Thinking about the casual wardrobe: Part 2.

Before my recent holiday I started a discussion about the casual/weekend/retirement wardrobe. And what interesting comments you made.

Annie mentioned that she likes to

“keep workwear and weekend wear separate as much as I can, a hangup from a ‘Sunday Best’ upbringing….When I’m home the first thing I do is change into joggers and tee shirt”.

My first tailoring tutor, who always wore exactly the same burnt orange “costume” (ladies two piece suit) every Wednesday for our class, said she always took off her bra and girdle and changed into her night wear as soon as she got home every night to save her smart, beautifully hand made garments from any unnecessary wear and tear.

That made me think. I have a strong internally conditioned view that being “smart” is socially required – to be taken seriously, to show respect, to fit in. I think the discussion about casual/off duty/weekend/retirement wear amongst people who sew (and therefore probably care more than the average about how they look) takes us into interesting territory and much of it is tied up with how we see ourselves and how we want others to see us.

Annie explains that when she goes out “I’ll wear a casual comfortable outfit that looks nice then, if I should happen to meet anyone I know, at least I look a bit different.” She admits she has been seen in her “manky” fleece jacket on walks, and cringes in embarrassment. But actually ones ability to go out in a manky fleece is perhaps more to do with our wardrobe personality. I could not bear to be seen in a fleece either. If my clothes don’t look right I feel awful all day and go home and change if I can. But then I am pretty much a classic dresser. A natural would be quite happy in the fleece.

Stephanie has a similar approach:

“On the weekends I usually throw on jeans or casual trousers and a buttoned shirt and handmade sweater if it’s cold… I have a weird thing in that if I dress neatly in good clothes as soon as I get up I feel I use the day more effectively than if I stay in sloppier lounge wear! I might be the only person who only wears tees to sleep or lounge in and grubby stuff for cleaning or painting. If I go out I throw on interesting shoes or short boots and a favourite coat.”

I know what you mean Stephanie. To me there is quite a difference between the first couple with their baggy neutral jackets, boring jeans and trainers. And the other two who are wearing lipstick, interesting accessories and they are also warm and comfortable. Maybe the muff is silly, maybe the bulky handbag is a drag. But you could replace the muff with fur gloves and the frame bag with a silver back pack or a colourful, embroidered shoulder bag and still look cool, interesting and practical.

Mary developed this idea:

Dresses are the most comfortable for me. In winter a dress, tights, and boots are easy and comfy and can be made to look smart with a scarf or jacket. Most of my winter dresses are made from wool or thick jersey. In summer I like loose dresses made in linen. I …feel most ‘me’ in a dress. I think all garment styles can be worn in a casual or formal way. Fabric and texture play a big part in delineating between the two. ..I like to look put together too when I go out.

There are lots of patterns that fit this type of life style – Sam suggested Australian company Style Arc had lots of options, and I think these are brilliant examples of comfortable, practical and simple shapes that depend on using nice fabrics and pairing with good accessories.


Now let’s hear from Hila, who also participated in Me Made May, and got thinking about what she wanted in her wardrobe.

I reached a similar realisation at analysing MMM – a lack of casual loungewear. I am thinking on how to address this as well so will be looking on for ideas. I love whipping jersey tops (+ dresses) in 30mins on the overlocker and I could easily exclusively wear jersey if it wasn’t for the fact that I love challenging techniques (read high achiever). Have you seen the Hudson pants – they look very comfy and could be dressy weekend wear in a really nice silk jersey.


Karen K makes a similar point, and one I am sympathetic to myself:

“I do love a good plain t shirt but they’re so boring to make.

I think they may be right that, again using very simple patterns (I could draft these myself quite quickly, although £7 seems a reasonable price), and maybe they are a bit more interesting than my Uniqlo standby (£12).

Annie tells me she ” aspires to Eileen Fisher separates and a cashmere cardi” so I had a look at their range. Using ethical fabrics and simple silhottes these ladies do look smart and relaxed, although the very limited colour palette (navy, white and beige) is a bit restricting.

Let’s sum it up. We like

  • comfort
  • simplicity
  • elegance
  • nice, luxurious, soft fabrics
  • a mix and match somewhat pared down wardrobe
  • a restricted palette most of the time, at least a good range of neutrals
  • things we can whip up on an overlocker


we also like

  • looking good
  • looking well turned out
  • sophisticated and classy (especially if we are older)
  • being a bit different/creative and having fun

For myself there is something else. I like a good fit.

