A favourite pastime of certain acquaintances is to see how quickly they can prod me into an agitated diatribe on a contentious issue. I’ll know precisely what they’re doing – even that I’m probably being timed – yet eventually the red mist will descend. Moments later I’m surrounded by folded arms and smug grins – with realisation finally dawning that I’ve fallen off the deep end into a well-laid trap. Again. Add to that the fact that my entrance into a room at home is frequently heralded by the theme from Jaws (I mean, really) and you’ll understand why I was so gratified (taken aback, even) at an email response to the full wardrobe disclosure in my last post.
‘Alice, you have such a sunny personality and you’d never guess that from your clothes!‘
When I’d finished basking in the warm glow (how lovely was that?) I took another look at the pictures I’d posted. True enough – the black, navy blue and grey on display there was pretty overwhelming and not at all how I feel about myself. Although I’m not sure that even wafting around in a fascinator, butterfly bra and a tulle skirt would silence my provocateurs (once they’d picked themselves up off the floor), I’m convinced I can do better at projecting the real me. As the next stage in resolving my style crisis then – it’s time to get personal.
How do I really feel about what I wear?
Time to get personal – analysing my style
Before I lean back on the style analysis couch, I should say that what follows started off as a vague list of questions I thought I should ask myself. In an attempt to add some structure and detail I remembered the Wardrobe Architect by Colette Patterns – which in turn references online resources such as the Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees. They provide a far more rigorous (and I think, very useful) framework for analysing your personal style. I’m never one for re-inventing a perfectly good wheel and would recommend dropping in on those sites. What follows here are my responses to questions posed there – as well as the odd preoccupation of my own.
Facing up to my wardrobe reality
I am forced to confess that until I saw all my clothes together (or at least a representative selection of them) as well as pictures of me in (or with) my clothes – I would not have been able to answer these questions. If you want to confront the harsh reality of your own style crisis, that you might want to do the same. I’m not of the generation or inclination to have a personal selfie history on Instagram or Facebook – but if you are, then it might not be a bad idea to review it.
How do I feel about my clothes?
How do I feel about how I look now?
Frankly, shocked at how dark, shabby and plain tired my clothes make me feel. I just hadn’t realised. My everyday clothes seem very utilitarian in a baggy sort of way – with the odd bolt of colour looking out of place, as if it’s trying too hard. I feel like a roadie, lurking to the side of a stage of a gig in a dark black-painted pub, waiting for the lights to come on so I can start packing the gear up. There’s spilt beer on the soles of my trainers making them stick to the floor; the dry ice is making me sneeze and I’ve run out of tissues. It’s hardly a style statement.
How do I want to feel when I get dressed?
I want to feel energised; fresh, lively and as sparky as I feel (most mornings at least). I want to feel as if I’m in touch with the wider world – and I want to feel inspired by what I’m wearing but not dominated by it. I’d like to feel a little bit sophisticated and grown up – but with a bit of rebellion and practicality thrown in there too. I want to feel comfortable and ready for action but sharp and (at least a little bit) well-groomed. Would graceful and elegant be to much to ask for in the middle of all that?
How do I not want to feel when I get dressed?
I don’t want to feel stiff or formal – and I don’t want to feel ‘dressed up’. I don’t want to feel girly, posed, traditional or staid. On the other hand I don’t want to feel like a rock chick, an extra from Sesame Street or someone who’s trying too hard to match or contrast all their clothes. I don’t want to feel as if I’m decked out in this week’s fashion fad – but neither do I want to feel out of touch and dated.
What silhouettes do I love and hate?
I know that my body shape tends more towards the athletic (although that might be pushing it as a description) than hourglass or pear. I have broad shoulders, a high (but not well-defined) waist, narrow hips and long limbs. In general I’d prefer ‘tomboy’ or ‘geek’ to ‘Marilyn’ or ‘Stepford Wife’ any day of the week. Frills, flounces and general frivolity are not my bag; I prefer long, simple lines. Similarly I prefer angles and clean shapes to drapery although I do like my clothes to move and hang nicely. I love the style of sleek late-mid-century tailoring but recognise the impracticality of wearing it.
Necklines – boat-shaped or V-shaped. I prefer higher necklines to have collar stands; I like jacket fronts to be cut deep. Round or scooped necklines don’t work so well.
Tops – better when semi-fitted or fitted – bagginess or volume gathering into the shoulders tends to make me feel like a 1960s maternity advertisement or an American football player. A little bit of shape or fit helps.
