If you sew your own wardrobe how important is fashion?

I have wondered about fashion for quite some time.

Many people sew because they don’t want to wear what is fashionable at the moment, choosing instead things that suit them. Things they like.

While I wholeheartedly agree that sewing gives us more choices and flexibility, I have to admit I am fascinated by fashion. Always have been, always will be.  I read papers and magazines, I visit websites and shops and I take a very keen interest in what is fashionable right now. Not necessarily in order to follow it slavishly – for what is sadder than a fashion victim? – but to be inspired by it and to be in tune with the trends. Does that make me terribly superficial?

Ab Fab
Fashion Victim Edina

Yes, but.

The thing is we are all influenced by fashion to a greater or lesser extent. The way we speak, where we holiday, what we enjoy eating, what books we are reading, for example, are all influenced by fashions, fads and trends. We seem to have a real instinct for following the crowd. Very few of us are such determined individualists that we dress completely outside fashion, and eat only what we were fed as children (tinned spaghetti anyone?). Even nun’s habits change with the times (well some of them).

If you are like me you ask your your kids, young colleagues and friends what books are good, what films are worth watching – if you try something new, or are influenced by others – chances are you are following fashion. Everything from music to what we plant in the garden, best sellers to film genres, paint colours to coffee shop design, is affected by fashion and most people who claim to be impervious to trends are fibbing or deluded. In fact those that opt out completely are often believed to be (and may well be) mentally ill. If we don’t broadly conform to fashion then we will stand out – causing either ostracisation, or (if we are trend setting fashion leaders) others to copy us and follow our lead. Those that refuse to update their look soon look dated, and aged.

So of course what we make for ourselves is influenced by fashion – both directly and indirectly. Directly of course in the shape of pants or the length of skirts. Some Indie pattern makers become fashionable and people rush out and start making a specific dress or top. But also indirectly – we read blogs, or we see the latest patterns, we look at Instagram or Facebook, and we copy others or take some of their ideas that we like and think are nice. Of course in today’s globalised and connected world there are so many versions to choose from, but at another level we all want to look alike.

Take something like the “mom” jeans. These are denim jeans that are based on the high-waisted, full leg look that was fashionable in the 1980/1990s. Ten years later and men and women alike had ditched this look for skinny jeans instead – lower cut and with very slim legs. Anyone who was still wearing the high-waisted ones looked hilariously dated – hence the description Mom jeans – so terrible only your out of the loop, suburban mother would be seen dead in them. Then in 2015 the Mom jeans came back into fashion – this time ironically. We are so cool we can now wear the dreaded baggy pants and still look amazing…

So why do the modern Moms look so stylish and modern? Firstly we had grown very tired of the skinny jean and welcomed a change. When we saw the new shape (which was actually a moderated version of the 1990s style – a closer fit through the leg, rolled hems, no belts, much softer fabrics (often with Lycra), subtly distressed rather than crudely bleached, and with up to the minute footwear – brogues, high, strappy sandals or flatforms. So if you are hanging on to certain clothes that you expect will come back into fashion, believe me they never do. The old styles influence and inform, but they are subtly new at the same time. The name Mom jeans is an in joke, not a proposal to raid her closet.

Here is a question for you home dressmakers – do you find that commercial patterns are stylish and fashionable enough? I don’t. Here is a modern London-based company I really like – Finery. I would be happy to dress in their clothes which suit a casual business wardrobe. I don’t think it would be that easy to make a set of clothes like this using commercial patterns. I looked at what Vogue has produced this season as “new patterns” and the aesthetic is less fresh, aimed at an older age group, and just boring. The independent challengers – when they are good – may have one or two items that look stylish and youthful. The rest are derivative or recycled vintage looks without the irony.


39 Responses

  1. Mary

    You should try to get your hands on some ‘Cotton Friend’ Japanese sewing magazines! They have four issues a year corresponding with the seasons and keep up with modern shapes. Skirts similar to what you shared from Finery are in the new Autumn issue. And by going through my last two years worth of issues I could replicate most of what Finery has to offer. Rarely do the major pattern companies have current style lines going on. Sometimes a designer like Cynthia Rowley will do something modern but rarely. As we know, classics are good but it is nice to feel stylish and up-to-date with some garments. I admire fashion all the time and even though I know I have no place to wear that embroidered Valentino coat I still want to look at it and think about how it was made and how possibly I could make it too.

  2. SewRuthie

    Sometimes I would just like to make interesting knit tops etc that I see in the shops only with the fit tweaked to fit me. I can’t find the patterns. It is a bit frustrating. Burda magazine is quite fashion forward, at least they try to follow runway trends. A lot of it I would never wear!

  3. Ruth

    I’ve been shopping at Finery this summer. I like their slightly unusual styling and use of colour/fabrics. I’m always a season or two behind the times and do I care?

