For the last month or so I have been opening my closet door to behold not only my spring-summer clothes and accessories but–my spring-summer fabrics!
My very small warm-weather wardrobe is interspersed with yardage.
Earlier this year I’d subjected my whole wardrobe to a new level of scrutiny, weeding out about a third of it. The remainder I divided into what I labeled Placeholders and Keepers.
The Keeper section was pretty sparse. While inspired to see only things I liked as starting points for new outfits, I was also a little unsettled to see so much open space. I was also curiously lacking in direction or focus for my sewing projects.
One day it just occurred to me to try interfiling my spring-summer cottons and linens by color with my clothes and scarves. Within minutes my yardage was hanging cheek by jowl with tops, scarves, jackets, and skirts. And a funny thing happened: I instantly began seeing affinities between fabrics and wardrobe items that had escaped me before.
I also was more easily seeing interesting groupings of several fabrics and wardrobe items. This was heartening. My editing process had pruned out the sartorial deadwood, but new growth had not begun. Now I was beginning to see genuine possibilities.
I also saw which fabrics and wardrobe items were outliers. Did they just not belong, or were they the start of a new way forward?
In the following weeks I have greeted my new closet denizens as not only potential but likely dresses, tops, skirts, pants, and jackets. Sometimes I shuffle a fabric from one color section to another to discover yet another form of compatibility–in value, or texture, or pattern–that is pleasing.
Something I’ve found particularly valuable is seeing a fabric’s affinity consistently over time, and not just with one other wardrobe item. Judging a fabric only in the context of other fabrics in my stash is kind of silly, anyway. I need to see how well it will play with others as a wardrobe item among other wardrobe items: hats, bags, shoes, jewelry, and clothes–the whole nine yards.
It’s been at least a month now since my spring-summer fabrics took up residence in my closet, and I’m in no hurry to return them to their shelves. They have such a friendly, encouraging vibe I’m beginning to see the sense in Marie Kondo’s animistic tendencies. Mind you, I’m not holding long conversations with my cottons or cross-dye linens–yet–but I don’t think a whispered “Thank you” would be out of line.
Two scarves hang next to a blouse I made last summer.
The Kondo effect has reached me even though I haven’t watched any of the Netflix shows yet: I recently examined everything in my wardrobe.
I pulled coats, hats, and gloves from the coat closet; raided the laundry basket and to-be-ironed pile; unearthed shoes waiting to be polished since last summer; retrieved skirts from a pile of mending; and emptied my dresser drawers and closet. Nothing escaped my scrutiny, not even the eyeglasses perched on my nose.
Everything got categorized as a Keeper, a Placeholder, or a Discard.
Keepers I broadly defined as aesthetically and functionally the best stuff I own, what I would like to incorporate into new outfits and plan into wardrobe capsules.
Placeholders had fatal flaws in fit, color, style, or function but would stick around till I bought or sewed replacements, at which time they would be demoted to Discards.
Discards: I don’t really have to define them, do I?
Well, the interesting thing I realized last week is that there are four types of discards. I know this because–and this will show you what an organizing nerd I am–I created a table analyzing all 67 of the items I was discarding and noticed behavioral patterns and situations unique to each type.
Then I wondered how I would explain my discovery to you, Readers, and came up with this:
For extra credit (awarded by me to myself) I came up with a facial expression representing the emotion of each category.
We’ll start with Liked and used. Items of this type were enjoyed and worn till they were worn out or no longer needed. They were part of an active wardrobe and ordinary turnover.
Next, Liked but didn’t use. Items of this type were wardrobe orphans. I hoped and believed that someday–soon!–I would be wearing these things I liked. And yet, there was something lacking: the right occasions for wearing them, or accessories, or most likely, knowledge. I often didn’t know whether the color or the lines really were flattering on me, or lacked the technical knowledge to sew coordinates for the pulled-together look the item deserved.
Next, Didn’t like but used. Items of this type I would describe to myself with a sigh or a frown, “It was the best I could do.” Pants that fit relatively well but had a lower than ideal rise, warm sweaters that were scratchy, a purse with lots of compartments great for travel but not stylish were all adequate without being satisfying. You can’t have everything, right?
Last, Didn’t like and didn’t use. Items with this designation may have been clothes I wore in my job that I haven’t touched since retirement, gifts not to my taste, or souvenirs I liked until I brought them home and realized I’d have to change my personality or lifestyle to wear them. There was a mismatch, but as long as I hadn’t clarified what a really good match was, in fit, color, or style, I wasn’t highly motivated to edit out these pieces.
