One of my all time favourite blogs is Fit for a Queen, where the intrepid Mrs Mole takes a range of off the peg, designer, heirloom and unusual wedding dresses and alters them to fit her variously shaped clients. She always succeeds, in my opinion, in making the brides look pretty good, despite the sometimes less than promising raw material.
This is quite a skill, especially given the attitude of some who are approaching the big day. Frayed nerves, overstretched budgets, miserable diets, family pressures and there being just too much to do can make it hard to make sensible decisions. My two sons and daughter in law are in Australia at the moment celebrating the marriage of Elizabeth and Clive.
Earlier this year we attended the lovely wedding of Maria and Adam (below) and we are looking forward to Kate and George’s wedding later this summer. I therefore want to offer a little advice on wedding dresses if you, or a loved one, is getting hitched this year.
The wedding market is worth $72bn in the US alone. A survey by Brides magazine shows UK couples spend around £30,000 on their wedding. I believe if you say you want something for a wedding – from venue to menu – the price goes up. Myself, I would not spend more than about £200 on a dress. For my first wedding I made a suit in a good quality crepe wool; for my second I got a nice dress from a high street shop for £55. It is an important day, everyone will be looking at you and you want to look your best. But unless you are a celebrity you do not need to spend £1000s a dress you will wear once. Keep some perspective – you have so many other more important things to spend your money on. If you making your own dress you can buy beautiful fabrics within this budget.
If you are buying a dress rather than making it (and just ask Anne who made sensational bridal outfits for her three daughters how much time, work and stress is involved), there are some very nice dresses available on the high street. Have a look at Top Shop, Whistles, ASOS, and H&M.
Once you have a budget you will want to think about the type of look you want. The modern preference is moving away from Disney princess approach to a sleeker, paired down look that is also more wearable for less formal settings such as barns, beaches and country house hotels. But while fashion and preference is important working with your body shape is important too. My main piece of advice is choose a style of dress that is similar to the dress shapes you already like and wear, in terms of silhouette. The three types of figure – the hourglass, the straight shape and the slightly shaped figures all have an ideal type of full length dress.
A wedding dress will generally make the bride look feminine and desirable – the length and close fit of the dress will make her look taller and slimmer. The light colour will reflect light onto the face and make her look younger and fresher (of course most brides are already young and fresh!). However some people do get it wrong. Princess Diana wore a style of dress that would have suited a curved figure (and it was two sizes too big for her). The second image of Diana in a column dress shows a much more flattering choice.
All images from Davids Bridal.
Shaped, curvy figure
Look for a dress with a fitted bodice, a defined waistline and a relatively full skirt. If you are full in the bust avoid high neck styles – – a lower cut is more flattering. The classic ball gown is probably your best look. You can wear softer, drapey fabrics, and curved hems.
A fit and flare dress will work well, as will princess seams. Emphasis on the waistline is good but make it smooth and uncluttered. A fitted bodice with a high waist can create a nice, balanced look.
If you are slim make the most of your shape with a column style dress. Look at dresses that are slim through the hips and thighs, perhaps “cupping” the butt. A halter neck, deep V or mandarin collar, will probably look good. If you have a straight figure but carry more weight try the dropped waist look, with fullness coming out from your relatively slim hip line can be very pretty. Stiffer silks and other fabrics will look better than the softer, draped fabrics.
White is the colour that will make you look larger than usual – wider and taller – especially if you dress in a full length style. This is the whole point of wearing white – you will stand out and appear to fill the space, larger than life. A very full skirt, or a long train, will again make you bigger than the congregation and cement your position as the centre of attention. The dark suit of the groom will tend to enhance the contrast and again help you to stand out. If you want to look taller and slimmer high heels and a creative headdress will add length.
The exact shade of white you choose is related to your colouring. People with cool, bright or deep colouring will look best in the brightest whites – often easier to find in synthetics rather than natural silks. People with warmer complexions will look lovely in the natural, warmer, creamy whites. And if you have muted colouring the very slightly greyed off white will look best – also very light greys, pinks and blues may appeal.
Shiny white fabrics will make you look even larger, as will lace and other textures. Consider avoiding them if you want to look slimmer.
