How to shop for inspiration instead of clothing
The other weekend, I went on a shopping expedition to Steven Alan, a branch of which recently opened up in Portland.
I came away with a whole lot, and I didn’t spend a dime.
Inspiration shopping is one of my favorite activities. It turns the act of spending, which is usually loaded with difficult decisions and stress for me, into something creative and inspiring. Not only that, but I actually learn how to improve my sewing and expand my options by looking at really well-made garments.
There are a few things I do to maximize the inspiration I gather while I’m out shopping. Here are a few of my techniques, and I’d be interested to hear yours in the comments.
Where to shop
The most important aspect of snoop shopping is deciding where to go.
If you choose middle of the road or cheap chain stores, you might glean a few things about how garments are mass produced quickly, but not much beyond that.
I look at sewing as a way to produce garments I otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford (at least not often). So when I shop for inspiration, I go high end.
This is my chance to shop at my dream stores. I go for independent boutiques that stock emerging designers, or stores that stock high quality fashion forward basics like Steven Alan. It’s always interesting to me to see how basics can be elevated with small details and fabric.
What to look for
I love to really examine the clothes to look at the choices the designer made, and think about how they could be used in different contexts.
It isn’t a matter of knocking off any particular garment for me. It’s more about seeing what makes something interesting and how it could be incorporated to solve a different problem. That’s the heart of creativity, taking in inspiration and using it in a new or different way.
Here’s what I look for:
- Fabric. Seeing what fibers nicer garments are made of, the weight and drape of the fabric, and how different fabrics are combined will teach you a lot. You can carry that knowledge right into the fabric store. It’s interesting to note when unusual fibers or blends are used.
- Style lines. Examining trends in the silhouettes and shapes of garments can give you new ideas and take you out of your comfort zone a bit.
- Finishes. Take a close look at how seams, hems, and necklines are finished. You’ll be surprised at how many of these you can recreate, and you’ll be inspired to switch out finishes when you sew. Note where facings are used, when bindings are chosen, what types of hems you see on various garments. This can get really fun.
- Details. In addition to the overall shapes and finishes, you’ll discover a wealth of interesting details you may not have thought to use.
Keeping track of your inspiration
Unlike online window shopping, in-person shopping is a little harder to keep track of.
Here are a few ideas for utilizing what you observe:
- Photos. This can be a little awkward in a shop, but it’s pretty common to take photos of yourself in a dressing room when trying things on. You can even upload your photos to a site like Pinterest, or use Evernote to keep track.
- Notes. I always carry a little moleskine notebook in my bag, and have for years. I use it for everything, but that includes notes and ideas for things I’d like to try with my sewing.
- Sketches. Sketching is my favorite way to quickly jot down sewing ideas.
- Go online. If the shop has an online store, you can sometimes go online when you get home and find the garments you saw in person. Save photos and take notes about what you observed when you looked at the garment up close. This combination of in-person observation with clear photos can be a great method for tracking inspiration.
Where do you shop for inspiration? Do you have any other tips to share?