Blog hop

I was nominated for a blog hop question type thing by the lovely sisters at Tea for Two. I don’t usually do these kind of things but I haven’t posted for so long I thought it might be a fun way to break the silence. So here it is.

What have you been doing / making / scribbling at your desk this week?

 

I’ve been making a muslin of a ridiculous Joan Collin-esque one-sleeved dress in bright red crepe.

Last week I made a black denim skirt on a complete whim – it took four hours from start to finish. I love that kind of impulse sewing sometimes.

Where are you currently finding your inspiration? (Influences, heroes, sources of inspiration, paths exploring)?

I get 99% of my clothing inspiration by browsing Net-A-Porter and attempting to rip off the beautiful, overpriced clothing.

I also LOVE Pinterest, like the craft-loving cliche that I am. I’ve even got a Pinterest mug. And tote bag.

I also like perving over RTW clothing in shops and seeing how they’ve made all the different details.

Also, anything that Whistles sell. And Oliver Spencer.

Oliver spencerI want to copy this entire Oliver Spencer outfit

How important is being creative to you, and how do you blend this with your work / life / family balance?

It’s super important for me to have something creative to focus on outside work.

Even though I haven’t been blogging lately, I’ve been sewing a lot. If I have to choose to spend my time sewing something or blogging, I choose the first one every time, although it pains me not to be talking about it on here.

When I’ve got a sewing project on the go it’s pretty much all I think about. I put the pieces together and run through the steps a hundred times in my head before I do it in real life.

I love planning a project from start to finish like my green skirt. When it turns out like the picture in your head – there’s nothing better than that.

I do find it difficult to keep things balanced though. This year has been so busy. It’s really hard to find the time to make stuff.

One thing I really miss is drawing. I’m not very good at it but you never look at something so closely as when you’re drawing it. It really fixes objects in your head in a unique way.

I’m nominating Marilla Walker and Katie of What Katie Sews to answer these three questions next, if they’d like to…

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The Scientific Sewing Enjoyment Chart

I am back in my sewing room, and starting on a new project. Hooray! But I have to confess that while I love sewing, there are certain aspects that fill me with the opposite of joy.

I’m talking about cutting out.

I hate and despise doing this. Everything from ironing the fabric, to lining up grainlines (urgh) to drawing on dart lines (double urgh), makes me wonder why I do this stupid hobby in the first place.

Obviously there are other parts of sewing that I do like, or I wouldn’t be writing this blog. So I’ve made this handy chart as a guide to the different stages of sewing, and my enjoyment levels for each one:

sssec

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Planning – 100%: My favourite part. I can spend hours leafing through Burda magazines and draping bits of fabric over myself whilst squinting into the mirror.
  • Cutting out – 0%: As discussed, a low point.
  • First seam: – 70%: “Yeah! I’m actually sewing! This is great! It’s going to be perfect!”
  • Halfway through – 50%: Things have started to go wrong, enthusiasm for the project is waning.
  • Finishing off – 30%: “Oh man, I totally messed up the collar/zip/sleeves, and I still have to hem it/make belt loops/do 12 buttonholes?!” (this is often when project gets fatally stalled).
  • All done! – 80%: A moderate high. Start to plan the first time I’ll wear the new garment.
  • First wear – 70%: 10 minutes of smugness followed by 8 hours of noticing all the fitting mistakes.
  • First compliment – 110%: SUCCESSMakes it all worthwhile when you can bust out the classic  ‘Actually I made it myself’..

One thing I’ve noticed is that any creative effort goes through similar stages. Even writing an essay (or a blog post). The idea in your head always seems better than the finished result, and preparation always seems to be the most painful and difficult part.

Do you have similar likes and dislikes when it comes to sewing? Or are there people out there who totally love cutting out patterns?

On blogging and context

I had a bit of a shock the other day. I clicked on a referring link to my blog and saw my own face staring back at me from a site I’d never seen before.

Some company called ‘The Style Up’ had used one of my photos on their website – a daily style inspiration service.

skirt

They seem to be yet another internet styling service funded by affiliate income. You sign up and get an email each night with an idea of what you could wear tomorrow. The gimmick is that it’s personalised to your local weather forecast.

