Style crisis: You say ‘tomato’, I say ‘shirt’

Tomato shirt topper

In an ideal world, this is the post where I would swan into shot on my newly-minted vlog (Ha! Don’t hold your breath…) sashaying elegantly to a tall stool. There, poised and articulate I would announce myself transformed; an accurate representation of my stylish inner self, only slightly distracted by the sound of my alarm clock going off…

Nope – not happening. No surprise that the reality is a little more prosaic. I have dipped my toe into the waters of my new personal style adventure and come up with – a shirt! Now – hold onto your hairpieces there, people – I know it’s not the most inventive of directions but the aim here at least in part, was for me to understand a bit more about me and my style. I’m sure I won’t be challenging Stella McCartney any time soon – and frankly you could probably drape me head-to-foot in Dior and it wouldn’t stop me behaving like a Duracell bunny with an inappropriate sense of humour.

A shirt was the first thing on my list – something cool (in the practical, rather than stylish sense – let’s be realistic) to wear with jeans in the summer. Not only did I make it – but I road-tested it for the day, too. Here’s how it went.

The pattern

Tried and tested, all over the Internet – Vogue Pattern 8772. Minimal agonising here – I had it to hand, knew it just needed a small bust adjustment (SBA) and I liked the idea of a no-sleeves, tunic length version.

Vogue Pattern 8772

Vogue Pattern 8772

Plus, it has a little bit of dart-shaping – enough to give it a bit of shape but not so much as to be too fitted. So off we went, with View E; sleeveless, tunic-length, proper collar, no bow.

The fabric

I’ve had my eye on our Coral-floral printed purple cotton lawn fabric for some time. It first arrived last summer and the colours cheered me up right the way through a long, dark winter, glowing in the cotton store. I wanted to try a cotton lawn for the shirt – and was already inclined towards it for this project when comments on my last Style Crisis post suggested purples and tomato-reds as being colours which might work well with my colouring.

I needed no further encouragement. Stepping away from black and grey was a definite goal for this project and not only does this fabric feature a background of purple and a print pattern of tomato reds – upon closer inspection those red berries almost looked like little tomatoes. Or pomegranates, perhaps? Rosehips? Who knows – tomato-ey enough for a decision to be made.

The making

I think this has to be the cheeriest make I remember. I knew that something was different when I realised that my black/grey/navy/white overlocker threads weren’t going to do the trick – and rummaging in my thread box I found a set of red ones. Red – I ask you! Unheard of hereabouts.

Tomato shirt overlocking

Cheery red overlocking!

Overlocking pattern pieces prior to construction is one of my pleasures in life – it makes me feel in control, organised and tidy. Not a feeling that ever lasts long in my experience – but it served to launch me into my Happy Place with a smile on my face. And in fact, that smile stayed put throughout.

Having shortened the back length by 1.5cm and reduced the bust darts down a size, I risked going without a toile having made the pattern up once before as a sample and knowing it was fairly true-to-size. For once my judgement was fairly accurate; a quick try-on after the main pattern pieces were assembled was reassurance enough on that front.

Rather than hope for an entire day to make my shirt (another entry in my ‘favourite dreams’ catalogue) I spent a happy wet Sunday afternoon followed by a few hours here and there later in the week. I’m a great subscriber to Lladybird’s belief that ‘little and often’ is the key to getting a sewing project done and although I do need a fair run at a project to get it going, I’m fine picking it up in shorter sessions thereafter. (Just in case anyone was wondering, running ClothSpot doesn’t magically conjure up lots of sewing time – quite the opposite.)

Happily however there were no disasters to report. (Something to do with no sleeves to sew on back-to-front, I imagine.) Top-stitching the collar reminded me that I really do need to do more practicing – one collar point requiring a couple of re-runs. My only pattern gripe was with the sleeve binding method. It’s not the first time I’ve had an issue with patterns instructing me to create binding using the main fabric and sew my binding strips in a circle prior to attaching to the armhole. In my experience, the binding strips always, always end up too large, necessitating much unpicking and re-sewing. Any suggestions as to why would be greatly appreciated.

The fabric however was a dream to work with. Stable and well-behaved, it kept its structure throughout (even while unpicking and restitching the aforementioned collar point) and pressed up a dream. My machine (a Janome Atelier 3 which I still think of as ‘excitingly new’ nearly two years on) created 10 perfect buttonholes with ease (oh, joy!) and we were away.

Tomato collar close up

Loving a proper shirt collar

The wearing

This is where it all gets a little weird. I happily went to it on the Monday morning with my (increasingly dishevelled) jeans and my brand new orange clog sandals. Orange is a new shoe colour for me (as I suspect it would be for most) but I felt an infectious jolliness from my shirtmaking when I ordered them with my birthday money. On went the shirt and off I nipped to the local shop to pick up milk and ClothSpot’s traditional Monday lunchtime soup. Walking into the shop, a polite chap stood back from the door to let me through and smiled. Not in a dodgy way – just a cheery smile. Then at the checkout the store assistant commented on my scent and told me all about the perfume her husband had recently bought her. Definitely not the kind of reaction I usually expect – not that people aren’t friendly  round here – quite the opposite. It just seemed…different. My ClothSpot colleagues were enthusiastic (although one of them should know that I caught that look of amused scepticism that she flashed around the workroom).

Alice in tomato shirt

The big reveal. (Ignore the hair. Apparently I did…)

It all went a bit downhill when we had a rescheduled visit from a supplier in the afternoon. My usual habit is to make a selection of fabrics then play with then on the floor so I can decide what works and how. The clogs came off as their wooden soles wouldn’t flex as I squatted on my knees. I then discovered I’d over-cut a buttonhole on my midriff which annoyingly refused to hold onto its button. Finally, kneeling on the floor for half an hour rendered my holey jeans even more so. As a work outfit then, this clearly wasn’t the ‘killer app’ I’d hoped for

The feeling

In my last Style Crisis post I listed all the ways I’d like my new wardrobe might make me feel more like me. There are some feelings I was searching for that my red and purple shirt delivered on; I did indeed feel ‘fresh’, ‘lively’ and ‘energised’. Partly to do with the colours; also the sleevelessness of the shirt worked for me on a hot day. I was cheery and jolly – and, apparently, so was everyone else around me. I’m suspect they weren’t responding to my shirt; is it actually possible they were reacting to the liveliness and good humour that I was projecting, partly as a result of wearing vibrant, happier colours? The jury is still out…

I’m less certain that this is a garment that made me feel ‘inspired’ or ‘connected’ however – and I’m pretty certain that it doesn’t fit my definition of ‘sophistication’, ‘elegance’ or a number of other criteria that I’d set for it. And as it turned out, my outfit as a whole wasn’t particularly practical either – certainly not for the job in hand that afternoon.

