Apr 012014

You’ve invested in a dinner jacket (aka tuxedo), but somehow that sharp, striking reflection in the mirror remains elusive.  Being a dandy is in the detail, and whilst there are numerous accessories available for black tie these days, the genuine vintage article can be procured for a modest sum, if you know what to look for.

Traditionally, shirts were collarless.  A separate, highly starched collar would have been attached with collar studs at the centre back and front of the collar band.  The front stud goes through both sides of both the shirt and the collar (4 layers in all) to keep it neatly together.  These collars come in a variety of shapes with their own names, so learn which suits your face, although wing is the convention for black or white  tie.  The collar MUST be the same size as the collar band.

A dress shirt (to be worn with a dinner jacket or tuxedo) should have a dicky, which is a highly starched or decorated false shirt front.  As you only see the collar, dicky and cuffs beneath the jacket, it is important that these areas are crisp, and by crisp I mean starched to kingdom come.  We’re all familiar with the 1970s ruffle shirts and the ’80s novelty versions, but the purpose is the same- to fill the chest area attractively.

Inexpensive dress shirts can often be picked up as they appear to be missing buttons.  In fact, dress (or shirt) studs are worn to close them, with a single stud going through each side to hold the shirt closed.  These range from virtually disposable and made of plastic (yuck) to those made of precious metals inlaid with garnets or diamonds.

To neaten the waist area, a waistcoat or cummerbund is worn.  A cummerbund should be pleated so it sits neatly in the curve of your waist, and made of the same fabric as the lapels of your dinner jacket- probably silk satin or grosgrain.  It clips shut at the back, well out of view.

!BuwIDdgEWk~$(KGrHqMOKjcEveeZ11LiBMBogv2HsQ~~_35For a period look, I prefer waistcoat fronts to a full waistcoat.  These were popular in the first half of the twentieth century, and consist of two fronts which meet behind the neck in a kind of halter neck, with two ties at the waist meeting at the centre back with a clasp.  They should cover the waistband of your trousers.  If you have a fuller chest, they also give a neater line.  The fabric is usually cotton piqué or grosgrain silk.  Often they have buttonholes and there isn’t a button in sight.  This is because they should be worn with decorative waistcoat buttons which attach with a clip, so they can be removed for washing.


The bow tie should be either black or white, depending on the dress code.  If white, I like a cotton piqué one that sits well alongside the waistcoat of the same.  Apart from anything else, they are hand washable.  Otherwise, the bowtie should be the same weave as the jacket lapels,  and ideally the cummerbund (in lieu of a waistcoat).  You should tie it yourself, the ready made variety are not for those over 16.  If you find it tricky, take some simple internet instructions, create a mirror image of said instructions by flipping them in Photoshop or similar, print, pin to your shirt and read in the mirror as you tie the bow tie.  Reading directly whilst glancing up at the mirror will never work.

Cufflinks are plentiful in antique sales, thrift stores and on eBay.  If you’re in London go to Covent Garden on a Monday morning and peruse the jewellery stalls in the antiques market.  You’ll find all sorts of well worn treasures going for a song.  They should complement rather than clash with any dress studs and waistcoat buttons worn.  If you’re going for classic, mother of pearl throughout would be safe, but the experimentation is where the fun is!

Pocket squares (handkerchiefs) should be pressed white silk.  Cotton may be acceptable if it is of a sufficiently high quality and matches the shirt.

Button braces should be white so they are barely seen against your shirt.  Hopefully, your trousers will have special buttons with rounded backs in the right places, giving maximum security.  If you must wear a belt, then skip the braces.  Again, I’d go for eBay as these items are often barely worn before being passed on.  Everything about braces is worth a read.

black tie footwear imageSocks should be black, finely knitted (ideally in silk), and pulled taught over the calf.  Sock suspenders can be worn if yours will not stay put.  On the right is a guide to appropriate footwear, which should be in either patent or highly polished black leather.  The Art of Manliness has more on the subject.

Hats are at your discretion, but NOT to be worn indoors.  A black moleskin topper is ideal, the sheen of the skin setting off the lapels and stripe down your trouser leg.

