Now that I have stopped buying ready to wear and I’m just out here making clothes like an obsessed maniac in my home sweatshop of 1 human + 2 cats, I am beginning to view my wardrobe and the entire world of fashion differently. Do I have a personal style? What is it? What looks good on me, fits well, flatters my shape, and is appealing to me? Is there such a thing?
(Ok, full disclosure, the first time I asked myself these questions, the only answer was pajamas. Pajamas for everything.)
The last few garments I made were really fun to sew but once I got them on my body I was less impressed. One top is too matronly, one dress is way too slutty, and one top is somehow both matronly AND slutty. Yay?
I’m still happy I made these items and had the experience of improving my skills and working with different fabrics and patterns, but it did get me wondering where the disconnect is — and I think it’s all about figuring out my own personal style outside the confines of ready to wear.
Ready to wear is extremely limiting. You only have what’s in stock + in your size + in the shop near you (or online availability) + a color you like + a price you can afford. Like many women, I also have a shape that many designers refuse to design for (it’s called “female”) and even if I found a piece of clothing I liked it often had to be tailored to fit well. It’s no wonder I finally gave up and bought five pairs of skirted leggings and a few random tops and called it a day.
I love beautifully made clothes but finding something well-constructed, in my size, in a flattering color, and in stock at the mall was a once-in-a-blue-moon miracle and eventually I got so focused on that whole process that I lost sight of my personal style completely.
Right after my divorce, I went through a similar thought process about home decor and personal decorating style. It was the first time in my life I ever began to buy things just for ME, based on my taste and my preferences. Up until I got married, I had only acquired furniture that was free, or super cheap, or left on a curb, or a combination of those qualities. My home decor was “Early American Goodwill” with some shabby chic and the occasional 1970s ebay find thrown in for spice. After I got married, I purchased things “for the household” … a nice way of saying that I was catering to his style, or (more likely) how I thought grown-up married people were supposed to furnish and style their homes. I lost sight of what I liked, and began to shop for some other person.
After the divorce, it took a few years of paring down and consciously acquiring only items I loved and needed to make headway into my own style. But eventually my home decor preferences evolved into a very solid genre: Los Angles Joan Didion Circa 1968. It’s a little boho, a little mid-century modern, but with that warm late-60s early-70s Hollywood Hills vibe. When you walk into my home you just feel it, and there’s a cohesiveness to the home. I love mid-century furniture, but not the stark, contemporary interpretation of it you see on Instagram. Instead, my tastes lean towards the warm, honey tones of old wood floors and ceiling beams. I like rustic 1950s bricks and mismatched pillows and candles and paintings.
It was a process, though. When I was learning my personal home decorating style, I had some missteps. There was a prolonged Hello Kitty phase, and a space-age phase, and a short-lived but memorable novelty chair phase.
Now I’m doing a similar exploration of my clothing style.
My personal clothing style up until now has been determined in the following manner:
Sewing has been revolutionary for me this year (and it’s only May!) Now that I am making all my clothes, I am not relegated only to what is in stock in my size in any given store. AND I’m not even bound by what is in style in this moment — if I really need a winter coat in June for an impromptu trip to the Arctic Circle, I can just make myself one.
Budget is still a factor, because good fabric can be very pricey. And you are sometimes limited by what you can find. FOR EXAMPLE…really nice printed ponte knit fabric, why you hiding?
All this choice has led me to try making things I would never have worn in the past — peplum top, I am looking at YOU. Interestingly it was the peplum top that started all of this deep thinking, if one can call this line of thinking deep, because the peplum top actually fit me perfectly and looked good on my body but I was not feeling the print and shape at all. My boyfriend, however, LOVED that top on me. So it got me thinking about shape and fit along with style and how to figure out where I am on that Venn diagram.
It is a huge improvement from a variety perspective. Now my task is to figure out what I like and what flatters my shape. If you take out the obvious — pajamas above all other clothes — and look at what I reach for in my favorites, I tend to favor floaty, bohemian dresses, or 1960s style silhouettes. I like swing coats and miniskirts and A-line anything. I don’t wear high heels very often (OK, not at all right now, ankle still on the mend.) I like tunics and leggings or cigarette pants. I adore a miniskirt with buttons up the front, or a zipper. I almost never wear jeans. But is that because I dislike jeans or just because they have always been such a hassle to buy/fit?
I’m going to keep experimenting with my personal style this year and keep sewing new patterns and trying new shapes. One of my upcoming patterns is a pair of culottes (!!!) Culottes are a size and shape of garment I would never consider buying. For one thing, I am very short. I am also an hourglass figure, which means I can easily get swallowed up by clothes if they’re too voluminous in the wrong way. But I like the pattern and I love the tailoring task of fitting a pair of pants properly, so I am all over this challenge. If they don’t fit me I will gift them along to someone or re-purpose the fabric into something else.
Rather than trying to build up my wardrobe and then go for a long winter’s nap, I am enjoying the daily making/tinkering/refining/experimenting of my 2018 sewing adventure. I can see my skills improving with each garment, and I feel almost ready for a Very Involved Make (perhaps a tailored coat or a vintage dress.)
And who knows, maybe I will eventually figure out that my personal style profile isn’t “all pajamas all the time” after all! Or I will create an entirely new genre of clothing… the formal pajama. Stay tuned.