The colours I loved, actually. It was just that I had a sense that the scale and style of the print pattern were perhaps less ‘me’. I’m not so used to wearing such a small-scale, delicate print – and just maybe I should have warned myself off wearing actual tomatoes, as opposed to the colour. In addition I think that a longer tunic shape might have worked better in a less crisp, more flowing fabric. So – I might well have another go at the pattern – but possibly with a more draping fabric in a simpler design.

The decision

Keep or give away? Well – it’s hard to contemplate abandoning so quickly a garment that I enjoyed making and which in part, I enjoyed wearing. I’m going to hang on to it for the summer to see if it’s the kind of thing I might like wearing on a holiday road trip or to the seaside. I think it might cheer any of those – but if it doesn’t get that opportunity, even during summer weather like this, then realistically it’s not the style for me.

Opinions are welcome as as ever! Meanwhile a new shirt pattern has just arrived from France and I’m eyeing up our ‘Café Bleu’ rippling navy blue Irish linen fabric

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Style Crisis interlude

I’ve been looking forward to regaling you all with my experience of wearing my first Style Crisis make. It’s all done – I promise – and road-tested too. However the events of the last few days have rather put a stop to any sense of fun that I might have felt in sharing that with you. I am a great believer in carrying on regardless. However the enormity of the fire at Grenfell Tower has proved just too overwhelming to make light of – well – anything, really. I know from conversations with customers, friends and family this week that this disaster has affected us all, however far removed we are from the event itself.

I spent my teens in eager anticipation of moving to London. I lived, loved and worked there for fifteen years. In my first three years I lived at 10 different addresses, cycling everywhere. I knew London, I miss it, and love visiting – but I also know how much it’s changed since my first solo shopping trips in the 70s; since I moved there in the 80s. If housing was difficult to find and expensive then, it’s beyond ridiculous now. Like many I’ve assumed that situation couldn’t continue. A city needs people to run it as well as live in it – and so many have either been forced out or compelled to live in appalling conditions. However not in my worst imaginings did I contemplate an event such as this.

It’s becoming clear that individuals, families and a significant swathe of a community are likely to have died in the Grenfell Tower fire. Some of those affected had already lost everything once, having arrived as refugees. The local community has pulled together, demonstrating remarkable resilience in the face of devastation. For those of us at a distance there may be little we feel able to do. Of course we will donate if we are able – and the British Red Cross has established a national London Fire Relief Fund for that purpose. However like me, you may be left wondering what on earth the world has come to if a tragedy such as this can take place in Britain, in 2017.

Political change and practical actions will clearly be required to make sure such a thing can never happen again. Those of us in a position to help lobby, raise awareness or support individuals will surely do so. However right now, many of us remain at a loss.

Beyond donating and expressing my sorrow and outrage, what next? How is it possible to talk about apparent trivialities such as a new shirt, for heaven’s sake, in the knowledge that others have lost everything?

For what it’s worth, I’ll be trying two things.

First – I’m going to make sure I connect with the people around me. Many of us are fortunate enough to have families, friends and communities to support us and to give us a sense of safety, of belonging, of home. We know there are those who don’t necessarily experience that connection with others – and events such as The Great Get Together, inspired by the death of Jo Cox, a year ago today, are inspiring in their determination to bring people together. I’m not the best at organising parties and get-togethers but I know people who are, and I’ve been saying ‘yes’ to invitations for coffee, tea and even a barbeque this weekend, ignoring my bookish and box-set urges.

Second – we all know and love the process of sewing. We know the pleasure of creating something with our hands; of being in our ‘happy place’. Psychologists call it being in a ‘state of flow’; being captivated by the act of creating. I’ve heard many of you describe the sheer joy of sewing, warning off family and housemates and becoming completely absorbed in the creative process. You can find out a bit more about why and how that happens in this TED talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who helped define that state of pleasure.

I’m hoping then, that finding time to do some sewing will allow me to reflect and also to clear my mind a little.

I’ll also be counting my blessings, as will we all. Following the extraordinary example of the student who sat her Chemistry GCSE the morning after escaping from the fire, normal service will be resumed next week. I’m fortunate enough for that to be an option and the Grenfell Tower disaster has reminded me of that. This is a community I feel privileged to be a part of and if Ines Alves can get on with her GCSEs, then the least I can do is crack on too.

Any suggestions as to how we might all do that are as ever, most welcome.

View from the Farm Café – a Draper’s Holiday?

sweet william draper's holiday

I have been getting on with my first garment as part resolving my Style Crisis I promise! However it’s not quite finished – and besides I was beginning to fret that you might all think I was totally obsessed with my clothes, all the time – which isn’t the case at all. There are times when I am quite happy to put on something quite skanky and head off into the distance withouth being in the least bothered about how I look.

Like many of you I love to go for a run. It reconnects me with the countryside where we’re lucky enough to live – and as I remind myself on tough mornings – I always feel better afterwards. I know I’m not alone in this – Handmade Jane was blogging about sewing and running just a couple of weeks ago – and I’ve had similar conversations with our customers too. For about 15 years now, my trainers have usually been the first thing to be packed on a business trip or a holiday – ClothSpot was even conceived with my running buddy around the trails and riverbanks in the area!

It occurred to me on a recent run however that although I might be looking at a fairly industrial (if at times, breathtakingly beautiful) farming landscape – it’s not as far removed from the ClothSpot workroom as I might think. In fact it’s a bit of a busman’s draper’s holiday. Take the field of flowers that bloomed over the road last year…

flax crop draper's holiday

…the field full of hazy blue had been planted with flax – nowadays used as a break crop to produce seed for oil – however in the past taller varieties were grown for linen production in the area – as evidenced by this building (en route to the Farm Café as it happens)…

Flax mill draper's holidayThe roadsign is the giveaway…

Flax mill sign draper's holiday

It sits right by the river – an important water supply when it was in operation. Built in 1851 during the Industrial Revolution, it ceased production before the end of the nineteenth century, with a brief period of use at the end of WW1 when it produced linen for uniforms and aircraft.

Elsewhere on my run there are other fabric producers – not only the sheep that wander around nibbling at old brussels sprout stalks during the late winter – but these characters, newly shorn.

alpacas - draper's holidayThey’re alpacas – huge eyes following me along the river bank as I run by. This pair  are a couple of miles further down the road – still waiting for their haircut and back-to-back looking for all the world like Dr. Doolittles ‘pushmepullyou’

Alpacas 2 draper's holidayAlpaca fleece is wonderfully soft (we have it as a wool mix occasionally). It contains no lanolin – so is hypoallergenic.

I encountered a less traditional fabric while on a run in Yorkshire a few weeks ago, visiting my sister outside Harrogate. Heading down a steep hill (a novelty for a Fenlander) I crossed this lovely stream…

Crimple river draper's holiday…and noticed this sign nearby.

