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