Dress in 5 Minutes coordinates : Tops

Sew in a weekend : dress in 5 minutes.

The key to dressing without thinking, yet still looking good, is a co-ordinated wardrobe. Most of us have at least a few days when we don’t want to think about clothes. And for that we need a small group of clothes that all go together. So we can grab anything and it will work.

We also sometimes feel we’d like to be able to choose a co-ordinated wardrobe without thinking. Or wish someone else would do the thinking for us.

The trouble is this doesn’t work, as we’re all different shapes, different colours, different lifestyles, and different personalities. I’ve found I can’t work from a theory. There’s no substitute for trying things out and looking carefully. From past experience, I know the clothes in the ‘system’ below are not right for me. But it has general ideas which are useful.

This example of co-ordination comes from Eileen Fisher. They’re very simple styles so, using super quick patterns, you might be able to make a capsule from her ‘system’ in a weekend 😀 Though simple clothes do look best in quality materials and quality techniques.

The current (May 2010) Eileen Fisher ‘system’ consists of :
– 3 sleeveless tops.
– 3 bottoms.
– 3 layering pieces.
– 3 accessories : 2 scarves and a belt.

Most of these garments are made from knits. But I’ve had my head full of speedy patterns for wovens recently, so that’s what comes to mind.

(SWAP 2010 recently finished at Stitchers Guild. Very inspirational wardrobes. But not usually quick to make !)

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Sleeveless tops

”3tops”Eileen Fisher

All the tops do need to be suitable for wearing alone, as well as co-ordinating with all the layering pieces.

These three tops are sufficiently similar that they’re easy alternatives. All are sleeveless, collarless, unshaped, and long – either low hip or high thigh.

For a bit of variety there’s a camisole, and low and high necklines. One has neckline embellishment (self-coloured sequins).

There are few patterns just for sleeveless tops. But if you ever buy wardrobe patterns, you’re probably already well supplied with sleeveless top patterns.

Jalie knit patterns are popular. Jalie 2806 scoop neck tops include sleeveless styles.


If you need a pattern for wovens, oop Butterick 4987 is for making camisoles (left below) in 2 hours of sewing time.

Among current patterns, there’s a camisole in the Butterick 4989 2-hour pattern for cascade jackets.

McCall’s 5298 wardrobe includes a low neck fitted top (centre). This pattern isn’t timed, but is quick and easy.

Butterick 5948 is a pattern for 2 hour tops that are not fitted but include a range of necklines and body and sleeve lengths (right).


Or try the Textile Studio – Loes Hinse Tank Top and Shell.


Lengthen all these patterns to mimic the inspiration.

Personally, this sleeveless top is so simple I think I would start from my fitting sloper. At the beginning of the year I launched into developing TNTs, but got bogged down on finding a comfortable armhole. Now I’ve mercilessly scooped out the lower front armhole, I’m close to one that doesn’t bind.

I usually wear sleeves and a collar. But now I have a comfortable sleeveless top and the weather is unusually hot here – perhaps I will try some sleeveless shells !

(The next TNT problem is I have no idea how to get a sleeve head to match my armhole. . . but that’s another story. . .)

The easiest way to have interchangeable clothes is to make them the same shape and colour. But within that limit, there’s still huge potential for an almost infinite variety of embellishments. It’s even possible to morph these simple shells into vests, blouses and dresses. Shirley Adams’ Alternatives 500 Shell series includes add-on pattern pieces. Fun, but a long way from developing a co-ordinated wardrobe. Which is easiest if the components are fairly similar.

– – –


If sleeveless doesn’t work for you, you’ll be pleased to know there are many basic sleeved tees elsewhere on the May 2010 Eileen Fisher site. (Many of these tops are long too.)

Jalie 2805 pattern for knit tees is a favourite of Pattern Reviewers, one of the Best Patterns of 2009.


Or Simplicity 4076 (oop) is in the Pattern Review Hall of Fame 2009, if you like more varied tops. Though these styles are more difficult to combine successfully with a covering layer (I think it would best be simple and plain).


Some other popular patterns are Pamela’s Perfect Tee and Jennifer Stern’s The Tee.

If like me you don’t look good in knits (anything closely fitted makes it obvious how small my bust is), there are woven short sleeved tops in the Butterick 5948 collection of 2 hour tops.

Or try the Textile Studio – Loes Hinse Basic Top.


