Cooking Up My Style Recipe

Readers,

Have you ever tried to define your fashion personality and wardrobe style in just a handful of words? Me neither.

At least not till a couple of afternoons ago, when I undertook what I’ve found so far to be the single most important–and head-scratching–exercise in image consultant Imogen Lamport’s 7 Steps to Style program.

Imogen Lamport at her desk - Creator of Inside Out Style

Melbourne, Australia-based image consultant Imogen Lamport.

After months of reading dozens of Imogen’s immensely enlightening (and free!) posts on her blog, Inside Out Style, about figure types, coloring, proportions, color- and value-contrast, and wardrobe-building, I finally took the plunge and bought her program so I could be advised individually and admitted to the Facebook group of sister “7 Steppers,” who encourage each other and offer helpful feedback.

I had gone about as far as I could puzzling out my coloring, figure type, proportions, and so forth on my own but was still perplexed. My closet still has too many wardrobe orphans, and I still sew too many duds.

Uh…Do we have a fitting problem here? (Jack nicknamed this 2013 sewing project “Anoraksia Nervosa.”)

It was time to tap into the knowledge of a pro who had analyzed the figures and determined the coloring of thousands of clients for as close to an objective assessment as I could ever hope to get.

But the subjective assessment was all on my shoulders. In Step 1 of the program, “Personality,” Imogen writes,

During my image consultant training, I had an epiphany. It wasn’t just the shape of clothes that’s important to finding the right styles for each person, but also your personality traits need to be reflected in the clothing, as this is how you will feel the most comfortable and stylish.

“[D]iscovering your personality style,” she continues, “is the jumping off point in my 7 Steps to Style. Without discovering all about who you are and what you love, you’ll never really feel as stylish and attractive as possible.”

This jacket from a 1930s pattern was a technical hit but a fashion miss. That’s a lot of effort to put in for so little return.

And so what occupied me a couple of afternoons ago was, first, taking the Personality Style Quiz, to help determine my preferences for seven styles of dressing: Classic, Relaxed, Dramatic, Creative, Rebellious, Feminine and Elegant Chic.

I appreciated not being confined to one category but choosing qualities I liked from as many categories as I liked and leaving the rest, as if I were filling my plate from a vast fashion “buffet.” I took big helpings from Classic and Elegant Chic, a sizeable portion of Creative, and appetizer-sized servings of the rest. Translated into a wardrobe item my “fashion plate” (ha!) might mean a well-fitted (Elegant Chic) trench coat (Classic) in a nontraditional color like chartreuse (Creative).

The next section, which I also tackled with relish, was answering “What do you love? What speaks to you? Write down the elements that make you excited.”

Let’s see…I love autumn colors, and apple pie, and berets…but not the scratchy wool-blend I used for this capacious coat!

Imogen listed:

  • Colors
  • Textures
  • Fabrics
  • Patterns
  • Design details
  • Jewelry
  • Shoes
  • Handbags

To which I added the category

  • Hats

What sewer doesn’t have opinions on these subjects?  The spaces were hardly big enough to list all the colors I crave (Mustards! Olives! Chocolate and caramel browns!),

Wearing some of my favorite colors.

patterns I love (houndstooths, plaids, stripes of every stripe), or design details I adore (buttons and buttonholes, contrast facings and linings). In my self-generated category Hats, typical of an Elegant Chic I listed berets (and typical of a Creative, I own them in many colors).

One of my many berets.

For 7 Steps to Style participants who dress differently for their workplaces than in their personal lives, there’s a section for defining the wardrobe and style requirements for each area. I pressed on to the last section: Create Your Unique Style Recipe.

“By now,” Imogen writes,

you should be starting to get a clearer picture of the styles of clothes you love, the elements of design that excite you, and your personal style. So it’s time to create your Style Recipe–these are the words that help you make decisions about clothes and outfits, whether or not you should keep them in your wardrobe, or buy them at all.

What you’re going to be doing is creating a list of words that resonate with you as a person and how you want to be perceived. A list expressing your authentic and best self that will be used when you shop for something new, or just when you’re putting together your outfit for the day.

This was the most challenging exercise for me as for almost all 7 Steps to Style participants.  How do you condense your tastes and aspirations into a few words? Just start. Experiment with your words, and modify as needed.  As with a recipe, season to taste.