I’m not averse to this kind of thing. I love taking frivolous fashion quizzes online and finding out my ‘style personality’ or whatever.

Except. It doesn’t sit well with me that they’ve just taken an image from my blog without asking and then added affiliate links to ‘similar’ products. It’s notoriously difficult to make a business work solely on affiliate income, and I’m sure they’re earning less than pennies on these links, but they’re still trying to use my photo to make money for themselves.

affiliate links

I actually emailed them to ask them to remove the photo, which they promised to do (and haven’t – you can see it here). They also asked if I’d like to join their ‘exclusive blogger network’ which is another affiliate thing and isn’t of much use to me given that my blog is mostly about handmade clothing.

So I’m annoyed, but not upset. It’s interesting to read the comments from their users. When my photo is divorced from its personal context, people are a lot more unfiltered and honest. The outfit in question possibly would look better with a slimmer top, flat leopard-print pumps and one of those fashion-bloggers-favourite J Crew ‘bubble’ necklaces, as suggested by commenters (although you will pry my cardigan from my cold, dead, hands).

Changing context

I’ve been trying to analyse what annoys me about this incident.

Firstly, they’ve taken my photo from the original context and put it into a different arena to be judged as a styled image. I have never claimed to be a fashion guru, and if I wasn’t making the things I wear, I wouldn’t have started this blog. It did come out of an impulse to show off (as most blogging does), but to show off my sewing rather than my styling credentials. It’s a small difference but to me it feels significant.

Secondly, they’re using my handmade, one-of-a-kind bespoke skirt to shill mass-produced clothing. While I still buy shop-bought clothing I am becoming more and more aware of the problems with textile manufacturing. So this rubs me up the wrong way.

As does the fact that they didn’t ask if they could use my photo first.

Lastly, the online sewing community is very supportive and small. I’m sure there are people reading this blog who think I look ridiculous and that my outfits are terrible, but they keep it to themselves. So this feels a bit like cold air blowing in. A reminder of the fact that anything you put on the internet is fair game.

I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

Edited 5th August – Kendall from The StyleUp has emailed me to apologise again for not removing the picture and that it was a result of human error – they’re going to take the page down today.

The Bangladesh factory disaster and cheap clothing – what can we do?

The images coming out of Bangladesh are heart-breaking.

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And the search footage they’ve been showing on the news is harrowing. It makes you feel powerless.

Plus, this Bangladesh news comes right on the heels of the story about Zara using slave labour, which came 2 years after a story…accusing Zara of using slave labour. They obviously don’t care.

And why should they? They’re heaped with admiring comments, not just from fashion blogs, but from journalists in the NYTimes.

I know consumers can exert pressure on companies, but could brands like Zara and Primark even operate without cut-price labour? Their whole business model is built on it.

My wardrobe is never going to be entirely hand-made. I buy high street clothes. And even if I didn’t, I’d be involved. I have no idea where most of my fabric came from. The cotton could have been picked by forced labour in Uzbekistan. It’s so hard to keep track of everything.

As home-sewers, we know how much work goes into a garment. However complicated a clothing supply chain gets, we know that at the end of it there are people, not just machines.

And that $1.14, divided between seven of those people, is not enough pay for making a pair of jeans.

Zara jeans

The only ray of hope (if you can call it that) is that the Bangladesh tragedy is getting a lot of press attention. And the press is linking the disaster with the clothing industry in a way I’ve not seen before.

The BBC even recorded this video asking people if they knew where their clothes were made (non-spoiler: nobody did).

The tangible things I can think of doing are:

  • Donate to Anti-Slavery International. They are the only UK charity campaigning to stop slave labour. Their magazine is how I found out about the forced labour in the cotton fields in Uzbekistan.
  • Talking about the issue and try and keep it in the news (hence this post).

I don’t know what I can do apart from that and I feel pretty helpless.

Some resources I found:

– The author of Overdressed, a book about the rise of cheap clothing, has a list of actions you can take here.

Labour Behind The Label support garment workers. They grade high street companies on how ethical they are.

– The Guardian have an ethical fashion directory here

Google Reader rage

Google, this is the last straw.

I’ve tried. I really have. I signed up for a Google+ account – I even uploaded a photo. Of course I never used it because it’s rubbish, but the thought was there.

