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Shopping from the Present: Duchess Clothier

Editor’s note: Duchess Clothier, located next to Winn Perry in Portland, Oregon, offers custom and ready to wear clothing. In addition to stock patterns, Duchess can produce custom garments based on vintage patterns or photographs, using fabrics sourced by the customer. While I continue to contemplate the perfect Duchess project, AC friend Tiffany Thorton moved forward with an order for a pair of trousers inspired by a Sears catalog circa 1933. She documented the custom ordering process for Archival.

by Tiffany Thorton

Ready to wear jackets at Duchess

Lookbook

Jacket sample in the shop

A good pair of trousers is hard to find. Elusive fits, unsatisfactory materials and disappointing color selections have frustrated my search for a decent pair of trousers for a long time. Over the past few years, I’ve expended an embarrassing amount of time and energy looking for The Appropriate Trousers. I really wanted something of quality material and construction; trousers that would be comfortable, durable, and dignified. I nearly resigned myself to existing without these dreamt of trousers, until I spotted an Archival Clothing blog post referencing Duchess Clothier.

Original inspiration

I have long admired the cut of certain species of wide-legged men’s trousers from the 1930’s and 1940’s, and I spotted a couple of examples of such things on Duchess’ website. I was very attracted to the idea of having custom made garments that referenced these past styles, especially from a local establishment. I contacted Duchess and asked, a little sheepishly, if they could make trousers for women. Before long, I was headed to Portland, with a photocopied trouser reference from a reprinted 1930’s Sears catalog.

Correspondence

On the day of my appointment, I was greeted by Seyta Selter, one of Duchess’ friendly and knowledgeable founders. Seyta asked if I would like a reproduction of those specific trousers, and seemed as excited by the prospect as I was. We looked through the sample books, focusing on heavy weight wools, and I selected a dark brown herringbone fabric and an anthracite grey flannel (the anthracite flannel later turned out to be unavailable). We discussed fit as I was being measured, and talked about details like wide waist band that could handle a fairly large belt, a zip fly with three functional buttons on the waist band, and cuffs. I had never felt so supported in my sartorial preferences before.

Finished trousers.

Wide waist band with double loops (belt shown for scale)

Wide cuffs

I was really pleased with the first pair of trousers I got, and decided to commission more. I love the fit and form of these trousers. They are my favorite among the garments I have owned. They seem durable and sturdy, and I’m not worried that they’ll incur a lot of wear or weather damage. Wool is known for doing pretty well in most weather conditions, and Duchess has a large sample of wool fabric to select from. However, I wanted to try an experiment. I wanted to see if the trouser pattern that Duchess had constructed for me could be applied to a super heavy weight wool fabric that could be worn in truly awful winter weather conditions.

Heavy melton wool for winter weight trousers

After conducting some research, I decided that 100% wool melton fabric would be an interesting choice. I had a conversation with Ariel, another of the Duchess ladies, about bringing fabric for them to use, and she advised me on the amount of fabric it would take to construct a pair of trousers using my pattern. The next task was to find some. In the interest of supporting local industry, I felt that Pendleton would be a good source to tap for the melton wool fabric. It took a couple of e-mail inquiries to get a phone number for fabric sales, and when I finally made the call, I was pleasantly surprised to be told that the black melton wool I was interested in was on sale, and yes, they could ship it to Eugene. In July, I brought the wool fabric to Seyta, and we finalized a few details. It felt a little strange to be carrying around a bolt of heavy black wool in the summer heat, but any mild public humiliation is worth it; I can’t wait to put these trousers to the test.

Crucial care and feeding instructions

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