For me, the stumbling block was addressing the question of how I want to be perceived. If you want to see me cock a skeptical eyebrow in record time, tell me to use words like “bold,” “mysterious,” “edgy,” or “powerful” in my style recipe. I guess the problem I have with this is, for better or worse, I can’t control how others perceive me.

However, I definitely see how not understanding the powerful vocabulary of dressing means not being able to create strong, consistent messages through clothes and outfits.

Forget what the color orange is saying about me–what my face is saying is, “Hurry up and take the picture!”

And for a sewing blogger, such a misunderstanding would be pretty ironic.

I decided not to let myself get bogged down in the being-perceived piece of this question and pressed on. I remained curious to see how I could use carefully selected words to make finer distinctions and chart a more interesting, personal–and enjoyable–wardrobe path.

I asked myself, What am I aiming for in my wardrobe? and my answer came back about what I want in my clothes. And that’s when I winnowed several dozen words down to five and came up with my Style Recipe, Version 1.0.

The words are:

  • Crafted
  • Useful
  • Vintage
  • Enduring
  • Surprising

Here’s why:

  • Crafted.  I realized that it really matters to me to make a significant part of my wardrobe. I enjoy nice clothes–who doesn’t?–but when I slide my arm through the sleeve of a coat I’ve sewn, my enjoyment is multiplied.

    I enjoy wearing the “belted topper” I made from an early ’50s pattern.

    It is further magnified when I recall choosing the fabric, conversing with the dealer who sold me the vintage buttons, or solving the puzzles of designing and constructing the garment. Once in a long while a purchased garment approaches that level of satisfaction, but really, nothing compares with the feeling I get wearing something I’ve made.

    This Pendleton jacket from the 1950s that I discovered in a vintage clothing store is beautifully made and a joy to wear.

    (But if I really dislike the process of making some wardrobe items, I’m fine with buying ready-to-wear.)

  • Useful.  Utility should be the bottom line for wardrobe items, right? Yet, how many times have I settled for a wardrobe item that wasn’t useful enough? A scratchy sweater, a shoulder bag that slips, shoes I can’t walk distances in? On the other hand, there are ingeniously designed items that carry usefulness to a new level.

    This early ’50s easy-to-sew weskit with big pockets is stylish, easy to wear, easy to pack, and so useful for holding swatches!

    And there’s another kind of useful–say, a yellow raincoat that keeps me dry but also makes me easy to spot when Jack and I travel.

    Henry VIII may be bigger, but in my yellow raincoat I’m no shrinking violet!

    “Useful” is in my style recipe to remind me to design multiple kinds of utility into garments I sew. And when I shop I’ll ask “Is this useful?” and “How is this useful?”

  • Vintage.  There’s no getting around it: I have a special liking for the styles, silhouettes, and details of many patterns from the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s.  The only time I’m consistently excited about contemporary patterns is when I browse the Marfy pattern company site.
    Sewing pattern Jackets / Shrugs 3223

    When I think of the Elegant Chic style, Marfy patterns come to mind.

    Those patterns come without instructions, which feels scary, but the styles are so enticing I’ll eventually attempt to sew one. Of course, I don’t want my closet to be a costume museum, and it doesn’t have to be. Vintage designs can be adapted, sewn in today’s colors and fabrics and worn in fresh combinations.

  • Enduring. I want to like my wardrobe so much that I would use everything till it fell apart. If not everything in my wardrobe is of enduring design, I will still aim for a much higher percentage. If I want to get rid of an item while it still has much wear left, I’ll want to know what’s unsatisfactory with the object or what’s different in my life now and what would suit my tastes or activities better.

    The weskit? Love. The colors–meh. I can do better.

  • Surprising. I think without Surprising in my style recipe my wardrobe could end up feeling like a bowl of oatmeal: nourishing but not very exciting.

    Flannel pajamas: as exciting as oatmeal. Perhaps pair them with a robe in a fun print?

    Surprising could take so many forms:

    • a classic garment in a nontraditional color (like a chartreuse trench coat)
    • a detail that’s a different size than what’s usually seen (like a large collar or pockets)

      I love the generous-sized collar on this 1959 jacket pattern.