  4. Pia

    I think you’re right that it’s very difficult to totally escape the influence of fashion. Even most retro/vintage lovers don’t dress head to toe like people of bygone days! (Otherwise we’d see a lot more hats & gloves!) It takes a lot of courage to stick out & dress differently. But I’m grateful that Fashion is not as homogeneous & dominant as in the past, that there are so many different sub-groups to fall in with. I would be so bored if everyone dress the same way. I tend to tune out if a trend becomes too dominant, even if the first few examples are really appealing. Like the off-the-shoulder look that so many fashionable people are sporting this year. I think it’s possible to OD on too much of a good thing! 😉

    While I do love fashion magazines I’m so slow to sew up anything that by the time any trend is made it’s no longer fashionable! So I guess I consume ‘fashion’ for ‘more ideas’ than to be ‘au currant’. Some ideas are just so beautiful even when the Fashion people discard them for the next shiny new toy. On the flip side some new trends are so not my taste that I wouldn’t even bother clipping them much less copy them.

    As for sewing patterns I totally agree most of them don’t seem as interesting as what’s on the high street. Sometimes it’s the lack of interesting details, sometimes it’s the conservative cut, sometimes it’s just the timid styling and/or photography. So I’m amazed by creative sewers who manage to take these uninspiring patterns & turn them into something that looks so trendy. For example relatively new sewer Nikki Brooks-Revis of Beaute J’adore (http://mini-jadore.com/). She used to just modify existing Big4 patterns to be more on trend, but now has her own designs produced by McCall. Erica Bunker (http://www.ericabunker.com/) is also quite fashion conscious but still sew a lot of stuff from the Big4 patterns. Both of these ladies have curves, so I don’t think it’s a case of them looking like ‘fashion models’ that make their take on commercial patterns more fashionable. But it could be the styling & photography. Sometimes what makes an outfit fashionable is not the individual items but how you wear it / put it all together.

  5. Elaine Sabin-Simpson

    As I find that I hardly ever buy any clothing these days [except undies and socks, and neither of those very often] I don’t feel directly influenced. However, as Geri says, the fabrics that are available will be governed by what’s ‘in’ to some extent at least. I don’t buy fashion magazines any more, but I do look in shop windows, and I am on FB an awful lot, where you get a helluva lot of adverts flickering in the corner of your eye all day…
    As a lecturer, I also see plenty of teen fashions all day long, and believe me, they have no compunction about commenting, positively or negatively, on what I’m wearing. I mostly seem to get compliments, so as long as I’m not a complete eejit, and they’re laughing at me, I think I get it right. Of course, that’s largely choosing colours and styles that flatter, and we’re all pretty good at that I think.
    As for patterns- In keep telling you missus, StyleArc. They aren’t tied to seasonal styles, they bring out new ones all the time, and they are very aware of fashion trends. Try ’em, I bet you’ll find something you like.

  6. Anne

    I sew to try to get things to fit. Hopefully things that suit and are not terribly dated. I agree we are all affected by what’s in fashion one way or another. Fashion impacts what is available in shops, including fabric and patterns. I find that I am less comfortable in things that are way out of fashion even if they still fit (and, I confess, I still wear) but I am not attracted to the bulk of fashion – I didn’t get into skinny jeans – okay, largely because I couldn’t!! I’m suddenly more fashionable with the longer hem length but I never wore the shorter. I’m attracted to things, alas, that would have suited the younger, slimmer me but would look ridiculous now
    I definitely think you could make – and suit – the type of clothes you show from Finery (not a company I know). They are very nice but not what I need for my non-working lifestyle. I’m still working on that!

  7. Jane

    Thank you for mentioning Finery, I loved your pink loafers so looked them up straightaway and although I rarely buy new RTW there are a couple of things on their website that I am quite tempted by!

  8. Fifty Dresses

    Your post brings to mind the scene from The Devil Wears Prada where Miranda is berating Andie for her lack of insight into the wide range and pervasiveness of current fashion trends. As to current patterns, I think many of them lack the finesse of older, vintage ones (which can easily be “updated” for now). But aren’t we so fortunate to have so much to choose from, for any sewing level?

  9. helen

    Interesting post! Sometimes I think that maybe I am missing out on the latest fashions by making the majority of my clothes. I don’t really even window shop these days, actually I get the Boden catalogue through the door quite regularly. So I spend a lot of time looking at Breton style tees.
    You are right about fashions coming around again, the original is never quite the same. I have a pair of Levis 501 I have kept from the late 90’s which you would think looking at them would be mom jeans but the fabric is too thick and with no lycra they are uncomfortable.

