Me Mad May is over; bring on RTW June!

posted in: Organisation, Style advice | 23

I did the fourth week of MMMay17 but I had some phone problems so I can’t show you the pictures, except one. Here I am with a nice old 1960s Kimono sleeved jacket in the softest lemon wool. All the rest  are on Instagram. I am hoping I will be able to post a few more recent pictures soon. 

So. For a full month I wore one hand-sewn item and one hand-knitted item each and everyday. I have not yet reached the dizzy heights of making everything I wear. Never made a bra, never made tights, never made knickers. I have made my gym kit, lots of tailored items and coats, but never rainwear. I have made jeans, and men’s wear, and I have created lots of textiles in passing. I am proud of my achievements, but I don’t think I am going for the gold medal of this one. Happy with the bronze.

So what was MMM17 all about for me? This year it was really useful for thinking about handmade knitwear.  However I found the exercise a bit of a strain. What it did to me was made me question  what I am wearing and do my clothes bring me joy?

No.

I know I can make virtually anything I want – nothing is denied to me as I can sew. And knit! But what do I want?

I want to create a really small, orderly wardrobe that is

  • fashionable and stylish
  • crisp and clean
  • comfortable
  • authoritative enough for work
  • rather plain

That should be easy!

Fashion and style

MMMay17 revealed my current wardrobe is looking dated. I want a more modern look. This is important to me.

Before I sewed I would not worry about passing on last seasons’ outfits (darling!); these days I feel a real wrench taking my hand made wardrobe to the charity shop. So I wear things which are quite nice but I don’t love (Marie Kondo has alot to answer for).

Maybe I am shallow but I love novelty, style, new ideas, new colour combinations and ideas – fashion in other words. Just one year ago I wouldn’t have worn trainers for work, but now (in London) this look is stylish and normal. A few years ago I wouldn’t have worn a trouser suit as they looked old-fashioned and dowdy, but now they look great. Overall, especially for work, business casual has become the norm and formal, corporate wear has negative connotations. If you want to look young and engaged you need to pay some attention to changing trends – I am beginning to worry I don’t have enough culottes or cold shouldered blouses in my wardrobe! But seriously dated dressing is aging.

I do have a silver  leather skirt!! And a shorts suit!! These items are a bit unusual and I wore them in May and I like them. But I wish the silver skirt was shorter and the shorts a little tighter. In the 1930s women were forever altering their clothes to give them a “new lease of life”, “making do and mending” “retrimming” their hats and crocheting a new lace collar for their sole afternoon dress. I do appreciate the thinking here, but it is not me. Instinctively I am a chucker, a thrower, someone who gets rid of things when they no longer suit me.  I really want a clear out.

Crisp and clean

Which brings me to my second point. In wearing “Me Made” I noticed that a number of my items were tatty. Is that because they were often worn, or badly made? Not finished properly, or just inferior to RTW? All the lovely, natural fibres I go for in my dressmaking may not be as durable as I think. Two of my unlined cotton skirts have not held up to wear and tear. I really don’t want to give them up (they are made of nice, thick, stretch cotton from Roland Mouret), but I am a bit ashamed of the finish.

Comfortable

For years I laughed at people who wore leggings, T shirts, shorts with elasticated waists and trainers – and never went to the gym! I previously opposed the sloppy idea of a dress down Friday. To be honest at one stage I would have said wearing a cardigan to work was a definate no no.

I kept my shorts and trainers for gym, and wore proper skirts, jackets, tights and formal shoes for work although I did have an anorak (rather than a proper coat), and often chose a long sleeved T rather than a shirt, to avoid ironing.