    • a contrast facing for a collar or pocket flap that perhaps only the wearer knows about
    • a clever combination of patterns or colors that “shouldn’t” work–but does

I think of Surprising as the ingredient in my style recipe, like a squeeze of lemon juice, that brightens up the rest of the dish. Surprising is freshness, humor, delight. Whether I’m planning a garment to sew or an outfit to wear, I’ll ask myself where I might incorporate an element of surprise.

Okay, so not every surprise is a good surprise…(from my field trip to The Alley Vintage and Costume, Columbus, Ohio)

Well, that’s the recipe I cooked up on a quiet afternoon earlier this week. After I’ve had my colors analyzed and my figure type identified I’ll evaluate my wardrobe, fabrics, and patterns in earnest. That’s when I’ll really start putting this style recipe to the test.

(Studio photos and the “surprising hat” photo are by Cynthia DeGrand)

A Perfect Vintage Jacket

Readers,

Last week I brought home a very special souvenir of Jack’s and my visit to Portland, Oregon: a vintage jacket with a mysterious past. GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2941 (460x432)It came from a lovely little shop, Living Threads Vintage, on Taylor Street opposite the Multnomah County central library.

I was actually on my way to the Button Emporium next door, which an antique dealer had recommended to me, but I couldn’t resist stopping to examine the dress hanging on a mannequin outside Living Threads. IMG_9753 (345x460)

And the next thing I knew, I was chatting with Christine Taylor,IMG_9752 (345x460) co-owner with her husband, Travis, while browsing a rack of jackets.

In short order I was telling myself there would be no harm in trying on this very interesting jacket made from Pendleton wool.GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2943 (460x307)This jacket intrigued me–and Christine, too–and we both wondered who made it, when, and for whom. It was beautifully made and in perfect condition.

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2900 (436x460)

The seaming and darting are so beautiful.

The front facing is finished so elegantly.

The front facing is finished elegantly.

Was this jacket custom-made by a dressmaker or tailor for a specific customer?

Or could this have been sewn as a sample for a clothing line, never manufactured, instead ending up languishing in an archive for decades? We may never know.GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2894 (313x460)

The buttons were fantastic.  I admired the bold and yet restrained combination of buttons, fabric, and garment style. They seemed to be made for each other.  GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2907 (460x381)

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2955 (460x307) I would love to work out such wonderful combinations using the buttons I’ve bought at vintage fashion fairs and shops in the UK and Europe. It’s so inspiring to learn from real-life examples.

We wondered when this jacket was made. Could it have been the late ’50s, when more patterns were appearing without the cinched waist?

Another great in my pattern pantheon.

From 1959, this has a big collar and an unbelted version. I made the leopard-collar version a couple of years ago.

The fabric suggested 1940s or 1950s to me. This Pendleton wool was the color–no, colors–of stone-ground cornmeal, with beautiful variegations of grays or browns.

My trusty 3 in 1 Color Tool suggests that this yellow has been lightened with white and shaded with gray.

My trusty 3 in 1 Color Tool suggests that this yellow has been lightened with white and shaded with gray.

The tag read “Extra Small.” The fit was nearly perfect on me–a rare occurrence.GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2954 (307x460)

I love a big collar–and this one could be worn a couple of ways: wider and flatter,GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2918 (312x460) or higher and closer to the face. Interesting.GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2891 (303x460)

Christine liked this intriguing Pendleton jacket on me, too. Still, I wanted another opinion, and I knew where to find it: at the Heathman Hotel, just a few minutes’ walk away. That’s where most of Jack’s fellow Peace Corps members and their wives were staying for our biannual reunion.

I told Christine I’d be back shortly with my friend Rosa to make a final decision. At the hotel, I managed to snag not one but three judges–Rosa, Dora, and Kathryn–who eagerly returned with me to see the shop and the mystery jacket.

Even though I modeled the jacket for my review community over a summery white t-shirt and seersucker pants, the vote was a unanimous and enthusiastic YES. Okay, so there was a little extra room in the shoulders; I could live with that, we agreed.

The inside is perfect. This seems never to have been worn.

The inside is perfect. This seems never to have been worn.

Back home, I pondered what garments I could pair with this jacket to create outfits. Tops, skirts and pants should be simple, I thought, to support this jacket in its starring role.

I scooped up some hats, gloves, and an alligator bag and made the two-minute journey to my sister’s photo studio, where I experimented in front of the camera.

