Soda City Chronicles

Any Style You Want, She Can Do It

By Otis R. Taylor Jr.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Patricia Salvant is fascinated by every era of clothing, but the cuts and silhouettes featured on Mad Men, the AMC drama that depicts the Madison Avenue advertising days of the 1960s, get her especially excited.

She’s attracted to the attitude, arrogance and dignity of the characters, traits that are personified by their wardrobes.

“The ladies are so poised,” says Salvant, a local seamstress. “I’m just fascinated by those clothes.”

Any old-timer will tell you that things were different and simpler in the Mad Men period, when owning a color TV was a source of prestige. The clothes, though, really were different, and not just because men wore hats, dressed daily in suits and women — especially those who worked in offices — rarely wore trousers.

The difference is in construction.

“They were well made; the fabrics were fantastic,” Salvant says. “And they were stylish, and I love style. Both men and women back then had independent style.”

Mad Men returns to AMC on April 13 for the first half of its final season. After six seasons of gawking at the dapper Don Draper and the sartorially shrewd men and women he encounters, people still want to adopt the look.

How can one find stovepipe pants with the straight-across waistline? Salvant, who owns Salvant Couture Designs & Alterations, the Broad River Road tailoring and alterations boutique, has the patterns. What about fabric for those glamorous dresses and gowns? Salvant has some of the wools and bonded knits popular in the days Mad Men revisits. 

Salvant also makes hats, gloves and even underwear. She’s also a cobbler, too.

“They may come to see me with one thing in mind, but by the time they leave me, they have the whole wardrobe,” the affable Salvant says about her clients. “Any look that anyone wants, I can do it.”

Grading style, from high fashion to street wear to subgenres such as steampunk and normcore, is open to interpretation and perspective. For Salvant, who has more than 40 years of sewing and design experience, current trends are no comparison to bygone decades.

“This clothing they have nowadays, I don’t know what to say about that,” she says. “They just lack some oomph.”

More than 30 years ago, Salvant added bounce to costumes worn by touring groups such as Heatwave and Zapp & Roger, R&B performers with a penchant for rhinestones and oversized collars. She met the latter, which earned mainstream success with songs such as “More Bounce to the Ounce,” in the mid-’70s at a Columbia nightclub.

Salvant, then employed as a dental assistant, would bring the designs she sketched between patients to concerts.
“Because nine times out of 10, whoever was sewing for them, they just looked so tacky,” says Salvant, who also designed for regional performers.

Zapp & Roger hired Salvant to do their costumes. Not bad for someone who fantasized about designing clothes while reading comics on a porch in Pass Christian, Miss., the same small city along the Gulf of Mexico where Robin Roberts, a Good Morning America anchor, was raised.

“In fact, my aunt and her mother were good friends,” Salvant adds.

Salvant’s aunt, grandmother and mother were also seamstresses. Salvant began taking sewing seriously as a pre-teen in Munich, where her father was stationed.

“When she told us to make an apron, I’d make a dress,” says Salvant, recalling youthful defiance of her teacher.  “And she’d give me an F. Then I’d make an apron.”

Salvant says the teacher told her that she’d make a good seamstress.

And she has, making her something of a treasure for her clients. Salvant is quick to share the numbers to her Broad River Village shop — 750-0831 and 331-0771 — and says her clients know she’ll look out for them.

“It’s like I’m always available for them,” she says.

Even when the sign on the door reads “closed.”

“When they see my car and they see the lights, they come in,” Salvant says. “I do not turn down business.” 

The SCC is a column about interesting people in and around Columbia.

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