  10. Stephanie

    I agree that we are all affected by the trickle down effect of fashion. I like to look at it and think about it, but am rarely an early adopter of specific trends. I probably update my wardrobe mostly via my jeans and shoes and subtle details. I like the wrap dress from Finery but I would think that something similar can be found in Burda (or will be available at some point). The Japanese magazines are interesting, but I am less attracted to architectural and oversized shapes in clothing so don’t try to emulate. Maybe where I can most easily find updated patterns is in the knitting sphere? I think you are right about sewing patterns in the big 4 and independent sphere anyway. Something to think about anyway.

  11. Martina

    Have you tried Style Arc patterns? They’re a small Australian company and their esthetic is very much in the Finery mode. Their Elizabeth top is almost a line for line copy of the tee with the paneled front in the Finery catalog. I’ve been making a fair number of their patterns lately. I agree about Vogue, they’re good for basics, but not so fashion forward as they used to be.

  12. Christine

    Such an interesting discussion. Yes, fashion influences everything that is available but looking good and being comfortable are why I make clothes. I also agree about the same boring ‘classics’ coming from the big four and the endless faux vintage and over simple patterns from the indies. (I am so not into vintage) Love Finery. Also Toast. And I would recommend Style Arc. Both style and drafting. For a more relaxed vibe Tessuti. Those Australians have something going there

  13. eimear

    I am a big fan of finery and even though I have not bought any new clothes since 2014….I could buy finery so very easily (it is not a rule for me, I have just started to prefer my own makes). I also will window shop occasionally but find a lot of shops have the same basic just different fabrics – labels like finery and cos seem to do interesting cuts, but few others I am pear shaped my waist was generally between 22 and 24 in my 20s, and yet I adored the androgynous look….which as you can imagine, never worked out – I now know that I feel comfortable in simple cuts, and soft tailoring,and I go on the theory that if you feel comfortable (but not jog pants type comfort) then it reflects in how you walk……. clothes are the back-drop, I dont want them to either dominate or detract. .

  14. Rowena

    I agree with the above comments about the availability of fabrics, which is particularly important for the slower rate of garment-acquisition of home-sewers. I find that the garments I made a few years ago are hard to match with newer ones, not because of styles, but because of the big differences in available fabrics and color trends. I’m addressing this by making more all-in-one outfits like dresses, and being more thoughtful about my fabric choices with an eye on whether this is a garment that I really want to last, like a coat or nice wool pencil skirt, or if I’m willing to view it as “consumable” in some sense.

    I’m also probably similar to others in that I keep a toe in the fashion pool, so to speak, by enjoying my pursuit of footwear. I think shoes have gotten a lot more fun in the past two years or so, and for the first time in my life I’m having real trouble keeping myself from buying more than I need!

  15. SJ Kurtz

    I stopped shopping because I couldn’t find anything to fit me. I love 40s/50s vintage, I love to sew, so current fashion is really of no real use to me. I enjoy the couture shows because they are more theater than functional clothing.
    There is no point in going to do something that will end in tears.

    What really kills me is that my feet got wider. Those pretty shoes don’t fit me either.
    Guess I need to learn to make shoes.

  16. Kim Hood

    As you identified we are all influenced by fashion to some extent. I don’t slavishly follow trends but I do look and pick out elements I think would suit both me and my lifestyle.
    I agree with Fairy, check out Style Arc – and keep up the pattern cutting!

  17. Catherine Daze

    What an interesting post!

    I find Vogue looks a lot less dated if you ignore the fabric choice and styling on the envelopes. And goodness knows they jumped on the peplum trend big time.

    I have given up buying fashion magazines but I still look at runway shows online and occasionally snoop shop to see what’s out there. I make no claim to deliberately follow fashion but you’re right that it’s something that can’t be avoided unless you put in a lot of conscious effort.

    Another vote for Style Arc and Burda here for more contemporary styles, especially Burda. Named and Ralph Pink look up to date to me as well but I’ve little experience of the actual patterns.

  18. Carolyn

    To me patterns are just a jumping off point…I use patterns and add the fashion details I want from current RTW. Personally I love fashion and definitely sew to emulate fashion especially since the best details don’t seem to make it into plus size fashion. Isn’t it amazing though that there are quite a few plus size sewists now blogging and they rarely seem to make the fashionable lists of other sewing bloggers? Fashion can apply to everyone…plus or petite and sewing allows all of us to have a piece of it.

  19. Sam

    To me, fashion is very important even though I sew my own clothes – possibly even more so because I sew! It’s no secret that I actually wanted to be a fashion designer when I left school, but was discouraged/ not allowed to by my parents, so now sewing my own clothes is my little way in to that world.

