Style interest from accessories rather than clothes ?

Many of us focus on clothes with interesting style elements – each garment is different. The pattern companies encourage us in this, so we go on buying more patterns. And many of us like to make something ‘different’ each time we sew.

But there’s a completely different approach to ‘looking interesting’. Janice of The Vivienne Files has one of her thought provoking pieces, on a ‘creative’ group of people who wear ultra-basic clothes, and add all the interest with accessories – scarves, hats, belts, jewellery, eyeglasses, gloves, socks, shoes. . .

Here’s her post. She picks a basic wardrobe to use as an ‘unnoticed’ background for interesting accessories.

Emphasise the quality – this needn’t be a way of looking cheap and scruffy.

These base garments are very simple to copy.

The wardrobe

Janice picks 12 items, in 4 groups of 3 :

Sweater knits – turtleneck (UK polo neck), classic twinset – all in black
Cashmere to underline the quality. There’s a lot of poor quality cashmere in catalogues and on-line – feels worse than good merino wool. You do need to touch and handle it to find the good stuff. Only then do you understand why cashmere is such a prestige fibre.


Crew neck tees – white, grey, black


Shirts – white, chambray, and shirt jacket in denim


(Judith Rasband in a recent e-mail advocated classic denim shirts and relaxed fit white silk shirts as good additions to any wardrobe this season.
P.S. Janice has multiple other outfit suggestions for wearing a denim shirt, here.)

Pants – chinos and slim jeans/ pants – tan, black, dark indigo


(Several stylists recommend adding to your jeans this season.)

Photos from J. Crew – of course you can get similar basics from many sources.

(P.S. This wardrobe has focus on cool colour – blue. Janice has now posted a similar basic wardrobe in warm colours here. It’s a bit short on layers for me – I would add a tan shirt-jacket.)


Even for the most basic styles, it’s a good idea to use recent patterns – for current proportions and shoulder shaping.

(I’ve assumed you buy the sweater knits.)

Crew neck tee (instead use your most flattering neckline).

Kwik Sew Kwik Start 3766.


Palmer-Pletsch new unisex shirt (make a larger size with flapped chest pockets for a shirt jacket), McCall’s 6613.


Many other shirt patterns available if you want something with a bit more individuality. And many independent designers have tee/ shirt/ pant patterns with interesting details. But that isn’t the point here. These clothes are background – basics which don’t draw attention, so they don’t distract from the individual choice of accessories.

Chinos, Palmer-Pletsch McCall’s 6361.


Slim pants and jeans, Butterick 5682.


Or use Wendy Mullin’s Sew U and Sew U Home Stretch pattern books – she’s an example of a designer who aims for a ‘creative’ customer group.  Her books are about being creative with clothes, but the starting points she gives are the most basic styles.


Classic shirts and jeans can be quite challenging to sew. It’s possible to start with similar but much easier styles, such as beginner patterns :

Kwik Sew Kwik Start 3475 camp shirt.


Kwik Sew Kwik Start 3314 elastic waist pants with side-seam pockets.

Does this idea appeal ? or does the thought of having to wear such simple casuals appall you 😀 Don’t forget people using this approach look much more interesting than the clothes in the basic wardrobe, as they add their individual accessories.

Getting style interest by wearing the simplest clothes and adding all the creativity in accessories is the opposite of all the books and independent patterns which tell you how to use a simple starting point to make a wide variety of clothes styles.

There are of course many ways of adding more variety to a small group of clothes. I have a post planned on some of them.

Also very easy to change this clothing group to different personal styles, by changing the shirt-jacket to a more arty or prettier jacket style, or replacing it with a blazer. Post planned on this.

If you do like this approach – what are your favourite accessories, to add interest to these very basic clothes ?
I have a post planned about accessory styles.

Well, are you an accessories person ? Have you got a closet full of bags, or shoes, hats, scarves, belts, gloves, statement jewellery. . . Would these simple garments be a way for you to build the most basic of wardrobe starting points, to use as background to all these exciting elements ?

Or perhaps you’re someone who has difficulty picking up any interest in accessories, and find clothes with minimum style elements very boring 😀

– – –

Patterns and links available September 2012

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Wheee – 150 posts (since August 2009).
As I don’t include huge photos, videos, music – I’ve only used 0% of my allocated blog storage space ! Efficiency habits go back not just to the days of dial-up connection, but 30 years ago to my first ever personal computer (a Commodore PET) which had 32k of memory and no hard drive. . .