Crimple meadows sign draper's holidayIt reminded me that the stream was the ‘Crimple’ and that I was in the Crimple Valley. In the 1960s ICI used to have a headquarters nearby, as well as a production centre for fabrics including Terylene and – you guessed – Crimplene! For those of you who grew up after the 1970s, this might be a bit of a mystery item – however those of us growing up during the 60s and 70s will be only too familiar with this (indestructible) textured doubleknit fabric, used for trousers, dresses and more besides. The mainstay of the M&S children’s department and many a market stall besides, you could say it was the ponte Roma jersey or scuba of its day.

Here’s a fabulous piece of archive film all about Harrogate from 1970-1971. Pulled from the Yorkshire Film Archive, it’s worth a coffee break I promise you. My personal highlights include the male fashion show at 4m 18s, culminating with a white-cloaked poseur at about 4m 50s. You might also notice that the boardrooms and business meetings are full of (dreadfully important) gentlemen – whilst the research and product developers (9m 06s), production supervisors (9m 20s) and dyers (10m) are almost exclusively women.

For the full film do take a look at the YFA archive. Meanwhile – if you’re running or going for a walk over the weekend do keep an eye out and let me know what fabric finds you come across down your way – I’d love to know!

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Style crisis – time to get personal

Style crisis couch - getting personal

Hard at work, analysing my style crisis

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.

Getting personal - good t-shirt

A good T-shirt shape for me – fitted around the shoulders, cutting in from a wide neckline to a semi-fitted waistline

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.

Getting personal - bad t-shirt

A bad T-shirt for me – no shape, round-necked and baggy from the shoulders

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.

Time to get personal - bad frills

My idea of a frilly, short-sleeved, crop-topped nightmare.

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.

Getting personal - bad skirt

Might make me cry

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.

Time to get personal - bad dress

Probably cause for a tantrum

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).

Getting personal - good skirt

Now we’re talking skirts…

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.

Style crisis - time to get personal

Worried I might Bungle my colour choices…

So – nothing much to worry about there, then.

Pattern

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.

Style crisis - getting personal - Patterned shirt

Apparently quite comfortable about wearing all my favourite colours at once. Not scary at all…

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!

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Style crisis decisions – opening the dressing-up box

Style Crisis - dressing-up box or wardrobe

One of my earliest school memories is of a big hamper outside the classroom belonging to the third year infants’ class (that’s Year 2 in new money). I remember rummaging in it and finding an extraordinary long red dress, full of ruffles, lace and shininess. It called out to me every time we crocodiled past. I was hauled out of this magical hamper on more than one occasion and it remains one of my life’s regrets that we moved away in the spring of my second year – just months away from Dressing Up Heaven.

In my new school there was no dressing up box *mournful face*. My clothing-related memory there was taking a stand during PE lessons. Girls had to wear pants (dark green and elasticated in my case), vests and plimsolls for PE. Boys on the other hand were only required to wear pants and plimsolls. This seemed unfair to me so I argued that the girls should also be able to exercise vest-free. I don’t remember any of them wanting to join me but the boys seemed to think it was cool and I got to play football with them – until I moved schools again at the end of the third year. (Was it something I said?)

Fast-forward almost half a century and the story hasn’t really changed – except I do wear my vest these days. The impossible dilemma of whether to dress like Lorna Doone or Peppermint Patty is resolved on a daily basis by resorting to a uniform, just as it was back in the late ’60s. Usually it’s jeans, T shirt and trainers rather than a grey pinafore – but the principle is the same and something needs to give. I need to work out my style and incorporate that into a whole new wardrobe.

The magnitude of making a decision for a whole wardrobe is even greater than deciding on an outfit for a day but I’m on my penultimate pair of hole-free jeans and no clothes are being made or purchased until the deed is done so here goes.

Everyday dressing

My focus at this point is my wardrobe for every day wear, rather than for special occasions. At this stage I’m aiming for minimum effort when averaged out per garment wear. Plus – I agree with Alyson Walsh of thatsnotmyage when she suggests prioritising clothes for ‘casual glamour’ – or in other words, what she terms ‘the midpoint of the 24 hour scale’. She argues that carefully-selected daywear  can perform dual service for all but the most formal or (downbeat!) occasions that may arise outside of daily routine. This sounds like a workable approach to me – and I do like the idea of wearing clothes that feel special enough to feed me some energy every day – not just being ‘saved for best’.

I’ve done my research, read all your comments and taken soundings with friends – now it’s time to take myself to task. I think I need answers to the following three questions in order to help me prise open my figurative dressing-up box – and decide what I’d like to find inside.

Question 1: What do I usually wear now?

I’ve had lots of clear-outs of things I don’t wear any more – I’m very good at throwing things away. My constant weeding has left me with the following items, many of which are over 10 years old. Of the more recent garments, most have been made by me except for the jeans, jersey items and knitwear which are replenished from time to time from the high street.

Style crisis dressping-up box - my uniform

Well, hello!

This is my daily uniform. Jeans, plimsolls, T-shirt, layer over the top (in this case a much-abused jersey jacket (see below) – other days it could be a shirt.)

Garments in my wardrobe

Various jeans, two pairs of which don’t have a hole; one of which I actually wear.
Three pairs of trousers (including one pair which fits!),
Four dresses (1 summer frock, 2 long jersey vests, 1 shirt dress)
Three tunic dresses (2 winterwear only)
Ten shirts/blouses (half of which are lightweight georgette/chiffon affairs, made or bought for ‘going out’. Sigh.)
Two skirts (Two summer, one winter).

Dressing-up box - skirt collection

Welcome to my extensive skirt collection

An unlined jersey jacket. (Purchased from UniQlo about 8 years ago. Worn incessantly. See above.)

Garments in my drawers

A large-ish number of jersey tops, T-shirts and vests. 20% of these are worn 80% of the time.
A drawer full of leggings and lycra mini skirts which are my go-to lounge wear
A fair number of knitwear items in various states of (dis)repair. That’s two drawers, a blanket box full and a pile at the bottom of my wardrobe. What can I say – I feel the cold and we live in the Fens.

Other stuff

I’m not counting outerwear for the purposes of this project – except to say that I do have a black leather jacket which gets lots of wear. I have a collection of jackets as outerwear – suede, denim, tweed, vintage, me-made, you name it. The same goes for coats. I’ve never had a problem with dramatic cover-ups.

Clothes I actually wear

If I’m going out in the evening, the jeans get upgraded to a pair of trousers (unless it’s a gig, in which case it’s ‘stick with the jeans’ or switch to leggings/lycra skirt). The top is switched for a ‘posh shirt’ or tunic and the leather jacket goes on.

Leather jacket - dressing-up box going out

My ‘going out’ uniform

On hot days I have my summer frock, my summer skirt and a vest top, or my long jersey vest dresses layered with T-shirts.

Shirt and summer top - dressing-up box

For that day when the sun comes out

For a serious daytime occasion I have my navy wool shift dress (complete with misaligned darts), one of many vintage scarves and a coat or the BLJ.

