Style crisis? What style crisis?

Clueless-cher-wardrobe-clothes

There are times when life seems like a series of stumbles from one wardrobe crisis to another. This isn’t the plaintive teenage wail of someone looking at her bedroom floor – or rather, the heaps of clothes obscuring it – crying ‘But I’ve got nothing to wear…’.

Style crisis in Clueless film
Cher has a wardrobe crisis in ‘Clueless’

In my case, I’m talking about a wardrobe that has been mercilessly whittled down over the last few years, to the point where an evening out inevitably means pulling on a pair of black cigarette trousers bought from French Connection almost 15 years ago. They’re at least a size too big and they go with:

1. One of two tops bought in the winter sales four years ago
2. A white cotton shirt (usually worn with a dark red lipstick)
3. An Edwardian style blouse with gathers in the yoke that behaves strangely when buttoned.

It’s time for a confession – I’m caught in what seems like a terminal style crisis and it’s been going on for a while now. I’m well aware that there’s an obvious solution; it’s one I hear regularly and goes along the lines of:

“But for goodness’ sake, you can sew! You sell fabrics for a living! Why haven’t you made any number of tops or dresses with those lovely fabrics you’ve got?”.

“NO, REALLY?? OMG WHAT A BRILLIANT IDEA! I HADN’T THOUGHT ABOUT THAT! PROBLEM SOLVED!”

But of course the reality is that it’s not that easy. As most will know, that whole work-life balance thing means that fitting in time to sew for sheer indulgence – or even necessity – isn’t always possible. But this runs deeper – it’s to do with knowing what to make. I have a theory that for those of us who’ve grown up sewing, this personal style crisis – the style equivalent of writer’s block if you like – can be particularly severe. Hands up those of you who’ve walked around a clothes shop commenting repeatedly: ‘But I could make that!’, before coming home with nothing – but with no time left to rectify matters at the cutting table. It’s a real predicament, meaning that when our style crisis hits, it can hit hard.

That being the case – and since a style crisis, by definition, is an intensely personal predicament, I’m dispensing (at least for the moment) with the  ClothSpot ‘royal we’. In short:

“My name is Alice – and I don’t know what to wear.”

Well of course I do actually know what to wear – I promise I’m sitting here fully clothed from pants to scarf and everything in between. I have a fair idea of what’s in and what’s out – and I’ve no problem with choosing fabrics and making suggestions as to what might be created with them. But in terms of creating a coherent wardrobe for myself, of having clothes to hand that truly reflect me, I’m a bit stuck right now.

Obviously I’ve sewn plenty of clothes in the last year, managing to make a handful of garments that have seen regular wear. Mostly for use on work days when I really can’t climb into Converses, jeans and a striped t-shirt one more time. I’m happily sitting here now in a Sew Over It Ultimate Shift Dress made from our Midnight blue worsted wool fabric which was made as part of our Tunic exploration last autumn. It didn’t get photographed as it has some fit issues (I have more shoulder than it does and we disagree as to where my bust should be) but I do like it. However one ill-fitted dress does not a wardrobe nor a personal style create.

Of course this is a time of year when most of us are already in a bit of a style quandary. It’s the ‘shoulder season’, which has nothing to do with the recent fad for ‘cold shoulder’ tops (let’s not get into those. Literally, let’s not.) It’s that period where our interest in a season’s offerings slides off the ‘shoulder’ of the old season before bottoming out then rising again as a new season gets under way. It happens at least a couple of times a year and you’d think we’d all be past the stage of letting it get to us.

Late winter can be a difficult time, trying to adjust our mindsets away from glorious wool coatings, luxurious linings and scarves. Wrapping our heads around clothes for warmer weather when there’s horizontal freezing rain outside is nigh-impossible. I for one will be wrapping my neck up and keeping my gloves on until sometime in May, if previous years are anything to go by.