This can be achieved with stretchy, jersey fabrics, but it can also be constructed – through excellent fitting and the use of good underlinings, linings and interfacings. And this is where I differ from sewists who love their overlockers and yards of jersey. I feel wrong in sloppy clothes. I don’t know if it is a fear of showing the lumps and bumps or if it just feels like underwear. I think I like jersey when it clings and reveals, but there are not many areas of my body where I would be happy to show off my underlying shape (I don’t mind with tops too much). But if I want to disguise I think I would rather use a woven, even with a bit of Lycra in it, to create an optical illusion, rather than wear a baggy jersey top or lots of waterfall pleats/ruching etc.

The other thing that is very personal is that, like Hila and Karen, I like a challenging project. I prefer to take my time, to think things through, to think of a look or find a picture of exactly what I want. And then I will make it “from scratch” – a bit like a proper meal, rather than a take away or a ready meal. My interest in pattern cutting came about because I wanted a good fit. But more recently I admit I get a huge kick from seeing something, wondering how it is made, working it out, persevering with the fit and style, until I am happy with my efforts. Although I absolutely get why so many love the instant pleasure of making something today and wearing it tonight, I am not averse to spending a month on a garment.

Joyce, who wrote so nicely about individuality in retirement (she is an artist, sculptor and photographer), made a great suggestion:

Why don’t you make your weekend wear to suit your new house on the water front? Why not have this setting for your next collection?  A wardrobe that suits the location and lifestyle – in your colours – the clothing in the vibe of your new home!

Joyce I love this idea. Thank you. I will have a go and let you know how I get on. Thank you.










12 Responses

  1. Ruth

    This first thing I do when I come home from work at the end of the day is to take off my shoes! To me, footwear finishes the outfit. Very interesting to read how other people ‘see’ themselves and how they dress.

  2. Michele

    As I read this, it made me think about my own wardrobe. I too have a work wardrobe and a home one. Work is mainly dresses or trouser days when I know I’ll be on scaffold or surveying. All RTW. Home, I confess to owning many fleeces but funny enough I only wear them and similar clothing when I’m pursuing my passion climbing, camping etc. But even then I don’t wear them as a uniform, as I don’t feel the need to wear them to fit in. I am also having real problems with my weight and body shape as I am now a ‘lady of a certain age’ and have found that I have gained weight and having real trouble moving it, so now learning how to eat smaller portions and throwing my body around to Davinia’s DVDs – not a good look. So as I always change when I get home I do put on lounge wear much to my chagrin as its out of necessity rather than preference as I would prefer to wear, what I call clothes. I have only gone back to sewing after many years and intend to achieve manly made by me clothes, to achieve this I was lucky enough to find a teacher and now attend classes, to bring my skill set up. As I want well constructed and fitted clothes too, otherwise what’s the point? I’m a bit of a slow sewer as a result. I’ve also drafted my own trouser and blocks as I really wanted to learn about construction too and to be truthful as I realised it was probably easier to make trousers from my own block than hack a pattern to bits for my current fit. So I’m on my way to the wardrobe that I imagine (can’t afford, expensive taste), and to top it, well fitting. I won’t bore you with, colour, texture, details, classic, avant gard.

  3. eimear

    totally agree, little by little my wardrobe is becoming handmade, and the clothes I wear everyday are comfortable and I think reflect ‘me’ better than any store bought. I am finally getting around to making a casual windcheater (I hope) as I too have a manky number that I ‘have’ to wear at certain points of the summer…

  4. Stephanie

    Kate this is a master class on how to write an engaging summary piece of different views. Very interesting material and an interesting subject. PS I also dislike it if I feel uncomfortable in what I am wearing, or even uninspired. I haven’t gone home to change in many years but it is something I have done in the past if I didn’t feel at ease or inspired by what I was wearing. I am fascinated by the connection between how we feel in our clothes and our focus and productivity in what we do.

  5. Annnieloveslinen

    Interesting to see all our preferences put together, I have a hard time knowing what I want in clothing but I know I can’t sit around the house or clean in clothes I wear for work, nor do I over wash my work clothes either. Now I’m thinking that I’ll have to revise my outlook because when I retire I want to wear clothes I feel good in. Clothes have always been tremendously important to my self image I’ll still need my ‘fix’ when I don’t go out to work.

    Ps feel a bit sick at the result, I honestly didn’t see that coming. I saw Carole Ann Duffy and others performing yesterday and it was a shared emotion throughout the theatre.