In the mean time, I’d trundle over to eBay, and start typing in keywords, as all these items were commonplace in the years up to the war, and are currently being released from attics and dressing rooms one stud at a time!


Mar 192014

Man in corsetThis corset was made from an original edwardian pattern in Norah Waugh’s excellent Corsets and Crinolines.   The pattern was scaled up, then adapted to fit the wearer.  Its 16 panels give a fantastic shape on any body.

The corset is made of 2 layers of stiff cotton drill enclosing spiral steel bones, which is then covered with sequined silk, and the edges are bound with bias strips of the same fabric.

There is a steel busk at the centre front, so you can dress yourself (but it’s hard to pull it very tight on your own) and metal eyelets down the back.

Due to the heavyweight foundation materials and authentic construction, it’s a corset that can truly re-shape your body to desired proportions.


Only available as a bespoke garment.  Corsets from £300, this model from £450.

Mar 102014
Jo Poole image

Jo Poole working her magic on vintage

If what you want is not on the list, ask me and I will more than likely take it on anyway.
Services are available to all, regardless of gender.

  • Dress Doctor Day at yours (more)
  • General alterations service (more)
  • Alterations for those who have lost or gained weight
  • Alterations for crossdressers and transgender people
  • Restoration, re-lining and mending garments (example)
  • Remodelling garments to bring them up to date  (example)
  • Bespoke garments (more)
  • Bespoke millinery (more)
  • Curtains and soft furnishings made (more)
  • Personal shopping
  • Fabric and haberdashery procurement


My mobile service is priced at £300/day within the M25/ easy reach of West London.  All materials included.
Studio time is £24/hour.

A typical weight loss/ gain wardrobe of around 30 standard alterations will come to about £550. (nb some garments need several alts).  Bespoke garments start at £150 and depend on cut and fabric.  Ball and bridal gowns from £1000.

Feb 262014
Brocades, embroidered laces and silks in UK Textiles

Brocades, embroidered laces and silks in UK Textiles

Daffodils are emerging, and suddenly it becomes apparent that if you want a special dress made for your once in a lifetime event this year, you had better get out there and find the fabric of your dreams.

This guide is intended specifically to help those shopping for evening wear and bridal fabrics, so prom, graduation, and ballgowns alongside brides and bridesmaids.  It will not be terribly helpful if you are looking for everyday materials such as cottons, linens and wools.

Firstly, I’d head for Berwick Street W1.  In the heart of Soho, there is a cluster of mid to high end fabric shops catering to the public, film and theatre.  Other west end stalwarts such as John Lewis, Liberty of London and MacCulloch and Wallis are fairly hopeless when it comes to fancy fabrics, so unless you need haberdashery I’d give them a miss.

Berwick street image

Heading south from Oxford Street, you will encounter the following stores:

The Silk Society at 44 has an great array of plain and embellished silks

Broadwick silks, 9-11 Broadwick Street (a few doors on the left) is very bridal friendly with multiple shades of various cloths

Borovicks at 16 is aimed squarely at the theatrical market, but worth a look

The Berwick street Cloth Shop at 14 has a huge range of embellished fabrics crammed in up to the ceiling

The Cloth House at 98 is the branch which deals in fancy fabrics (the one near Noel Street is cottons, linens and some wools)

Misan Fabrics at 4 has a good range of laces, and plenty of treats in the basement (again, the branch further north is for cottons, wools etc.

Biddle Sawyer Silks at 2 is stronger on plain fabrics, but all are a lovely quality.

Joel and son imageAway from Soho, just off the Edgware Road you will find Joel & Son fabrics,  one of the finest fabric shops in the world.  They stock the most gorgeous haute couture fabrics fit for our Queen.  They have everything, and of the finest quality too.  They also charge accordingly so set your budget before you fall in love embroidered tulle “with stones” at £300+ /metre.

New Rainbow Textiles at 98, The Broadway, Southall (train from Paddington) is both amazing and affordable.  In the heart of west London’s indian hub, New Rainbow Textiles boasts 3 floors of silks and chiffons for all occasions, from the plain to the heavily embellished.  What I particularly like is you can buy a “suite” of fabrics, including lining, plain, moderately and heavily decorated to use on different parts of the garments without it looking like a patchwork circus outfit.  The stock is always surprising, and well worth the trip out to zone 4.  You may also want to consider buying a sari.  5.5 m of fabric, often with borders and interesting design details can make an amazing gown.