I’ve put up with the constant ‘why not use your real name on Youtube? Why not? It’s fun! Go on now. Come on. It’s grand. Oh go on. Please? Okay we’ll check next time’.

But killing Google Reader?? What the fuck, Google?

All those people saying that you can replace it with Twitter feeds or Facebook – they are idiots. Twitter is like going to a party where loads of strangers are talking non-stop and very loudly. You might learn something interesting, more likely you just get a headache.

Google Reader is blissfully free of ‘viral’, ‘curated’ content. Everything’s there because you want it. It doesn’t look like a magazine, there’s no flashy pictures, you’re not supposed to flick through it. It’s for efficiently consuming vast amounts of information all in one place, the way nature intended.

I wasn’t even a so-called ‘power user’. On average I read about 33 items a day.

google reader

There are people on this Metafilter thread who have read more than 300,000 items.

Anyway I guess this is a really long-winded way of saying you can now follow me on Bloglovin instead.

I guess I’ll get used to Bloglovin eventually. It has a stupid name and forces you to view people’s content on their overly formatted webpages, but whatever. That’s fine. I’ll learn to love it.

In other crap news, here’s the weather forecast for the next week in London:

photo 1

I know these are trivial problems in the grand scheme of things. So to finish on a less miserable note, here are some reasons to be cheerful instead.

These are all on top of the standard ‘living in one of the richest countries in the world and never having to go hungry’ kind of thing.

Yorkshire Tea. This flows through my veins instead of blood.

– New and awesome trenchcoat pattern from Sewaholic

– Spring will come eventually, I think, and with it the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A

This video still exists and makes me laugh every time I see it

Any more cheerful thoughts would be appreciated.

Sew Grateful week, making things, and mountain climbing

Here is a quote from one of my favourite books ever:

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

This is why I sew. Learning and getting better at something is the best feeling in the world (especially when you get new clothes out of it).

The only problem is that the better you get, the less happy you are with your work. Because your knowledge of what you don’t know keeps expanding.

It’s like being at the bottom of a huge mountain shrouded in fog. You start off blithely because you can’t see the top, but the more you climb, the more the fog recedes, and you start to realise that it’s actually a really, really long way up, and your feet hurt, and you left your museli bars at the bottom (might be pushing this simile a bit too far now).

Here is a photo of me actually climbing a mountain. Visual metaphor ahoy.
Here is a photo of me actually climbing a mountain. Visual metaphor ahoy.

So the biggest high is when you first knit a holey swatch, or sew an elastic-waist skirt from quilting cotton. You don’t realise how crap it is, you’re just happy you made something.

But pretty soon you need a better hit. Tote bags and aprons aren’t enough – you move on to the hard stuff. Welt pockets and hand-picked zippers and Burda patterns with cryptic instructions. And it’s not enough just to make something, it has to be perfect.

Addiction symptoms include diagnosing innocent clothing wrinkles as bad fit, an obsessive need to finish seams prettily, and the making of totally impractical ‘couture’ garments.

That’s why I think Debbie’s Sew Grateful week is a lovely idea. It reminds me to be grateful of everything I’ve learnt, everything I’ve made, and the fact that I have the time, money, and privilege to be able to sew my own clothes for fun. And to enjoy the process rather than focusing on mistakes in the outcome.

Personally I am very grateful for:

  • People who take the time and effort to photograph sewing tutorials and tips, and then share them online for free. They have saved my bacon many a time.
  • The lovely people I’ve met, all from combining two solitary activities – sewing and blogging.
  • All the amusing, inspiring, informative, and interesting blogs out there, and everyone who writes them.
  • The fact that some people actually read my blog and even leave nice comments. You are all awesome.

Here’s another quote from the poet Sharon Olds (in Oprah magazine, of all unlikely places), which sums up why we need to keep making things:

Writing or making anything—a poem, a bird feeder, a chocolate cake—has self-respect in it. You’re working. You’re trying. You’re not lying down on the ground, having given up.

Here’s to everyone who hasn’t given up.

Do you dress for your shape or wear what you like?