But why is this time of the year so painful? You’d think that the chance to take pause, seek out inspiration and plan our wardrobes would be a pleasure. Indeed it clearly is for many – as it should be. Initiatives such as the Stitcher’s Guild Sewing With A Plan (SWAP) and the #2017MakeNine hashtag on Instagram are intended to focus minds and help prioritise sewing plans for the season(s) ahead. These are opportunities to discuss personal style and fashion (because of course that’s a different thing altogether) as well as patterns and fabrics.

However not everyone can co-ordinate their creative processes – and the change in season can worsen an already tense relationship between what I wear and my sense of self. Having complained frequently, researched a bit and listened to lots of people, one thing I’ve learned is that I’m not alone – particularly if my Inbox is anything to go by.

This, then, is the first of what is planned to be an intermittent series of posts which will follow me as I try to put my style crisis to rights. I hope you’ll join me as I ask – and try to answer – the question:

“What is it that stops us in our stylish tracks – and what we can do about it?”

Now – I make no claim to be able to diagnose, prescribe or cure – but I am determined to put my mind to this predicament over the next few weeks and see what I can come up with. I’ll be sharing my thoughts along the way – and the usual ClothSpot routine certainly won’t be grinding to a halt as far as our usual makes and style suggestions are concerned. I’m not necessarily in search of the ultimate capsule wardrobe – but I will be making sure that I take a broader view of the makes we do – and consider how they really speak for me.

The thing is – clothes really do speak volumes – which is why this isn’t a trivial issue. Whatever our day-to-day priorities, or our broader concerns about global politics, equality, the environment, economics and the like – we all have to get up in the morning, get dressed and face the world. We need to be ready to do our best for ourselves, as well as our families/work colleagues/businesses/communities (delete or replace as appropriate).

From the concerns of the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union in the Victorian era…

Style crisis - clothing concerns in the 1890s
This feature from the journal Aglaia (1893) invites readers to question the uncomfortable and impractical fashions of the day.

to the symbolism of Hillary Clinton’s white suits during last year’s election campaign…

Style crisis - Hillary Clinton'swhite suit
Hillary Clinton’s choice of a white suit referenced the Suffragette movement, picked up by the #WearWhiteToVote movement online

via trousers, mini skirts and the right to wear flat shoes – what we wear is not only of practical concern; it’s also deeply meaningful. If our clothes can keep us safe and comfortable, they can also be liberating and inspirational.

It therefore follows that having a moment (or longer) of self doubt can be genuinely debilitating. I know from innumerable conversations I’ve had, that feeling bad about our personal style directly affects our confidence, our creativity and our self-esteem. When I return to this thread I’m going to have a look at how that happens and why it matters so much.

In the meantime, please feel free to post your thoughts and personal experiences. I hope that this journey will be a shared one – and that it will leave me – and perhaps others too – us not only wiser, but happier in ourselves.

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26 thoughts on “Style crisis? What style crisis?

  1. Claudia Foster says:

    I found this so interesting. I do exactly as you and go around the shops saying I could make that -better and cheaper – then don’t! I have piles of fabric and patterns, a sewing maching and overlocker and have make clothes for myself since I was 14, including my wedding dress, I am now 60! I know what I like to wear and what looks good on me, yet I still struggle to co-ordinate the clothes I do have, and make new ones to fit in. I get all excited and buy patterns and fabric then think …’I don’t know..’ And it all sits there. Or I make something knowing it isn’t really what I want. I shall be reading your posts with interest and hope that as the weather improves so does my inspiration to sort out my wardrobe so I don’t end up in jeans and jumper for the rest of my life! Claudia Foster.

    • ClothSpot says:

      I hear you, Claudia! That sounds so familiar. Hopefully as I try to take myself in hand, we’ll be able to break that cycle. You’re not alone, I can assure you!

  2. Cate says:

    This was so interesting to read Alice and trust me, I do know what you’re going through. Despite always very much having and being confident in my own style, I have had my periods of being lost and not really finding my own identity in my clothing (something that has been important to me for as long as I can remember).

    Would you believe that during a horrible period in my life I actually wore black head to toe and even wore those horrible oversized cropped cargo trousers that you only see over 50s wearing (I was in my early 30s at the time!)? I found those trousers stashed away in a suitcase a while ago and was actually shocked to my core that I had even considered buying them, let alone wearing them!