If all else fails – white cotton shirt, rolled jeans and red lippy.

Finally in this section –  a word about shoes. I love a heel occasionally – but spend most of my time running around up and down stairs that look like this…

Stairs to dressing-up box

Not a place for Jimmy Choo

…in a building where some of the doorways are well under 5 feet high (Yes – FIVE – that wasn’t a typo). Also I have seriously-serviceable size 8 feet. I do own a pair of platform sandals and a couple of pairs of classic heels but in the interest of keeping out of the local A&E, most of my shoes are F-L-A-T. Which tends to be my starting point for most outfits.

Question 2: What do I spend my time doing?

A recurring message I took from blog comments and my reading was to dress for the life I actually have now. I can’t believe that it never really occurred to me to think about my clothes that way – (or at least not in the last few years, apparently.) No longer do I commute long distances or cycle to work. No formal meetings, presentations, papers or interviews. So no real need for the formal workwear of years gone by. My average week might include:

Work

Photography (quite active – draping, pinning, bending and stretching; early start in the cold; sweltering when the sun comes round)
Admin, PhotoShopping, writing (desk-based or at a computer – it can get cold)
Filling in with some orders  (cutting and packing – up and down; lifting and stretching)
Unpacking, checking and storing new fabrics
Meetings with suppliers (Back on the floor with samples)
Supplier & business meetings & research outside the office (need to feel cool & confident as well as comfortable when travelling)

Outside work

Errands (Shopping, bank)
Visiting family & friends
‘Going out’ usually the odd meal out, film or band
Sewing, reading, box sets

I’m excluding here clothing for specific activities such as exercise, gardening, draining the washing machine, sawing down trees or painting the ceiling etc. I have a box of grungy gym kit and other choice garments for that kind of faffing around. You really don’t want the details.

Question 3: What do I wish would magically appear in my wardrobe?

In an email response to my first blog, one correspondent suggested the answer to most wardrobe crises was quite simple.

‘Why don’t women just make a note of what they wish they could find when they open the wardrobe door before getting dressed – and go and make one?’

Which sounds too simple to be true – but for anyone like me who stands and sighs at the wardrobe rail, resplendent with dripping hair and a bath towel – it’s actually a point well-made. So I did just that this month – every time I got caught short, I asked myself what I would find in my dream dressing-up box. This was the list I came up with.

A YSL tuxedo jacket (well – I did use the words ‘magically’ and ‘dream’…)
An ivory silk shell top
A button-up silk shirt (or three)
Black cigarette pants that don’t stick on my calves
A fresh printed cotton shirt
Ankle-length summer trousers in lighter neutral colours

What next?

Apologies if this is all TMI. However it seemed appropriate to explain my Style Crisis starting point and I decided to bite the bullet. My homework now is to do two things.

First, look at the reality of my wardrobe (seeing it all on a rail was a bit of an eye-opener) and come up with a list of garments that it seems to be missing or which need replacing.

Second, I’m going to have a good think about how I feel in those different garments. I’m going to go back to my Pinterest boards and imagine augmenting or replacing my wardrobe with some of the styles, colours or garments in there, taking note of my answers to Questions 2 and 3.

Any thoughts would be very welcome – perhaps you’ve gone through this process and can suggest other steps I might consider taking? Also, what would be in your dream dressing-up box – if not your wardrobe?

 

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View from the Farm Café

Farm café

When you’re running a business (or a family, a department or any ordinarily-complicated life rubbing up against bills and deadlines…) there can be a constant sense of failing to achieve. Items are added to to-do-lists far more easily than they’re crossed off – and it’s easy to forget the trail of ‘jobs done’ receding behind you.

Finding a moment to take stock of all that frenetic activity can be difficult – but I thoroughly recommend it. Last year I was persuaded to find a regular spot to do just that – and so every Friday morning I head off to the café at the local Farm Shop. Away from the distractions of the ClothSpot workroom it’s an opportunity to catch up on the fashion press over (excellent) coffee before plunging myself into a specially-saved-up project. Sometimes it’s as mundane (albeit essential) as organising my to-do lists; another time I might get to be a geek for a couple of hours, delving into databases and spreadsheets to analyse sales data.

Farm café

Most of all though, it’s an opportunity to reflect without anyone asking anything of me. Such is the predictability of my farm café routine that the staff know my breakfast and coffee order – the only query being the timing of my hot chocolate later on in the morning if it’s nippy. Local ladies are chatting and sipping; new mothers are sandwiched between buggies and their own mothers in turn. Once a month a pair of retired chaps in bright Lycra and clonky cycle shoes rattle in with their helmets and rucksacks; the occasional funeral party wanders in from the newly-built crematorium up the road, all tense relief; silently courteous. When the café starts filling up for lunch (and the smell of fried fish filters into my headphoned seclusion) I beat a grateful retreat (though not without a slice of cake for afternoon tea).

It’s my favourite time of the week – and one which is highly productive too. Always so in terms of tasks accomplished – but at least as significantly in terms of getting some perspective on everything. It’s a chance to take a breath, acknowledge achievements and plan for what’s next. It feels like a luxury – but in fact it’s an absolutely essential part of my week. It’s not rock ‘n’roll; it’s not Soho – but it works. If you can find an equivalent for yourself then give it a go – it’s worth the effort I promise.

Perhaps you already have your personal version of the farm café – do tell if so.

A frequent by-product of that precious time refuge is a flurry of Post-It notes. Stuck to pages torn from the fashion magazine of the day they hold ideas for blogs, reminders, passing inspirations, references… Many are just snippets but it occurred to me that sharing them in a post every couple of weeks might be a lark (and it will keep the clutter out of the Style Crisis blogs too). So just as a warm-up, here we go with…

…this week’s obsession

Yes – I readily confess excitement at the fact that Bananarama are back together – I was there too (in the early Siobhan years). Soaped-up big hair (no ‘product’ in the shops back then), Ray-bans, layered cut-up sweatshirts and dungarees from the DIY shop. If we’d had Instagram back then I’d drop a picture inhere – but we didn’t so I can’t.

Following the announcement of their return last week there was a little bit of excited hopping in the workroom (not just me) and the weekly ClothSpot photography session kicked off with ‘Robert de Niro’s Waiting’ at full volume.

For good measure we added the whole of Deep Sea Skiving to the Spotify feed. Half an hour later, our Weekly Discover playlist followed – and a track called ‘Long Time’ began. Not really paying attention – but bouncing, strutting, singing as I pinned, tucked and draped – the world was right again. And then the penny dropped.

Was this…Blondie?

Was this a new track?

Yes indeed!

Every couple of decades, in she storms, uninvited. ‘This is how cool it is to be a proper grown up.’ Except it’s not any kind of ‘grown-up’ we’ve been encouraged to be.