First, with a beret in a hard-to-pin-down mushroom brown color that went with the shading in the fabric:

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2959 (207x460)

The sleeves are longer than three-quarters length, but short enough to call for longer gloves. I wouldn’t mind laying in a supply of long vintage gloves. It’s interesting to me that although the collar points down, I perceive the collar as bringing the eye up, which is a big plus. I can’t explain why, but the shape and color of the beret look right to me as part of this ensemble.

Next, a kind of Loden green felt hat, maybe a cousin of a Homburg. (I bought this Eric Javits hat in 1990, I think.)

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2970 (244x460)

Carrying my pretend purse. I will never make a living as a mime.

The color of the hat is nice with the jacket, but the shape is not. There’s no relationship with the jacket.

How about with this burgundy rabbit-felt hat by Ignatius Creegan? I love this hat.

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2977 (270x460)

There’s my purse! Much better!

The combo is promising and worth pursuing. I see burgundy gloves in my future.

Next up: a Harris tweed hat I bought at a vintage stall in East London on a chilly, drizzly Sunday a few years ago. Quite the workhorse, this hat, keeping me warm, dry and moderately fashionable through several winters.

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2986 (238x460)I think this is a nice combination.

That I could wear a plain neutral beret; a luxurious, plush, rich-colored felt cloche; or a rough-textured plaid tweed fedora with this style and color of jacket was quite exciting.

Lastly, I tried a whimsical beret in an eye-popping orange-red.

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2999 (339x460)

Both items had plenty of personality but seemed willing to work together.

A jacket that can deliver on whimsicality, practicality, and beauty, too? That’s something worth celebrating!

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_3000 (299x460)

Whee!

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_3002 (300x460)

And with this silliness, this photo shoot is now concluded.

After spending decades in storage, it’s time this jacket started doing its job in the world, don’t you think?  I certainly do.

Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand for studio photography.

What Works/What Doesn’t: Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket

Readers,

It’s time to play another round of What Works/What Doesn’t. This is the game where I analyze a wardrobe item that’s been puzzling me. It could be something I made, or bought, or accepted as a gift or hand-me-down.  Some things about it appeal to me, but other things do not.

The Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket dates from the 1950s. It has a zip-out wool lining.

The Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket dates from the 1950s. It has a zip-out wool lining.

If a garment meets any of these qualifications:

  • I’ve worn it more out of a vague sense of obligation than of pleasure
  • I’ve passed it over not only when planning the day’s outfit but also when donating to charities
  • I keep thinking “This has potential!” but have never bothered to define what that is

then it is a great candidate for What Works/What Doesn’t.

I replaced the worn leather buttons with brick red buttons. I know there's a better button choice out there.

I replaced the worn leather buttons with brick red buttons. I know there’s a better button choice out there. I like the collar, which can be worn down or up, buttoned or open.

This game arose out of my aversion to the age-old advice to ditch wardrobe items you haven’t worn in a year. (Umm…that rant deserves its own post.)

Let’s get started.  Today’s garment is the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket. I’m guessing it dates from the mid- to late 1950s.

I bought this maybe ten years ago at a cute little antiques store that had a rack or two of vintage clothes and hats.

Impromptu modeling in the dining room.

Impromptu modeling in the dining room.

I remember marveling at the perfect fit and the smart lines. It had a wool zip-out lining in an improbably backwoodsy-looking plaid. I liked how I looked in it. And it was a very reasonable price, to my mind: $25.

When I saw this photo I noticed this felt like a good proportion for me. The three-quarters-length sleeves call out for gloves or bracelets.

When I saw this photo I noticed this felt like a good proportion for me. The three-quarters-length sleeves call out for gloves or bracelets.

I removed the beat-up, original, gray leather buttons and found the best substitute I could: these brick red buttons available in sizes to fit both the front closure and the sleeve tabs.  I knew at the time they weren’t a perfect choice.

Accessories! Now we're getting somewhere!

Accessories! Now we’re getting somewhere!

Either I didn’t know when I bought it or else I optimistically overlooked the fact when I tried on the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket that it scratched like the dickens. Which probably explains why it was in such great condition.  It didn’t get worn a whole lot.

Long gloves and a hat begin to make an outfit.

Long gloves and a hat begin to make an outfit.