    I think that was probably the turning point for me and led me into my journey down the vintage route. I’d loved and admired it earlier in my life but had never been brave enough to actually wear it. It’s been hell of a journey, and one that’s brought sewing back into my life, so I guess it was worth it!

    I’m feeling in a bit of a slump at the moment though. It’s odd, I feel like I’ve lost my muse, although who that muse was I have no idea! I haven’t actually done a single bit of sewing since Christmas which feels really weird. I’m hoping to get back to it this weekend and I’m hoping it will spark my enthusiasm again.

    Anyway, this reply is long enough!! I look forward to reading your journey and seeing how you tackle this head on. And I’m always on hand for any encouragement or just chatting about which trim colour goes best with a particular fabric 🙂 xx

    • ClothSpot says:

      Thank you so much for your encouraging insights and empathy, Cate – it’s much appreciated! I think that having a muse is incredibly important – although we’re all individuals and seek to present ourselves as such, taking inspiration from others is a big part of finding our own style. You’ve provided us all with inspiration in spades – and I’m sure that as the sun comes out your enthusiasm will be sparked! And absolutely I know where to come for more encouragement – thank you! xx

  3. Louise says:

    I loved reading this as well – I find myself having a moment where I realise that what I am actually wearing has shifted since I changed jobs – I keep making dresses but I am mostly wearing a pair of black jeans (that I bought from M&S because apparently I am middle-aged…) – and I find myself wearing the same few tops with them. Beyond this moment is the the gap between the weight I think I am – and am always planning to get back to – and the weight I actually am which affects my perception of what i want to wear v what actually looks OK… I have been trying some different styles recently but I think I am actually floundering a bit and until I work through all of the above I will end up with a bunch of things that i don’t love and don’t wear very much.

    Louise x

    • ClothSpot says:

      Thank you Louise – it’s almost as if you read the next post already! I quite agree – age and weight might often trigger a style crisis but so can lots of other things too. Especially if we’re going to invest time in making something, we want to know who we are making it for – and that ‘who’ can be a moving target, difficult to pin down in terms of self-perception and who we want to be – you’re absolutely right!

  4. Jenny says:

    This is all so familiar, you described my thoughts without me even knowing I had those thoughts. For me it’s being home all day – I knew what to wear when I was at work, and I didn’t have time to sew. I don’t want to sit round in sloppy old things, that’s the road to a sloppy mind, but I want to be comfortable. I go round the shops and can’t find anything that even fits let alone suits my age/lifestyle, and doesn’t cost the earth or is horribly old fashioned or suitable only for under 16s. Yet I have lovely things I haven’t worn for several years. At new year I (mentally) took stock and realised that I need to go through my wardrobe and see what’s needed to bring these back into use, then look in my stash and plan what to make, and also to challenge myself by learning some new techniques to keep it interesting. My own version of sewing with a plan. Naturally, I haven’t started that yet, apart from deciding to knit a cardigan with a fair isle yoke. I have spent two weeks trying to decide on the colours! But it will be done. I promise. And it will be beautiful with the skirt I’m going to make from the gorgeous Northern Sky wool I got from you.

    Louise’s comments are very apt – I visualise so many things I could make, but they’re all for different versions of how I visualise myself and hardly any come to fruition. They’re just not me. Last year I made three TIlly and the Buttons Agnes tops, and most days now I wear one of these with a skirt or jeans. (Your previous post on jersey was spot on). It’s the first time in my life (I’m 66) that I’ve had t-shirt style tops that actually fit, so I think jersey will be playing a big part in my comfort/fit/ease-of-wearing plans.

    Keep up the good work in supplying us with inspiring fabrics!

    Jenny xx

    • ClothSpot says:

      I think that having ‘your own version of sewing with a plan’ is an excellent idea Jenny – and thrilled to hear that your plan includes Northern Sky! But like you, I have been eyeing that for some time, and dithering, and wondering ‘which version of ‘me’ will it work for?!’ And while age is a factor as many commenters have said – none of us wants to look old-fashioned – and why should we? You’re absolutely right. Have fun with the knitting – I am in awe!