In 1978 she inspired my white high-heeled mules and a tight-as-you-like scarlet pencil skirt (from Chelsea Girl on the Kings Road FYI – at that time a four-and-a-half-hour train ride away for a teenager in a decidedly uncool corner of Yorkshire). The teachers on the door to the school dance didn’t recognise me and my heart swelled.

In 1999 she helped wave goodbye to my ‘proper’ career as an employee,  a carful of us cruising round Parliament Square with the windows down, belting out ‘Maria’ at top volume.

And now here she is again.

And in a flash I knew just what I wanted to do with the purple linen I was draping – and where was that silk crepe –  and where’s that jacket pattern I saw last week? And BANG! New wardrobe alert!

Sometimes that’s all it takes.

So yes – wonderful to see Banarama out and about – we all need some Fun Girl Three. But when it comes to figuring out the next steps in life, you need someone to show you what’s possible, in ways you hadn’t imagined. As Claudia Winkleman observed recently,  ‘there has to be some middle ground between raving all night in Hoxton and beige elasticated comfort pants’ (I paraphrase but you get the drift).

Deborah Harry does it for me. Who does it for you?

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Quick fabric cutting tip: get a lot from a little!

We thought we’d share a quick fabric cutting tip that we often find ourselves recommending to customers. We’ll begin by apologising to those of you who are old hands at making the most of your remnants when it comes to fabric cutting. (You know who you are!) However we get lots of calls from customers who want to know how much fabric they need for a pattern, particularly when a fabric is an unusual width – or when we’ve posted an oddly-shaped remnant on the website!

Most patterns will give fabric cutting layouts for fabrics that are 115cm wide (aka 45″) – and again for 150cm widths (that’s 60″ in old money). What happens though, if there’s a mis-shapen (but potentially useful) remnant on offer? Or if the fabric you want to use is an odd width, such as 140cm? You’ll often find that linen and viscose fabrics in particular lie between the standard widths – and obviously the pattern publishers can’t cater for every eventuality.

You could of course use the amount given for a 115cm fabric – however if you do, then you’re probably going to have lots left over – and unless you’ve a use for that surplus, then that’s money you could have spent on something else (shoes, bags, more fabric – take your pick…)

We’re always very happy to advise on a project whenever we can, but when it comes to pattern cutting, even if we have the pattern in question and can see the recommended layout, there’s not a lot we can do to help. Absolutely, we know that if you can squeeze a sleeve alongside a bodice piece then that might be half a metre saved at least. However layouts can change between sizes – and never underestimate the width of a sleeve head. Before you know it, a couple of centimetres in a fabric width has become the difference between triumph and disaster.

However we’re just as keen as you are to get maximum monetary value from your sewing. That’s why we usually recommend that you get yourself a roll of sticky tape and a newspaper – in true Blue Peter Style.

Cut and stick your newspaper until you have a length that’s the width of your folded fabric and then use this as a template to represent your length of fabric. Lay out your pattern pieces to try out different fabric cutting layouts.

Fabric cutting tip

Here’s one we made earlier…

For a start  you might want to stick to the approximate layout recommended by your pattern, but as you become more expert, you can get quite cunning. However we should sound a couple of notes of caution…

DO make sure that you take note of pattern and nap directions as you position your pieces – your newspaper print might not be important but the print on your fabric might be!

DO be accurate in measuring to make sure your pieces line up with your newspaper ‘selvedge’ too – that’ll affect the angle of your pattern pieces and how they’ll fit.

It won’t take long – just 10 or 15 minutes. If you like, email or call us first and we’ll be happy to reserve your fabric while you do your calculations. Don’t forget – we’re always able to cut to any length if you place your order by telephone or email.

Do you have any other clever tricks for saving fabric or for fabric cutting? Let us know if so!

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Style crisis inspiration: My reading matters

Reading matters

I’ve been a conscientious soul this week, taking a few moments every day to seek out eye-candy for my Style crisis inspiration Pinterest boards. Sometimes my interest is sparked by a magazine or a book – other times it might be a random thought or connection that leads to a spot of internet research and some enthusiastic pinning. It’s no effort – although it takes a little while to adjust my brain. My categories (colour, garments, people) are working well for me – the only difficulty is in stopping once I’ve started..

The interesting thing is that I can feel my mind stretching itself in a way that seems distantly familiar. I’m deconstructing garments in my mind as I see them; my fingers are itching to play with folds in a piece of poplin or drape a length of crepe. For now, though I’m holding back from diving headlong into the ClothSpot stock (promise!). I’m only too aware of the danger of  getting caught up in a single garment for the sheer pleasure of it. An example – however much I adore the ‘Genevieve’ jacket from last autumn,  I have yet to have the opportunity to wear it. (Shocking, I know – and I only realised this week.) To paraphrase one of the commenters on an earlier post: “Dress for the life you have”.

Clearly a little thought is required here. Either I need to broaden my mind in terms of what I wear day to day –  or I need to come to terms with the reality of my daily routine. Or both, perhaps? However much I might be inspired by individual pieces or looks, I do want to understand more about the choices I make. For that reason and others besides, reading obviously matters. Whether to find out about how trends are developing, to learn from how other people make their choices, or to make sure I don’t end up in the same place a year from now.

I had already unearthed quite a bit of reading material as I began to get to grips with my style crisis – but a bumper crop of emails as well commenters on previous posts (thank you!) gave me some fabulous suggestions too.

For the most part these aren’t sewing sources – it would be a much longer list if I put all those in! As with the images this is a bit of a work in progress – my blog roll is much longer than the few listed here but these are becoming my regulars. In due course I can see there might be cause to re-organise these sources in a separate location but here goes…

Blogs I’ve been inspired by

These are just a few of the blogs where I’ve been hanging out recently. Not only have they offered lots of food for thought, they’ve lifted spirits and given me hope as well as inspiration.

That’s Not My Age (The grown-up guide to great style) This is a great blog by fashion journalist Alyson Walsh, ‘…for every woman who refuses to be invisible’. It has lots to offer, from alternative style icons to suggestions on how to wear the fashions (or not!). Although aimed at over-50s the inspiration here is far more widely applicable and there’s a book too – ‘Style Forever – How to look fabulous at every age‘ which avoids patronising the reader (unlike some) as well as being better value for money than some on the market.

Wardrobe Architect – As it turns out, Colette Patterns had already come up with a process taking readers through the evaluation of their wardrobe and suggesting ways of inspiring and making decisions about what clothes to buy and make. So – as ever, there’s nothing new under the sun – there’s lots to go at here. (Thank you to NotSewSimple for drawing my attention!)

Bag and a Beret is a reminder, should I need it (I do! I do!) of where the joy is. As far as I’m concerned this blog from Canadian Miz Bagg (aka Mel Kobayashi) is the visual equivalent of getting your groove on down Wardour Street in the 80s – wild, exhilarating and completely unpredictable. Also she gets extra points for quoting Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, thus: “There is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us, and not we, them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking.