Tall ladies of the internet! Check out this vintage fashion advice my friend posted on Facebook:
 
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Ignore for a minute the fact that both clothing recommendations look basically identical. Do you think about your height and shape when you’re deciding what to wear?

You can find this advice everywhere, but I’ve never paid much attention, although I loved Trinny and Susannah back in the day (I always wanted to go into their magical 360 degree mirror cabinet. Admit it, how perfect would that be for fitting home-sewn clothes?)

This vintage fashion advice seems to be saying that tall girls can’t pull off girly clothing, which is basically ridiculous. And yet – I am sort of uncomfortable in super-girly outfits. I feel like I’m wearing a costume. For example, although I love this dress I made, I’ve only worn it about 3 times.

Things get even more complicated when you think about side-to-side shape, rather than just up-and-down. You enter the area of fruit based advice. You know, comparing ladies to apples and pears and carrots and what-not.
 

body shape

After doing some googling, I discovered that Caryn Franklin (yes, her off the Clothes Show!) has some pretty comprehensive style guides on her website. She even has a guide specifically for tall, pear-shaped ladies, which I promptly downloaded.

It says that pear-shaped ladies should avoid skinny jeans and instead wear black A-line skirts to disguise their shameful hip area, which is what these style advice people always say.

When it comes to tall women though, the guide gives exactly the OPPOSITE advice to the anonymous vintage style book author. She says that too often we wear dark, manly clothes to try and blend in, when we should aim for more ‘feminine, sensual styles’

Choose clothes that have softer features. Fitted blouses with shaping and feminine touches like pussy bows, for instance, still perform the same function as a plain shirt. For knitwear choose textured knits, like cable, where you can enjoy the soft rounded knitted stitching. This will add a level of femininity and sensuality and you can take it further. A soft wrap around style with a knitted collar will be far more interesting than a plain pullover. Designs that have a certain amount of volume in them will always feminise your silhouette, simply put, this means look for garments that have more material in them.

So what are you saying, Caryn? Should I be wrapping myself up in acres of frilled lace and cable knitwear? I thought I was supposed to avoid ‘little girl’ fashions!

Too girly?
Too girly?

Some of the recommendations make sense though. I tried on some maxi skirts the other day, and they actually looked awesome – and they are recommended wear for  tall people.

What do you reckon? Do you try and ‘dress for your shape’?

Why do clothes cost what they do?

Everyone who knits, or sews, or makes jewellery, or maybe, I don’t know, bakes macaroons, at some point is told by a well-meaning friend ‘This is so good you could sell it!’.

Obviously this is meant to be a huge compliment. But if you’ve ever spent 6 months knitting a shawl out of overpriced German yarn that costs £30 a ball, only to be told by a friend that they’d pay ‘at LEAST 25 quid for that!’, the market has long ago moved on from the cost of totally hand-made labour.

There are always threads on Ravelry about this, advising people to pay themselves minimum wage, to price their work fairly, not to be undercut by people selling baby socks for £2 a pair. But the problem is that pricing is not actually a straightforward equation, like ‘time + materials + mark-up = cost’. It’s more of a dark art, shrouded in mystery and illusion and resulting in bog-standard looking handbags that cost £25,000 (this is not a typo).

For example, the designer Olympia Le Tan. She makes these beautiful clutches, embroidered to look like vintage book covers. They open up just like a book too, so you can store your Tom Ford lipstick and possibly a single tissue. Sadly there’s not enough room in there for an actual book.

They’re made in limited editions of 16, and they cost about a grand each. The press around them seems to imply that they’re all hand-stitched by Olympic herself, although information on her website is a bit thin on the ground.

Now these things probably do take hours to make (whoever actually makes them). But the reason they’re so popular is that Olympia has hit on the sweet spot between design, craft, high fashion and literary pretension. Hollywood starlets can carry one of these (which after all cost a lot less than a new Burberry bag) and look intellectual, quirky, and cutting-edge all at the same time. Her background in the fashion world and famous illustrator father obviously help a bit with the PR as well. That all adds up to £££££.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because I find the pricing of designer clothing utterly puzzling. At some point a human being has been involved in their construction (as Polka Dot Overload points out in this post), but that’s probably the least important aspect in how much they cost.