Readers, I am so glad I took an extra step to see beyond the general category of discards to classify them by type. I noticed how I had tolerated mediocrities, defaulted to outdated styles because I didn’t take the time to come up with better ideas, and perpetuated bad habits that would carry my petty dissatisfactions into my future if I didn’t clean up my act.
But I also saw where I had enjoyed a garment or accessory and discarded it only when it had reached the end of its lifespan.
This is the model to follow for my future wardrobe: buy or make, wear and use with satisfaction till worn out. Repeat.
I was taking a brief break from Thanksgiving Day cooking when I saw an invitation in my e-mail. Sarah Gunn of the phenomenally successful sewing blog Goodbye Valentino was inviting her readers to join her in a year-long “ready to wear fast” starting January 1. The more I read about this challenge, the more my enthusiasm mounted. I headed back to the kitchen practically whistling a happy tune.
As Sarah explained,
The Ready to Wear Fast is a vow to abstain from buying clothes for one year. You will give up buying clothes from January 1-December 31, 2018. You may sew anything, and you may fabric-shop as much as you like! The purpose is to Save Money and Improve Your Sewing Skills, but believe me, the rewards of the commitment will exceed your expectations.”
The only exceptions to the clothes-buying rule will be wedding gowns and bridesmaids’ dresses. No sweaters, no swimsuits, no mother of the bride dresses, not even scarves can be bought during the year-long fast.
But when I read the restrictions I noticed I thought, good! This will give me that nudge to try sewing knit tops and cardigans like I’ve intended to do for years. The same with scarves, which have been my only frequent ready-to-wear purchases for years: it’s time I learned to do those fine hand-rolled hems on scarves I make myself, cut to the dimensions I choose.
And pants, which have been my sewing holy grail for years: I’ve made do with occasional ready-to-wear purchases that have tided me over but have hardly been figure-flatterers.
Sweaters! Even those sized “XS” are often too long in the torso and sleeves and too big around. The armholes are huge, restricting range of movement for sleeved versions or exposing too much flesh in sleeveless versions. Color choices are limited to what garment industry experts chose based on color forecasts made many months earlier.
Skirts, blouses, dresses–I can count on the fingers of one hand how many I’ve bought readymade in the last decade. Either fit or style is an issue, and, again, color and pattern choices are limited.
As Jack can attest, I’ll pop into a retail or consignment store to check out shoes and hats and sometimes specialty outerwear, but when I browse regular clothes racks I almost always leave the store muttering, “I’m glad I sew!”
So I think I am 90 percent of the way to a ready-to-wear fast anyway. If a fast means deprivation I already feel deprived, that’s for sure.
But if deprivation and restriction characterize a fast, why do I feel so upbeat about the approach of January 1? Because what I see is a yearlong sewing feast.
Oh sure, the sponsors of the RTW Fast are sure to dangle some enticements–fabrics, online classes, patterns, maybe even a sewing machine–before those of us who took the pledge. But what I think will have me singing Zippety Doo Dah in 2018 will be the abundance of encouragement and inspiration we participants will be sharing on our private Facebook page to realize our wardrobe dreams.
I know it sounds crazy: I sew, but do I have a closet full of seasonal custom clothing capsules to create dozens of outfits? No! As a matter of fact, since I joined Imogen Lamport’s 7 Steps to Style program four months ago I have drastically thinned out my wardrobe–including clothes I’ve sewn. Everything–my patterns, fabrics, wardrobe, style, my coloring, my figure type, and what I want to dress for–has been undergoing a reexamination.
When I read about the RTW Fast it struck me that it could give me just the right combination of structure, incentives, flexibility, and accountability to get me out of analysis paralysis into purposeful action. I am going to give the RTW Fast my best shot to turn 2018 into a year I can look back on with a feeling of accomplishment. That doesn’t sound like deprivation to me.
Signing up for the 2108 Goodbye Valentino Ready to Wear Fast ends Dec. 31, 2017. Click on the link for registration details. I hope you can join us!
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.
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!
To which I added the category
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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
And the next thing I knew, I was chatting with Christine Taylor, 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.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.
The seaming and darting are so beautiful.
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.
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.
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?
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.
The tag read “Extra Small.” The fit was nearly perfect on me–a rare occurrence.
I love a big collar–and this one could be worn a couple of ways: wider and flatter, or higher and closer to the face. Interesting.
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.
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:
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.