Archive for September 2009

An aside on retro style

September 25, 2009

According to US Vogue and UK Elle, there are two fashionable retro themes this season (A/W 2009), the 40s and 80s. Having lived through those times, for me these styles don’t have quite the resonances they’re supposed to.

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Forties and Fabulous


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Party like it’s 1983

Marc Jacobs

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Well, I was a child in the 40s under rationing. Children’s woven clothes were made from the less worn sections of adult cast-offs. Boys wore worn-out mens’ pants with the frayed legs cut off, so strong support braces were needed to hold them up. Too holey knits were unpicked. The usable wool yarn was steamed to get out the kinks, then knitted into stripey sweaters for children. Those thick tough tweed suits had to be hard-wearing, as adults didn’t have enough clothing coupons to replace them very often.

And knees covered please !! I can still remember the shock when a girl at school sat down so you could see her knees. And that was in the mid 50s. When there was no pill and no tights (pantyhose), social rules were very different.

And don’t forget to wear your matching hat, gloves, bag, and shoes, and your corset, suspenders, stockings. Vogue Patterns models didn’t stop wearing hats, and the pill and tights weren’t available, until the mid 60s, which was 20 years later.

In 1983 I was living in central London, but too busy to notice much partying. I did frequently walk past the crowds trying to get into the famous Stringfellows nightclub, and don’t remember them looking much like this season’s Marc Jacobs show. Though that of course may be why they hadn’t got in.

I’m proud to say I did wear a poncho with knee high boots, though not in a bright colour. Come to think of it, I wore that poncho with ankle boots on a weekend visit to New York City in 1984. A tourist pointed at me and said “Oh look, that’s what they’re wearing now”, to which her husband said “hrrmph’. One of the fashion high points of my life 😀

I’ve never been one for fashion extremes, and most of the clothes I wore in the 80s would not look too peculiar now. My work ‘signature’ was a navy cashmere polo (turtle) neck sweater, exactly the same classic as those available now. I still have a red jacket I made – thigh length with shoulder wide lapels. Very current. Sadly it’s got a moth hole, but it’s an interesting cut and I’ve kept it to take off the pattern. My mother lent the original pattern to someone long ago.

But it’s entertaining to see modern re-interpretations. Wear the new designs for fun and interesting shapes. Just don’t think of it as re-creating those times.

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Photos from

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Trends for Autumn/ Winter 09

September 17, 2009

What are the style choices for the coming season ? I’ve summarised below what a couple of UK style magazines say. And added a note about the trends on US Vogue’s

Long ago, everyone had to wear the same look to be ‘fashionable’. Then in the 80s it was either power dressing or ‘anything goes’. Now there is a range of style choices, though they are usually some version of ‘classic’, ‘casual’ or ‘dramatic’.

The general styles not catered for by these fashion editors are ‘romantic’ and ‘sporty’. People who like lace and embroidery are expected to wear beading, fringe and gathers. I don’t think they’re the same at all. Perhaps looking pretty isn’t a current stereotype, Or perhaps both gentle and more active people don’t make for eye-catching photos and exciting copy. Well, people who prefer softer lines know to look in the Butterick catalogue for patterns. People who enjoy a sporty style may like Jalie or Green Pepper patterns. And Stella McCartney designs for Adidas.

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Note : Butterick-McCall’s-Vogue has changed their websites. My BMV links now only get you to a page where you can search for a pattern number.
I apologise that I haven’t changed to the new individual URLs, but it would be a lot of work.

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Anyway in this season (autumn/ winter 09), according to the UK Elle and UK In Style October issues, the looks we can choose between are :

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Classic Chic
Trench or double breasted coats, ruffled blouses, white shirts, slightly tapered skirts (knee length) or pants, dresses and matching suits often with defined waists.
Camelhair, classic leather bag, silk scarf, slim leather belt at waist, riding boots (not western !)

This camel coat is from Donna Karan. ( links are very slow in my browser. To see the slide show, click the link under the catwalk photo on Look at MaxMara for trenches. And Chanel for lovely wearable suits and evening dresses. Or Burberry Prorsum for an edgier look.


There are many appropriate patterns in the Vogue catalogue, so I haven’t picked out specifics. If much of Burberry goes too far for your pleasure, look at Nancy Erickson’s patterns and excellent newsletter about how the classic style changes with the trends.

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Downtown Cool
Soft long jackets, fur tops, plaid big shirts, slim pants, ankle boots, big scarves.

