"I don't want my clothes to be noticed," Tracy Popken says, standing in the cluttered but orderly studio inside her Bishop Arts District home. It's a surprising credo for a designer and tailor, but Popken sells the idea hard, convincing you that she just wants her work to show off the personality and values of whoever's wearing them. And there's supporting evidence all around her: that conservative gray pencil dress in her sitting room, its collar edged like a buzz saw; racks of vibrant dresses from the 1920s and 1960s; ceiling-high shelves of color-coordinated fabrics.
"A lot of these 60-year-old dresses are still relevant," says Popken, 28, who along with having her own line restores clothes constructed in the 1970s or earlier. They may just need the neckline lowered, the hem raised. That's where Popken comes in.
Born in South Texas and raised in Dallas, she never considered herself fashionable. But during a brief stint at the now-closed vintage store Ahab Bowen, she became obsessed with old garments and how to repair and update them. She opened a tailoring shop called Salvage House, but since her clients kept telling people to "go see Tracy," she stopped fighting it and started marketing it under her own name.
The outfits she designs herself bring to mind Mad Men, but they're more wearable than most of the things January Jones is cinched into on the show. "Every woman's figure is perfect to right here," Popken says, pointing to the ribs at her side. Past that every body is different, so she designs to be as flattering as possible. She's showing a dark blue dress she's been working on, one that fits snugly until just below the bust line, then falls in clean drape.
Her take on fashion is sometimes less Sartorialist and more Sherlock. She references Carl Jung and archetypes and the ways the brain subconsciously catalogues traits about people based on their appearance. And more than anything, she likes taking advantage of those traits.
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"It helps you act like the person you want to be," she says, "when you look like the person you want to be."