The shops of Goldhawk Road (Shepherds Bush) are less reliable than those already listed, but the prices are good and you may strike lucky.  The best bets are UK Textiles at 47 and A1 Fabrics at 50-52.  A-Z Fabrics at 53 is big on colour and the wow factor, but the effect is can veer towards the panto if you’re not careful.

Outliers on the search for fabric for gorgeous gowns include Dalston Mill Fabrics and any number of indian shops on Green Street in east London’s Upton Park.

Feb 192014

Possible dress alteratinsIt is possible to alter womens clothes for men.  Retaining femininity and elegance alongside dignity whilst undertaking radical alterations is the key.

Successful dressing is part art, part science and part sorcery. The rules as defined in the 1950s and 60s are best laid out in Dress for Success by Edith HeadThe Art of Being A Well Dressed Wife by Anne Fogarty also has excellent advice for looking the part, but is NOT feminist friendly.  According to Anne, discipline of the mind, body and emotions is what leads to complete femininity and successful expression of your identity.

Trinny and Susannah have a slightly dated take on body types and what suits them, and Colour me Beautiful is the template all image consultants work to when deciding which colours and shapes work for you.  Have a look at Alexa Chung for current trends. Lucia van der Post of The Times and How to Spend It shares all manner of style and beauty tips in her book Things I wish my Mother had told me:  Lessons in Grace and Elegance.  It’s not a sexy book, but it’s the best out there for the modern woman, and has great advice on clothes care too.

Camoflage by Edith Head

Dress as camoflage by Edith Head

Just as different clothes suit different body shapes, different alterations are required to make those clothes look good on different people.  Contrary to what the fashion industry would have you believe, as people get bigger in different directions proportions and aesthetics change.  The trick is knowing what you like and persevering when it comes to sourcing and remodeling the frock for your figure.

As the turnover of most women’s wardrobes is a fast one, there is much choice to be had in nearly new, designer resale, vintage and charity shops.  Know your size (measured in the correct underwear and padding) and shop with a tape measure as standard dress sizes are a myth.   Fabrics, position of pockets and buttonholes cannot be changed later.  Natural fibres are best when it comes to alterations, wool and silk being the most forgiving when it comes to loosing seamlines and adapting shapes.  Portobello Market on a Friday is great if you are looking for vintage pieces.  Ebay is worth persevering with, especially as most garments are measured rather than sized.  It will be easier to make separates work than frocks as you don’t have to worry about the length in the body.

Should you be in the market for couture or bespoke, choose your dressmaker carefully.  Visit them armed with images you like and a clear idea of what you want the garment to do.  Be prepared to explain your preferred fabrics and style and to discuss every last detail of the garment.

NB Altering mens clothes for women is a separate post.

The green panels show new elements inserted to radically alter a dress

The green panels show new elements inserted to radically alter a dress

Which alterations are possible?

The golden rules
•Always make sure the garment fits the largest part of your body.  Fabric cannot be magicked out of thin air!
•Women’s clothes close right over left, men’s left over right,.
•Armholes and sleeves must be changed in conjunction with each other.
•It is hard to alter shoulders, lapels and across the back at armhole level or above.
•Fittings must be with the correct underwear including any padding.  Ideally the right shoes should be worn too.  Think outfit rather than garment.

Tried and tested solutions
•Insertions of lace, net, or contrasting fabric to lengthen sleeves or hems.
•Replacement of back, or chest with sheer stretch net (as used by ballroom dancers).
•Adding eye catching detail at the neckline to draw attention to the face, and away from (-insert issue here-)
•New sleeves added to garment to cover arms.
•A garment can be fitted to enhance the curves within.
•Layers are your friend.  They flatter, add interest and hide all manner of garment mis-fits.