Bag and a Beret - Food for thought

Inimitable style at Bag and a Beret

Thank you to Cate and Sarah for that one – my lunchtimes are set for some time to come! I should also mention Cate’s own blog at VintageGal – I have always had a penchant for vintage dressing and although my approach has never been as painstaking as VintageGal’s, it doesn’t only provide me with inspiration but also reminds me that there’s beauty in the execution of a garment.

Not Dressed as Lamb is another suggestion from Cate – it sets out to do away with the notion of ‘age-appropriate’ dressing (hurrah!) and among other sources of inspiration, it’s based around ex-Londoner/fashion photographer Catherine Summers’ documentation of her outfits under the hashtag #iwillwearwhatilike She manages to get out a bit from the depths of Devon so there’s hope for us rural inhabitants yet.

Accidental Icon is the determinedly urban home of Lyn Slater – a bit scary but beautifully elegant and well-read. She describes herself as a woman who (among other things) ‘Has original style without being eccentric’ which appeals to me so here she is. I’m not sure if she has a photographer hanging around the whole time to catch her in endlessly aloof, thoughtful and stylish moments but whatever her secret, it’s a good one.

Lyn Slater - food for thought

Lyn Slater of Accidental Icon

Oonaballoona is the exuberant home of Marcy Harriell. Based in LA, I love dropping in here for a jolt of energy and joy – she reminds me of what it’s like to make a dress and wear it out that evening.

Embroidered top by Oonaballoona - food for thought

Marcy in a lace embroidered top

dresslikeaparisian.com – a French suggestion (thanks to Anastasia on the blog.) The author is a stylist – and she goes into more detail that one might have thought possible on issues such as how best to tuck your shirt in based on your trousers and body shape. Clearly there are issues here that I didn’t even know were issues – but it’s very on-the-ball and informative.

My email correspondent Miga frequently reminds me to cross La Manche for inspiration, where Aime Comme Marie not only has lots of lovely sewing ideas and patterns to contemplate, but links to lots of French sewing blogs. I haven’t had time to follow them all – and I suspect that European sources might be a whole blog on their own…

Secondo Piano is an Italian sewing and style blog. There’s something about the understated simplicity of it (despite the egg-print shirt…) that appeals to me.

Other reading that matters

Other regular reads range from online newspapers to newsletters and other stuff in between. They include some retail sites – as a commenter pointed out last week it’s not always possible to get to a city with a wide range of shops – but their websites can be invaluable.

In addition to subscriptions to Vogue & Elle magazines (among others) these are just a few of my other regular online haunts. Not many surprises here.

The Pool – I like the mix of on-the-mark fashion with comment and culture and the fact that they don’t take themselves too seriously. Sign up for a daily email which will give you three articles every morning, categorised by how long it takes to read each one.

The Guardian Fashion – particularly Hadley Freeman’s ‘Ask Hadley’ column for a reality check ; Jess Cartner-Morley for a bit of honest perspective.

Lilith – a French shop with occasionally outrageously-wonderful fabrics and very laid-back styling (although their summer collection is looking a bit porridgey to my eye)

Cos –  stylish aunt to H&M – pared-back shapes, excellent fabrics and inventive cutting.

Cos - food for thought

Some typically-understated styling from Cos

& Other Stories – the older sister to H&M – less overwhelming, interesting patterns – blends edgy with classics.

Stories - food for thought

& Other Stories – a classic blazer with bit of attitude

Like many of you I’m keeping an eye on the Modern Rarity from John Lewis, although I do think my mother was on the mark last week when she declared that the only place she could see herself wearing one particular draping cream ruffled shirt, would have a lid on it.

I like browsing Matches Fashion – their images are good for linking garments to runway shows and for zooming in to look at construction. I also get newsletters from Whistles, Jigsaw, Toast and other usual suspects.

Finally, I’m a great user of Pocket to stash articles for offline reading as they cross my path.

So – this is my ‘starter for ten’ – please, do let me have any other suggestions! My next job is to start making sense of all of this. Getting back to that plan…

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Desperately seeking style inspiration

Seeking style inspiration

I’m grateful for being allowed the indulgence of digging myself into an analytical hole last post, trying to figure out how it is that my wardrobe contents are just…not me. My style crisis reflections seem to have rung a bell with lots of you – and I’m relieved to discover I’m clearly far from being alone in my style inertia. Thank you so much for all the comments and suggestions posted!

I’m sorry for the radio silence ever since. For the last month or two I’ve had to pull on my Grown Up Girl’s Pants (I suspect we’ve all got that particular garment item in our wardrobe), living up to one of those non-work-related roles mentioned in my last post.  A timely reminder that frankly, there are days when remembering to put your shirt on the right way round is an achievement not to be sniffed at. C’est la vie – and I’m determined to press on.

So – with assurances that my shirt is definitely the right way round today (I know that because I just checked) what next?

Well – my plan is – to make a plan! However before I can do that, there’s one thing I need more than anything else.

INSPIRATION!

And whatever I might have felt in the throes of my style despair, there’s plenty to be had.

Seeking style inspiration

I’ve discovered that the most important thing when seeking style inspiration is to make it a habit. It turns out that being inspired is not a one-off activity – the expression ‘a practiced eye’ didn’t come about as a result of a ‘Eureka’ moment. Seeking out inspiration is an activity that takes time – but it pays off. By making the effort to look on a regular basis, I’m convinced I’ll be more likely to spot something inspiring on the fly.

So I’ve begun to pull together some sources of style inspiration. Some I’ve found all by myself (*badge for Alice*); for many suggestions I am grateful to blog comments for various firm pokes, prods and shoves.

Some of the inspiration I’ve unearthed is in the form of blogs, books, articles – things which need to be read. Other inspiration is visual – odd images from magazines, online sources, books and wandering around the shops. But there’s so much of it! Where to start? How best to gather it up and help it make sense? I had a chat with my inner librarian (she’s never that deeply buried). She suggested I had a think about the kinds of things that have the most immediate attraction to me – and so I decided to start with the visual stuff.