Still, somebody, or a string of somebodies, kept it all these years, for sentimental reasons or because It Had Potential. And I carried on the tradition.

This tweed has flecks of other colors in it.

This tweed has flecks of other colors in it.

Oh, I did wear it a few times, to work on library reference desks, feeling equal parts smartly dressed and maddeningly itchy where the sleeve lining ended and the wool rubbed my forearms, and where the collar was in contact with my neck. I did find a maroon turtleneck sweater with three-quarters-length sleeves that solved the itching problem but made me feel like my own blast furnace.  I have never experienced a hot flash, but maybe this sweater-jacket combination gave a similar effect.

Now that could be another reason this jacket didn’t get a lot of wear over the decades.

I used to think gray was gray. Now I see that gray can have green or yellow in it...

I used to think gray was gray. Now I see that gray can have green or yellow in it…

So perhaps this jacket was meant to be worn outside–except that the sleeves were only three-quarters length. Now it’s obvious to me that the jacket was begging for long gloves.  A few years ago, though, I just didn’t get this.  I went around with forearms ungloved outdoors and unbraceleted indoors. Ignorant, I now know.

In short, I acquired a garment minus the operating instructions and fell short of understanding, much less fulfilling its potential.

Still, I sensed this jacket and I could have a fine life together if only I could figure out how. I would drop it in a charity donation pile only to give it a furtive reprieve and hang it back in the closet.

...or red or orange in it.

…or red or orange in it.

I finally told myself, Don’t keep not deciding.  Whether I was going to send the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket back into the flow or keep and wear it, I would have to understand the reasons why.

When my photographer visited three months ago I enlisted her in my quest. We pushed the dining room table and chairs to one side and pulled back the draperies. I donned the jacket over a neutral top and pants while Cynthia stood on a kitchen stool focusing her camera and encouraging me to act natural.

Instead of wearing black with the jacket, I can wear gray brightened up with yellow.

Instead of wearing black with the jacket, I can wear gray brightened up with yellow.

Be good enough to overlook my acting ability and check out this jacket. It does work. It just needs the right supporting cast. I’m realizing that after asking What works? and What doesn’t? it’s useful to ask “What does this need to work?” Because even a wardrobe item that’s wonderful on its own can be disappointing if it’s not part of an ensemble that works.

Rummaging around I found my only pair of long gloves, a gift from a vintage-loving sister. See how these gloves enhance this jacket? Such a difference.

Add the matching scarf for even more eye-popping color. What color gloves would be fun?

Add the matching scarf for even more eye-popping color. What color gloves would be fun?

Playing up the burgundy flecks in the tweed I wore my plush Ignatius Creegan hat. Now I can imagine having long burgundy suede gloves to match–maybe a whole burgundy theme: sweater or blouse, pants or skirt, hose, shoes.

I was drawn to the texture of the tweed and the lines of this jacket but had always had reservations about all the grays in it. It’s only recently that I realized that there are grays–deep ones like charcoal, and warm-toned grays based in the red, orange, yellow and chartreuse Color Tool cards–that work well for me.

I threw on this favorite yellow raincoat just for fun. I'm looking at the color, first, and the lighthearted feel. I want that feel in the outfits I create with the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket.

I threw on this favorite yellow raincoat just for fun. I’m looking at the color, first, and the lighthearted feel. I want that feel in the outfits I create with the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket.

I also recognize that, given my coloring (I’ve been identified as a “contrasting Autumn”) and style preferences, I’m happiest playing up contrasts.

This jacket has a lot of contrast potential:

  • Chunky lines over sleek lines: pair with very simple, streamlined pants or skirts
  • Coarse over smooth: play up the tweed against flat weaves or knits
  • Coarse with napped: pair the jacket with plush hats, suede gloves and shoes
  • Neutral shades with bright color, like greenish yellow
  • Neutral shades with deep color, like burgundy
  • Dark neutrals with a lighter neutral skirt or pants and a shot of color in the top and accessories

I may have missed a few possibilities, but still, I can see that this jacket could be an active part of my wardrobe. The coordinates I already have, and the ones I could add through buying and sewing, would work with a lot of my other garments in color, style and fit. That’s key: determining not only “What works?” but “What does it work with?”

The long version of this topper from 1956 bears some similarities to my jacket. Notice the short gloves.