Standard alterations
Fitted with darts front or back
Extra buttons added to prevent gaping
Cuffs changed/ added
Bottom shaped or shortened

Extensive alterations
Length extended with chiffon so top can be tucked in, and stays there
Sleeves changed/ added
Neckline changed
Collar changed/ added
Inserts added for length


Standard alteration
Expand or reduce at waist
Shorten or let down hem

Extensive alterations
Move/ change zip
Alter seams down length of skirt
Add inserts to lengthen
Add panels to give fullnessAdd lining/ netting/ frills under skirt to give shape


Standard alterations
Reduce or expand waist centre back
Shorten or lengthen trousers (plain or with turn-up)
Move buttons or waist fastening
Add belt loops

Extensive alterations
Alter waist at side seams
Restyle pockets (where possible)
Take leg seams in/ out
Lower crotch


Standard alterations
Fastenings movedDarts at front and/or back to give shape
Waist nipped in
Hem shaped,  shortened or let down

Extensive alterations
Neckline changed
Move/ change zip
Alter seams down length of skirt
Replace back with stretch panel
Add inserts to lengthen
Add panels to give fullnessAdd lining/ netting/ frills under skirt to give shape
Sleeves added
Inserts put into hem or sleeves

Jackets and coats

Standard alterations
Buttons moved
Sleeves shortened/ lengthened (no vent/ buttonholes)
Darts in front (no pockets) or back to give shape
Seams shaped below armhole

Extensive alterations
Sleeves shortened with vent/ buttonholes or at shoulder
Length shortened/ extended
Fronts shaped at hips
Taking in across the back at armhole level or above
Moving sleeves to take in across the back, reduce shoulder and trim waist. (I know it sounds weird, but they are connected.)

Price guide
Small alterations from £15  (button moving from £3)
Extensive alterations from £35
All pricing is based on an hourly rate.  Most garments need several alterations to fit properly.  Once the work is underway the cost is always less than the sum of the alterations undertaken.


Feb 142014

ethicsimagesIt seems everyone has an ethical code or a CSR policy these policy.  However, it would seem that the most right-on of small businesses often partake in what I would call sharp practice.  People I have stood next to on equality marches ask why I don’t charge rich people more.  Sole traders expecting transparency in the supply chain have websites which refer to themselves as “we” or “us” to appear bigger than they are.  Integrity goes beyond environmentally aware fabric suppliers and recycling.

I’m not perfect, but here is how I try to run my life, and therefore The Dress Doctor.

  • The Dress Doctor is Jo Poole.  I LOVE working on my own.  If there’s just too much to do I have trusted freelancers to call alongside regular collaborations.
  • Everyone is equal.  Everyone has different needs which need to be met, and it is up to me to adapt my work to ensure this happens whether it is through style, comfort or budget.
  • Everyone is charged equally, which is based on the cost of my time.  If you want a discount offer to do the un-picking (really, this makes me so happy and saves you £££s).
  • Fittings are a time for honesty.  I will say what I think re: cut and work to be done.  You have to reciprocate before the scissors are out and it’s too late.  You are my collaborator.
  • You will not be judged.  I will be discreet.
  • Simplicity is important.  I will not over-complicate or create extra work unless it gives value.
  • Given modern supply chains, there is no way I can insure that every bit of cloth and thread meets utopian standards re: pollution and slavery (a third of cotton is tainted by slavery, then there are the sweatshops…).  I recycle, upcycle and buy second hand where possible.  It it’s new it comes from a family run shop since even John Lewis is a bit shifty when it comes to equality.
  • What cannot be reused will be recycled.
  • I do my best to keep promises, including the small ones like calling back and sending information.
  • If I say something I mean it.  There is no empty flattery to enhance sales.
Jan 302014
Leather jacket before restoration

Leather jacket before restoration

Leather is an excellent material.  It’s natural, hardwearing, and improves with age.  However, as leather is a skin it needs to be treated with love and conditioned from time to time.
This jacket is an well worn favourite, and came to me with the charming instructions “un-f*** it”.   The problems were as follows:

  • Paint on fronts and sleeve
  • Uneven colour, especially on sleeves
  • Lining torn
  • Pocket bags shredded
  • Leather generally stiff and dry
  • Missing buttons 

Firstly, the paint was gently scraped from the surface of the leather with a very sharp blade.