Visual inspiration

Collecting pictures isn’t a new activity for me. This is the wall above my desk which I sporadically re-paper with clippings using little dots of Blu-tac

Seeking style inspiration

However as the eagle-eyed might spot, this little collection is from SS16 – shockingly, it’s a year since I took everything down and refreshed it. Not that I don’t trawl through any number of sources for ideas and inspirations on a regular basis. Here’s the table in my office…

Seeking style inspiration - deskIt’s not good, I know. I promise I have a very tidy desk and the ClothSpot workroom is a vision of effective organisation. I do love my magazines though – and still grieve those left in lofts, on shelves and in cupboards-under-stairs from decades ago. (Someone in Dalston has a stash of The Face, iD magazine and Vogue, abandoned in a moonlight flit in 1986 – I hope they appreciated them…). However I am also a visual magpie and my tidy piles can be reduced to a mess in moments as I rummage after a picture I remember seeing in Elle (possibly) about three (or was it four?) months ago…

Organising my inspiration

How, then, to manage all this eye candy so I can actually make use of it in resolving my style crisis? The obvious place for me is Pinterest. ClothSpot has lots of Pinterest boards – and for those of you who haven’t yet discovered it, then we can thoroughly recommend it. It’s easy to look at as well as to collect images – even on the move. I know lots of you use it already but if you don’t – go have a look (we’ll see you again in a month or two when you stagger out…)

Pinterest encourages users to gather images together in collections. I consulted again with my inner librarian and figured that there were three kinds of images that I seem to collect as far as seeking style inspiration is concerned. These are:

Colours and colour combinations that grab me. This probably reflects my most primal, immediate response. I love colour – and at the moment there are lots of amazing colour combinations that designers are toying with. Regardless of whether they’ll suit me or not, I adore them. Even if a specific combination isn’t my thing, the idea of mixing, say, a bolt of daffodil yellow with pink and navy blue can be so exciting.

Ochre and blue combination for style inspiration

I love ochre and tobacco colours – and what a pop of genius that blue bag is!

Specific garments or outfits that I lust after, as well as shops that tend to stock collections I like. Don’t underestimate the value of wandering around the shops for a spot of inspiration – I can frequently be found, iPhone in hand, snapping away surreptitiously behind a rail of clothes.

Pale blue trousers style inspiration

Will you look at these trousers by Elisabetta Franchi? Those pleats! *sigh*…

People whose style inspires me. I don’t want to *be* that person – or necessarily even dress like them. Perhaps they sum up a spirit that I can identify with – or they have a boldness that I admire. Some are fictional characters; others real and well known or completely unknown. One or two might earn their own blog post in due course…

Heloise Letissier - Style inspiration

Héloïse Letissier of Christine & the Queens. Sharp suits & crisp shirts – what’s not to love?

I’ve set up three new Pinterest boards, one for each of those. You can see them here:

COLOUR

GARMENTS

PEOPLE

These are all highly personal – as in – they’re my choices based on what excites me in some way. What inspires you might be completely different but if you’re interested then please do drop in and have a look.

I might not want to make something based on those inspirations right now – but somewhere down the line, you never know. Importantly, gathering them is making me look at things differently, and prompting me to think. Plus, I find it really interesting to see a collection of images together. Themes start to emerge, ideas coalesce in ways I hadn’t imagined.

And, gradually, I’m getting a bit of a tingle in my spine again. I’m going to carry on adding to these collections (they’re a bit sparse right now) and I might even have new categories – these are just the ones I’ve started with to get me going.

Any ideas?

Do any of you have bright ideas as to how else I can pull my image collection together – and what collection themes might you choose? What do you do with those magazines and piles of clippings – are there any handy apps I need to know about?  Specifically, is there any way to have my Pinterest boards show up as dynamic wallpaper on the back of my beloved 27″ iMac? Answers to any of these questions would be fascinating!

In my next post I’m going to pull together all the style website and blog suggestions that people have been kind enough to share with me. If you’ve a favourite that you think I’d like then please let me know…

Stuck in the wardrobe mud: My style crisis investigation continues

Owning up to a style crisis in my last post wasn’t something I did lightly – I’m supposed to know about this stuff! Nevertheless I decided to tackle it head-on – but in doing so I had no idea that my quandary was one shared by so many others. Thank you to everyone who’s commented and emailed – not only with assurances that this is a problem shared – but also with ideas for tackling a style crisis based on your experiences. It’s all being digested I promise! Meanwhile, on with my style crisis investigation…

Saga Noren - Style crisis investigation

‘We’re looking for Alice’s style. Have you seen it?’

I’m told I tend towards the analytical. (Who knew?) That being the case, my natural inclination is to ask:

– Why does a style crisis happen?
– Why does it matter?

Apologies then, to anyone looking for an instant answer. I promise I won’t be cogitating for too long as I won’t be able to resist cracking on with some practical ideas while I get to grips with all of this. However instinct tells me that I need to understand what’s going on here, rather than trying to come up with solutions yet. ‘Tough on my style crisis; tough on the causes of my style crisis’, if you will. Stick with me – I’ll get there…

Why is my style in crisis?

Reasons why we grind to a halt in the wardrobe department are sometimes quite straight-forward. For starters, the weather’s something we can’t do much about. The fashion cycle may well be gearing up for a nice warm spring but what if the temperature refuses to co-operate? I’ve had freezing feet wearing ill-advised sling-backs in May; conversely I’ve been uncomfortably sticky in a suit in late October. It’s a recurring problem that seems only to have been exacerbated in recent years as we’ve had a slew of chilly springs and warm autumn seasons.

The problem can lie in plenty of other places too, as pointed out in the comments to my last post.

Weight change can bring shopping trips and sewing alike, to a complete halt. Weight loss or gain can render an entire wardrobe useless within a scarily-short space of time. Sometimes it’s simply difficult to know what size to fit to when your weight is fluctuating. Garment fitting is both necessary and time-consuming, as we who sew, know only too well. We might duplicate purchased garments such as jeans (if you’re an aficionado) or bras in different sizes to accommodate fluctuations in our weight. However it’s not practical to replicate a handmade wardrobe in that way. We might be on our way up or down for reasons beyond our control – and over a period of time. So much so, that it might be difficult to detect a point where we’ve ‘arrived’ at a stable weight.

In addition, our bodies continue to change over time. (If anyone’s seen my bottom knocking around somewhere then please let me know – I’d quite like it back…). And course it’s not just about the logistics of weight change – body-image can affect profoundly our sense of self. Just because we might have read Fat Is a Feminist Issue a while back (and I did, I promise), then those changing-room-mirror issues don’t just magically disappear. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that insecurity about body-image is a far more complex issue than there’s space for here – and it’s relevant for many.

Budget is another obstacle to our style aspirations. Who hasn’t coveted the perfect pair of shoes, length of tweed or desirable bag – only to know in our hearts that we can’t really justify the expense? This can sometimes be a postitive – there are occasions when I’ve been secretly relieved to have to rule out a purchase on the basis of cost. However although the lack of funds can help with decision-making, it’s more likely to be an unwelcome reality.

We’ve been privileged to have become quite well acquainted with many of our customers over the last few years. We’ve heard enough to know that most, if not all, of these predicaments will be only too familiar.d

Sometimes there are specific wardrobe dilemmas that can stop us in our tracks. Take the numerous calls and emails we’ve receive, starting with the words: ‘My son/daughter is getting married and I don’t want to look like a Mother of the Bride’. Enough to make us consider a whole fabric range branded as ‘Not The Mother Of The Bride’, that’s how many.

And then – most frequently, the myriad customers who have spent a lifetime playing with style and fashion – but who worry about what they can or can’t do ‘at my age’ without contravening perceived rules about what they might be able to wear. And lest you think that applies only to those over 50 or 60, I can assure you that’s not the case – it starts way way before that, as evidenced in the comments on my last post.