    I find that most commercial patterns are not fashionable at all and just recycle the same shapes over and over with a few very minor variations. I like some of the independent pattern companies – Style Arc, Named and Papercut Patterns in particular – but find many of them veer too far into vintage territory for me. That’s not to say I want cutting edge fashion – I don’t necessarily because I need to blend in to a certain extent for my job and the area I live is relatively conservative – but I definitely don’t want the same recycled poorly fitting patterns year in, year out. I’m luck that I’m confident enough in my skills to alter patterns to meet my vision, or mix and match different parts from different patterns.

  20. Annnieloveslinen

    Fashion is looking current but trends are fleeting, I like to look current but don’t follow trends. I agree with others StyleArc have their finger on the pulse and their patterns fit me amazingly well, I’ve just made Suzie’s sister top, no changes needed. A great ambassador for StyleArc is Anne aka,The clothing engineer, her work is excellllent and her posts thorough and informative.

  21. Karen Kayes

    Once again, I really enjoyed reading your posts. I’ve not come across Finery up here in Yorkshire, must look them up as their stuff looks great. I agree that fashion is only catered for in the sewing world by people like Burdastyle or Style Arc, seconding DementedFairy. Also some of the independents, but not many really come up with the more interesting designs. I browse the high end shops to get ideas on fashion as I do like to try new styles or shapes and fabric combinations and love to see if I can make them myself. Finding good fabric is so difficult, yet somehow I have a massive cupboard full of the stuff! I think the independents often start more edgy but end up catering to the newbie sewer who wants to make something simple. The japanese are great but their patterns suit their more boyish figures and I love them, but not on me! If you do find more interesting designs please share.

    • fabrickated

      Karen – Finery is an internet-only company although they have been stocked in John Lewis for the past season or two. I too love the look at the Japanese patterns but as you say they generally look best on straight, boyish figures, with a gamine wardrobe personality.

  22. Elizabeth

    I find most any garment has a pretty decent pattern match. You may have to be a little creative from time to time to imagine the possibilities. It can help to chat with sewing people to get ideas flowing. Examine line drawings.
    Check out Oki Style, BootstrapFashion, and Lekala, too.

    • Christine

      Rhonda’s creative life blog does an occasional interesting match with fashion and pattern. But I have been thinking of this bit more and for me it is not the patterns in truth it is the fabric. Looking at clothes in Paris (yes I Know) yesterday the thing that hits you first is actually colour, pattern, drape. And I think it is harder to get the right fabric than the right pattern. And with a pattern you can always mix and change a bit.

      • Fabrickated

        Yes I think you are right Christine. But the Finery fabrics are not that nice – there is quite a lot of polyester to keep the prices down whereas with my own sewing I tend to use better quality fabrics. Paris is slightly in a class of its own in relation to both fashion and food – it believes it leads the world, but actually I find it all a bit ossified (although Paris is definitely my favourite city despite its chauvinism).

        • Christine

          Ha ha, I actually prefer London because it is not ossified and is so very alive for me. But I am lucky to live just 2 and a half hours cheap(senior card) train journey away from Paris. And I agree on buying fabric. Never polyester and as good as I can afford. Tissu market in Paris is worth a visit for marked down designer stuff. I failed to buy the most beautiful, drapey black silk twill yesterday at €29 a metre.

          • Fabrickated

            Where do you live Christine? I will definitely visit Tissu market on my next trip.

          • Christine

            In Normandy, the Suisse Normande. Very lovely. I can send you the Tissu Market addresses because there is more than one. Two in Rue Sentier in the 2nd but there is one up in the fabric district. Everybody raves about the Montmartre shops. I find that I cannot get inspiration wading through the tat. If yiu have time a coffee meet up would be fun.

          • Martina

            I visited General Diff the last time I was in Paris…gorgeous, gorgeous fabric.

    • Fabrickated

      Well Su, I had not heard of it – Etre Blank as in tattoo and piercing free. I agree with the sentiment that these body adornments/self-mutilations are now so mainstream that they no longer signal what they once did – and for this reason even the rebels will probably avoid them now (not just the fashion conscious Parisians).

      • Su

        Oh sorry Kate, I meant the French interpretation of normcore further down the article! Tattooing must have sounded rather random haha

  23. Alli

    The brown knit skirt with the ties looks kinda like Megan Nielsen’s newish Axel pattern… :}

    I sew too slowly to keep up with trends, so I’m happy to sew not very to-the-minute styles. 😀

  24. Martine

    That is complete BS. Vintage Levi’s aka Mom jeans are completely in style, and far cooler then some thing you can buy at Top shop or Urban Outfitters, in fact there is a reason that Redone, Free people, and Urban Outfitters SELL vintage Levi’s. So, yeah, if there is something like that in your closet, you are very lucky. And in fact if your mom hung on to such things, grab them. Classics are classics. Clue Phone; Stretch denim is out. Hard denim is in.

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