  5. Virginia Hewitt says:

    Ah yes, I recognise it all…

    And now I am 2 weeks into retirement, luxurious time billowing around me, and have I sewn a single stitch? No. The issue is another variety of style crisis: a hoard of lovely fabrics, at least as many patterns for pretty tops and dresses, most of which would work with most of the fabrics, so I simply cannot decide what to make with what. And I am of course eyeing up more Clothspot beauties even as I type. What am I to do?

    Please tell me I am not alone, and there are other ditherers out there!

    • ClothSpot says:

      You are most certainly not alone, Virginia – as I – and the other commenters here will attest! But congratulations on your retirement – take a moment to breathe – I am *sure* you deserve it. You have a whole new life now – and it’ll probably take you a little while to figure out what to do with that luxury – let alone what to wear while you make the most of it!

  6. Dorothy says:

    I certainly agree that a style crisis is mostly caused by age and/or weight.

    My problem is getting old – I have not put on any weight – and trying to figure out what is suitable and I also like, especially as now I do not have to get up and actually “go” anywhere every morning. I have never been a lover of track suits and do not like the thought of living in them daily.

    Anyone got any ideas?

    • ClothSpot says:

      I agree, Dorothy – daily tracksuit wearing doesn’t work for any version of ‘me’ that I can think of! All that nylon and rustling – nooo! Although I can see the attraction of bring some edge to a wardrobe by introducing some of the elements of sportswear, I suspect I will have limits. Oddly enough, that’s something I plan to explore…watch this space!

  7. Julia Droy says:

    I sympathise with all of the previous posts, however a few years ago I had a light bulb moment when I decided on a plan of dressmaking, not to give myself a deadline but to have a project on the go all of the time. I’m fortunate to be able to have a sewing space in our study, although my husband and I vie for the space, if either one of us moves something the other will fill it. It has been successful so far because if we get an invitation I have an outfit almost ready to go, I try to sew a couple of afternoons a week and but fabric when I see something I love.

    I hope this gives you something to consider without sounding big headed.

    Alice I will also be watching you with interest.

    Happy sewing

    Julia

    • ClothSpot says:

      Julia that made me laugh – I suspect many of our customers will recognise your description of gentle-but-firm claiming of a shared workspace – whether it’s in a corner of the bedroom, the dining table or in a spare room. I quite agree – especially if you’re fortunate enough not to have to clear everything away after each session, then having something ‘on the go’ at all times – whatever it is – can really help you hang on to your ‘sewing mojo’ (which is how I often hear it described). I think it’s a good point – if ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is true, then ‘in sight and in your mind’ must equally be so. Thank you for that!

  8. Anastasia says:

    Aw, I so understand all of you and kind of relieved that I am not alone! I am a young ( 30+ still young is it? ?) not working lady. My crisis started many years ago. At first I was completely lost in the new country – new climate ( forget your summer dresses! ), new life-style, new everything! Then I started to hoard fabrics and yarn – tonnes of them! My head is buzzing with lots of ideas for my new wardrobe- and yes, you probably guessed it – I am still in my jeans, flat shoes and old store-bought jumper! Aarrggh!
    Of course, from time to time I am succeed at sewing/knitting and can proudly demonstrate it to my friends, but then again – long periods of procrastinating and loads of unfinished projects … also being a perfectionist does not help at all.
    I am trying to find an inspiration amongst fellow sewers, at nice dedicated blogs etc.
    This new year resolution and plan is to create at least few wearable outfits and ditch jeans!
    So far I sorted out my huge fabric stash and was terrified by the size of it. I believe it is a common problem for a lot of crafters. I do not know the remedy.
    But We should not despear! No matter of our age or life-style we should create beautiful things and wear them proudly! My new neighbours are such a great example for me – being in their 70s they are so good-looking and elegant and wear their best outfits every day! Kudos!