Sleeves – I’m small-busted and strong-shouldered so cap sleeves don’t really work for me as they give the impression that a garment is too small. Halternecks and even sleeveless shell tops (I think) are fine – but a short, baggy sleeve is not. Fitted sleeves ending just above the elbow are good – 3/4 or bracelet sleeves make me look like an orang-utang who has outgrown its clothes. I usually add a few inches onto full-length sleeves in patterns to make them fit properly. Frilly and fluted sleeves make me feel daft. Experience tells me I usually manage to trail them in food, ink or worse.
Waistline – Empire line dresses work for me – as does a longer line or perhaps a bit of shape cut into a tunic, dress or jacket. Gathering into the waist – are you joking? Belted volume and cropped tops makes me look (and feel) like a toffee apple.
Legs and length – my legs are relatively long and I like shorter dresses, tunics and short skirts – happily these also tend to lengthen my relatively short torso. However the widest part of my calves is not much less than my thigh (which tells you more about my calves than my thighs) and my size 8 feet are attached to strong and serviceable ankles. Anything that stops mid-calf on me is never going to work – whatever this season’s trend for longer dresses might be according to Vogue.
Shape and volume – shapelessness around the shoulders or chest really doesn’t work as I have a broad shoulders and chest so without some fittedness there it’s easy to give the impression I don’t have any shape at all. Longer tunic lines and anything that lengthens my torso are generally Good Things. Garments look better if then terminate or fit further down my hips than on or above them. Volume at longer lengths is fine as it balances out my shoulders (and I don’t mind a bit of drama).
Colour – what’s not to like?
It occurs to me that any non-neutral clothing items I have seem to be ‘statement’ pieces from a colour perspective. They work (if you can call it that) against black or denim – but I don’t have many (any?) non-neutral-coloured items of clothing which work with other garments which are also colours. I adore colour – working with it is one of the many things I love about ClothSpot. So why can’t I incorporate it into my wardrobe?
I know enough about colour to know that I tend to suit typically ‘autumn’ shades – but that I can also wear some brights and even some pastels. Bottle green and dusky pink make me look as if I have food poisoning. Rich petrol or teal blue cheers me up no end and the right shade of cream can make me feel quite elegant.
I like the idea of strong neutrals such as (the right) navy blue, dark brown, charcoal and even black. However I expunged most brown from my wardrobe a few years ago as it made me feel very ‘samey’ from top to toe and I can now see the danger of my over-using any colour of this type.
What am I frightened of?
I have many fears when it comes to colour. These include (but are not limited to) the following:
– If I take the plunge with a garment in a decisive colour then it might not work with anything else I have;
– With limited time or money to spend on lots of different garments (especially having weeded my wardrobe so ruthlessly) anything new has to work with as many other things as possible;
– It might make me look too old;
– It might make me look too young;
– If I wear too much colour then the overall effect will either be too matchy-matchy. I don’t want to look as if I’ve fallen in a vat of dye;
– If I wear too much colour then the overall effect will be too scattergun. I don’t want to look as if I’m presenting an episode of Rainbow or Play Away.
So – nothing much to worry about there, then.
I am happy with the idea of abstract patterns in any scale – as you can tell from my blue and gold shirt that looks as if it was thrown up over on a heavy night out.
I can just about cope with more abstract or digital florals on a small or medium scale. However I don’t do animals or objects. Flamingos, buttons, monkeys, giraffes in balloons and what have you – not for me.
My next job…
…is to translate all this personal baggage into something coherent in terms of actual clothes. The weather has warmed up and I am getting desperate. In an ideal world I would construct a detailed plan that resulted in the perfect capsule wardrobe. I’d have it made by the middle of June and the summer would be my lobster. However the more I’ve thought about that, the less likely I think it is to happen – if I wait any longer before leaping into action, it’ll be October before I knock out a single T-shirt.
Based on my analysis, I think I’m quite confident about my preferences in terms of garment style and shape – however I need to be more decisive in terms of colour.
I think a practical approach would be to queue up a couple of garments that seem to reflect those preferences and begin to challenge my colour fears. Low-investment garments (in terms of time as well as expense) that will bear re-making in different fabrics if they work. My hit list includes:
– A cool shirt that I know will work with jeans
– A skirt that’s easy to fit
– A top that will go with the skirt
– A dress that will give me an instant outfit
– A pair of summer trousers (non-jeans)
That’s my plan. Any other suggestions? Are there other considerations I need to take into account? What would you start with? Advice and suggestions welcome as always!