Where, I wonder, did the joy go?

Who stole my fun?

Where indeed is that joy? What happens to our inner Molly Ringwald, running up a prom dress at the last moment, daring to be different and rocking it?

As one of our commenters said – the point is to ‘Enjoy making and wearing things for yourself‘. But the reality is that life takes over and most of us no longer have the time to play around with make-up and hairstyles in front of the mirror as we might have done as teenagers. Expectations and life events change us and we find ourselves having to learn how to dress appropriately for different environments such as work and formal occasions.

Yes – we can rebel and make a style statement – but as we head out into the Big Wide World it takes a special kind of confidence and flair to stay true to our personal sense of style. I suspect that we can all recall instances where just a little more of our style confidence – our sense of ourselves – was chipped away. A dress code here, a whisper there – an overly-rushed project or a fitting/buttonhole/broken needle that defeated us. While we work so hard at getting on in life, not only does fashion change constantly; we’re getting older too. From our 20s onwards, it’s all too easy to land between a rock and a hard place on the style front. Or, you might say, getting stuck betweeen frumpishness and mutton.

Now before you roll your eyes – of *course* I have a problem with words like ‘frump’ and ‘mutton’. The very fact that such terms exist is illustrative of the issue under discussion. I respectfully refer you to The Vintage Year who addresses this very issue in her column, where she observes:

 “My own difficulties arise not with avoiding the major pitfalls, we all know how to do that, but with injecting some ‘edge’ into what’s left. I am bloody-minded when it comes to what I think is the right dress for me, but it’s a very fine line between skating along the edge and falling off the cliff.

Or in my case, hitting a wall. Again and again. There are times I feel like a robotic hoover, repeatedly boinking my style head against the same skirting board in a corner. Or just checking to see if I left my style under the bed…

Style crisis investigation robot hoover

…but wherever my style is, it’s apparently not hanging out with my slipper socks and the dust bunnies.

So I turn to the media – whether print or online – and oh yay – look what happens. I’m faced with an endless stream of Kardashianesque Klones, all contoured and smoothed to the hilt. Are there no choices any more? Where did the individualistic style choices of earlier decades go? Why does everyone on the Apprentice wear a figure-hugging dress and five-inch heels? So I off I panic to the internet (no Alice, NO!) But yes – and before I know it I’ve gone and done it. I’ve googled ‘style for women over <insert age>’. And honestly, I adore Judi Dench and Helen Mirren – but if I see them held up ONCE MORE as style icons for every woman over the age of 35 I will not be answerable for my response. And what do you know?

THIS ISN’T FUN ANY MORE!

But it’s only clothing…isn’t it?

Yes of course it’s only clothes. But appearances and perceptions do matter. Take this exchange in the final episode of Amazon’s ‘Good Girls Revolt’. A fictional drama, GGR is based on the real story of how women researchers working on Newsweek magazine fought to be recognised as – and paid as – journalists. The scene in question takes place just before the denouement where the women file a legal complaint. June and Denise are workers on the magazine; the character of Eleanor is their ACLU lawyer. (In reality, Eleanor Holmes Norton, now a member of the US House of Representatives).

June: Eleanor?
Eleanor: Yes, June?
June: What should we wear?
Eleanor: Clothes? Shoes? Bras are optional.
Denise: A suit, or a dress?
Eleanor: (Pauses, takes a breath) You wear whatever makes you feel beautiful and brave. And not necessarily in that order.

As Eleanor pauses before that last line, we’re invited to reassess the significance of a question that might initially sound trivial. We reflect not only on the magnitude of what they are about to do (risk their livelihoods by taking a publisher to court over their refusal to allow women to write) but also of who they are. Women – and moreover two black women – are asking this question of a third. As we’ve already learned in the season, if contravening norms of appearance and behaviour was a risky business for any woman at that time (and to an extent, even now) then it was even more so for women of colour.

Unfortunately it’s only available to Amazon Prime subscribers – this excerpt is one of only a couple that are freely available and isn’t of the final episode.

Well worth a watch if you get a chance, the soundtrack is pretty good too (although it prompted an unhealthy obsession with Creedence Clearwater Revival and local traffic queues have been subjected to my rendition of the closing speech).

So – clothes matter. We all know they do.  For lots of us, personal style is a Big Deal. As a child and in my teens and early twenties I was a sewing demon and would try anything once. Sometimes it worked, often it didn’t. But you learn from your failures. However once I had a Proper Job that changed. Sewing time became elusive. Slowly but surely, constraints and grown-up responsibilities descended. My joy of dressing and my sense of style were eroded. Judging by the comments on my last post, I’m not alone in suspecting my sense of self went with them.

In her article Women on the verge of a mid-life crisis, psychologist Linda Blair refers to the 1970s book, Passages by Gail Sheehy, observing:

“At different stages in our lives, we have different priorities and when those priorities need to change we experience a period of reforming.”

The book – and her article – explain that the patterns of behaviour we fall into, whilst being completely recognisable in the rear-view mirror, aren’t so easy to spot in advance – or even as they happen. Importantly, aging itself isn’t the life event that throws us into muddy fields of self-doubt. There are plenty of others – and it turns out they’re all pretty predictable, including:

– Leaving home
– Leaving full-time education
– Starting work
– Changing jobs
– Illness
– Beginning or ending a relationship
– Changes in family responsibilities

…and these are just for starters. My bet is that we can all add plenty more personal circumstances to that list.

The different roles we play in life also affect our sense of self-perception. Those roles increase in number over time – over the last 20 years mine have included:

– Parent
– Daughter
– Employer
– Manager
– Friend
– Wife
– Employee
– Presenter
– Writer
…and the list goes on. (Discounting all the regular stuff lots of us do with our ‘spare’ time like sports, decorating, gardening and the rest.)

So – no surprise that ‘essence of Alice’ has become somewhat elusive.

Of course all this change and role-playing are part of the very fabric of life. (Ba da boom.) But for those of us who care about such things (and plenty don’t – it’s not obligatory!) each change can leave us floundering in search of the style that will speak for the person we’ve turned into. We end up in the same uniform day after day, feeling vaguely dissatisfied and not a little confused about ourselves.

Here’s a recent advertisement for Amazon Fashion.

Style crisis investigation - Amazon fashion advertisement

‘Look like you’ it says. And I agree – I do want to look like me. But what if I’m not sure who ‘I’ am? To paraphrase an earlier a commenter: ‘What if I’ve lost my sense of self?’

So that’s my style crisis investigation. This is how I think I got here – and this is why it matters – at least to me.

It all seems to have got a bit existential so I’m off to read my Sartre over an apricot cocktail and have a think. In my next post I’m going to come up with some ideas on how to dig myself out of this hole – and since I’ve said I will, then I’ll have to. Thank you for scrolling down this far – and suggestions, as ever, are welcome.

 

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