Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Dress like yourself

Just what is personal style?

It's probably inevitable to end up asking yourself that question during Me Made May, isn't it? This was the first year I've taken part wholeheartedly - i.e. without getting bored and giving up half way through - and with more or less daily outfit photos. It's a funny thing, to put those pictures out there (out here) and see yourself through the eyes (or likes, or comments) of others for a change. Funny because that's what we do every day - put ourselves out there, in our outfits. And like it or not, that's the person that others see.

They see if we're wearing a trend. They see shapes, colours and a level of over- or understatement (perhaps carefully constructed, perhaps not).  I think it's usually fairly clear to see whether we like what we're wearing, whether we feel comfortable. Maybe they see an image we're trying to project, consciously or unconsciously, even when that projection is the one saying: I'm not projecting anything, thank you.  Those who know us well might be able to tell what kind of day we're having.

I struggle a bit with this. That on some level, "personal style" can only be perceived through the eyes and, well, the judgements, of others.  I want to be able to say: personal style is about self-expression, regardless of what anyone else thinks. That those who look really great in their clothes are those who care least what others think of them. These things are true, surely.  It's just that - I'm not at all sure what it means when I say: I simply want to feel and look good. Good how? Good to who? Is it really even possible, or indeed important, for my only judge to be myself?

I don't know.

The only thing I do know is that finding a personal style which works for me has been a lifelong battle and that finally, at the grand old age of nearly-38, it's a battle I now seem to be winning. 

Cue another series of soul-searching questions...


... am I winning because I'm older and I give less shits? Because the sense of self that was so thoroughly purged by early motherhood has now risen from the ashes, stronger than before? Or will I hit my mid-forties and find myself wondering, again, how to adapt to a stage of life that seems to bring so many internalised preconceptions and ideas?

Is it because, nearly 40 years into dressing myself, I've finally worked out what I like to wear and what I don't?  Is it because of sewing - that I know what I want, and can make it work?

Or is it because the online sewing community has turned out to be an unexpectedly uplifting place to publicly post photos of oneself - to, essentially, invite the judgements of others, and for those judgements to be ever kind, positive and empowering?

Again, I don't know.

The fact is, Me Made May is a brilliant opportunity for some collective, positive exploration of personal style.  That I feel slightly awkward at my 'best' handmade outfits getting more likes than others, is more than offset by the overwhelming joy I find in other people's #MMMay selfies. If I'd had the time, there would have been likes for every. single. one.

When I put these collages together, I was thinking to analyse a little the outfits that really worked, and those that didn't so much.  The drape drape tops above, one t-shirt weight and one sweater, turned out to be immediate favourites. My Linden sweatshirts, below, paired with various skirt/dress options, were also super easy to wear. Far and away the most-repeated item of the month was my Turia dungarees, which was unexpected, but it seems I love the bib neckline and the fact that they have no waist (err, duh). There may well be more.

Call it coincidence - but of course, I'm pretty sure it isn't - the pictures in these three last collages of the "hits" are also those that proved the most popular when I posted them on instagram.

And I'm left wondering: were these my favourite outfits before other people said they were that good?

And yet again: does it really matter?

As an aside, another thing I find intriguing is that these are among my most recent makes.  Are sewists drawn in disproportionately by the new and shiny, I wonder? Is that inherent in the fact that, one way or another, we're all making our own fashion - and that's just what fashion does?

Well, I'm not attempting to answer any of these questions. In fact, I'm going to go all postmodern and say that I think the questions probably are the answers. (I love that that kind of evasion was basically how I ended up getting a decent degree, haha! Gotta love the humanities!)

If you're interested in thinking more about this kind of thing, I highly recommend reading through the intelligent and perceptive discussions going on in the comments of Karen's recent post on her Merchant & Mills Factory dress.  There is a wealth of food for thought there, about dressing for and through the transitional stages and ages of life.

Now, I want you to tell me: what's your take on personal style - can such a thing exist without being filtered through others' eyes?  Does that matter to you, or not?

And, surely I'm not alone in this: are you too perpetually curious about the age of other sewcialists??? I find it impossible to tell - some of you are spring chickens barely into your twenties, others of us bear the weight of many years! I always think of 'us' as being all the same, indeterminate age, but of course we can't be.

