Comfortable clothes

posted in: Childrenswear, Style advice | 17

Recently I have been having an email discussion with RuthieSews about the question of comfortable clothing.

It is such an interesting question. In my view uncomfortable clothes are those which are made from irritating fabrics, or where the fit is wrong – too tight or loose.

When watching (not for very long, mind you) an edition of Big Fat Gypsy wedding, the commentator remarked that from a very young age the gypsy girls get used to wearing very heavy uncomfortable clothes, and they “never once complain”.

And this patient acceptance contrasted with my own early experiences. I am afraid I absolutely refused to wear wool at all, because it was “itchy”and uncomfortable. I never had a coat growing up, despite my mother’s many attempts to buy one for me, settling instead on a “windjammer” whatever the weather. She once produced a heather tweed coat, with a bit of maroon velvet on the collar, and tried to convince me that this would be nice and soft on my neck. To this day I would rather be wearing a zip up hooded jacket – my current ones are filled with snuggly down – rather than a scratchy coat.

I am pretty averse to discomfort. One of the reasons I rarely buy from Primark (except for the excellent stretchy cotton Ts) is that the sizing is so rough and ready. “8/10” anyone? And the fabric used is so skimpy (I found out why on a visit to a pattern cutting department) – in order to keep the prices low they save on fabric at every turn and this creates considerable discomfort in the wearer, with the grain twisting through the day and the hems pulling at every opportunity. I swear they are alive.

If you are a home dressmaker you can make clothes that fit, in the right size. You can choose fabrics that are soft, sensuous, strokable, gentle or delicate. When we say goodbye to RTW’s restrictions we soon create a truly comfortable wardrobe. One reason my middle son George wears grey track pants at home is that he finds them very much more comfortable than off-the-rack jeans which are cut a bit too narrow for his shape. If I really loved him I might make him a pair of jeans that were both soft and the right size and shape.

The fabrics I find most comfortable are the natural ones

  • cotton
  • linen
  • silk
  • non-scratchy wools next to the skin (eg cashmere)
  • feathers (best enclosed for warmth)
  • natural fur
  • leather

I also can’t stand tags inside my tops, scratching my waist or back neck all day. I cut them off even if it means restitching the side seams. I will not wear high heels, and in service of happy feet I will even wear (smart) trainers for work. I don’t think I could bear any constricting undergarments like Spanx or a girdle. In fact I can’t be doing with suspenders and stockings or even hold ups, except on my husbands’ birthday (joke). I like softer fabrics that feel nice when I pick them up and put them on.

However, and this is where I part company with some ladies, I don’t want to focus on comfort to the exclusion of all else. Here a famous actress dresses down with jeggings, Uggs, white vest and  unstructured grey cardi. She is pretty (and fully made up) but this is only one step up from appearing in your Jammies in public. I am sure I am not the only one who changes into my PJs, or something very soft and relaxed at home. At weekends I usually wear jeans and a T-shirt. We all do it, especially when we are not at work, but as competent seamstresses we can make comfortable, stylish clothes that we were not be embarrassed to be seen in.

cameron diaz in comfy wear
Cameron Diaz

The problem with a very “comfy” wardrobe is that it can look dishevelled and careless. People who put on what they took off yesterday, or stick to black or grey because it is easy, or always choose elasticated waists or stretch fabric can communicate a “couldn’t care less message”. They may hang on to clothes that are worn out and no longer fashionable just because they are comfortable. Unfortunately these items may make you look worn out and dated too.

In conclusion comfort – and fit – is of the highest importance unless you are having a gypsy wedding (in fact many wedding goers look uncomfortable at  with their head to toe outfits and fashionable high heels). But don’t use comfort as an excuse for looking like a slob.

Wayne and Waynetta Slob
Wayne and Waynetta Slob

17 Responses

  1. felicia

    I agree with everything you say, except that I like what Cameron Diaz is wearing, and don’t find it at all slobbish or pajamaish. I find it a well put together outfit. (I also bet she’s wearing about $1500 USD on her body — that looks like a cashmere cardigan to me) I struggle with the issue too of comfort versus appearance. I don’t go out to a job from 9 to 5 everyday, so I could literally be in pjs all day, or sweats, or fleeces. I’m hoping to find comfortable clothes that are also attractive and elegant through sewing.

  2. SewRuthie

    I had a very scratchy wool coat for school bought on Eccles market. The only way to wear it comfortably was to have other clothes between it and my skin so it never touched me. I would get carefully dressed with blazer, scarf (not wool) gloves etc. I wear some wool this way now with a long sleeved cowl necked top in a soft viscose knit underneath.

  3. Karen K

    Great post, that really resonates with me. I’ve only recently become aware just how much comfort defines what I wear every day, or maybe it’s just that is is moving up my list of priorities as I grow older. So, I make many more knit clothes than I used to, I choose my fabrics very carefully and I dress more casually. I don’t mind the Cameron Diaz look, just hate Uggs and their ubiquity. Love, love, also how “sports casual” has been translated into more formal daywear by the top designers. Burda magazine have produced some great examples in their last few editions. So, may it continue.

  4. Stephanie

    This is so interesting. My mum is like you and is fussy about wool coats. I have always loved them.

    I used to always get teased about being “too dressed up” because I would wear nice wool trousers or skirts and even jackets to university lectures. I have also always favoured nice leather shoes, with some styling (no uggs under any circumstances…Gianni’s comment is that the women who wear them, especially in summer, must have “cheese” feet.) For me, comfort has always meant both wearing fabrics that I love (always high-quality natural fibres) and that make me feel good, but also feeling that I look nice in what I’m wearing.