If you go to Selfridges and get close to some designer clothes in the flesh, you can see that they use nicer fabrics, and better construction methods, but they aren’t sprinkled with gold-dust or guaranteed to make you look stunning. They’re nicer than high-street clothes, but not 200 times nicer. I guess the idea is that you’re paying more for cutting edge design and fit, rather than quality.

Some labels are clearly taking the piss though. Or to put it more politely, establishing themselves as Veblen goods. I give you the £1,225 Lanvin top:

At least it’s lined.

One nice thing about home-sewing is that you can invest where it shows – in materials and equipment that make your clothes look better, rather than having to spend money on marketing, distribution, and staff Christmas nights out.

What do you reckon? Any insights into clothes pricing? With the price of cotton going up drastically, all fashion retailers are going to be affected, and this may be an issue that becomes more interesting to the general public.

(If you’re interested in this there’s an amusing old thread on  The FashionSpot debating the most overpriced designers.)

Sewing blogs vs. DIY blogs – the showdown

I have an enduring fascination with categorising different groups of people, especially online. It must be the frustrated anthropologist in me.

Something I’ve been pondering for a while is the difference between sewing bloggers and DIY bloggers. You’d think there’d be a big overlap, but no! They’re totally separate tribes.  I was reminded of this by a recent post from Karen, and thought it would be fun to pit the two groups against each other, Top Trumps stylee:

In the red corner, we have:

DIY FASHION/STYLE BLOGGERS!

Here we have dip-dye, neon, studding and denim cut-offs. If only there was some chevron-ing involved it would be the Holy Grail of DIY

Leading Lights: P.S. I Made This, Park & Cube, A Pair and a Spare, I Spy DIY, Outsapop, etc etc.

Who they are:  100% female. Mostly thin, beautiful, and young.

What they do: Easy DIY tutorials recreating specific pieces or trends from high-end fashion designers.

Defining characteristics: At least two of the following in every post: studding, neon, dip-dyeing, chevrons, embellished collars, and cut-off denim. Huge images and tiny text. Heavy use of the phrase ‘pop of colour’.

Strengths: Gorgeous photos. A playful, fun approach to DIY and customisation. Accessible to people without a sewing machine. A way to replicate high-fashion looks without spending thousands.

Weaknesses: Too much Instagram, not enough text. Occasionally silly fashion blog poses. Unlikely corporate tie-ins. Sometimes projects look like they would fall apart after 5 minutes wear.

And in the blue corner, there’s the:

SEWING BLOGGERS!

Ahh, a lovely reassuring vintage circle skirt pattern

Leading Lights: Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing, Male Pattern Boldness, too many more to mention (check my links list)

Who they are: 98% female. All ages, sizes, styles.

What they do: Sew things, take photos, put on blog. Repeat. Interspersed with occasional tutorials, sewing tips, and wardrobe planning posts.

Defining characteristics: A love of 40s/50s vintage. Circle skirts. A weakness for decorative buttons. Knitting often spotted. Have made at least one thing from Colette Patterns. Refer to other sewing bloggers by first name with no context.

Strengths: Interesting writing. A strong sense of community. Useful tips and tutorials. Real content (ie. not just ‘curated’ from somebody else’s Tumblr). Clothing which is wearable by those over the age of 25.

Weaknesses: Blog layouts not as professional as the DIY crew. Often small or badly-lit photos. Overuse of the word ‘make’ as a noun. Too many wacky fabric prints. Pattern crazes sweep through the community like wildfire, which can lead to distressing homogeneity.

So who wins? I think we’d have to call it a draw. Personally I read a lot more sewing blogs, and my favourites are those that take inspiration from fashion, like Erica BGrainline and DIY Couture. Maybe both sides could learn from each other – the DIY bloggers could get a bit more in-depth with their making skills, and the seamstresses could learn to love simple, fun projects (although I draw the line at studding everything in sight).

What do you think, gentle readers? Do you read DIY blogs, sewing blogs, or both? Are you interested in fashion or do you prefer to tread your own path? And do you share my love of categorising people into groups, or do you think its like, totally oppressive and unfair?

When hand-made clothing dies

It’s a sad fact of life that clothes don’t last forever. Yes, you could make them out of steel, or lock them in a climate-controlled wardrobe for 100 years, but that does sort of defeat the point of wearing clothes in the first place. But what do you do when you damage things that you’ve made yourself?

