Made-to-order and suiting in the age of lockdown

The ideal accompaniment to take you from your Zoom call, to a knock-off beer, to a fashion show for your labrador.

Words Hannah Cole
Photography Supplied

From where I sit, it feels like spring is coming in strong: heady notes of freesia, a warm breeze and sunshine. You could, forgivably, almost forget the year that has been within seconds. But Melbourne is still in lockdown, many of us continue to work from home, and a glimpse of ordinary life seems far away.

Although the shit has come in spades, and the experience has been far from ‘good’, positive stories are emerging. There are tales of ingenious adaptation and bolstered communities; those that spark my interest are refreshing approaches to fashion. 

Made-to-order models and local manufacturing aren’t new concepts for all, though. Some, like Melbourne-based tailor E Nolan, are well-versed; these are the very footing on which the label was (and still is) built. Designer and founder Emily Nolan started the brand “as a scratch to an itch,” an antidote to the fashion industry as it largely stands. “I see so much waste, so much cut+copy dressing and so much self-aggrandisement in the industry — I wanted to create a label that made women feel free to explore their love of getting dressed.”

Customers engage in an intimate and highly personalised experience — determining the design and fabrication with multiple fittings — while the RTW satisfies an immediate need. Aspirations of the perfect [insert tailored need here] are achievable; not only are we inherently more attached to our end garments, but both waste and impulse purchasing behaviours diminish. 

Finally, women and those who identify as women are serviced in the same manner a business bro may be. I recall mocking ‘power suits’ at a naive age as they felt like a performative take on women’s strength and a showy display of a don’t fuck with me attitude. Now, I humbly retract that. The suit is a wardrobe centrepiece and made appropriate for almost any occasion. As Nolan notes, “Building an outfit with a suit feels foolproof — personally, I feel most comfortable when dress ‘codes’ are blended to achieve a high-low mix… I prefer to feel thrown together rather than put together.” 

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on suiting requirements, though. Fewer meetings and less fashion-focused energy mean we need something appropriate for the times — enter the tale of adaptation. 

“When Covid first made itself felt, I started to think about how to translate the idea of feeling okay (well, fabulous) while living and working from home,” Nolan tells me. So, the Sleeping Suit was created — a Katherine Hepburn, at-once-put-together-and-ridiculously-comfortable suiting alternative designed to “gallivant about in.” 

As the need for masks has continued to rise, E Nolan has joined the ranks of local labels offering a fashion-worthy option. Nolan has an extensive and highly impressive collection of Liberty London printed cotton — “I grew up with my granny sewing quilts, so I have a lot of memories of these fabric collections.” Find masks to match your suiting, your mood, your overall vibe, and E Nolan has been overwhelmed by the response. 

I wonder what is next though: What part will suiting play in the outfits of the future as venture back to the office? 

For starters, Nolan is working on an exciting line of RTW shirting: “The ideal accompaniment to take you from your Zoom call, to a knock-off beer, to a fashion show for your labrador.” Truth be told, oversized cotton shirting could easily take us straight from the bedroom to the boardroom if the need ever arises. 

That’s not to say that tailored suiting won’t have a place moving forward, though. 

“I think some of us will want to feel a bit more ‘armed’ by our clothing,” Nolan notes, “and so a tailored blazer might be just the thing to feel ready to take on the world again.” Test Subject #1 over here can confirm: a blazer makes all the difference. 

Nolan also foresees a demand in pieces that fit just right, oozing comfort in a world that doesn’t seem all that comforting or friendly. We’re expanding and challenging our view of ‘comfort’ though — sweatpants and hoodies have their rightful place, but rarely offer the feel-good boost we often require of our clothing. “Comfort isn’t just about wearing something loose and baggy; it can also be about wearing something that fits you in just the right way and allows you to move seamlessly through the various aspects of your daily life.” 

Mostly, this lockdown has given many of us the chance to sit back and think. We’re reflecting on our consumption habits, the state of the world, the things we value and hold so dear. Life will continue, but not as we know it. It’s time we came to terms with our vulnerability and be unafraid of using it to our advantage. That’s how Nolan sees it too — it’s an opportunity to engage curiosity, but also be okay with not always being okay: “To be brave is to be hopeful. Flowers grow where dirt once lay.”

e nolan

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