The long version of this topper from 1956 bears some similarities to my jacket. Notice the short gloves.

Something else that’s key is noticing whether these coordinates and outfits I have in mind feel like a natural fit with my tastes, occasions, activities, roles I play, and where I see myself going. They do.

However, my ideas need to be road-tested. In 2014 I’ll post a follow-up about whether  the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket really has become the wardrobe staple I imagine it could be.

By that time I may even have learned how to act natural.

(Photographs of me are by Cynthia DeGrand.)

Packing with a Plan

Readers,

A month from now I’ll be in London for the Fashion and Textile Museum’s short course Tailoring with Savile Row Tailors.  More than a week ago I started thinking  about what to pack in case I needed time to sew or buy something for this trip.

I’ve traveled quite a lot and packed many a suitcase in my time. More than a decade ago, I saw how many preparations are the same from trip to trip and wrote out a stack of index cards as memory aids.

Before there were apps there were index cards. My travel reminders.

Before there were apps there were index cards. My travel reminders.

Nevertheless, every trip has characteristics that distinguish it from all the others I’ve taken that may influence what I pack. That’s the puzzle I still have to work out every time. What will be or could be different this time that I could plan for? (Would it surprise you that I scored high in foresight in that battery of tests I took at the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation?)

Can my chart help me think about this?

Test-driving my chart. Can it help me plan a travel wardrobe?

Test-driving my chart. Can it help me plan a travel wardrobe?

Well, when I pack for a trip I think a lot about what I’ll be doing. What occasions will I or might I participate in? (I’m using “occasion” until I find a better way to describe activities governed by some kind of social rules.)

  • a class at a museum taught by a master tailor
  • going through airport security
  • flying
  • eating out with classmates
  • going to fabric stores with local sewing bloggers

What would I expect the moods of these occasions to be?

  • friendly
  • respectful
  • serious (airport security)

    A candidate for this trip: one of the jackets I made from a 1941 pattern.

    A candidate for this trip: one of the jackets I made from a 1941 pattern.

What physical activities will I do?

  • hoisting my suitcase on and off trains and up and down flights of stairs
  • walking miles of city streets
  • reading maps
  • sitting in airports, on planes, and in the classroom
  • sleeping (trying to, anyway) on planes
  • hand-stitching in class
  • photographing
  • writing by hand and on computer
  • doing light housekeeping at the flat where I’ll be staying
  • doing mat-type Pilates exercises at the flat

You get the idea.

Light, warm, washable--and I can sleep in it on the plane.

Light, warm, washable–and I can sleep in it on the plane.

What roles will I be playing on this trip?

  • passenger
  • student
  • classmate
  • tourist
  • diner
  • shopper
  • blogger
  • photographer

What physical conditions will I encounter?

  • On the plane: could be drafty, overheated or underheated, and cramped. There could be glaring light, or noise from passengers or the plane.
  • London: darkness. Short, overcast days. Chilly, damp, raw weather. Possibly windy, especially near the river. Rain, maybe even snow.
  • London Underground and train platforms: chilly
  • Indoors: probably fine, but could be drafty

    Wool jacket, cashmere sweater: a start to an outfit for London in January.

    Wool jacket, cashmere sweater: a start to an outfit for London in January.

Answering these questions helped me visualize my trip so much better than before:

  • Walking along the Thames on a winter day with sleet stinging my face
  • Sleeping in a cramped position on the plane
  • Being around people who sew at a high level, or aspire to

And that helped me start gathering clothes for my trip.

Packing is when I become extra aware of how versatile garments for travel need to be. When I pull a clothing item for a trip, I ask, What other wardrobe items could this go with, and are they appropriate? What are the gaps?

Maybe the gap can be filled sewing from my stashes. What patterns, fabrics, and buttons could I use?

Maybe I'll sew something for this trip.

Maybe I’ll sew something for this trip.

Some gaps may have to be filled with purchases. I may look for sturdy, warm and dry shoes or boots for this trip.

All of these questions so far are about what I can reasonably expect based on past experience and present circumstances. But what about the future? What could I be moving into?

  • What new occasions might I be initiating or participating in?
  • What new roles could I be playing?
  • What new activities might I be undertaking on this trip, or as a result of it?

I don’t know yet, but they’ll probably involve getting things sewn.