I look better in these tops if I add front bust and back shoulder darts.

– – –

Cami dresses

Elsewhere on the May 2010 Eileen Fisher site, most of the dresses are ‘cami dresses’, lengthened versions of the simple tops.

Spaghetti straps slide straight off my sloping shoulders, so I wouldn’t be comfortable in this style. They’re minimal garments, not made with the support you get in a strapless formal dress.

If you do like this idea, New Look 6804 (oop) is a 2-hour dress pattern.


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On Trend

If you’re following the Pattern Review Wardrobe Contest for 2010, you need to include something that’s ‘on trend’ as shown in a fashion source. These items show just how easy that is ! You might make a classic tee and refer to the Eileen Fisher site to show you’re current 😀

There are several trends this summer that are relevant for simple tops.

Colour :
Lighter neutrals, such as nude tones or oyster grey, non-colours of beige, stone, greige, light coral, or pale muted pastels.

Minimalism :
One of this season’s key trends is minimalism, and these tops certainly follow that – the simplest of styles made in high quality drapey fabrics.
See ‘Clean Energy‘ at Style.com (US Vogue) (“Click for more fashion” to get a beautiful slide show.)

Lingerie look :
Make your top in charmeuse or sheers, with added lace or flounces. Or white lawn covered in heirloom stitching.
See ‘Pastoral Interlude‘ and ‘The Big Reveal’ at Style.com

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Co-ordination and personal style

‘Dress in 5 minutes’ is possible because the clothes are interchangeable. Everything goes with everything else, so you don’t have to think or try things out.

Co-ordinating is helped by shapes and lengths, necklines and armholes, and colours. This ’system’ of clothes do co-ordinate, but is this the co-ordination that’s best for you ? I need to adapt the shapes and lengths, and the colours, to be more flattering for my body.

And the clothes also need to work with your personal style and lifestyle. For example, suppose you’re choosing tops for a travel mini-wardrobe. You might need a sunny top and a dressy top, but also a covered up top for visiting places with a dress code.

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Shapes and lengths

This ‘system’ co-ordinates partly because of the similar shapes. All the pieces are simple in outline. They depend on knit fabrics for shaping to your body. If you’re not a straight shape, see my previous post for some thoughts on adapting simple patterns to be more flattering on other body shapes.

Use the high and low necklines that are most flattering for you (see post). Add darts if that works better for you. I need to flare the side seams or add side slits from waist level, so the tops aren’t strained over my hips.

Trinny & Susannah in ‘What not to wear’ have a lot of advice about t-shirt styles for different body shapes.

All the ‘system’ tops are long. That’s because two of the layers are cropped to give the ‘layered’ style. (Two meanings of ‘layer’ :
– a piece that goes over others.
– a look with the ‘layering piece’ shorter that what’s underneath, short over long.)

”layers” Eileen Fisher

Cropped jackets and vests are also a trend for the coming winter.

”me-layered” Me, ah perhaps not. . .

With my short waisted high hipped pear shape, this is not a good look for me. Puts a lot of important design lines across my hips, which is the last place I need to draw attention to. . .

In Trinny & Susannah’s “Body Shape Bible”, they only suggest short-over-long for their Pear shape – long body and short legs. Trinny herself is this shape, and uses the layered look to great effect so she appears to have perfect proportions.

It would be better for me to make these items the other way round, long over short : short tops and longer layering pieces.
But you may be one of the people the short-over-long look works well for.

It’s good to get the lengths right in a wardrobe. It’s also important to co-ordinate necklines, armholes and sleeves. In this ‘system’ the tops are all collarless and sleeveless, so that isn’t a problem. I do prefer to wear a collar. There are 2 easy ways of co-ordinating this :
– tops with collars, layering pieces collarless.
– tops collarless, layers with collars.

If you want sleeved tops that go under nearly all layering pieces, do make the tops with fitted armholes and sleeve heads.

– – –


Co-ordinating is helped by simple use of colour. In this Eileen Fisher ‘system’ all the clothes are neutral colours and accessories are accent colours. There are two main neutrals, a light and a dark. Bottoms are in the dark neutral. Most of the tops and layering pieces are in the light neutral. There is added interest because they have different textures.

What are your best lighter and darker neutrals, and favourite accent colour ?