I’ve had two clothing disasters lately. Firstly, my Crescent skirt. I’ve worn this everywhere. It’s been to the USA, Italy, Norway, and  every park in East London. It’s perfect for hot weather. Not only that, but it took me weeks to sew. I topstitched everything with the proper topstitching thread, and even measured the hem instead of eyeballing it at the ironing board as usual. And then this happens:

A rogue pen has left a massive, permanent ink stain all over one side. Damn you pen!

I dyed it dark blue to try and hide it. Which didn’t work. And has left it a strange, patchy colour that looks vaguely country & western.

Gutted.

The other casualty was this psychedelic pink dress. It’s always been a bit tight across the shoulders, and in Bournemouth this summer I was reaching over a fence on the sand-dunes to pick some flowers when the fabric ripped right across the armhole. (Which is surely the twee-est clothing accident EVER.)

It does look a bit like I burst the seams with my enormous biceps, but sadly this was not the case. I haven’t been lifting weights  while wearing hand-made clothing (not yet anyway).

What do you do when your carefully made clothes suffer injuries? To mend or not to mend? I think the Crescent skirt is a goner, but the dress is fixable. But I find mending and altering the most boring form of sewing, hands down. What about you?

Rain and a new dress

I give up. I can’t take this weather any more. It seems to have rained every day for the last 3 months. It rained through April. It rained through May. It rained all the way through the Queen’s Jubilee. It was the wettest June since records began. You can basically guarantee that it will piss it down all through the Olympics. We’ll all get totally sick of hearing commentators overuse the phrase ‘rain isn’t dampening spirits here!’, and we’ll be seeing lots more pictures like this:

The woman in the top right has the same facial expression I’ve been sporting for the last two months.

Somewhere I read about a conspiracy theory that the UK government deliberately foster really bad foreign language teaching in schools, because if everyone learnt to speak Spanish or Italian there would be mass emigration to warmer climates. I firmly believe this is true.

The last few weeks have been super bad, as we’ve had the worst of both worlds. Really hot, muggy weather, but with random spiteful downpours every 45 minutes or so, just to keep you on your toes.

This weather is making me very confused about what to wear and what to sew. There doesn’t seem to be any point making summer clothing, but it’s too depressing to start thinking about winter stuff. Also, I’m still deliberating on what to make with my digital print fabric from Our Patterned Hand. I really need some ideas.

I did make this dress, out of some material I bought at The Shop on Cheshire Street, which is great for vintage fabric. I think this was probably a curtain once upon a time.

I made this without a pattern, using a mixture of Alannah at Lazy Stitching’s Toast Tunic tutorial, and the Grecian dress instructions from the DIY Couture book. The neckline is finished with fold over elastic (love this stuff!) and I shirred the waistline.

The fabric’s really thick though, and the two areas of elastic make the bodice puff out in a less than flattering way. I think I might remove the shirring and turn it into a long tunic top to wear over jeans. That probably that would be more weather appropriate anyway. What do you reckon?

Also, STOP RAINING NOW PLEASE. Thank you.

How to dress: putting together outfits

(Hi there. I actually wrote this post last September and then forgot about it, which is why all the links are really really old. But if you love reading out-of-date, lengthy rants about high-street fashion and celebrity dressing, it’s your lucky day! Enjoy!)

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about fashion ‘rules’ and putting together outfits, partly inspired by this post from one of my favourite blogs, Rip it to Shreds. It’s mostly about hideous trends but this is the bit that really caught my eye:

“…people insist on this revolutionary concept they themselves invented, mixing “high” with “low” and cut-offs with heels. It’s very fresh to do this, as opposed to the “too perfect, matching” look people always say they are against but no one really wears because it is out to match.”

Traditionally there are lots of different clothing ‘rules’ about what can and can’t wear, and you still see fashion magazines saying ‘Forget the rules and wear whatever you like! Why not wear designer shoes with high street jeans? Wow! Go Crazy!’ (I may have paraphrased a bit).