I frequently fill in forms that promise an opportunity to win a holiday, or something to do with sewing. But I do so knowingly – the company’s main aim is to promote their product and collect email addresses. I was on the mailing list of William Gee because I had bought some pocketing material. It was good quality and a fair price and it came quickly in the mail. But I find it hard to get enthused about white cotton fabric that never sees the light of day. It is stable. It is closely woven and thick enough to withstand wear and tear. It is not so thick that it shows. So William Gee is a firm I would go to for a dependable but not awfully exciting product. That is fine. When I saw that they were offering a chance to win a parcel of various haberdashery items I thought “why not?” and answered a couple of simple questions. So did 700 other people. Which is quite interesting if you ever want to run a quiz, prize draw or give away.
And, on this occasion, much to my surprise, I won!
Marketeers will tell you that giving a free sample to try – be it a skin cream or a soya yogurt – is the best way to get people to buy. We rarely purchase something we have never tried before, without a trial or personal recommendation. But haberdashery? Is there any difference between suppliers? Bias binding, a zip and sewing threads are pretty standard, and you do get what you pay for.
So what was my prize?
I will show you what I won in a moment. Everything was packed in a one of three boxes and this gave me a real sense of going through someone else’s selection of trimmings. Like getting your grandma’s bits and bobs and finding some real gems in there. The selection was nicely put together and the quantities were generous, but some of the items were neither “all the rage” as Beatie put it, nor truly vintage.
However all sewing enthusiasts love and need interfacing, bias binding, ribbon, rick rack, separating zips, jeans zips, buttons, braid, little bows, elastic, lining, interfacing – what an exciting gift. And one I was thrilled to get.
There were some great items in the boxes and I opened and examined the contents with a great deal of interest, excitement and gratitude. So here is what I plan to do. Once a month I will make something entirely from the box (except for the fabric – which I have more than enough of already!) As I seem to have gone off the boil a bit with my sewing I am hoping this haberdashery haul will stimulate my sewing creativity once more (alongside Ruth’s charming gift perhaps?)
My first project is to create a pleated skirt using a pattern in Sew magazine. The red and white sample is made up in a John Kaldor linen (£16 p/m). I decided to use my piece of John Kaldor linen (£8 p/m from Simply Fabrics), adding the interfacing, white bias binding and zip from William Gee. The pattern calls for a 9″ invisible zip but I will do a hand-picked one on this occasion (and will shorten the zip too). It looks like a simple job so maybe something I can accomplish over the Easter weekend. I might even have time to work on my coat.
I will be doing Me Made May 2017. Will you?
This is a longstanding initiative by Zoe, or So Zo, to try to encourage sewists to wear the items we make, and to show (on Instagram or blogs) how the hand made items are combined in our wardrobe. I did it last year for the first time and found it quite illuminating. Of course there are lots of people who have entirely “me made” wardrobes, and newer sewists who only have a few summer dresses, but everyone can join in with their own criteria.
This year, as I have knitted a few jumpers since May 2016, I want to try wearing a hand knitted item everyday, usually combined with a me-made item from my sewn wardrobe. It may be a bit warm (as we often have a few nice days in May – in fact we have already had a few blooming amazing days during April. It was 24.5C yesterday) so this is only an aspiration. But as I often leave the house before the sun is up I can include a jumper instead of a jacket I think.
I have knitted seven items now – two for Gus – but five for me. And I will have done two more by 30 April. The mauve and brown Holsten (being constructed above) and I hope the Sloper top, previously mentioned, although the pattern is not out until 1 May. I feel sure it will be a quick project. My existing hand-knitted tops are mainly warm, except for the red and white striped T shirt which, so far, has been very little worn. Probably because of our cool climate. The other four have been worn a great deal – most days in fact.