Now that standards at work are unravelling, and business casual is the norm (ties are beginning to look a bit odd in my office) I find myself caught up in the desire for comfort. If I haven’t an external meeting on a Friday I do sometimes wear my jeans. (For years I didn’t even wear jeans). And in terms of “active wear” the penny has finally dropped. These garments are ideal for less active wear too. Even inactive wear (lolling around on a sofa) feels better in stretchy, soft stuff. Gym wear is of course specifically designed and constructed so it doesn’t chafe, restrict or constrict. Anything made of stretchy jersey is supremely comfortable. So it makes perfect sense to wear clothes that stretch when you do, don’t dig in, and give you a sense of well being. I mentioned that at weekends I often wear leggings and long sleeved Ts from Uniqlo, and in summer I am wearing gym shorts, sports bra and top – cotton or wool, depending on the weather. I seem to have gone super-casual, all of a sudden.

So I need to think about work – comfort but with sufficient authority. I am inspire by these looks.

Authority dressing

Earlier in my career having authority meant – for women – wearing a white shirt and a navy suit, with a knee length skirt, dark tights and court shoes. For men too – a navy suit, white shirt, silk tie, dark socks and black leather shoes. Once a week I may still have to dress like this – a board or City meeting for example. But most of the time I want to look stylish, crisp and comfortable but still have the edge in terms of authority. I could not chair a meeting in gym gear. But I believe there is an answer. My Business Casual post covered some of the ground.

Plainness

Like many dressmakers I have a penchant for the colourful, the patterned, the shiny and the novel. What I find myself wearing most often is of course – the neutrals – especially navy and grey, using scarves, belts, tights and jewellery to introduce colour and individuality. I want a wardrobe that is essentially plain. If we are going for comfort then we have to find the authority elsewhere and neutrals and deeper colour do this.

I will be thinking about a modern, fashionable capsule wardrobe over the next couple of weeks, before I readjust my sewing/knitting/shopping plans.

In the meantime – do you feel your look is a bit dated? Do you yearn for comfort? What about plain and simple shapes and colour schemes? Do you have the answer?

 

 

 

23 Responses

  1. So much of what you write resonates, there is a balance between formal business dress and casual easy dressing, that’s why Eileen Fisher is so successful. The difference between what I can make and what EF sells is chiefly in the quality of the fabric. Are the clothes boring though, probably, however, I think you’re conflating fashion and style. Ideally we should notice the person not the clothes, plain fabrics and simple shapes are the backdrop on which to build an signature look around hair, shoes and accessories, you are doing this to some extent I think we all get to realise this eventually.

    So much to say, so little time. Can’t wait to see what you do.

  2. This is a really interesting post Kate. I loved reading about how your style and attitude to what is appropriate office wear has changed. I work the same field as you, and can confirm that a man wearing a tie in the office is a rarity these days. Our regional manager wears a suit and tie, and it does look dated.

    I too yearn for comfort in my wardrobe, long gone are the days when I wore whatever was fashionable whether it was comfortable or not, but I can’t bring myself to go down the leggings and elasticated waist route, partly because these don’t really suit my body shape. I’d hoped that by my age I’d have found “my style” but it seems that it is still undecided! I guess that is part of the fun of sewing your own clothes, you can make whatever you fancy!

    Oh, and I love that yellow jacket by the way!

  3. I remember a day quite a while ago (I was in my early 20s) when I put on my favourite outfit, looked in the mirror and suddenly didn’t quite recognise myself. It startled me and it took a while to realise that I was finally seeing the big picture of all the small changes that a body settling in adulthood had brought. I stripped to my underwear and there I was again, different but myself all the same. Put clothes back on and the unpleasant feeling of incongruity hit me again. I called my favourite auntie that day to tell her of my confusion and f she knew what it meant, and without batting an eyelid she said “we’re going shopping my dear”. That led to the biggest clear-out I have memory of and I love the fact this post made reminded me of it – I know I need another one! Will I be able to make what I want though or will I succumb to the fascination of the latest pattern release?

  4. Interesting post! The part about the plainness really resonates. Before I discovered the online sewing community I hardly ever wore patterned fabric. Simple, clean design lines, plain fabric, well chosen footwear and simple jewellery defined my style. Lately I seem to go overboard with prints and colours that do look good in my sewing sketch book but don’t really suit me. Time for change!

