Part of the joy of making my own dresses is that I'm not just wearing the dress, I'm wearing the process. I'm wearing choosing the fabric. (This past weekend my young son went with me to the fabric store, and picked out some fabric for me. Will I think of him saying "Mama! This one would make a GREAT dress!" every time I wear whatever I make from it? Damn straight I will.) I'm wearing choosing and altering the pattern, I'm wearing the mental gymnastics involved in cutting it out and putting it together, I'm wearing whatever sleep was forgone to get it done and I'm wearing whatever I was singing along to on my iPod. I'm wearing my husband's grandmother's sewing machine and how I think about her sewing while I'm sewing. All that goes into the dress. It's the terroir of the dress, if you will.
Even when I don't sew what I'm wearing, I prefer my clothes to have complicated backstories. Like, "I bought this shirt at when he was in New Orleans, before he moved to New York." Or "This coat was $13 at Nordstrom Rack!" or "My sister-in-law gave it to me and she has the best taste!" or "It was my mother's, she wore it in college." How can "I ordered it from the J. Crew catalog" compare?
In fact, sometimes I feel it's not the dress so much as it's the idea of the dress. (Okay, I feel this way all the time.) This is a kind of corollary to the "if it doesn't make you happy, don't wear it" rule–if there's no idea behind the dress, don't wear it. You don't want fast-food, assembly-line, prefab-McMansion clothing, not just because it's boring and soulless and blah, but because there are no ideas behind it. Nobody smiled making it, or envisioned you wearing it, just like nobody outside the TV commercials smiles about making you a Whopper Jr.
When you have enough psychic energy built up into the dress, how it actually LOOKS can be less important than how it feels.
This is an excerpt from a letter:
Did I tell you in my last letter that I had a new dress, a real party dress with low neck and short sleeves and quite a train? It is pale blue, trimmed with chiffon of the same color. I have worn it only once, but then I felt that Solomon in all his glory was not to be compared with me! Anyway, he never had a dress like mine! …
The writer of the letter? Who, obviously, must have been taking more joy in the idea of the dress than in any rational assessment of it in the mirror.
So, even if you don't sew, try to build some process into your own clothing. Find a local alterations place and have your dresses altered for a better fit. Take along someone you love when you go shopping, and take time for a real conversation. Buy clothing when you travel, so you can think "Oh! I bought this in Baltimore!" (or Portland, or Albuquerque …) Post a picture to your blog and ask for feedback, or just rip out the catalog picture and tape it to the bathroom mirror for a week. Imagine yourself in the dress before you buy it. Who will you be seeing? What will you be doing? What will you be laughing about? Set yourself a challenge — can you think of wearing something ten different places? With ten different people? I'm not saying you should overthink every $59 dress from H&M, but a well-planned dinner party is always nicer than a drive-thru meal. Try to have more scintillating parties, and fewer hamburger wrappers floating around the car.