What about the Fara Raglan you might ask? This is a retro looking, Fair Isle type jersey, with lots of different colours in it. The problem is the end is in sight – I am doing the ribbing at the hem (it is a top down top), and after that only have the short sleeves to complete. But it looks too small as the yarn has pulled the fabric tight, and I was nearly finished before I figured out how to manage the tension and swap colours using both hands to knit with. So I am thinking of just throwing it out (or maybe unravelling it, but the yarn was not expensive and doing colour work means it is chopped into small pieces). However I am very keen to do some colour work. A dear friend has noticed that I have “modern minimalist tastes” in knitting patterns, which I guess is true – there is a remarkable amount of stocking stitch there (and for Gus too). I must admit that I really like the top down, yoked, raglan sleeved approach Ankestrick uses (and the Fara), as I not yet competent at seaming.
My three remaining sewing projects might be finished by May, but one of them is a coat! I may make up the nice Burda dress, but my fancy has been captured by a dress I saw in a designer shop. I wouldn’t want to copy this exactly, but I love the prints together. And I love pink, yellow and blue together. I may produce some silk samples for a patchwork or multi-print dress. I have been wanting to create something like this for ages. Maybe this summer, especially if I get an invitation to a special event of some sort.
(I know – it looks like she is wearing an electronic tag).
I am not sure how wearing hand made clothes and knits will work out – but it is an interesting Me Made May 2017 challenge for me.
Sadly our jewellery making class is over. It was such fun and so enlightening. And each of us made three items – two rings and a pendant. My final piece is a little cabochon set ring, made with silver wire. The cabochon is a semi spherical gem stone, and the setting is the way the stone is held to the ring. I used a ruby and Nick chose malachite. Jo, one of the other students had an amethyst. These are not high quality gems, but they are pretty and unusual.
As usual there was lots of sawing and soldering, bashing and polishing.
And the end result was really marvellous. I love my new ruby ring and I wear it with my wedding ring. And Nick has a lovely set for Charlotte’s birthday. I am so pleased how our work came out, and I would really recommend this course at Morley to anyone who wants to make some really nice items and also learn basic jewellery making skills.
So what shall we do next term? You may remember I laid out the options in a previous post. And I was interested in your reactions. The vast majority went for shoe making. I am not suprised. Making shoes is such an interesting idea and creates something that can be worn to complete an outfit. I used a really nice illustration photograph and I expect that choice betrayed my own long standing interest in shoe making. While I think I have mentioned my father’s involvement in the textile industry I don’t think I have mentioned my mother’s background. Her father and brothers ran a company called Ashworths Slippers from Albion Mill in Bury Lancashire. It was established in 1938 as Ashworth’s Ltd., Albion Mills, Elton, Bury; Shoes and Slippers. Long since closed it was a place I spent many a happy day as a child. I have a deep seated love of factory life as a result of these many expeditions to see how things were made. I searched for a photograph of the mill, which I cannot find at the moment, but will look again. However I found a little piece of my family history at the Victoria & Albert Museum! Fancy!
I remember the Gymbo brand, also Raymar (made from my Uncle Raymond and my mother’s name Margaret), Chiccles (a kind of desert boot). So you wanted us to learn to make shoes and so did I.
But remember I only put things on the list that I would be happy to attend, and I sent the list to Nick.
- Printed textiles
- Creative writing
- Ballet (not a chance, but I keep putting it on the list)
- Patchwork and Quilting
- Jewellery Intermediate
- Drawing and Painting
- Shoe making
- Knitting and crochet
- Furniture restoration
- Saori Weaving
So what do you think he chose?
The Harlequin patchwork jacket was the inspiration for my final piece when I was doing my City and Guilds in 1987.
So, yes, you guessed it. Nick chose Patchwork and Quilting. I’ll let you know how we get on.
I recently posted my knitting plans, and I have made good progress.
I said I would make
- a petrol blue Heavenly sweater
- a dark green cashmere sweater
- a brown and green Holsten (just started, but it’s brown and mauve now)
- finish the Fara Raglan colourwork (which is somewhat beyond my ability and I may not finish)
(For the record, on the sewing front, I have cut out the red coat and done the pockets, but it’s at Rainshore and I am not going for a fortnight due to spending time with my Mum).
But while I had started to move on to the sewing, feeling I had more or less finished my knitting projects, a new knitting project has forced itself on me.