  5. I love my own makes best, but then as I like sewing and making – I like to make new things so forever caught in the bind of what to make and to try and sew slower!! (as I tend to keep things in my wardrobe for ages as I love to wear them all)

  6. I am slightly different, not a chucker at all. I have clothes in my wardrobe that are older than my children. However, I totally agree that neutrals are the way to go for smart casual. I am forcing myself to chuck out some older stuff today! Going to go and sort out five items to free up some space.

  7. Interesting post as always. I think how we dress is as much about personal style as how we react to our environment and what that environment deems acceptable. Some of us are contrary so working in a city known for swimming in black I wear colour sometimes fashionable sometimes not. I also love shoes especially unusual ones so can’t relate to the idea of wearing trainers for work, a trend that doesn’t appear to have arrived here yet.

    I know you have written about Theresa May’s style in the past so this article may be of interest – I think it captures the essence of your post. http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/fashion/93393202/head-to-toe-british-pm-theresa-may-is-the-essence-of-the-modern-power-dresser

    • Thank you for the link Stephanie. It is a nice article and does make similar points. Women in business and leadership roles can express more of who they are these days which is a relief.

  8. My wardrobe will never be trendy – I am for “stylish”. Most of my wardrobe is on the plain side in a solid colour with simple silhouettes and minimal details. But I’ve noticed I get the most compliments when I’m wearing something that’s patterned or when wearing a very plain outfit with a striking accessory, like my multi-coloured Summit scarf. I too like novelty. Then again during our recent unseasonably cold May when I my wardrobe was more limited, I felt the best in my neutrals and wearing one statement colour.
    I make most of my clothes: simple tops, dresses, some pants and yes, know the time and effort spent into making them makes it harder to part with them. I’ve tried to be a bit more ruthless the last few times when putting away end of season clothes and getting rid of the tired looking items instead of storing them and then wondering why I kept it when it gets pulled out of storage at the start of the season.

  9. I defined a style for myself, about this time last year, jersey dresses, soft jackets and silver jewellery. But, some how,now, I feel a bit out of kilter, and am searching for a new look, but can’t sew fast enough! So I’m creating outfits using rtw that are a bit different, and mixing that up with my standard look. I think I need to experiment more. I love the way your style is changing, Kate, but still really like some of those beautiful 1960s suits you’ve made. I’m looking forward to see what you sew, in this next stage.

    • Thank you so much Ruth. I like the style you have developed and think it really suits you. For myself I was really into the 1960s suits as stylish workwear, and they do work without thinking. But I am rather bored of them now and realised I wore many of my MMM16 items for MMM17 and even my SWAP14 items. Nothing wrong in terms of wearing older clothes but I just feel desperately in need of refresh and I don’t think I am sewing fast enough to keep that refresh going.

      • Thanks Kate! I think if creativity is important to us, then part of that is that we want to evolve and change. What about aiming to make 2 or 3 outfits over the next six months that help define your new look. For example the grey designer trouser suit you were going to make. Knitted items are obviously part of that evolution for you too.

        • Its a nice challenge, and I may go for it. At the moment a major fitting, sewing and tailoring project seems beyond me. But you have given me a nice nudge. Thanks!

  10. First, the yellow jacket with the grey sweater is so pretty on you….I seem to recall a yellow coat that was very becoming, too.

    Second, I’m away from home with a very limited collection of clothes and I am heartily sick of practically everything I have with me. So though I join those who have a hard time getting rid of clothes I made it is tempting to bin everything before starting home, when ever that is. In my normal life I find too that I am slow to notice that something is old and tired; in fact usually I’m out somewhere and suddenly become conscious that I look raggedy. Need to figure out how to be more mindful of this aspect of my clothes!

    ceci

    • Thanks Ceci. Yellow is “becoming” – I think I agree with you. I always read for yellow or pink when I want a lift or to feel happy (which I generally do). And your second point is apposite! I remember exactly the same thing. I was in Australia for six weeks with a carefully selected carry on (and the same in India now I recall) and I went out and bought a few local outfits. Made me feel much better but also I suddenly fitted in – more as a local and less as a tourist.