    • ClothSpot says:

      Anastasia I think you’re absolutely right – although age can often play a role in a style crisis, it’s not by any means the only factor. Changing work and country are really good examples – and I’m so sorry about your summer dresses – maybe they will get an outing this year!! And there we are – with plenty of fabric, overflowing with ideas, but stuck in our jeans and flat shoes (precisely what I’m wearing today!) One remedy is to wear your stash – another is to put it on eBay (I know of one or two people who’ve done that – shocking!) I also heard of one person who built an extension to house her stash… :-/ How fabulous to hear of your elegant neighbours – it sounds as if they are setting the bar high!

  9. Di says:

    Your blog pretty much sums up how I feel about myself. Last year I downsized after losing my husband, mother, and other close family members over the previous three years. The mental image I had (in my new home), was to wear nice clothes instead of living in various old walking trousers (3 pairs) and a selection of equally old tops/cardigans/jumpers/fleeces during the day when I’m busy with unpacking/cleaning jobs etc. I do wear smarter clothes when I go out then, sometimes, change back into ‘slob’ wear once home. That’s something I would never have done in the past. As a child I had clothes that were kept for ‘best’,and in a strange way I feel as if I’m repeating that experience.
    Also retired, I have no need for the sort of clothes I’d usually wear to work, yet, find myself strangely drawn to the these types of patterns when deciding what to sew next. I did have a good clear out, of footwear and clothes, when I was unpacking, but am still loathe to part with other things, even though I know I probably won’t wear them again, though the clear out made me feel better. The other point is if I’ve spent time and money making something good I feel I should keep those items ad infinitum. Do other sewers feel the same —I think the answer to that might be yes.
    I know I have to sew for the life I have now, not the life I once had. Easier said than done.

    • ClothSpot says:

      Oh my goodness, Di – you really have experienced some huge life changes and I can imagine that among all of that, deciding what to wear might seem the least of your worries. However the notion of being drawn to ‘work’ style patterns even though you’re now retired is a familiar one to me since although I’m not retired, neither am I spending lots of time in a corporate office or in meetings – so my work style has changed. Apart from anything else, if I wear heels I’ll bump my head on the doorframes or go flying over rolls of fabric. I think your observation ‘sew for the life you have now, not the life I once had’ is extremely well made. I will take it to heart as I explore further!

  10. DKUK says:

    Personally I think some of the problems stem from; too much choice (large fabric stashes) loss of self ( now I’m no longer working – sorry that does not change WHO YOU ARE) and deep down not believing we are Important! DEMAND a work/life balance!!
    Recently while in Seville I was struck by how stylish the women were. Well coordinated and GROOMED. This does not mean ££££’s spent on clothes. It means having pride in yourself. Putting yourself first sometimes. When society wants to subjugate others they shave their heads, take away their clothes and dress them in uniforms thus stripping them of their identity. At heart we know who we are. Although now 61, I am still essentially the person I was at 21. Start with one thing. A dress, a skirt and make it in a suitable fabric you love. Then make a piece to go with it that is totally “YOU” . Listen to your inner voice. My son and daughter have both said that they can pick out clothes that I would buy and that suit me because “they are so you!” It’s about being yourself and taking pride in yourself ( that is not the same as being arrogant) Think about the essence of who you are and what you are. Think about yourself from being 18 years old. What are the consistencies? Re-claim your self and your self worth. ENJOY dressing up. Enjoy making and wearing things for yourself. If it’s all a chore and causing problems then what’s the point!? Give in and slouch around in a pair of track suit bottoms and a T-shirt!

    • ClothSpot says:

      Thank you for the reminder that dressing up is something to enjoy!! I really like the idea of starting with one garment you really *love*. I wonder though if finding that sense of self is what so many people find difficult since changes in life do seem to have such an impact. Finding the ‘consistencies’ though is a really good idea. Here goes!