GO ON... I told you mine, now tell me yours: how old are you?! :-)


  1. These are good questions to think about! I sometimes ask myself some of them.
    I'll be 25 next month :-)

  2. Sew Little TimeJune 02, 2015 3:36 pm

    really good points! i';m 40 and i am pretty confident in my style generally (worked out through wardrobe architect) but have been wavering recently. am i too old for full skirts and dresses? i have decided to say bollocks to the age thing for now and enjoy making and wearing!

  3. Great, introspective post! It gave me a lot to think about. And I like your style - you look good, girl!

    This is also something I've wrestled with for a long time. My personal style is very casual, maybe Too Casual. I'm in my 60's and a bit of a lazy dresser. I can wear what I want to work, except pajamas. So, I don't need a big wardrobe, since I wear the same things on my days off, too.

    Lately, I've been thinking I should fancy it up just a little, just for fun. Just add some details here and there - like those little pink piping stripes on your black sweatshirt.

    I took a picture of my wardrobe here:

  4. I sometimes question if any of my thoughts are my own or if they are in fact all influenced by the constant messages and images that we are bombarded with daily, but then forget about it and go and look on Pinterest!!! I'm 36 ;-)

  5. Honestly I most don't care what others think of my clothes, as long as I love them I'm happy (although the judgement of the husband does get a look in). I do get pleasure of course when someone comments either on Le blog or in real life on an outfit but it is ultimately my pleasure in the outfit that is most important to me! Like you it's taken to my thirties to get happy with my style and whilst there is a disproportionate amount of stripes I find opening up my wardrobe and getting dressed is almost always something that makes me happy. I'm turning 37 in October..... But in my mind I'm 33 😜

  6. It was fun playing along with you this month! I think you have a very strong personal style that radiates from your images, a certain confidence and sass, if you will. So it's funny to hear you say that you don't necessarily feel that it is that strong. I definitely have felt the challenges of dressing as I've gotten older and my lifestyle has changed (kids, etc.), and my body has changed. It's hard to keep up! My personal style is a moving target.

    I, too, am 38.

  7. Mother of ReinventionJune 03, 2015 8:29 am

    Such a thoughtful post. I think that you look great in those batwing tops and the skirt combos. You sew great colours. Those dungarees are the biz.:)
    I have been thinking about personal style too as I have been having a go at Wardrobe Architect. Easy enough in my youth, black, studded, shiny or velvet and I was there, but again Motherhood made me realise that comfy, clean and washable were the order of the day. Plus, you need to pretend to be a responsible adult in middle age so fling in some business wear. I now think I have no style and as Karen pointed out we get a different shape as we age so lots of old favourites are out. Least we can sew and get stuff to fit. Oh and I am 44. Xx

  8. I am also 38 ( with a 4.5 & a 1.5 year old) and love the linden sweatshirt! I haven't found my style yet but in the past couple of years I have found that I love colour. This was a bit of a revelation! I have always felt that I was too young to carry off a blazer but I am just about to give the Morris blazer to try and get out of my style rut.

  9. This is some pure magic you've started here! Great questions. So fascinating to see how old people are vs. how old I thought they were. I thought EVERYONE was younger. My age and my hip measurement are two things I'm self conscious about admitting online. :) I'm 37 (I fear that makes me irrelevant, but these comments tell a different story). I feel like everyone in my instagram feed is celebrating their 26th birthday!

    I love your linden/skirt combinations. Great colors/textures/proportions, they make the most of simple garments, and look great.

  10. I love your outfits, but I do honestly believe that it only matters weather WE are truly content in our own skin and our own clothes, not what others think, regardless of age, style or whatever. I'm 50 and really enjoying sewing my own clothes so I can wear what I like! Jen

  11. This is a brilliant post. I'm 35 and I think a lot of body and style confidence comes with being in your thirties. You maybe technically younger and slimmer in your twenties but you are also self conscious and try too hard. I hope that the forties continue in the 'I don't give a shit anymore, I know I look awesome' vein and that I don't get bothered by my proliferation of grey hair and stupid internalised agism. I'm going to have a fantastic individual me made wardrobe to distract from the silvery glare anyway.

