Style crisis – time to get personal

Style crisis couch - getting personal

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.


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!



















6 thoughts on “Style crisis – time to get personal

  1. Di says:

    Well, you’ve identified styles you don’t like/suit you and some you know make you look/feel good.. It’s a matter of finding patterns, if you’re going to make the clothes, that match your criteria. You sell fabrics and patterns which makes life easier. You missed out red as one of the strong neutrals. Just a case of which tone of red looks best with your skin . Dark aubergine could be a neutral too.
    I know others have suggested various blogs. The one I go back to on/off is called ‘Inside/out’. Written by a woman called Imogen, in Australia. It covers everything you want to know to look stylish. Iris Apfel makes use of Imogen’s advice and she certainly has style. Be warned — there is so much advice you may want to be selective and trawl back through earlier blogs to find what you want.Advice about how to wear belts?? Look at ‘once upon a’ They sell belts but also show how to wear them.

    • ClothSpot says:

      Di thank you so much for all this information! I will definitely drop in on the blog you mentioned as well as the belts site – I love belts and miss them from their 1980s heyday – I just can’t get my head around how to make them look good on my now – so I’m looking forward to my lunchtime browse. As it happens, dark aubergine is the dark neutral I think I’m considering for my summer wardrobe (first step to be revealed on Friday 😉 but the idea of red as a neutral isn’t something I’d considered. Oddly enough I was reading about wearing red last night. I love the colour – but I may have been wearing it wrong – blocking it with black instead of ‘hotting it up’ with pinks and oranges. Much to be learned – but I’m looking forward to brave experimentation – thank you again!

  2. Sarah Skinner says:

    Alice – lots of analysis regarding shape and fit and you clearly know what suits you and what you like. I had a couple of thoughts ( that you may have already dismissed, so apologies in advance if these are way off mark ). Have you tried skater style dresses and trapeze type dresses/tops ? I make the suggestions as they are fitted on top ( like an empire line )and can flare and shape well, adding length and nice lines but without fussiness. I also make the suggestions as I have been going through a similar process over the last couple of years and tried both these two shapes ( having previously dismissed them out of hand ) and was very pleasantly surprised.
    I used the Merchant and Mills trapeze dress ( comes out on the large size and I went down a size ) and ended up adapting into a hip length top with the sleeves ( only because I like my arms covered ) and they are a very subtle ( promise) flared design with a lovely godet insert.
    There are several skater styles that are popular but I tried the Named Clothing one which is sleeveless but there is a hack on their blog for a long sleeved high necked version. This is a tight fit as t he picture shows but I was very pleased with it and it comes together well. It has a a fairly high waist ( on me anyway ) so it skims over the stomach it a flattering way, I found. I had lots of complements when I wore this.
    Overall, I feel they are both modern styles but neither too young or too trendy. They also work well in either plain or patterned and are quick makes.
    Trousers – mmh always a difficult one. I have been playing around with New Look 6459 this weekend as a way to try a try a slight crop legged look but still smart. No tight calves in this pattern but not too excessive either. The patten also has a couple of tops. I underestimated my size on this and have had to do tiny seam allowances and I am moving the zip to the side ( just personal preference ). I am hoping this will dress up as well as down, with trainers, for example. Again, I think different looks will be achievable with different materials. A quick, simple pattern.

    I find that if I always choose colours I know I like ( or suit me – not necessarily the same thing ) then things tend to go with each other. Plus, if trying a new shape then it feels safer if it is in a colour that you know you like.
    As you know, once you get stuck in, then the ideas will flow and nothing else will get done….

    • ClothSpot says:

      Well, Sarah – I will consider myself challenged out of my comfort zone! Thank you very much for your suggestions. I am tempted to try both dress designs – neither are shapes I had discounted – but neither would have been on my usual ‘go-to’ list – which at the very least tells me that I need to find out more – so I will! I can feel a toile or two coming on… Thank you very much also for the trouser suggestion – I like the fit at the top – and think that they would satisfy my urge to try out a wider, cropped-leg design – which I have been itching to do, I confess. I finally got down to some sewing (or at least, some cutting out and marking-up) at the weekend – I have decided to start with a really straightforward cotton shirt, which can become a tunic or a shirt dress in future iterations – and which will go with my existing jeans as well as with trousers. Nothing earth-shattering on the style, fabric or technique front (I’ll post at the end of the week) but as you so rightly say, getting stuck in is the most important thing at this stage. (Supper was late last night, needless to say…)

  3. jane kokoszko says:

    May I suggest that you consider reds that are on the orangy side of red e.g a tomato red, other good colours are red and yellow ochres, gold and mustard. Purples, aqua, lime and teals, especialy deep teals look amazing. As an Autumn myself I’ve noticed that pinching some colours from the winter side of the spectrum can work, a really deep fuchsia, for instance, can also be wonderful. If you made yourself a pair of trousers and a skirt out of a lovely Italian wool, or crepe for business wear,and more casual fabric for daytime. You can get away with flashes of bright colour that can really lift a neutral e.g. black with touches of lime, chartreuse, fuschia. Burgandy with pink or orange depending on the spectrum, Blue with lime, orange or aqua.
    As far as shapes, perhaps you coud look at some of the patterns of the Tilton sisters who’s tops, shouders and sleeves are usually more fitted and the volume is further down the garments. There is a japanese designer called Shingo Sato who devises amazing shapes on the clothes, with very deft manipulation of fabrics.
    I hope that some of this helps. On a different subject, your fabric choices and costs have cheered me up today, this is the first time I’ve seen your site and I really like your choices. I need a couple of samples but I will phone tomorrow with my choices.
    Thanks very much.

    • ClothSpot says:

      Jane thank you very much for the thoughts on colour – particularly the shade of red I should try (the second time red has been mentioned – clearly I need to pay attention!) I am never quite sure about the right shade for me – so I will experiment with the more orange shades as you suggest 🙂 I struggle sometimes in the summer since so many colours I like are easier to come by in the autumn for obvious reasons – so I really appreciate the suggestions! I had not ‘twigged’ the fitted shoulders of the Tilton patterns – so it’s really helpful to have that pointed out – I will look at them with new eyes! Also for introducing me to Shingo Sato whose name was new to me – but whose techniques I have noticed and wondered about. I just looked him up and explored a little – wow! That’s the kind of thing I could really have some fun with…. Delighted you like our fabrics – just drop us a line and we’ll pop any samples in the post right away!

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