  11. Roswyn Glenny says:

    Hi Alice
    Your blog struck such a big chord with me (as with lots of others I see) I am in the same place, or was. Of all places I got spurred on by a TV programme and loved the blouses one of the characters was wearing in every episode. Also loved the combinations of colours of pants and blouses. Really bright colours, which I love but had never had the courage to put together before. Now I do and have copied the blouses and sent for fabrics from everywhere to make my clothes, I am on the way to having a lovely new wardrobe. I certainly feel happy with my new clothes and definitely don’t fade into the background any more. I now know that size and age are no barrier to what looks good and feels good. Go for it and enjoy. Your beautiful fabrics have played a major part in my transformation. Incidentally I have been sewing my clothes for about 60 years so a crisis can hit any time. Every good wish Roswyn

    • ClothSpot says:

      Roswyn it’s comforting to hear that a crisis really can hit any time – and that finding something to inspire you can often be the lever to help you through it! TV absolutely has its place – and I’ve often been inspired by TV and film costumes (as you might see from some of our product descriptions…) I am thrilled to hear that your new wardrobe is on the rise – and I completely agree that age and size should be no barrier to style! It’s so rewarding to hear that our fabrics have helped – now I need to help myself…

  12. Virginia says:

    How comforting to read so many shared experiences. I particularly empathise with the other ladies of my vintage. Adjusting to a later stage of life isn’t always easy; sometimes I feel forlorn seeing young, slim friends wearing things I couldn’t dream of now…but then I remind myself that I had my turn at youth – and, looking back, I didn’t always make good choices. Trusting your inner voice, and the unforgiving evidence in the mirror, is important!

    I absolutely agree that clothes are fun, and maybe there can be more opportunity to enjoy them when you’ve stopped working A few weeks into retirement, I’m still dressing much as I did for my (fairly relaxed) office, eg. smartish jeans or trousers with pretty sweaters, but I now have time to think about trying different things together, and to choose jewellery, scarves etc, rather than always going for the same combination because I was rushing around in the mornings. (For the same reason, I’m wearing make-up more often, even when I’m not doing anything special!) I’m also a big fan of little cardis in jewel colours, which make it possible to wear lighter dresses and sleeveless or short-sleeved tops even in February’s inclement weather – grey and raining here in Glasgow as I write. Some dresses can be transformed for summer or winter by choice of bare legs (or nude tights) and sandals, or opaque tights and boots…..

    ….which must surely be justification for me to order some more Clothspot cottons?

    And on the topic of classy neighbours, the 92-year-old lady in the top floor flat above me is always beautifully turned out, hair and nails done, a star-load of sparkle in her eyes – what an inspiration!

    • ClothSpot says:

      Lovely to hear from you, Virginia – and yes it is *so* reassuring to hear that we all share similar experiences, whatever the cause of our personal style crises. And as you say – it’s not just a case of age – like you, I remember a few ‘hiccups’ in seasons long gone by – the flashbacks can make me groan aloud! It sounds as if your ‘little jewelled cardis’ have helped you define your style (when oh when will M&S stop making them too long so they sit on the hips??) – a great example of how a key piece can work across your wardrobe. And how wonderful to have a style muse in your apartment block – a daily dose of Iris Apfel to inspire you!

  13. Virginia says:

    Hi again, Alice ~ Yes, M&S have a remarkable knack of producing garments that are almost just the thing, then doing something with the shape or colour that makes them all wrong. I wasn’t sure if we were allowed to mention brands, so now I can tell you and the other sewing lovelies out there that my main source is Boden. They do great cropped cotton cardis which are fairly reasonable in price and come in lots of colours – I’ve built up quite a collection over the years! There are also cropped cashmere cardis which are so soft and good value in a sale or with an offer, but they are generally too expensive for me – and too warm, other than in winter. One word of warning: Boden’s cropped style might not work for taller women – I’m 5′ 3″ and they sit just on my waist. But they have different styles with all the colours, so maybe worth a look for other cardi addicts!

    • ClothSpot says:

      I’ve had a quick check of our brand-mentioning policy (*hums to self momentarily) and I think that M&S can cope with a bit of constructive criticism, meant in the right way of course. One of the skills I wish I had is the ability to knit. Those who know me will confirm that a) I do indeed lack that skill; woefully so – and that b) it’s not for the want of trying (sadly…) So thank you for the little-cardi-hunting tips, Virginia!

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