Next, a weak solution of dark brown leather dye was made, and applied to the jacket with a cotton cloth.  This was done in layers to avoid streaks and dark patches, and to retain the leather’s character.  Be careful that it doesn’t bleed and mark the lining.
IMG_3628The rips and threadbare areas in the lining were identified.  As my machine isn’t butch enough to completely reline the jacket I unpicked a seam to gain access to the interior and set about patching the original where necessary.
IMG_3633A wide piece of lining material was applied over the lower half of lining to cover multiple areas that had worn thin due keys/ phone in pockets and sitting whilst driving.
New pocket bags were inserted, using a double thickness of tough material to guard against pointy keys and hefty technology.
A leather balm was applied to the jacket with a cotton cloth, and left to soak in overnight to condition the leather.  It was then buffed up to a shine using a mitt made from a coat hem I chopped off earlier.  Once checked over, the lining was closed and buttons replaced.

IMG_3646The finished jacket is smarter and softer, but still retains the character built up through years of wear.

Restoration of leather items from £30 – £100.
Mending is priced/ hour with a minimum charge of £15.

Jan 102014

Perfect darning thread, a wool/ nylon mix

This much loved cashmere jumper has crossed my path before.  Its worn and fragile state belies the emotional weight it holds as a present from a dear family member.  Previously standard darning was enough to keep it in circulation, but this time the elbows have gone through and the surrounding area is perilously thin.

My instinct was to patch the elbows, either with suede or corduroy patches, or more subtly with a canvas from the inside.  As its owner works at a certain Broadcasting Corporation which is teeming with hip young things in this seasons elbow patch heavy look, he was keen to steer clear of the offending items.  Instead, I developed a strategy taking the lead from the visible mending movement, as lead by Tom of Holland.



Firstly, I matched up the colour to a card of proper darning thread.  This is a wool/ nylon, is sadly hard to come by since darning has ceased to be a normal activity in every household.  The nylon gives it much needed strength, whilst the wool helps the thread blend in with the original.

The central hole was darned over an egg, in the traditional way.  This then left the threadbare area around the hole.  I ran a running stitch around the darned area, creating a sort of integral patch  which would protect the original fibres whilst catching any future split stitches before they ladder.

This was deemed wholly acceptable for the office, and in keeping with the garment.  I wonder what it will come back with next winter?



Prices on application, based on hourly rate.  £15 minimum charge.

Jan 072014
Dries Van Noten makes tribal interesting, wearable and contemporary
Dries Van Noten makes tribal interesting, wearable and contemporary

What started as a how-to for those wishing to look of the age without resorting to either fast or high fashion has now become a regular series.

Here in London we have yet to feel a frost, which makes it difficult to get too excited about spring clothes.  The best way forward is to go through your wardrobe sorting and rationalising, whilst having half an eye open old favourites which could come into their own next season.  Trends look best when they are tailored to and part of you.  Buying the look off the peg does not work for those of us over 21.

Reading Vogue and style.com it would appear anthing goes.  Florals, longer lengths and not heavy lace are looks that easily done.  You will know where you stand on large graphic or pop art prints on clothing.

My favourite trend is “International Georgraphic”, a contemporary, flattering take on traditional clothing throughout the world.  And there’s plenty of scope for brightness and fun too.

The twist on metallics is that they are for daywear, whereas take onsports clothes is now for the evening (didn’t this used to be clubwear?).

“Oxford come-on” appears to be complicated and not always flattering takes on a crisp white shirt/ night shirt – and the key is in the /.  Personally, I’d stick to classic white.

Pantone spring 2014Pantone have prescribed their colours for 2014, which is what the designers and shops will be working with.  “Radiant orchid” has been heavily publicised (the mauve-ish one), although the grey, orange and pinky red may be easier to wear, and work better with other neutral garments.  Read the full list.

Another approach would be to check out style icons.  Edie Campbell is influential, but the Queen of contemporary aesthetic is without doubt, Alexa Cheung.  If you struggle with this as much as I do, she has unashamedly lifted the looks of Jane Birkin and Françoise Hardy, so take the back bearings and seek age appropriate inspiration from the quintessentially chic.