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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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…
…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)
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
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?