What does handcrafted really mean when it comes to clothing? The alternative, machine made, is the typical mass production model of garment-making, in which clothes are constructed via assembly line with very little human interference. The process is automated and completely replicable. “Handmade” means that at least part of the garment was made the old fashioned way, by hand. This might mean a hand-stitched collar, an embroidered sleeve, or embellished cuffs, or it could mean that a single person used a sewing machine to construct the garment rather than a fast fashion assembly line process.
Modern garments that are called handmade are typically at least partly made by machine (even if that’s just a sewing machine). Completely handmade clothes are hard to find outside of historical costuming or your grandma’s knitting circle. The distinction between handmade and machine made is increasingly blurred and dissolved, just as the distinction between haute couture and ready-to-wear has become less and less clear since the ’60s. Most high quality clothing involves both machines and real people and each technique has advantages and disadvantages depending on the application.
When assembly-line, standard-sized, ready to wear clothing first became popular, pieces that were handmade were considered old-fashioned and unstylish. They were associated with clothes made at home cheaply, while machine made clothes were avant-garde and associated with designers. But as machine made, ready-to-wear clothing became the norm, handmade garments acquired special, exclusive status associated with top designers and custom couture pieces. Fashion has increased production to astronomical levels, and that sense of value has flipped. Handmade now carries more sense of intrinsic value because of its typically superior construction, detailing, sustainability, and human connection.
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