I follow a nice blog called Fringe Association. As I have been learning to knit it has been a great help. And last week Karen introduced the Sloper jumper she had designed. She named the jersey Sloper (or bodice block for us Brits) as it is very simple and basic, and can be altered to fit. She is going to release the pattern on 1 May and provide some information on how to change the elements of the design. This is what she calls a mini-knitalong. I like the basic pattern and wear this style, although I might prefer a longer, slimmer look. Maybe with 1×1 ribbing, and possibly with the back a little bit longer than the front.
I shared my plan with Esme. She says that it is too chunky and warm to be sleeveless. However you could wear it over a thin dress on a summer evening, or with jeans in spring or autumn, because your arms don’t feel the cold much. Also I imagined a short sleeve could be added. Or the big turtle neck could be omitted. Anyway I buy into the sloper idea.
The biggest revelation for me however was what this is knit from. Karen is using three strands of DK wool to create a really chunky look. I never thought of that! Combining thinner yarns to make a thicker one. This had never occurred to me, so I was very excited to try it.
Karen provided the following information
The gauge for the pattern is 2.5 sts and 3.75 rows per inch (aka 10 sts and 15 rows over 4″). You can use any yarn and needle combo that will give you that gauge, measured after blocking..The sample size is 38″.
I hastily knitted up a swatch on the biggest needles I had (7mm) but the square was too small.
I thought I might just knit the pattern for the 38″ bust with the smaller needles and it might come out closer to 34″ bust which would be better for me. But then I realised creating a swatch to the actual measurement might be a good thing to learn. And also to learn the basics of writing and adapting a knitting pattern. I can’t tell you how excited I am.
I have lots of odd DK yarns that would combine nicely for this project. The thickness of the yarn and the needles makes it very quick indeed. I think it would be a nice project for a beginner, and if I crack it I may make one for Esme too. The colours I have are very intriguing, allowing me to create a tweedy look, or maybe stripes.
Anyone else feel like having a go at this one?
Finally I wanted to just mention that Brenda, my internet friend, is having her surgery today at 1.30pm. Please send some happy, positive thoughts in her direction. Also her hair is growing back. That painted silk dress gets one step closer!
I have had a number of enquiries about painting on silk, especially in terms of materials and supplies. If you are interested in making colourful silk for a special blouse or dress this is a most satisfying and relatively easy technique. I posted how to do it here.
So, in order to encourage those who are thinking about having a try, and to satisfy those who already do it but want to do it on a larger scale, I will share the benefit of my experience.
I have bought quite alot of silk from Cheap Fabrics. The Habotai silk costs about £10 p/m. The satin, the crepe and dupion is £14-£16p/m. In my experience this is very good quality silk at the best possible price. You can find cheaper silk fabric but it is much lighter weight and not, to my mind, worth it. They also stock an expensive Duchesse satin fabric – £40 p/m. I might buy this for an evening or wedding dress. For stretch silk satin I purchased it from McCulloch and Wallis, but they don’t seem to have it any more.
Basically you need to buy natural silk if you want your colours to work well. But of course you can experiment with coloured silk which can be interesting if you paint with darker colours. Also you can use discharge paste to take the colour out. The negative of natural silk is that it can be creamy/yellowy. Strong colours will cover this up, but if you want really white you may find the satin is brighter white.
I imagine if you are in other countries you will find a good supplier of similar products.
I use iron fixed colours. There are other types – steam fixed – that you fix in the oven/microwave. I haven’t tried this product but there are excellent colours available. Do let me know if you have experience and recommendations with this.
The brands I have used and rate are Marabu, Pebeo Setasilk, Javana.
You can get small 45 gms bottles of silk paint in craft shops. So long as you buy a clear red, yellow and blue you can make most colours, especially if you get black as well. You can get lighter colours by watering them down. But I buy 250 grm bottles in a fair range of colours as I love making painted silk. A good supplier of large bottles of silk paint in every colour is the Silkcraft website. Silkcraft also sells silk for painting on, which I haven’t tried. If you choose the Habotai go for at least 8 or a higher number. The lighter weights are really not very nice for dress making.
