Wardrobe Architect Week One: Making Style More Personal

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the endless bounty of prettiness on the internet? I know I do. There are so many different styles, each one lovelier than the next. Sometimes you might wonder, how do I combine all of these disparate things that I like into something that actually feels like me?
But just because you like something, that does not mean it fits you. Enjoying looking at something doesn’t mean it has a deep connection to who you are, necessarily. Some things are just nice to look at and appreciate on their own.
Taken from http://www.coletterie.com/wardrobe-architect/making-style-more-personal
Sarai, at the Coletterie, has set a challenge. In January, so I guess I am pretty late on the old take up with the Wardrobe Architect project. But reading just the first post has really inspired me to define my personal style as a seamstress and develop a style less dependent on the trends and more reflective of me- sew less, wear more, if you will.
So here is the task from week 1, a questionnaire of sorts, to determine how existing factors, history, philosophy, culture, community, activities, location and body, already impact on my style. The story so far, as it were! 
How has your personal history informed the way you dress? When did your tastes crys- talize? Have they changed over the years, and why?

My tastes have changed hugely since my teenage years, when low slung flares, whale tail thongs and spaghetti strap tops were the order of the day. As a teen I dressed to impress (boys, mainly!) to fit it, but to stand out and the girls at my school all had their own 'thing' to make them stand out in the sea of polyester that was our cohort. My things were bracelets and scarfs and I wore stacks of beads up both arms in all the colours of the rainbow with a cream fluffy scarf longer than I was tall. My scarf I knitted myself and it was the first item of handmade clothing I had ever really appreciated, or had appreciated by others. It went viral before we used the internet, as in, girls at other schools spoke about it, and I know this because their mums told my mum! In my late teens I felt less confident in myself and started dressing more for myself than for attracting others, and I started to raid my mothers wardrobe for unusual and colourful pieces and vintage.

 By the time I moved away to university I had a penchant for ties, shirts buttoned all the way up to the top and generally more masculine attire, punctuated by 60s shift dresses in paisley prints. Before leaving home I also started sewing for myself more often, but kept it simple by sewing dresses using stretch jerseys so fit was far less of a concern!

I decided that moving out of home meant a brilliant opportunity to 'define' my style and slim down my wardrobe, of course this lasted all of a month or so and I soon got into the swing of shopping with my 'uni girls', and it was at this time that my style was hugely influenced by the girls who would become by besties away from home.
 We raided the topshop sales and my style became feminine to the extreme, rose printed body con skirts, floaty sheer tops, face paint, florals and lace dresses were the order of the day (not to mention sequin hot pants!) when practicality was not on the agenda and going out 3 nights a week very much was.
 As was fancy dress, which was very much a monthly occurrence. We did it all, blitz, formal, farmers, 60s, 80s, 90s, come as a painting, Christmas- you name a theme we tried it! Unless it was misogynistic, pimps and hoes we are not :) 

The thing I found most refreshing about the shift in my style when I moved away to university (in leafy Kingston) was the far more casual, comfortable look with an altogether softer edge. Looking back at photos I think I can visibly see a difference in how relaxed I look after I moved away. North London has a tougher and more urban look and style with a great deal more polish and glamour, whereas I tend to prefer a softer look. It has completely made me realise just how important the link is between occasion and attire- appropriateness is now my mantra!
The final change in my style probably came about when I started work and realised that a wardrobe full of chiffon mini dresses does not really come in handy for work with small people. So I trod the line between dressing my age and dressing for my job (not easy as a 21 year old teacher). 

This is also the age I really got bitten by the handmade bug and bought myself a brand new sewing machine, aged 22. Now at 25 I feel like a proper grown up (pretty much) but I still wear pinnys cos, yeah. 

I often think, as a seamstress too often caught up in the trends, how I would define my style and I can't give it a name, mainly because that makes me cringe too much! But there are things I know I like:
Polo necks
High neck sleeveless dresses
Colour blocking 
Mini skirts 
Simplicity and appropriateness- very few, plain accessories and outfits appropriate to the occasion in which they will be worn

How does your philosophy, spirituality, or religion affect your aesthetics and buying habits? Or, what aspects of those things would you like to see reflected?

As an atheist I guess I could probably argue that the way I dress is totally detached from my philosophy, but I do know that there's a part of me (now, clearly not when I was a student judging by these photos!) that values modesty. I feel horribly uncomfortable in skirts too short, dresses too tight or tops too low, mainly because I need to be fully comfortable in what I wear for it to be worn with any regularity. I have too many other choices for uncomfortable clothes to be pulled from my wardrobe with any regularity! I don't like wearing clothes that the slightest move could result in me publicly exposing my bits to the world. Is that a philosophy?

I think overall though, my main philosophy with dressing is I like to know, as far as possible, where my clothes come from and  a large part of why I sew is the desire to make things I can enjoy free of the guilt attached to buying into the high street clothing giants and perpetuate their culture of underpayed and undervalued employees. As a teacher I am, unsurprisingly, not rich and cannot afford to buy high end, handmade goods, and even if I did I could not afford the inevitable dry cleaning bills which come with such garments, so to sew for myself is for me the next best thing. 

How has your cultural background shaped the way you look? How did the aesthetics and values you grew up with affect your tastes as you got older?
How are you influenced by the people around you, including friends, family, and other 
communities you’re involved in?

Growing up in north London I had two major influences over my style: my parents, mainly my mum to be fair, and my girlfriends and the other kids at our school.

From my mother, I inherited a love for sewing, vintage, colour and a pride in standing out and being different from the crowd. From my friends, I acquired an interest in glamour, polished beauty (which I still aspire to!) toughness and an awareness of the current trends. Overall, I did not feel totally comfortable in my style untill I left the influences I grew up with (as positive as they were) and had the time and space to decide for myself what I really like the look and feel of. However, I still admire my mothers incredibly and eclectic style every time I visit her and knowing I am visiting her definitely influences how I pack! And a party or lunch in town with the girls I grew up with inspires me to paint my nails properly and sort out my hair! 

How do your day to day activities influence your choices? 

The obvious answer to this one is my work. As a teacher I spend a great deal of my time bending and sitting down to help little people with their learning and because of this short skirts and low cut tops are off the agenda! I also need clothes to be comfortable and completely washable. I have had one child draw an enormous black line up the back of my newly completed maxi skirt. Not happy.

Does the place you live inform the way you dress? How does climate factor in?

Well, it's wet! The weather in London varies from day to day, hour to hour, but is generally mild. Cardigan weather, my mother calls it! As I mentioned on the other questions, living in the leafy suburbs of Kingston there is definitely a more relaxed style of dress compared to where I grew up in a more urban environment. However, I regularly travel the 25mins into Waterloo and hang out around town and always make the effort to look more polished for these excursions into the big city!

In what ways does body image affect your choices in clothing? What clothes make you feel good about the body you live in? What clothes make you feel uncomfortable or alienated from your body?

To be honest, I really have nothing I dislike about my body. Although I dress fairly modestly that is not for shame of my body. I am a fairly usual shape and size and there is no part I try to hide of myself  except for I really don't like overly tight clothes which feel restricting to my movement. So really, this section is quite closely linked to the philosophy section, my covering of my body is a decision based on modesty, not shame, two concepts far too often confused in our society as a whole.

That's it for today! 
Overall I found completing this questionnaire really helpful in helping me to think through my style so far, a really good excuse to dig out old photographs and give myself a chance to reflect. If you too are interested in the Wardrobe Architect project be sure to check out http://www.coletterie.com/wardrobe-architect/making-style-more-personal

Check back soon for week 2!

Thanks for reading and happy sewing x o x o