Couture vs. RTW

"Petal" gown, Charles James designs 1951.  Phoenix Art Museum

“Petal” gown, Charles James designs 1951.
Phoenix Art Museum

Couture (kuˈtʊər; Fr. kuˈtür)

RTW ready to wear (ready to be purchased and worn)

The typical Nigerian woman loves to dress up and has an unpredictable tailor or two on speed dial for her custom-made garments worn for special occasions. Seems couture-ish in my opinion.

Literally translated, couture simply means “sewing” and haute couture means “sewing at a high level”. A mild definition of couture would be “the art and practice of dressmaking and designing custom-made clothing”.  The much more robust definition contains the technicalities of what really qualifies as couture, some of which are:

  •  Made by “hand”, implying hand sewn stitches with minimal or no machine sewing
  •  Designed for and made to fit the individual client thus not sold in stores, promoting limited availability
  • Exclusive fabrics
  •  A muslin (calico sample) must be sewn before the actual fabric is cut and sewn
  • The pattern is created by draping the muslin on a dress form that mirrors the client’s body dimensions

I recently purchased ‘Couture Sewing Techniques’ by Claire B. Shaeffer, the author owns a collection of haute couture garments that can only be described as dreamy eyed-right hand-on-heart-reflex smiling EXQUISITE.  She explains in great detail what makes couture “haute” or not.

One can only imagine the back-breaking man hours involved in overcasting (seam/hem finish) by hand, the raw edges of the “Petal” ball gown (pictured above) with 25 yards of fabric in the overskirt !!

I re-define couture as “Love, as only true passion for one’s craft plus massive attention to detail, finishing and fit could produce such beauty.



    1. Onyee, you are a true fashion spotter! Yes, the 2014 Met Gala celebrated Charles James and SJP’s dress was inspired by the Petal gown which he originally designed.

      Thank you for sharing, the video was so enlightening, all that attention to detail. I admired the dressmakers’ deftness, they knew exactly what they were doing.

      Indeed, the word “couture” should NOT be used loosely, lol

      Meanwhile, I’ve got a chanel jacket inspired project on my to-do list, it is such a classic design.


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