I’ll be ready.

Test, test, test: can these categories really help me plan my wardrobe and travel better?

Test, test, test: can these categories really help me plan my wardrobe and travel better?

What Works/What Doesn’t: McCall 7842, Coat (1934)

Readers,

My coat-making fever this fall has prompted me to take a fresh look at a project I did about five years ago. I was disappointed in the result, but had not really clarified my dissatisfaction until I had myself photographed wearing the coat and could analyze the fit and the look against the pattern drawing. A couple of sewing friends also looked at the pictures and gave me their opinions. It turned out we agreed about the problems and possible solutions.

This was a simple but eye-opening exercise.  I’ve got a much clearer idea of the kinds of problems this pattern poses and the solutions I’d try. Not only that, but I think I’ll make better pattern, fabric, and ready-to-wear choices in the future. Very worthwhile, fun, and interesting.

One of my very favorite pattern illustrations. Now, can I make a coat that's just as great?

One of my very favorite pattern illustrations. Now, can I make a coat that’s just as great?

This McCall coat pattern from 1934 enchanted me with its casual air, generous lapels, and relatively easy construction. I’ve looked at hundreds of coat patterns, and this one remains a favorite. It’s a classic.

So how come my coat doesn’t look all that great on me?

Functions? Yes. Fits? No. Flatters? Afraid not!

Functions? Yes. Fits? No. Flatters? Afraid not!

What works? It’s warm and cuddly. It got me through many a winter bus stop wait between library work assignments around Hennepin County.

What doesn’t work?

This is too BIG!

This is too BIG!

I think part of the problem is in the fabric I chose. I used a bulky wool coating, which was a great choice for warmth but not for drape. I was going to say that my fabric is stiffer than what’s suggested in the illustration, but my fabric falls in gentle folds, too. Nevertheless, I think that because I’m only 5′ 1 1/2″ I really have to be careful with bulk in full-length coats.

Wide, wide, wide.

Wide, wide, wide.

Another big problem is proportion. I recall shortening the coat about 8 inches, which threw off the proportion. The illustration shows a classic proportion of one third above the belt and two thirds below.  Measuring the drawing with a hem gauge, I noticed that the one-third proportion–2 inches–was achieved by turning up the collar. All three renderings show the turned-up collar (which I like, by the way). On me the division is closer to half and half, which isn’t flattering.

Looks great on her...

Looks great on her…

And then, those lapels! They just drag the eye down. How could I have missed this in the muslins?

For one thing, the upper collar comes down too far. And then the lapel is positioned too low. It looks quite different from the pattern illustration.

What I missed in the illustration was the fact that the lapel, or front facing, continues below the tied belt. This also brings the eye down, which I don’t need.

...but the collar and lapels are too low on me.

…but the collar and lapels are too low on me.

Also, the belt is a little wider than ideal, and it divides me into two unflattering halves.

So I have these vertical challenges going on.

I also have width challenges. The bulky fabric adds width. When I wrap the coat around myself, the overlap completely covers one of the patch pockets. That’s obviously wrong.

An alternative from the same period. It might be fun to try this just for the Hepburn association.

An alternative from the same period. It might be fun to try this just for the Hepburn association.

Where width would be welcome–in the shoulders–raglan sleeves are not as good a choice as set-in sleeves, but they can work with the right shoulder pads and the right overall design.

My question is, could I change this pattern enough, while retaining its distinctiveness, to make a coat that functions, fits, and flatters?

Here's another McCall coat, from 1936.

Here’s another McCall coat, from 1936.

Working with a patternmaker, I could change the collar and lapels to bring the eye up, take out the excess overlap to correct the width, and narrow the belt.

For the wearable test I would try a thinner fabric that drapes, for the most dramatic contrast with the previous version.

This coat clamors to be made, too.

This coat clamors to be made, too.

This would be such an interesting experiment, sometime I might try it. But the improvements must lead to a wonderful pattern, not one that’s a little better. It might be that a wrap coat, in the end, is simply not a good style for me.

If that’s the case, some other coat patterns are waiting in the wings for their moment in the spotlight.

Interesting seaming! This is the back of the Hollywood pattern shown just above.

Interesting seaming! This is the back of the Hollywood pattern shown just above.

(Photographs: Cynthia DeGrand.)