  12. Great discussion Jo! I'm definitely more confident in my style as I've got older and I like the fact that making my own clothes gives me the ability to wear exactly what I envisage in my head! I'm always super flattered to receive compliments and I think approval of others is important, but it's not everything. Actually some of the handmade clothes I've made that I'm most proud of have never been commented on at all by my friends! I'm 46. x

  13. This is funny, because in my mind I am only about 22 and I think that all of us sewists are all pretty much the same age. When I read your age, I was like no way!! Jo cannot be 37, she's like my age - and then I remembered the truth - I am 35 so you are like my age. Ugh! Honestly time goes by so fast!
    I think you've posed some really great questions here and I found it really interesting to see which of my outfit were favourites among Instagrammers. Some of them definitly surprised me, but I'm not sure it's enough to completely influence my style on a daily basis. I think what I wear changes all the time based on how I feel, where I'm going, who I'm meeting and what I'm up to.
    For what its worth I am really digging your style and it's fun to watch it change and take shape.

  14. Oh man philosophical questions. I've never been good at answering them. And that doesn't mean I don't think deeply - I just don't have the answers sometimes. And I'm ancient apparently. I'm 42 in August and I'm only just becoming comfortable in myself. I generally feel like I dress for myself, but I know that's not entirely true. Generally I dress for myself confidently... until I worry that someone's side-eyed stare is not one of admiration, but of disdain. Maybe I sometimes dress a little too quirky... oh lord I shall stop now before I completely re-judge my confidence in my wardrobe LOL!

  15. Yes exactly! "Too old" for certain outfits is quite a pernicious thought really, it contains so much needless judgement. Your style suits you and that's what matters!

  16. Thank you! Your wardrobe looks ever so well coordinated, it looks like you've managed to sew for what you wear really well (and that's so often more difficult than it sounds!) I know what you mean about wanting to fancy things up though, sometimes you feel like you need an excuse :-) Definitely a good approach to use details to dress up garments that'll fit into your casual wear!

  17. Haha and every time you pin something I die over how stylish you are and plot to copy it all!

  18. Yep, in my head I'm quite a bit younger too :-) That's so great to be able to say that getting dressed makes you happy - such an elusive feeling, and brilliant that you've sewn your way there!

  19. Thank you! It's funny how we see ourselves and others so differently isn't it? And I'm totally with you on personal style being a moving target, I guess that's why it can feel so much harder than it should be! Still, I suppose life would get boring if it wasn't constantly changing...

  20. Thank you! Yes I am so appreciative that at least I can make and fit clothes, even if it's frustrating when my shape or life changes. I've seen friends trying to navigate the same changes post-kids and it seems a lot more frustrating to have to start all over again with rtw. We're lucky!

  21. Ooh yes I've always felt like blazers were too middle aged for me! Totally agree that the morris turns that on its head! Good luck with it!

  22. Thank you Kristi! My waist measurement is the one I'm unlikely to ever share willingly, but I'm sure no one would think anything of it! It's funny how we think of other people - I always assume everyone is the same age as me and feel shocked and really old when it turns out they're 10 years younger! And it's not like it even matters in the slightest :-)

  23. Ah such great positivity! You're completely right, of course! And I'm sure being content on our own skin is what makes us more likely to be content in our clothes too

  24. Yes!! The silvery glare of fabulousness! I'm quite looking forward to my forties, basically because I'm having so much fun caring less and less as I get older! Also, 40 is an excellent reason for a massive party :-)

  25. Hehe I'm currently wearing harem pants - which the bloke of course hates. They're my new favourite thing EVER :-)

  26. Yes that's interesting isn't it - the pleasure in wearing something you made can come from all sorts of things, other people's compliments being just one! Confidence in your clothes shines through too!

  27. Haha yes exactly!! "No way is X that ancient! Oh wait..." :-) I think that about seeing your style and sewing evolve too, it's fun to see the different directions we all go in. And great to have different moods and needs to sew for as well, I think - variety is the spice of life!

  28. Oh no that's not at all the kind of self-questioning I meant to provoke! If it's disdain they clearly don't have a well enough developed sense of style themselves ; -) Also, 42 is NOT old!!

  29. Uuurgh. Age! I always worry just a little bit when meeting up with people from blogs in real life as I always wonder how old they think I am and if it's a shock to them when they do meet me. Not that I think I'm old or anything, but it's so hard to tell. I'm 43 but feel more like I'm 34 x


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