Ever since I can remember, I’ve thought about clothes. There’s an old photo of me at about age two or three, wearing a little sundress (with a bit of a wardrobe malfunction!) while sporting one of my mother’s large handbags and a pair of her high heels (with ankle socks―seems to me I’ve seen this style recently!). As far as my father was concerned, that epitomized his middle daughter.
Fast forward to high school when I made most of my clothes and loved fashion while at the same time acing my biology and analytical trigonometry courses. Naturally, I followed my academic prowess into university (sciences and social science all the way), but I never lost my love for dressing well.
Back in the 1970s, university campuses buzzed with social events that demanded formal dresses. There were several of these events every year, and I had a new dress for every one of them. By the time I was in grad school in the late ‘70s, things were beginning to change. And I suppose, in fairness, grad students were more focused on getting their degrees and getting out than they were on formal social events.
I spent the last twenty-six years of my forty-year career (before early retirement) as an academic. For most university professors, wardrobe is less an afterthought than a no-thought. That doesn’t describe all of them, but it does capture a majority in my experience. Yes, I also had to do research, publish and do administrative work, but I considered the teaching part of my job the starring role, and I was a performer. Make no mistake, university students these days expect to be entertained. For me, part of that entertainment was wardrobe. And I never did apologize for that.
In her very thought-provoking book The Thoughtful Dresser: The Art of Adornment, the Pleasure of Shopping and Why Clothes Matter, novelist and journalist Linda Grant said the following:
“I consider it to be absolutely normal to care deeply about what we wear, and [I] detest the puritan moralists who affect to despise fashion and those who love it. Who shrilly proclaim that only vain and foolish Barbie dolls, their brains addled by consumerism, would wear anything but sensible clothes made to last. As if appearances don’t’ matter, when, most of the time, they are all we have to go on. Or sometimes all that is left in the ruins of a life.”
Amen to that. It has been my rallying cry for most of my adult life.
Of course, throughout my very serious career, *cough* I had much less time than I might have wanted to create my own clothes. For years, the only sewing I did was to make Halloween costumes for my son. But he did have the best costumes in the neighbourhood!
Now, I have the time to be even more thoughtful about what I wear. I have eschewed fast fashion and cheaply made garments. When I shop, I examine the seams and finishing as much as I look at the garment on me. I love quality fabrics and thoughtful details. I have to admit that much of my move toward quality over quantity has been a result of COVID non-spending. When I finally emerged into the retail world, I wasn’t’ interested in filling my closet. I was interested more in wearing the parts of my closet that I love regardless of the occasion.
I once read that we wear 20% of our wardrobes 80% of the time. I believe it, and I wanted it to stop. But for that to happen, I had to slow down, consider my real lifestyle these days (few formal events on the horizon) and make thoughtful decisions about how to spend my current budget. And part of that is sewing―which, as far as I can see, is the greatest way to slow your wardrobe down.
That’s why I can’t get my head around people who sew as fast as they can. I love every part of the process, from prepping the pattern and fabric through the cutting and marking and then the sewing and finishing. I’m especially in love with making muslins! So, sue me. I’m a sewing nerd, and I can channel my inner fashion designer when I do mock-ups.
For me, the bottom line is that a planned wardrobe is a wardrobe I love. No more willy-nilly shopping at sales or buying something that’s “good enough.” And my husband has, on more than one occasion, provided the best advice: “If you wouldn’t pay full price for it, forget it.”
When I think about those of us who sew some of our own clothes, it occurs to me that this, in itself, requires more thought than just buying off the rack. It’s you who has the power to make a decision about which style will be made in which fabrics. You decide on the details you want or don’t want. You choose the buttons, zippers, topstitching (or not). You choose the seam finishes. You make it fit right. It seems to me that one of the best ways we can be more thoughtful about what we wear is to think about these details ―and make it ourselves.