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2019, in dresses: LI seamstress creates a year of imaginative garb

Nancy Sinoway, a Port Washington designer and seamstress, lets her creative juices run wild by creating imaginative dresses to display in her store, often to commemorate holidays or other significant events.  She sat down with Newsday to explain what goes into her whimsical 2019-themed designs.  Credit: Danielle Silverman

A tiny shop set on a busy block on Main Street in Port Washington is producing big fashion statements twice monthly that you can’t buy, or for that matter, probably wouldn’t wear.

This is where Nancy Sinoway, 68, owner of the eponymous tailoring, alterations and design business, creates and exhibits whimsical, over-the-top dresses to celebrate holidays and important calendar dates for the year. She’s dubbed this effort “Fashion Fabulous Fridays.”

“When I work with my customers, there’s always at least two opinions involved," she says. "There are questions like, ‘do I look good? Can you make it shorter, longer, looser, tighter?’” But when it comes to this project, “I can do whatever I want. There’s no one to answer to and it feeds my soul.”

Though she began to randomly design eye-catching displays five years ago, today, she says she is “obsessed” with regularly creating fantastical frocks that are a mash-up of art, beauty and humor with a dollop of kookiness. Just how kooky? For Easter, she trimmed a green and yellow tulle confection with real marshmallow Peeps; for Cinco de Mayo, she used Corona beer graphics to make the festive point, and for Hanukkah, she created a kitschy bodice of blue and silver dreidels. Occasionally, her goal is to generate awareness, like the fluffy fuchsia and pink number she created for Breast Cancer Awareness in October featuring a bra bedecked with pink posies.

Sinoway delights in the responses to her work from clients, passersby and those who follow on her Instagram, @nancysinoway. “There’s a lot of negativity in the world these days. And the dresses make people smile. I’m not selling anything, just trying to be creative and a little joyful.”

She’s gotten loads of positive reinforcement locally and via social media from places as far away as California, Florida, Colorado, and even from an Australian woman who wrote, “we appreciate artists of all mediums, much love Nancy, your beautiful designs always make me happy.” She says that now people await her next look, some which may take up to 18 hours to produce. “I put a lot of pressure on myself and think ‘ooh, people are really going to like this one.’ Then, I pat myself on the back quietly and say I did good this time, now on to the next.”

Her inspiration is drawn from all over. When searching for a paint color for her home at an Ace Hardware store, she came upon paint chips in a pumpkiny shade that spawned the idea for an origami-like turkey to top a flouncy skirt for Thanksgiving. A longtime client, whose husband had passed, brought her a cache of his designer ties. According to Sinoway, she said, "no one wants these and I thought you could do something with them.”

She did, creating a colorful skirt and tie rosette trim for this year's Father’s Day-themed dress. It was sheer coincidence when “my client, who I hadn’t seen in years, walked through the door, saw the dress of ties and cried.” Sinoway has favorite haunts for resources including Joann Fabrics and Crafts in Westbury, Michael’s and The Dollar Tree, which she dubs, “a craftsperson’s dream.”

Though she loves the attention, there’s more to it. Observers of her work will likely miss a secret detail she hides in each outfit: a butterfly costume jewelry pin and a swatch of Chanel fabric that belonged to her mother, Idelle, who passed away four years ago. “She was always extremely supportive and she brings me good luck,” says Sinoway.

Her final dress of the year is a nod to the New Year; a big, ethereal swoop of white satin and tulle decorated with sparkling lights and big white flowers. “It’s fresh and new and a clean slate,” she says.

In 2019, which is rapidly coming to a close, Sinoway produced more than 24 “Fashion Fabulous Friday” garments, the latest of which is on display at her shop, at 334A Main St. Her entire collection is available to view on Instagram. She plans to continue her tradition in 2020.  

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