But has anyone actually obeyed this mythical fashion code of conduct since the 1950s? Unless you’re a member of the Royal Family*, it seems like having to dress appropriately for an occasion is a lost art.
* although most of them have lost it too. I refer you once more to this handy reference guide.

It does seem like a backlash is coming, with the most obvious sign being the return of ‘lady-like’ dressing. The first hint was longer skirts. One of the major reasons I started sewing was because for the past few years it’s been impossible to buy skirts and dresses that reach below mid-thigh. I know this makes me sound like someone’s maiden aunt, but I’m 5 ft 10. The average British woman is 5ft 4. That’s 6 extra inches of leg to deal with.

But that’s all changed over the last few years. The Whistles ‘Carrie’ skirt was a huge hit last year, despite looking like something your gran would wear to a nu-rave bingo party. Suddenly below knee-length skirts are everywhere. Similarly with Peter Pan collars, high-cut necklines, and long sleeves.

This (extremely old) New York Times article on the subject rather predictably talks about the ‘Kate Middleton effect’, but I thought this was the most interesting quote, from Jason Wu:

“A couple of years ago, the deliberately dissolute look of a model off duty was a strong inspiration, he said. “Now people are interested in looking ladylike.”

Well, duh! Here’s a thought: if an Eastern European 14 yr old with baby giraffe legs and Martian eyes looks good in a holey vest and ‘boyfriend’ jeans, it might not be down to the clothes.

But I’m not just thinking about bodycon dresses vs. knee-length pleated skirts. It’s more about really going for a look and nailing it. It can be scary to look too  ‘costume-y‘ (as Peter from Male Pattern Boldness put it) But wouldn’t it be great if more people started wearing a whole look head-to-toe, without feeling they have to ‘dress it down’, or ‘dress it up’?

Suzi QuatroNobody would describe Suzy Quatro’s style as ‘lady-like’, but she knew how to put a look together. What else can you wear with a zipped leather jumpsuit but knee-high python print boots and a ton of necklaces?

One thing people always say about Northern cities in Britain is that the women there aren’t afraid to glam up and go the whole hog – check out this article about Liverpool girls going out in their curlers. They don’t try and ‘dress down’ their outfits by putting horrible bike shorts underneath or wearing denim dungarees on top or something (I’m looking at you, Alexa Chung).

Alexa Chung in dungareesThere’s no excuse for this

Also, why not just stick on a pair of trainers if you’re dressing casually? I’m sick of seeing celebrities wearing cut off jeans with huge leather boots and clunky handbags.

Lindsay Lohan in shorts and bootsIf it’s hot enough to wear shorts, it’s too hot to wear knee-high boots. That’s just, like, physics or something.

Listen, if you’re just popping to Starbucks for your 18th sponsored frappucino of the day, put on some Pumas and wear a Kanken! It’ll look better AND you’ll be more comfortable!

Here’s another quote from that New York Times article, from Tommy Hilfiger:

“In a departure from his willfully incongruous pattern mix of last season, “we will be really very studied about how we’re putting our outfits together,” he said, to the point of offering matching shoes and bags — an apparent homage to Britain’s future queen”

Matching shoes and bags! Now that really is revolutionary.

I think it all comes down to is being comfortable in what you wear. Not necessarily comfortable in the literal sense: I don’t think we should all be walking around in pyjamas and sports bras all day, god forbid. But comfortable in the sense that everything goes together, and you look like your clothes were made for you and not someone else three sizes smaller or larger. This quote from Nancy Mitford just about sums it up for me:

I have often noticed that when women look at themselves in every reflection, and take furtive peeps into their hand looking-glasses, it is hardly ever, as is generally supposed, from vanity, but much more often from a feeling that all is not quite as it should be.
Nancy Mitford, Love in a Cold Climate

When you wear something that you love and that you feel great in, you can stop worrying about your appearance and turn your attention outwards (perhaps to tell other people how hideous THEIR outfits are…)

For example. I’m not a huge Daphne Guinness fan but I bet when she leaves the house, she always knows that she’s nailed it. I guarantee she doesn’t waste time fretting about whether her skirt goes with her beige cardigan (or more likely, whether her multi-coloured kimono matches her enormous pony heels).

Needless to say my wardrobe is hardly anything to write home about, but sewing has been making me consider this issue more and more.

What do you think?