  6. Joyce Latham

    Totally agree with Stephanie – well written post!
    I’m so excited about your plans for a casual wardrobe. I’m excited to see how you will communicate who you are, and where you live. The world is a stage….Somehow I don’t see you going for limited colour ,but I do see you going for lots of “no fear” style.

    Some retirees have their pjs on by 6:30 pm! And that’s after wearing sweats and T’s all day.
    Personally, I like my pjs to match the sheets. There is something about sliding into a bed of the same colour!
    By the way…any more news from the lake front?

  7. Anne Frances

    A very interesting discussion. Thank you. When I was working I have to say that the most changing I ever did when I got home was to take off a tailored jacket and put on a cardigan. And I doubt if I wore trousers to work above a dozen times. Now I am retired I live in trousers (not jeans – I don’t own any) and shirts – not T shirts, collared woven shirts, layered with a tidy merino cardigan or a cashmere sweater. I wish I could wear skirts or dresses more but I really don’t like any kind of skirt without between about 4 and 6 cm of heel and finding shoes like that for my narrow- heeled, wide-toed, one-bunion feet is truly a nightmare. I can wear flat lace-ups with trousers,
    Are you being a little harsh on the left hand couple in your picture? They are clearly on a hilly path, and I would be wearing walking boots, treking trousers and fleece or goretex for that, so my critique would not be that it looks boring but rather that jeans and trainers are not the right gear for that activity! All very thought-provoking.

  8. Lynn Mally

    Well, I am retired and feel very comfortable in my clothes. Since I was a casual dresser to begin with, not all that much has changed. Instead of the tailored jackets I wore when I worked as a university professor, I now wear a softer third layer when the weather requires one. I only wear pants and tops. And my clothing “philosophy,” such as it is, remains the same–simple cuts, interesting fabric.

  9. BMGM

    I live in the US and like the Eileen Fisher aesthetic in theory. I love the luxurious materials and textures. But, did you notice her range doesn’t include prints?

    My office is in an iconic building that also serves as a public science museum. We also get architecture buffs and outdoor enthusiasts who hike the trails that surround the building. In the 1960s, when they planned the building, they thought that the scientists would all be men and, thus, did not put women’s bathrooms in the areas where the scientists work. I have to walk to the public restrooms several times a day.

    This is a long way to say that I encounter little girls who dream about becoming scientists when I walk around my office building. I feel a responsibility to look like someone they could imagine becoming. That means professional, accessible, appropriate, personable… It’s not quite as difficult as dressing for Hilary Clinton, but it still stresses me out.

    Add that I ride my bike to work (or the shuttle stop) several days a week and our lab is in a notoriously windy spot at 6,100 foot elevation. We recently lost our claim to the highest wind gust measured in the continental US. Fleeces and long nylon parkas are necessary in the winter!

    In the winter, RTW trousers and my own handknits are my uniform. In the summer, me-made tops and RTW or me-made shorts or skirts.

    The first thing I do when I get home is to take off my shoes. Then, I might put on a me-made apron with big pockets. The apron is kind of like a home version of a lab coat. (We used to tie-dye our lab coats at Berkeley to personalize them.) I use fun prints, and the large pockets are super handy.

    Have you read the Triumph of Individual Style?

  10. Christine

    I love classic and plain. But most of all I love comfort so fit is often about making clothes with room for lots of movement. I garden and walk a lot on local lanes. So though I get the contrast between the photographs I feel that the beautifully dressed ‘casual’ women were dressed for town not country. And that the couple in jeans were appropriately dressed for where they were.
    I love to look good and am working to make a wardrobe that can take a lot of abuse and washing. As someone retired in rural France I find that a wardrobe of lovely, smart dresses is a waste as opportunities to wear them are very few and far between. I love the idea that you should make a wardrobe for your new house. Be interesting to see what you come up with

  11. Jay

    Interesting post Kate, and a good summary of the options. When I worked I was juggling child care, and other family responsiblities, and tended to go for clothes which went with everything – ie neutrals, mainly black. That colour range circumvents all the ‘unprofessional’ hurdles and avoids challenging anyone’s idea of good taste. The biggest change now is that I can pick colours and styles here and there like ‘several species of medium-sized, usually colorful and noisy, passerine birds in the crow family’, ha ha. Two important things which play into clothing habits in retirement are environment and shoes. (Bear with me). If you walk the dog as I did this morning down a deserted country lane whilst the neighbours slept, fleece and sweats are practical. If I exited onto a busy street I’d certainly have tried harder.
    Shoes, what fits, how comfortable for how long and if they work with the skirt length and fabrics as well as the colours can dictate whether or not an outfit works.

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