hands while shopping. We can see the effects of the 20% in the different ways that jeans fit, but I think the frustration is that we generally don’t understand why there’s such difference. (sheesh, who outside of pants makers understands the subtleties of crotch curves and rises!?) Why does one dress look so much better on than another that, on the rack, would seem to be its twin?

All of this is useful to keep in mind as I’m marketing myself… I’m on the job hunt. Good times. 80% of us have roughly the same qualifications. We can all plan projects, use excel, be nice. I’ll have to pay attention to that 20%, and keep asking myself – what does my 20% say about me?



2 thoughts on “Sewing and the 80/20 rule – life lessons from the sewing machine

  1. I think what makes a lot of people cynical (myself included) and frustrated (especially if you don’t have the know-how to see it) is how often the price doesn’t actually indicate the quality. A metaphor for me here in Vancouver are the stores Bedo and Club Monaco. Their price points are the same, but Bedo is almost exclusively a land of polyester, whereas Club Monaco regularly uses silk, wool, cashmere and cotton. (Admittedly I don’t shop enough to know how the construction compares, but the materials argument is enough for the purposes of this metaphor). I think most people are willing to pay for quality, but sometimes it can be hard to separate quality from marketing, you know?

    I definitely understand and love this as it applies to job hunting. I’m in the same boat!

  2. it’s a good comparison. Bedo is crap. And everything I’ve had from CM has stood up well.
    I think that one of the things that people find hard – me too – is that you often know that there’s a difference in quality, but you can’t really put your finger on what it is. And I think it’s because the differences are really subtle. I find that one of the hard things with clothes is that unless you know a decent amount about fabrics, you don’t really know how it’ll wear until you wear it for a few hours. I got burned a couple years ago on a gorgeous yellow knit top that, an hour or two after wearing it, bags out like nobody’s business. I know that sewing has made me a much better RTW shopper as it’s made me much more discerning in terms of fabric, garment construction quality, and the subtleties of fit. Especially with knits now. I always check for recovery.

    hmm maybe i should try to get a job in a main st clothes shop… i’d really enjoy dressing people and also talking with them about subtle differences in clothing lines, fabrics and fit.

    You know where I get sucked in by labels? Designer patterns! (obviously not some of the completely insane ones vogue puts out). Knowing that there’s a ‘real’ garment out there that I can search up gives me confidence that the pattern will usually be pretty good and fashionable.

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