I think I bought two sable Marabu brushes when I started. I am completely happy with these. One is thick and quick and one is fine and used for more detailed work. There are also Pebeo brushes available. I have also seen this product recommended – EFCO round synthetic brush size 8. I also have a 1″ brush that I got from Homebase that I have used for both silk painting and for wax. Ideally you should not mix the brushes you use use for wax, and the brushes you use for the silk. You can clean the wax with boiled water but it is not that effective.
You can use a resist (in this case hot wax) to protect the fabric and prevent the silk paint dying it. You can use the wax to create a pattern on the white fabric before you start, or to protect sections of work as you build up the colour. Very nice subtle effects can be achieved with wax and other types of resist. But it is not essential and I would not both with the batik techniques at first unless you have already used them for tie-dye and shibori work.
I have a wax pot, which I love. It costs about £45 so only worth buying if you love working with wax. You can warm wax in other kinds of vessels, but it is probably highly dangerous. You don’t need to use hot wax batik methods, but it is an extra layer of fun if you do. You also need to get quality wax granules although at a push you might be able to use candles. The idea with the wax is that it has the right balance between flexibility (including bees wax) and crackability (paraffin wax). The mix is about 30% bees wax and 70% paraffin wax, but you can mix it differently if you wish.
Wax needs a wax pot, wax, brushes or tjanting tools. Gutta also works as a resist. I requires no heat and is relatively clean and tidy (but it is not the same as wax which I love using).
Pebeo is a nice brand you can use straight out of the tube. It is a bit like putting icing on a cake. The gutta seeps into the silk and creates a barrier that you can paint within, and it stays in permanently. You can use it to create effects or to write on your work – just a signature or message, or even a kind of graphic effect. Then there is the washable gutta that creates a barrier while you are working but washes out (don’t forget to fix the colour with your hot iron first. As I did when I copied the Dali lobster – argggh!).
It is normal to use a frame. The basic idea is to stretch the silk across a frame, and hold it in place with pins that will not ruin the fabric. The tightness makes it easier to paint carefully and for no runs or mess to occur. But you can mock one up by using an old picture frame and specialist silk pins. I find the whole process time consuming and annoying, especially if you want to do a big piece of cloth, so I don’t bother with this stage at all. If you paint on a flat surface (in the picture above I have a large piece of fibreboard), protected with newspaper, you will get some bleeding and seepage but this can be managed by letting the colours dry before you apply the next colour. I also like the bleeding effect rather than creating outlines with gutta and then carefully colouring in, like making a picture.
When I started sewing I would often make a pattern, and then, as soon as I had finished I would make the exact same pattern again, but incorporating my learning. I would make changes to the pattern (using the first as a toile, effectively) but basically I wanted to capture everything I had learnt. Having perhaps struggled with the instructions I thought if I did it again I would figure where it was going, and this enabled me to strike out with confidence. But the chance to get it right, second time around, motivated me.
An architect told me the same thing. What kept him going was a chance to correct all the mistakes he had already made. Each building was better than the last, often incorporating elements he had discovered, developed and honed over the last few projects. Also I had a friend who told me about his dating history. When he chose a new partner he carefully avoided someone with the qualities he had come to dislike in the previous partner. Both these stories made me consider why I make lots of things twice. Even in jewellery making I wanted to make another pendant straight away to convince myself that I could do the same thing on another occasion, without a teacher. And you may remember I made two dolls (and not just because I had two grandsons). For me every first time is a bit rubbish, mainly because I don’t know where I am going. I cannot read the instructions through and have them form in my mind (I know some people can). I somehow can’t envision step 2 until I have done step 1.
So as soon as I had finished Heavenly #1, I needed to do Heavenly #2. I knew I had imperfectly understood how to do those stitches on the raglan sleeve line – large open holes in version 1 (below). I knew this wasn’t right but I didn’t understand the instructions. Also the radial increase stitches left an obvious mark in the fabric. So the desire to do better propelled me.
Also I really like the Ankastrick style – Heavenly it is very “me”. I was keen to discover if I made the same pattern in a different yarn (but same composition and weight) if the sizing would be the same. More or less, yes it is.