Get inspiration from parts of the Gucci show, though this style is as much street as catwalk.


Here’s a wardrobe pattern for this look (McCall’s 5983).

Add the jacket from Vogue 8546.


Many shows include jackets with cut on elbow length sleeves and big turn-back cuffs. There are several patterns in the McCalls and Butterick catalogues, or try Vogue 8603.


And the long tunic look includes thigh length cardigans.

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Easy Luxe
don’t care, anything goes together, relaxed but expensive, loose large casuals.

Typical show Chloe


Here are some possible ‘big easy’ patterns (Vogue 8538, Vogue 8499, Vogue 1112. Despite what the style description says, these are not just big but interesting too !


Or this Issey Miyake wardrobe (Vogue 1476)


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Boho Chic – Boho Glamour
Short skirts, tunic dresses, drapes, gathers, handkerchief hems, long fur and other vests, grey tees/ sweat shirts.
Animal prints, big soft bags, thigh boots.

Iconic show Isabel Marant, or Kenzo if you prefer calf-length skirts.


Butterick 3311 includes a fur hoodie vest. See also Butterick 5359.


McCall’s 5287 and Butterick 3257 are oop, still available in the US but not UK.

There are many thigh length tunic-dress patterns available, especially at McCall’s, such as 5926, or Anna Sui at Vogue patterns.


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Balmainia (rock chick bling) – Fierce Chic
Big shouldered jackets, short capes, buckled boots, hip slung belts, slim pants, tunics.
Lots of studs, leather, metal and shine, black and grey.

Key-note show Balmain.


Burda have ‘biker with attitude’ jackets. Go to Burda and search for the pattern numbers : 507B for the jacket and 7593 for the vest.


Add flanges in the jacket armholes for the pointed shoulder look, with shoulder pads to keep the shape.

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Paris oh la la
Corset looks, mini skirts, thigh boots, berry colours, bows and stiff ruffles.
Bling, silk, satin, rings.

Key-note show Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton.


For the full ooh la la effect, enjoy the range of corset patterns from Vena Cava,
or take the Laughing Moon no.103 1890s Waist Blouse pattern or no.105 Saloon Girl pattern as a starting point,
or McCall’s 3674 is a Moulin Rouge pattern, oop but available on ebay.

Make the rabbit ears with millinery wire and a headband 😀

For a less in-your-face version see Vogue 2810. with an Oscar de la Renta evening coat (Vogue 2714).

For other quieter special occasion wear, see the US Vogue styles below.

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The US Vogue trends emphasise retro and evening styles rather than casuals and quirky:

Classics :
smart investments
forties and fabulous

Fierce chic :
Biker Babe
party like it’s 1983

Glamour :
boudoir crossing (transparencies)
ruche hour (interesting draping)

I’m not in tune with retro, so am not a good person to comment. For original patterns, go to LanetzLiving, Patterns from the Past, or So Vintage.

There used to be some lovely Vera Wang Vogue patterns with transparent panels, sadly no longer available. For a quick version of the look, make a coverup from chiffon, perhaps Vogue 7161.

This drapey Donna Karan dress is Vogue 1119.. See also the designer eveningwear at Vogue patterns.


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Of course these notes are a summary of a simplification. And happily we haven’t actually got to wear any of them unless we want to. If none of the looks are ‘you’, pick one feature of a trend, such as a touch of fur, animal print, or glitter, or a longer top.

I could wear Downtown Cool, though I’m not an urban person. But I might add some heirloom sewing or quilters’ embellishment, which probably isn’t at all Cool 😀 I would not be happy if I was covered in bows and flounces or leather and grommets, but I know people who thrive and flourish in them. Anyway it’s fun to explore the possibilities.

Colours need care. As usual there’s much black, which is sad as up to half of us don’t look our best in it. A good alternative is grey as it has many possible shades, though it needs experimenting to find one that flatters you. Or try dark brown. Accent colours are red, berry shades, peacock blues, and nudes, none of which are easy for everyone. Non-bluey reds are good on me, but otherwise I will as usual be going my own naturals way on this.

As you can see, there’s a lot of choice about style ! Different groups of fashion editors think different things important. But there is some agreement. All three emphasise the big pointed shoulder look, which is the main ‘newsworthy’ theme of the season. Though it’s not very practical or flattering as a shoulder shape for most of us. There are many signs that big shoulders are coming back – not a look that’s good on me. Two editors notice classic styles. Both UK editors give a boho style and a casual style. The three ‘special occasion’ styles each catch the interest of only one group.

