Style crisis decisions – opening the dressing-up box

Style crisis coathangers


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:


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?














13 thoughts on “Style crisis decisions – opening the dressing-up box

  1. Christine says:

    Love your look
    You could solve the cigarette pants / summer trousers problem with one ‘go to’ pattern. I love the Capri pants pattern in the Green Sewing Bee book. Very easy with side zip.
    Adapted to fit, I’m making my fifth pair…
    Only uses 1m 20 of wide fabric
    If you can find some suitable fabrics that is… (joke)

    • ClothSpot says:

      Thank you for the capri pants tip-off, Christine – much appreciated! Only 5 pairs, hmmm? Sounds like this could become a habit 🙂 Not sure what I’m going to do about the fabric issue, though….

  2. Julia Droy says:

    Firstly, I love the leather jacket and that’s a good starting point, like the previous reply I think the Capri pants is a good alternative to jeans, if you have a shift pattern that is comfortable then perhaps you should make a few in some of that fabulous fabric you have. With regard to the shoes, loafer and pumps are a good alterative to converse. I tend to find a pattern which is a good fit and I love and make a few of the same in different fabrics, i.e. denim, tartan and plan navy gabardine. I don’t think you should beat yourself up about this it will all fall into place eventually and perhaps you should work on one outfit at a time. I hops this is helpful

    • ClothSpot says:

      Another vote for capri pants, Julia – I am taking the hint! Appreciate the reminder to take it one garment at a time. I have tended to envisage a whole series of makes in my head and then it gets nowhere. One garment that would get lots of wear in different fabrics would be a great priority to start with – thank you!

  3. Louise says:

    I love the idea of considering what I wish was in my wardrobe!

    I’m doing Me Made May again this year and trying to wear more than the usual suspects (the comment about 20% of the wardrobe being worn 80% of the time is defitinely me…) – also vaguely trying to consider what I dont choose to wear so I learn some lessons about what not to repeat in future (bruyere shirt, I’m looking at you…) – I may or may not get round to writing a post about whatever conclusions I come to.

    I recently battled with trouser fitting again and made slightly cropped Pauline Alice Port trousers – I love my ultimates as you know, but these are slightly looser in the leg and have a proper waistband and fly front which the ultimates are missing (so far) I love them – stretch cotton sateen is comfortable and forgiving! Also voting for finding something you like and maing several – no one ever notices that they are all the same when you use different fabric but it does make your wardrobe feel cohesive!

    Good luck – looking forward to seeing where you go next!


    • ClothSpot says:

      The ‘what do I wish I could find in there’ questions seems so obvious doesn’t it? It was a real ‘doh’ moment for me when someone suggested it! Thank you for the Pauline Alice ‘Port’ trouser tip – I’m thinking of using my basic block toile to adjust and compare 2-3 trouser patterns so I can crack on with multiple makes in the future. I have one final questionnaire for myself and then it’s time for a plan….

  4. Di says:

    I’m late with my comment –but never mind.
    I do like your leather biker jacket. It lends itself to dressing up/ down either with jeans or a lace skirt/whatever.
    Yes, I too tend to go to the same items in my wardrobe/ T shirt drawer then silently chastise myself for not choosing something else. Time, which I don’t seem to have enough of, is often the issue, so I play safe and wear the same things. Right now I’d like to open my wardrobe and see a few more pairs of well fitting trousers/jeans. I’ve used the same Style Arc trouser pattern (for stretchy fabric) to make quite a few pairs.Some were worn to death and have long gone. Jeans, and trousers, the latter using non stretch fabric, were drafted to my measurements using a video made by a Saville Row tailor. Really easy when you know how though you need to understand the trouser making up process fly zip etc etc..Some longer summer shirts/tunics, which I can wear in different ways, wouldn’t be a bad idea. A couple of ‘not quite’ maxi skirts in summery fabrics. The ones I have are beginning to look a bit worn. I’ve a good selection of leather belts, with interchangeable buckles, to suit all occasions. Useful over the top of shirts/tunics/T’s However,fashionable/comfy, shoes/sandals, are the biggest issue for me with my ‘less than perfect’ feet. Recently bought a pair of (not cheap) silver leather patterned slip on’s which go with lots of things. Comfy in the shop then, once home, why does the left one make that particular foot hurt like hell. Answer, a small area of raised leather, inside, which presses on one spot and is never discovered until you are wandering round the supermarket. I’m surprised there aren’t courses called ‘How to make your footwear comfortable’ or’ Uses for gorilla tape’.
    There you have it. I just need to make a start. I wonder how you’re getting on.

    • ClothSpot says:

      Di I am even later with my spring wardrobe – but better late than the wrong wardrobe, I reckoned! I agree that once you have cracked your fit for trousers, it all gets easier. Thank you for reinforcing the fact that it’s worthwhile persisting on the perfectly-adapted pattern with a view to multiple makes – and I am very keen on the idea of some longer shirts for summer. I think you have identified a niche on the ‘retro-fitting footwear’ front – we will look forward to a series of informative YouTube videos from you on that subject! An update on my progress will be forthcoming later this week…

      • Di says:

        Don’t hold your breath re YouTube video’s/retro shoe fitting. However, your comment made me laugh.
        Suggest you do an online search for Excel Video Publications re trousers etc. I was surprised they still exist, but exist they do.
        I shall look forward to the next thrilling installment of your style crisis.

        • ClothSpot says:

          Thank you for the link, Di – much appreciated as I continue to refine my trouser fitting (building in the right kind of ease for non-stretch is now my goal) Much appreciated! (Shame about the shoe fitting vlog though…)

  5. Sky Southwood says:

    Found your Blog by accident and so glad I did, think I have spent my whole life in a style crisis and am now encouraged to do something about it…..Thankyou

    • ClothSpot says:

      So pleased you found us, Sky – you are definitely not alone – I have days when I feel as if I’ve been in crisis for a very long time! (There was that time in about 1983 when things seemed to be going well….) I’m amazed at how much it’s helped to pick my wardrobe apart and come up with a plan. And so many fantastic suggestions from people. I hope you enjoy the ride!

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