So the second version. I used Colourmart cashmere DK. A few people on here and on Instagram have asked for my feedback on this yarn. I have now done three jumpers in it and feel able to comment.
- It is, as far as I know, the cheapest way to knit with cashmere (not that it is cheap. It is about $40 for 150 grams). This jersey took less than 300 grams, maybe about 250 gms.
- Colourmart spin knitting wools from woven and machine produced knitwear yarns from well-known companies eg Johnsons, Burberry etc. They do a range of luxury fibres.
- The yarn comes coated in a kind of oil that makes it feel cottony, and not much like cashmere. Not all the yarns are the same quality – some are softer/fluffier than other types – you can buy a sample first.
- It needs a special kind of wash at the end. My best result has been to get in the shower, turn it on as hot as I can bear, then wash the finished garment by hand but with washing machine liquid detergent. Quite a lot of colour bleeds out and it need a fairly vigorous wash. More heat and more vigour than you would normally subject cashmere to.
- Then I squeezed out most of the water and left it to dry flat.
- I gave it a little time in the sun, just because it was a nice day.
Even though this was my second version I still made a few mistakes at the start, with the short rows and not counting accurately. But i got the increase stitch right and my eyelets are much “cleaner”. It is so nice and simple to finish. Just four threads to be woven in and it’s ready to wear! The yarn I used is left over from the jersey I made for Gus. For some reason I ordered at least twice as much as I needed so I not only have a matching top, I also still have some left! I will have to use it up for a third project. Luckily I really like forest green! Apart from anything else it goes with my no-waste skirt. And our “garden”.
And finally I can’t believe that Mrs May is serving our Notice to Quit the EU on my birthday.
Regular readers will know that one of my prime motivations in life is to keep on learning. Even on my death bed I will be interested in studying its effects and its impact on those around me.
I like dressmaking and pattern cutting as there is always something new to learn and stretch me. This year I have really learnt several new skills – especially making pockets, and knitting. And I have been logging my jewellery making classes where I have now made three items (I will share the second ring soon). The best development over the past few months has been learning alongside my husband Nick. This has, itself, been a learning experience. I was pretty surprised that he was rather good at doll making, especially in terms of using a needle and thread. His precision didn’t hold him back, in fact it produced a finer product. I was also impressed by his willingness to tackle a “feminine” craft and especially how his connection with his granddaughter Maia was strengthened through making something for her. At the jewellery class Nick’s skills are superior to mine – he loves the tools and most of the skills are familiar to him already. Although he doesn’t wear jewellery himself, he has been making items for his daughter Charlotte, so she will be getting a ring and a pendant for her birthday. Isn’t that nice?
The jewellery making has been lots of fun and we are considering returning to the same great class, with the same great teacher, at Morley. Nick has really enjoyed the process – cutting, filing, soldering, hammering, polishing and finishing. I found it very exciting, especially how ingenious the methods were and how varied the tools. But I found the sawing and filing pretty hard work and I guess my hand-eye coordination is not that good. The second term (intermediate) starts with an optional project to learn a new skill, allows the student to do their own design, with a second interesting technique being introduced after half term. The initial project this term, for the intermediate students, was riveting, followed by reticulation.
So I asked him if next term he wanted to do another course, and he agreed.
These are the options
- Basket making
- Textiles (probably digital)
- Creative writing
- Ballet (not a chance, but I keep putting it on the list)
- Patchwork and Quilting
- Jewellery Intermediate
- Drawing and Painting
- Shoe making
- Knitting and crochet
- Furniture restoration
- Saori Weaving
Most of these are courses in London, where there is tremendous choice. But we have been looking at what is available near our new Cotswold home, although with summer coming we want to get outside really.
I have given the list to Nick as everything on it appeals to me! Having created a short list I am intrigued to see what he choses.