    I do wear t-shirts at this stage in my life, and am much more casual at this stage in my life than I used to be (I would never have considered wearing floral jeans in the past) but in general I don’t like wearing casual knits, as they make me feel sloppy, especially if they stretch out (e.g., knit dresses like the Moneta would never appeal to me, or the bodysuit that many seamstresses favour). It’s not a judgement of others who wear them, just that to me those don’t seem like “outside” clothing, unless you are going to ballet class. Something I find really unattractive and that is very popular here in Canada is wearing yoga pants out in public. Women say these are very comfortable and flattering to the bum and so they wear them out on weekends in lieu of pants or jeans. I think they look absolutely terrible, showing every panty line, unless one is actually going to yoga class. Not everyone in Italy looks great, of course, and there are some absolutely terrible looks that you can see there, involving sparkly and gaudy trainers in gold lame, for example (just my opinion), but I love that many women when they go out to run errands or go on a passegiata have clearly taken the time to put on a lovely outfit with nice shoes. Most women wear flats or low heels in Florence, probably because of the difficulty of walking on the streets, but they don’t tend to sacrifice beauty for comfort. Love it!

    • Birdmommy

      I live near a university in SW Ontario, and if I had a loonie for every girl I see going out into the world in yoga pants (or even worse, leggings and a cropped top), I would have easily paid for all of my 9 year olds summer camps!

      I am a big fan of knits, and have a pretty limited colour palette (my son calls grey ‘pastel black’ or ‘baby black’, and teases me about how much of it I wear). A part of me would love to be in a crisp cotton sundress, but then that part remembers the rest of my life, and I slip on something soft that skims the body.

      • Stephanie

        I completely understand choosing things that suit one’s life. I definitely think that knits can be nice and be done well. For me the yoga pants and leggings are simply a step too far!

  5. Lynn Mally

    It is a fine line between comfort and slob, indeed. It also depends on where you live. And although I know that this is not a popular view, I put elastic waist bands in my homemade pants and think they look pretty darn good. (My pants are not made out of sweatshirt material, though.)

  6. Jennifer

    Well. I would not have been one to “never once complain” about the massive getups those little girls are wearing. I complain even now (oh my poor husband) about uncomfortable clothes, and haven’t worn heels in years…but I still want to look “nice”. Haven’t mastered that yet. 🙁

  7. Susie

    I’m relieved to read that there are others like me, who cannot stand to feel the garment tag against your neck, etc. I have always been very sensitive to what touches me, and can easily fall into wearing exercise clothes or pajamas around the house. My son is the same way, and my daughter accuses us of having a neurological disorder. It is one of the main reasons I sew, to choose my own fabric and the best fit.

    I have never seen that TV show. It looks interesting.

  8. Anne

    Interesting discussion. My mother removes all her labels; unfortunately with a few disastrous consequences – she is registered blind. My husband recently asked me to remove them from a collection of new polo shirts (identical and, of course, green!) and I’m very sensitive to touch. I don’t feel as strongly about what people wear at leisure or while out on errands – though I think Tesco shopping in actual nightwear is taking it too far! Did you see that on the news – wasn’t even in the middle of the night! I don’t like Uggs but one of my daughters loves them and wears them in all seasons, or at least used to. I haven’t noticed them for a while now I realise.

  9. celeste

    This is such an interesting topic. To this day I can rarely wear any labels on my back; they drive me insane. Growing up, I hated wearing a standard petticoat because it always had scratchy lace on the bodice that would drive me to scratch and wiggle and complain. My mother started to make my petticoats plain and couldn’t understand how I could want something so unadorned (because my chest wasn’t a mass of welts and scratches, that is why!). I cannot wear wool next to my skin because I break out in hives; even merino and cashmere make me twitchy. I hate sequins because they are scratchy. I am rather a nightmare shopping mate, and will never make a best-dressed list (my feet are just as fussy). I have a great deal of sympathy for autism-spectrum children who are sensitive to such stimuli and cannot articulate it; it was hard for me to explain it. I am glad there are other people like me who just will not suffer for fashion.

  10. Bunny

    Interesting! I grew up in the Deep South before the dawn of air conditioning (yes, there was such a time) and literally spent my youth, as did my peers, barely dressed in anything. We never wore shoes except to school and church and it was glorious. Clothing was cotton or linen. Today, I don’t wear any uncomfortable shoes and spend much effort finding just the right ones. I cut tags out of all my clothes and I favor natural fibers. Comfort means a lot in my clothing but looking sloppy, not so much. I do come home from work, throw off the bra for a “house bra”, put on some comfortable pants, not jeans, for sure, and it feels so good. But where I live, company is rarely unexpected and if they are I definitely make myself more presentable. Comfort is huge for me but if I ever start going to the dark side of that concept, please hit me over the head and set up an intervention.

  11. Cherie

    Oh yes, those wretched scratchy tags in clothing! I once had my husband use the scissors on his ever-present tiny swiss army knife to cut out a tag in my blouse, and in public no less! Comfort is definitely key in good quality clothing; here in Phoenix, AZ, no need for wool, TG! But I wish I could afford more cashmere for those chilly times. And whomever invented the clear nylon thread to sew clothing and tags should be banished for life.

  12. mary funt

    Scratchy clothing tags are one of my pet peeves. I’ve actually woken up with minor scratches from a sleep tee I forgot to remove the tags from. Sewing your own allows for comfy fabrics and you certainly have control over the grain lines. I do love stretchy leggings for comfort but those who are well endowed in the hip area should seriously consider a rump covering top. I’m with you on the shoes too; no tottering around in high heels.

Leave a Reply