There is also overlap. If you look at a wider range of photos you’ll see that many catwalk outfits are a mixture of these styles. And there is a lot going on that doesn’t fit neatly into these editor labels. To my eye, the elements that keep reappearing (apart from all the black leather and silver !) are tunics, slim pants, fur vests, and long jackets, often with wide lapels or double breasted, band collars, waist-deep V necks, pleated fullness (often in balloon shape short skirts), big scarves and neck rings, boots. But this is just one person’s view.

See the Designer Directory if you want to spend the whole season happily looking at clothes instead of sewing them 😀 – and explore a much wider range of styles.

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Photos from
Patterns available September 09.

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Personal Style questions

September 6, 2009

The words used to describe personal styles change over the years (classic, romantic, casual, dramatic, vintage. . . cool, boho, cottage core, urban, normcore, edgy, retro, hip-hop . . . ) but some basic aspects of personal style stay constant.
It’s good to have a couple of key words for a style, as an easy way to keep it in mind.
But actually personal styles can vary in a huge number of details.

There are 2 main approaches to making style decisions :
Follow what makes you feel and look good : “Do you prefer wearing skirts or pants ?”
Follow an expert : “You’re a Natural so you prefer wearing pants”.

Following an expert can be very helpful when you start being interested personal style and don’t know what the options are.
Ultimately it’s more important to follow your own feelings and needs.

After much reading about wardrobe planning, I have a list of style questions I find helpful.

Answer these questions with what you would like to wear in an ideal world – don’t pick what is fashionable, or what you have to wear for your work, climate, budget. . .
I’ve given lists of items to choose between, but they don’t cover all the possibilities – feel free to add your own likes.

If you’re new to personal style issues, you may find this long list rather overwhelming ! If so, just consider one or a small group of questions at a time.

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Which types of garment do you prefer wearing ?
– are you a pants or a skirt person ?
– if you prefer skirts, are you a dresses or a separates person ? slim or swirling ?
– if it’s pants – do you prefer jeans, skinnies, leggings, chinos, trousers. . . ?
– which types of top do you like most ? shirts, blouses, tees, tunics ?
– which types of layering top do you most like to wear ? blazer, ‘kimono’, sweater, cardigan, tunic, vest, shawl, big shirt, sleeveless jumper-style dress?

There are many pinterest boards here showing different styles of dresses, jackets, skirts, pants, collars, pockets, etc. for you to choose your favourites from.

– do you prefer more professional looking, or more dirt tolerant, clothes ?
– do you like to go to ’dressy/ formal’ occasions ?
– do you like to show skin or cleavage, or are you naturally a ‘modest’ dresser ?
– does the climate/ environment/ culture you live in, or the hobbies you enjoy, affect whether you need warm or protective layers ? longer or shorter pants, skirts or sleeves ? special accessories ?

– what is your basic body silhouette ? rectangle, round, triangle, inverted triangle, hourglass, a combination ?
– if you’re bigger above the waist, have you got wide or large shoulders, or a generous cup size, or both ?
– do you prefer to wear clothes that are skin tight (negative ease – your clothes have to stretch for you to get into them)/ close fitting/ average fitting (about 2-4″/5-10cm. ease)/ loose fitting/ very loose fitting (over 10″/25cm. ease) ? (Ease is the difference between body measurements and garment measurements.)

– what shapes and lengths of tops, tunics, jackets, skirts, pants, are most flattering for you ? (essential to check the view from the back too ! and just get a general idea – the best lengths in detail often depend on particular shapes and combinations of garments and shoes.)
– what shapes and lengths do you feel most comfortable in, or feel most like yourself when you wear them ?
– do you like to wear a collar or raised neckline, or do you avoid them ?
– which armhole shape do you prefer – fitted, dropped shoulder, cut-on ?
– do you prefer simple sleeves, or ones that get attention ?
– do you look good wearing a belt ? at waist level ? at high hip level ?
– do you look best with tops tucked in or out ?

– what is your face shape ? what is the most flattering hair style for you ? what hairstyle makes you feel most true to yourself ?
which hair styles need the level of care you are happy with ? which do you feel comfortable wearing ?
– what is the most flattering shape and depth of neckline for you ? also the best collars ? (Cut out shapes in kitchen towel paper and try them on – that’s good to use as it sticks to most clothes.)
– what are your best features, that you want your clothes and accessories to draw attention to ? face, legs, waist, shoulders, bosom, butt, hands, eyes, skin, feet, hair. . .?