What course would you do, given the chance? And what about doing a course with a friend, spouse or child? Esme and I attended a couple of courses at Goldsmiths a few years ago – I did Introduction to Journalism while she did Sound Engineering. Gus and I went to Short Story Writing together. When our teacher read out the register she called my name “Kate Davies”. I said hello. Then she read out “Gus Davies – no relation!” thinking only that there must a coincidence of surname. Gus had to say “Actually she is my Mum!” That was such a fun class and it was illuminating for me to appreciate Gus’s take on books, styles, genres and writing. This week he heard he had been accepted to do a degree in Linguistics and French at Birkbeck (2-3 evenings a week over four years). I am so happy that he is going to study a subject that really interests him, alongside his job.
Many dressmakers are attracted to patterned fabrics – unsurprisingly as making garments in black or navy is not very exciting, even though most of us wear neutrals most of the time. But while we make clothes with gaudy fabrics, flamboyant prints, and loud colourful cloth, many of us have difficulty in integrating them into our wardrobes. (I have been meaning to write about this topic since 10 August 2014!)
The most obvious, and safest way to wear pattern is to use it in accessories eg a scarf, bag, or a tie. A little more adventurously I like a patterned blouse or shirt with a business suit. More daring is to wear a skirt, trousers, jacket or coat in an obviously patterned fabric, but most people will pair this with neutrals or at least one plain colour that matches the pattern.
Much more challenging is when we wear more than one pattern at a time – clashy-clashy. Which is why this is a rare look, certainly in London. I really enjoy seeing people, often the highly confident or the artistic, putting outfits together with more than one pattern. I look out for mixed patterns on the tube and always give the person a virtual high-five when they nail it. In fact wearing “clashing” outfits with many prints is almost a faux pas – implying you come from a different culture, or may even be socially or mentally inadequate. I really enjoy those accidental pairings that I photographed in Romania, and love naive choices of kids who are allowed to choose their own outfits. Yellow sweater, pink swirly skirt, frog wellies and a hat. Designers often pair toning patterns to good effect, and artistic types just know what works together.
The high street has some good patterned offerings at the moment, just asking to be combined artistically. These high street outfits (featured in the Evening Standard magazine) really appealed, despite the somewhat pyjamay vibe.
In the photo below (from 2014) I am wearing two patterns together – trousers with a scarf (on a camping holiday by the looks of it!). I may or may not have on a navy and white Breton striped T-shirt as well. I love these two textiles together as they both have a light navy background and pink flowers on them. The colours of the scarf are stronger and brighter than the trousers but they look nice together in the same way that a garden looks good together. Lorraine – a dear colleague from work always dresses beautifully, embracing colour, pattern and interesting jewellery. Although in her case the two fabrics are not as similar as the two I chose, the ditsy flowers on her dress and scarf are similarly orangey pink and green. Like me she has neutral cardigan/jacket which doesn’t fight with the pattern. Maeve, a dancer who works at The Place in Euston, is wearing three patterns which again harmonise nicely. The scale of the flowers on her dress and cardigan are similar and although they are not the same design exactly they look a bit like we have two colourways of the same fabric. For warmth and additional pattern she has added an ethnic woven wrap. This introduces stripes and another set of colours. Finally I have a photograph of Sue, another amazing leader from Notting Hill Housing. Sue has mixed two check garments – an olive and black blouse under an orange and black pinafore dress. Here by playing with scale and using two colours (with black) that harmonise nicely Sue has got a really up to the minute, classic but individual, work look. I love it.
I am not really sure if there are any rules on pattern matching. It takes confidence to do it, and artistic people just know what works, even if it doesn’t. Here are some rules that seem to work for me.
- I like to have one predominant colour – blue for me, and black for Sue.
- Another approach is to stick to one colour group. Sue is wearing deep-warm colours that work well for her. Mine are bright and cool. This helps ensure a harmonious look even when two or three patterns are used.
- Think about scale. Narrow and wide stripes can work well together; equally the same scale but different colours. Sue has larger checks on her dress and smaller ones on her blouse.
- Florals tend to work well with other florals. So do stripes. Or checks (eg three tartans). Or polka dots. But I really like florals with stripes, as does Maeve.
- If you are really confident use at least three patterns. For a less edgy look try two patterns and a neutral like Lorraine.
Do you use patterned fabrics or do you prefer plain cloth? Do you ever wear two or more patterns together? What works for you?
