This was originally planned simply as a short sequel to my ‘Wide-legged cropped trousers’ post from the summer. In need of a top to go with the trousers in question I found myself floundering around for options. In desperation, I chose a cotton shirt for a laid-back look. Although there was nothing wrong with the shirt itself, it wasn’t the best choice for those trousers. Here’s a reminder of my shirt.
I really appreciated all the suggestions you made for alternative tops. I particularly liked the idea of a camisole – or at least the use of a more draping fabric. Why on earth I hadn’t thought of either, I wasn’t quite sure. Much food for thought and plans are afoot.
Loving my new cotton shirt
Meanwhile in the weeks since my post, that shirt has been worn repeatedly, garnering compliments even from non-sewers. The pattern is the ‘Archer’ Button Up Shirt from Grainline Studios.
I’m well aware that it’s an established favourite in the sewing community – and I’m not pretending to break new ground here. However I was surprised by how much I enjoyed both the making and the wearing of my cotton shirt. I’m impressed by the confidence of the pattern draft – it has some nice touches. I have to confess that when I saw the size and sheer square-ness of the pockets I was a bit dubious and almost left them off. However especially on a print, the pockets blend into the background – leaving the horizontal line of the pocket tops to work as a design element that adds definition to an otherwise relaxed garment. The undercollar is cut on the bias which helps it sit and shape nicely. And if that isn’t enough – it fits. Not too tight across the upper back, a good length and sits well on my shoulders. Finally – the acid test – my version made it out of my wardrobe on a regular basis over the summer. Something was obviously working.
The comfort of a cotton shirt
I found myself asking why, given all the other options available, I opted for a cotton shirt to wear with my summer trousers. Why was it my go-to in the face of confusion – and why did I feel so comfortable in it?
True, after seasons of boho and structured bodycon, the shirt dress made a comeback a few years ago – as did the whole idea of the crisp cotton shirt. In recent seasons that sharper silhouette has been softened up a little with draping prints and flowing midi-length dresses – but the cotton shirt is still very much a ‘thing’ as evidenced in this recent Guardian article by Jess Cartner-Morley.
Simply being aware of this hasn’t helped with my style crisis. As explained in earlier posts, I’ve genuinely been at a bit of a loss as to what to wear in recent years. Knowing what styles are current at any moment in time doesn’t solve the problem. I just feel like a scientist facing a sea of data but missing the formula that might make sense of it all.
I felt a strong urge to move away from the ubiquitous hole-y jeans and fading striped t-shirts in my cupboard. How was I going to escape that world of scruffiness though, without feeling contrived or ‘dressed-up’?
Battling my ‘inner scruff’
Then just this week, I was having a conversation with a friend in which she observed that of her two tiny daughters, one always seemed to be clean and tidy, while the other invariably had a grubby face, lopsided clothes and a generally dishevelled air. Absolutely no judgement was intended – she was simply concerned that the younger, scruffy one, might feel overshadowed by her older sister who always seemed comparatively well-groomed – even at a very young age. I suddenly realised that even though I’m the eldest of two girls – I am absolutely that younger sister. I scrub up OK – but it always feels like ‘dressing up’ – and is subject to deterioration at a moment’s notice. Here I am at about eight years old in our music group at primary school.
Now – feel free to take a moment to get over Miss Gordon’s amazing cat’s eye glasses, Mia Farrow fringe and mini-skirt-and-boots look. How cool was she? Once you’ve done that, cast your eye around for the one with scuffed shoes, dark green socks held up with elastic, a definite slouch and a shirt and tie.
What you’ve got there is a loving mother’s losing battle against a natural scruff. The one who played a decent game of football in the playground, who had to wear green socks as they didn’t show the dirt so much – and who was the only girl in a school uniform even though we were a non-uniform school. I still don’t have the words to explain how much I hated that tie – but I can see where my mother was heading. If I’d worn woolly tights, they’d have had holes in their knees and the crotch would have been bagging around somewhere beneath my skirt hem. My uniform was modular – as an individual element was destroyed, it could be replaced without the loss of the whole shebang. Yet despite my hatred of that tie – I actually didn’t mind my shirt, once I’d sneakily popped the top button open.
My inner scruff is, apparently, never far from the surface. In 1976 my friends at secondary school went off to the hairdressers in search of a ‘Purdey’ cut.
My attempt at the emulating Joanna Lumley in The New Avengers simply resulted in the nickname ‘Kizzy’ for rest of the year, thanks to an appalling haircut and the inconvenient timing of the BBC adaptation of Rumer Godden’s book, ‘The Diddakoi’…
A few years later I went off for a shaggy perm and the family name ‘Holly’ (as in ‘You don’t look like Kate Bush – more like a bloody holly bush’) has stuck with me ever since. Thanks, Dad…
The eighties suited me fine as I vacillated from big coats and wild hair to 50s frocks and diamante. And occasionally, all of them at once. I’ll spare you the pictures. It was all about extreme dressing up or extreme dressing down – no problem there. But in the decades since, I’ve often been at a bit of a loss.
Thinking back though, the simple cotton shirt has been a frequent stand-by. Deep down, I obviously recognise it as a way of de-scruffing myself without straying into uncertain territory. Realising that something might work for me – and feels right too – it’s a bit of a revelation.
My latest cotton shirt
With that analysis complete, I decide to test my theory by trying out another version of the Archer. This time with long sleeves and in a cotton lawn I’ve been itching to have a play with; our ‘Water meadow’ muted violet blue floral cotton lawn fabric.
I occasionally struggle with prints – but I decide I can cope with this one since at a distance it looks more mottled than an obvious floral.
I’ve already cut the pattern from my previous version – and the instructions are admirably straight-forward. For what it’s worth, I’m impressed by the pattern drafting, the clarity of the instructions and the fit. The make is a familiar set of processes to me – but if you’ve not tried a shirt before then fear not – really! Grainline Studio have posted an excellent sewalong that really is a model of how to help the uninitiated.
I love some of the details like the sleeve placket
and the afore-mentioned angled cuffs.
If I could detail any aspect of the make that had me raising an eyebrow then I would but really – there wasn’t anything. This is a pattern that just goes together like a dream.
This is my final version.
And for completeness, here’s the back view.
I’m desperately trying to step up my work clothes at the moment – so this is very much a work outfit. I’ve recently upgraded my usual (increasingly tatty) trainers to a pair of brogues, while the trousers are a simple pair of deliberately-oversized chinos. All good for comfort and practicality in my work routine. During any given day I might be diving around a mannequin, sitting at a computer or heaving around rolls of fabric – but sometimes I need to feel brushed-up enough to handle phone calls and supplier meetings with a vaguely professional air.
Suffice to say that although I’ve taken out my contact lenses, found my specs, licked off my lippy and smudged my mascara, the shirt has stuck. I feel completely myself in it and since having my picture taken I’ve just cracked on with my day. Enough said.
Having established that this is a pattern that works for me, I’d really like to use it to expand my boundaries a bit. I’m thinking of a more draping version – or (daringly) a larger, more abstract print. Any other suggestions? Please, do let me know!
And while we’re at it, do any of you feel as if you’re constantly fending off an ‘inner scruff’? Am I justified in my belief that there are some people who really do step out effortlessly in white cardigans, neat hair and clean knees? If so – then really – how on earth do you do it?