  11. What a thoughtful and thought provoking post.
    As a work at home mum I never have need of workwear, which is in many ways a relief, but in others quite challenging. I’m still trying to find a way to look stylish at the school gate in all weathers. And to dress appropriately for my age without looking dowdy. I know 50 isn’t old, I certainly don’t feel it or mean to imply it, its just there are certain things I don’t feel I can quite carry off at the moment, but am not entirely sure what to replace them with! Add to that I’m finally starting to lose the significant amount of weight I need to, and I’ve got a body and wardrobe and lifestyle in a state of flux. It’s going to be interesting to see how you address your challenge. I’m sure I’ll pick up some tips for mine!

  12. I really had to think about your post as I, too, used to laugh off certain fashion trends as being ridiculous and now do not see them nearly as negatively. For example, when high heels with a platform first came out many years ago, I thought they made women look cheap and tarty. While I still don’t love them, I think that over time, they began to look acceptable to me with the right outfit. Similarly, the straight midi knit dress with sneakers seemed off to me at first, but now, on a tall, slim build, with neutral colours, I find this look has a minimalistic appeal. As someone who is interested in fashion but not a fashion designer, I need the help of others who actually design and put new ways of wearing things in front of me to make me realize a potential that is otherwise invisible to me. I try to train my eye by studying some of the more avant grade designers but even so, it can be difficult to move beyond my comfort zone. I actually feel that you did this quite well as many of your sewing experiments in previous years (draping etc) yielded out of the ordinary, lovely items of clothing. Good luck in this challenge; it will be fun to watch your style evolve.

    • I have the same! Whilst for instance I have always loved the cold shoulder look I have had huge resistance against culottes (and I still don’t fancy owning a pair). It’s a silly example but pointy shoes, flares jeans, ruffled sleeves.. they always take a while to grow on me. I think I need to be shown the way for me to wear it in a style that suits me and sometime I lack in imagination.

  13. I’m one of those readers that never comment (I read on Feedly and it’s not very convenient) but today I cannot help myself. I also work in a corporate environment and although we are at different times in our career, your wardrobe goals ( a really small, orderly wardrobe that is fashionable and stylish / crisp and clean / comfortable / authoritative enough for work / rather plain) completely resonated with me. I did make an effort to wear a little bit more handmade clothes at work during MMM and it made me want to do yet another closet purge.

    I’m a “konmari” convert so my wardrobe is not particularly big anymore and I already went through the hard process of giving handmade clothes away. It was easier the first time because I live in Haiti and I gave everything away to my cleaning lady who was very happy about it. Now that I am back in NYC, I know that consignment and second hand places don’t take handmade items so it’s much harder.

  14. I have qualtity clothes for a long time. Then they lie dormant and then they come back in combinations with new bright colours.
    I have defined which cuts, lines and lengths suit my figure and I like plain but bright and so a lot of what is fashionable is just not for me. But I can wear cold bright colours that not many people can and very often I combine two with a neutral and that has the desired effect and I stick out and show authority at the same time. So it is not about fashion really, only if this meets my defined styles or colours that suit me. ( This is not how you saw of me because travelling with a bordcase is a different case altogether. I have to work on that one when retired: capsule wardrobe inspired by your brilliant post in my typical style)
    I prefer to go for timeless, clasic with a twist. And comfort has always been part of it, why feel uncomfortable in your clothes during the day? I found that thoses clothes left my wardrobe quickly.
    I find the outfits in your photos overwhelm the slight frame of the model and they are to me too reminescent of the overseized look of the eighties. A trouser suit with culottes would be fun though. Good luck in your endeavour.

  15. This post highlights the difference between fashion and style. If we are lucky enough to have ‘style’ then fashion becomes a side issue. Even with a wardrobe you are largely happy with the addition of a few new key pieces changes everything. It would be very dull to maintain the same style forever – we all evolve and its lovely to see your changes.
    There must be something in the air as I have had most of my wardrobe out this morning doing an edit 😃.

  16. I really like your inspiration pics. I think it’s good to re-evaluate every once in a while. 🙂

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