Personally I don’t look good in strong contrasts, and I wear mainly lighter colours. A light top and dark bottom means there’s a strong line across you somewhere. You need to make sure this is at the right height, and with the right balance of light and dark, to be flattering on you.


I like wearing neutrals, but mainly light ones. The monochromatic look is right for me. And I like textures. But soft florals, and animal or ethnic prints, are ‘in’ this season, if you prefer prints to textures. Or multicoloured abstracts if you like a hard edged look.

Do you know your own ‘colour personality’ ? (see posts on individual colour types in her April 2010 archive). Would you prefer to wear a couple of pastels, or olives and rusts, rather than neutrals ? Nude tones or khakis are very current. So is monochromatic denim blue. Or perhaps you like a variety of strong colours. In that case you may already know that colour-blocking of near-primary colours is ‘in’ this year !

In the Eileen Fisher ‘system’ , the clothes are all in neutral colours. Accessories add life and variety. Scarves and belt are in accent colours and obvious textures – crinkles and weaves. The long scarves (70 – 84 inches/ 1.75 – 2.10 m) have fringed ends. Many are wide enough (20-28 inch/ 50-70 cm) to use as a light wrap. A lot of stylish people round here are wearing these long big scarves to add colour and individuality.

– – – –

These are good relaxed styles. Some of the patterns I’ve mentioned are not timed patterns, but are easy.
Make a ‘capsule’ of top, bottom, and layering piece in a weekend. (More posts, on the Bottoms and Layers.)

So you need a month of speedy sewing weekends for clothes and scarves, and a little shopping for belts if you like them, to get the complete wardrobe 😀

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Patterns and links available May 2010

Explore posts in the same categories: co-ordinates, Eileen Fisher, personal style, speedy sewing, wardrobe planning

13 Comments on “Dress in 5 Minutes coordinates : Tops”

  1. ejvc Says:

    Thanks, Lisanne. The short-over-long works well for me, and I am intrigued at the cami-dresses.

    I really, really, like your blog for the way you looks at fashion and translate it into patterns, it’s a great thing that i should do but don’t and it’s really nice to be able to come here and read what you’ve been thinking.

    BTW, I think if you had a short jacket with shoulders, like the little number shown in your photo, it would help balance your figure, at least, if that croquis you posted is accurate. Have you tried something like that?

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks Elizabeth – it’s good to have comments from a different perspective!

      I love fashion magazines and pattern books, though I’m not at all a ‘high fashion’ dresser myself.

      That ‘croquis’ is the generic one for my body shape from an old T&S site. Not accurate for me as I also have sloping shoulders and very high hips. I might try the short ‘jacket’ with cut-on cap sleeves, but not with another strong design line lower on my hips. . . It’s a good style for your square shoulders ?

  2. sdBev Says:

    Interesting. I do find that the long over short works best on my Pear shape too. Also darted tops are more flattering for every bosom size. I’m smallish. Always heard that the “larger” bosomed needed darts. I was amazed at how the same basic tank looked 100% better on me by adding the bust dart.

    A thing for you to consider the armscye shape for a sleeveless armhole will not be the same as a sleeved. A sleeve can be drafted for every armscye shape, but may not be comfortable when worn. Usually the it needs to be tighter and higher than sleeveless. Just keep that in mind as you do your muslins for the sleeved blouse.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Yes, Bev. For me too, a dart definitely makes me look as if I have a bigger front.

      Thanks for the tip about sleeve fit, another thing to try. . .

  3. Maria Says:

    I love the idea of sewing a wardrobe with pieces that work together effortlessly. Thank you so much for offering so much food for thought – taking time to coordinate shapes, items and colors could really multiply the functionality of each item!

    • sewingplums Says:

      Yes Maria – co-ordination is good – but many of us don’t find it at all easy, so I’m trying to think a bit about how to do it !

  4. sewingplums Says:

    Elizabeth (ejvc) has a good different perspective on this in a post in her blog.

  5. LindaC Says:

    This is a great post. I enjoyed seeing your take on the patterns that would/could be used to create the easy dressing wardrobe. I’m going to go read your post on bottoms now. 🙂 Thanks.

  6. Thanks for the link – lots of great information here!

  7. Ali Says:

    Thanks for these posts! I just discovered Eileen Fisher and am enamored with her system, great to see your take on it 🙂

  8. Annette Says:

    I’m interested to read more…

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