I mentioned I was attending a conference in France last week and I put together a capsule wardrobe. I asked for suggestions and was grateful for your contributions. Many of you have travelled much more for business than I, so I had alot to learn. Some of my ideas worked well. Some less so.
So how did I get on?
Well I dropped the green evening skirt as many of you suggested it might be chilly in the evening. You were right! I included a pair of yellow trousers and a frilly pink over blouse instead. I made the cashmere jumper to match my skirt and took that.
Travelling to France. This involved an early train to the airport, a two hour flight from Heathrow to Marseilles, a two hour drive in France to Cannes, and a lunch on the beach at 1pm. The sun was shining brightly and it was pretty hot. About 20 degrees. Once we parked the car I took off the sweater and tights and put on the red shoes. On the beach I took off my jacket and had a brilliant meal with our Architects.
Day One – afternoon and evening
We had booked to stay at a nice Airbnb, a 20 minute walk from the centre. After lunch we drove to meet our host, parked the car and I was relieved to change out of the woolen skirt. I put on the linen culottes. Many of you had said that linen was too easily creased, but actually this garment was a real success. Cool in every way. I now wore the dark brown shoes with the culottes and no tights. Walking back to town in the afternoon I felt amazing. The sun on my back. The cute blouse with “ovoid” sleeves. The lovely loose skirt/pants and the fashionable shoes with kilt pin. We met several people we needed to see and made useful new contacts, and at about 7.30 I went to an important dinner organised by London First. The topic was about developing homes around transport links and the main speaker was from Transport for London. As my association had just been chosen for the first opportunity
Day Two – daytime
OK the shoes were not really appropriate for business wear. But I could not wear the other two pairs of shoes. So for most of the rest of the week I wore the trainers. Having learnt the lesson about freezing to death, that evening I came back to the apartment and changed into something warm.
Day Two – Evening
Day Three Daytime
More or less the same as Day one – but with a shirt, and the trainers.
Day Three evening
More or less the same as day two, but with a quirky pink over blouse. This is made from pink tulle and I have it on over the red short sleeved top. That evening I had a formal reception (where I kept my blue jacket on), then a relaxed dinner with friends. I was kindly driven to the reception by my hosts (a taxi with blackened windows…) so I was able to wear my heels – trainers were out of the question. But they came along in a leopard-print fabric bag so I could walk home. I felt a bit like Cinderella at midnight in my trainers, wooly coat and shoes in a carrier bag. I bumped into an important contact who found me, and my outfit, somewhat out of place. He insisted on taking my picture (See Day Two, but with pink tights!) Eeek.
So to sum up
Business Casual in warm weather
- Footwear, footwear, footwear. Men wear flat shoes suitable for walking distances in everyday. Even my most comfortable work shoes were uncomfortable with no tights in warm weather. I just didn’t have any appropriate footwear. I usually held eye contact and got my feet under the table as soon as possible. I need something like smart leather trainers.
- The south of France, in mid March, can be very hot. Take sunglasses and sunscreen. I had neither. I got a bit burnt.
- Even when you are in a sunny place it can be cold at night. Don’t hesitate to return to your hotel or flat to change into something more suitable. Next time we will book earlier for a closer location (see footwear above).
- Consider you warm wear as well as your cool wear. I would have liked a lightweight dress but the styles I prefer are not business like. Many ladies wore tight, sheath dresses which I feel are more “women on the stand” rather than female CEO, but that is my prejudice.
- I took a smallish, cross body, zip up bag. This was an ideal size but a little down market. Maybe the same thing but in leather. To go with the shoes, see footwear above.
- My colour schemes made an impact in a sea of men in navy suits/white shirts. I was complimented often on my red/pink tops, glasses, watch strap and lipstick. This goes to show that a conservative outfit (a navy suit and white blouse) can be set off with a few small colourful accessories. You don’t actually need to do much at all to stand out.
- Lots of people suggested scarves for warmth and as a good accessory. It may be just me but I feel scarves are a bit dated these days, especially as many men have given up the tie.
- Selfies are not very flattering or accurate, foreshortening the leg.
What about everyone else? I had to look quite hard to find anyone not in navy. Or female.