– are you happier in knits or in woven fabrics ?
– do you like plain fabrics, or hand dyeds, prints, plaids, stripes, textures or patterned weaves, velvet or corduroy, shiny, embellished ?
– stiffer materials like leather or denim, or softer more drapey ones?
– if you like prints, are they floral, geometric, animal, hard edged, fuzzy. . .
– lots of big contrasts, or only subtle differences ?
– do you like added beads, or braids, piping, cord, studs and eyelets, ornamental zips, fringe, tassels, lace, embroidery, topstitching, fabric textures such as tucks, gathers, flounces, smocking, 3-D flowers, applique, patchwork, quilting. . .

– what are the darker and lighter neutral colours that are most flattering for you ? (that make you look good even without make up or hair colouring ?)
– what is your favourite and most flattering ‘accent’ colour ?
– do you look best in light or dark colours ? clear or muted-greyed shades ? colours with a yellowish (warm) or with a blueish (cool) underlying tinge ? high contrast or minimal contrast ?
– do you look your best when wearing white ? in black ? in denim blue ? in none of these ?

– are you happiest in fitted or loose clothes ? structured/tailored, or floaty ? simple or detailed ?
– is the weight of clothes important for you ? do you feel more comfortable in light weight clothes ? in heavy weight clothes ?
– what about the weight of accessories ? the weight of bags? shoes? necklaces?
– do you like or dislike wearing high heels? flats? low necklines? high necklines? ankle length skirts? thigh length skirts?

– what is your favourite accessory ? bags, backpacks, belts, necklaces, brooches/ pins, bracelets, earrings, rings, scarves, hats, gloves, shoes, boots, sunglasses ? none ?
– what are your favourite styles for jewellery and accessories : quiet or bling ? large or small ? best materials ? simple or detailed ? modern or antique ? angular or curved ? a mixture ?
– what is your favourite style of bag ?
– what is your favourite size of bag (purse) ?
– what are your favourite materials for your bag ? fabric, leather, straw ?
– what heel height is most flattering to your legs when wearing a skirt ?
– what is your favourite style of shoes ?

– what is the clothing style that you feel most yourself in ? quiet or striking ? casual or tailored ? pretty or hard-edged ? dry-clean or mini-care ? crafter or modernist ? minimalist or bling ? modest or exposed ? classic, quirky, romantic, high fashion, sporty, artistic, elegant, cool, edgy, urban, vintage, boho, sexy, something else, a combination ?
– have you got a ‘signature’ ? is there a colour, or a type of print or fabric, or a type or shape of garment, or a type of accessory or trim, a style element, or something else, that you alway wear or would like to wear ?

– and apply (most of !) these questions to undies and nightwear too.
– what bra and panties styles and sizes can you wear without getting underwear lines ?

– remember a time when you felt at your happiest and best. Would the clothes you are thinking of making or buying help you to feel like this ?

– do you need to adapt your clothes a little away from your personal preferences, to suit the climate or lifestyle where you live or work ? if so, what is the most important feature for you to maintain, so you feel you keep your own style ? (Our local smartly uniformed junior supermarket manager goes home in black leather and chains. He gets to keep his beard and pony tail during the day.)

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Obviously ‘personal style’ cannot be summarised in one word !

Your personal style may well be different from mine, so notice especially when you disagree with these questions, or think there is something important left out !

These sorts of questions don’t point to specific best designs, but for me they do greatly cut down on the mass of alternatives.

Once you start thinking in this way, you may find many other style specifics are important to you.

P.S. I copied this list and changed ‘my’ choices to bold format, so I can just quickly read through the bold words to get a written overview of my style.

P.S.S. Looking at this 3 years later – I’ve realised the clothes patterns I choose have most interest and variety around the neck area, with very little variation in sleeves. So I would add some questions here about which style elements you like to vary. See my post on Where do you like your outfit variety ?

P.S.S.S. 2021. April Grow’s Perfectly Put Together course (not free) goes through many of these options with detailed examples. She has an ‘edgy classic’ style in Winter colours, so the specific examples won’t work well for many people. But as an illustration of general principles about where you prefer to be among the huge variety of style options, and that your preferences may depend on details, this is good.

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First published September 2009

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