Thanks for your continuing interest 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

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Explore posts in the same categories: personal style, specific capsules

18 Comments on “Style interest from accessories rather than clothes ?”

  1. Nancy Says:

    It’s good to see you back! I have been following Janice’s posts and am enjoying this series. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I admire the folks in this camp, but I’m not an accessory girl. I wear a wedding ring and simple gold earrings and call it done. So, for me, this would just look boring. (I’d forget to accessorize and would always look the same!)

    Instead, I’m sewing different types of clothing for visual interest. That seems to suit me best.

  3. sara Says:

    Thanks for this post, and for reminding me that Wendy Mullin’s first 2 books really had all the basics!
    I like simple styles, and my accessories also are pretty basic but color is my way of adding interest to my outfits. I would find it depressing to wear only black, beige and grey everyday, and though most of the items in my wardrobe are in those basic colors, I like to add a bright top or cardigan, or to wear a dress in bright colors, or even just a scarf. Colors make me happy.

  4. Lynn Mally Says:

    Maybe this is one of the big fashion divides, like tailored versus loose or geometrics versus floral. Janice’s blog is very inspirational in its use of accessories…but I like a little more interest in my clothes.

  5. Lynn Says:

    Since I prefer a basic wardrobe, this style has caught my attention

  6. Phil Says:

    I often dress like this and use a scarf or interesting (arty) jewellry to liven up my basics. I find simple shapes the most streamlining. I love abit of detail on others, though!

  7. Hello Lisanne! I love it when this happens – i just finished a post where the pictures could be illustrations for this concept. (naturally i linked over to this post 🙂

    i have been researching/plotting/sketching/scheming over just this project for the last two months – coming up with my own ‘common wardrobe’ or ‘core basics’. I’ve been identifying/sketching the pieces and then researching which pieces have patterns which i can use for them, which will be knock offs of pieces i have made myself (the basic tank/shell), and so on. My goal is to have a set of TNT patterns i can use to knock these babies out! I am almost done with my first version of Vogue 8837 (Katherine Tilton’s cuffed stretch pant, mine in black stretch denim). They go together very easily, fit very nicely, and are so so cute! Looks like i could be on the verge of my first TNT in this project 🙂

    Interestingly, i have never been one to wear much if any of Janice’s ‘common wardrobe’ pieces. I am having much better luck mining Eileen Fisher’s basics for ideas on shape and fabrics.

    “Even for the most basic styles, it’s a good idea to use recent patterns – for current proportions and shoulder shaping.”

    REALLY good point! Have a great Sunday!! steph

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks Steph
      I hadn’t thought of extending this to TNTs in all styles. Good idea 😀
      Personally I do wear not-quite-classic shirt and pants, but all my ‘interesting’ clothes are in the layers !

      (Here’s the link to Steph’s fascinating post on wardrobe basics.)

  8. Vildy Says:

    I love how your own thinking in your blogposts make me able to think afresh and see what I am doing.

    I don’t read Janice’s blog regularly and I realize it’s because I can drool over all the accessories but the plain clothes make me itch.
    I would feel my spirit imprisoned (just to be dramatic) in the clothes pictured above. I literally recoiled when I viewed them through the prism of possible wardrobe choices for me.

    I sometimes think of my wardrobe pieces worn near the face as jewelry. I have quite a lot of accessories but I like them to be part of a composition and cause a more blended look. At the same time, I use them to tone down the interest factor even if they themselves, if worn alone against a plain background, might be very interesting. I think of them as creating a pattern along with the rest of my clothes. I often coordinate by motif, picking up, say, an arabesque shape. I’m not a shoe person but I do enjoy certain distinctive shoes and have learned not to acquire them. I don’t want people looking at my feet. Or my handbag. I like shoes, bag, belt or even very small print scarf to be punctuation.

    I gave away some goldenrod yellow shoelaces that I had been saving for years and finally put into a pair of lace up brown shoes, similar to many that Steph wears. I wore them that way out of the house just once and kept feeling like my feet were pulsing with interest. I couldn’t take it. I also gave away a pair of high heeled mules a friend passed along to me: extremely comfortable, hand painted! in what looked like a knotty wood motif in that same strong yellow and some warm browns. Kind of a cross between wood grain, leopard and op art. I loved them. I would wear them sometimes in the house until the inevitable trips up and down stairs to do laundry, but I couldn’t wear them out the door. Way too exciting of interest. Though I don’t seem to have any problem wearing a short, saucy zebra print trench with narrow shoulders that create a little puff at the sleeve cap and an oversized collar that’s buttoned down to make it stand up tall. Makes me giddy happy just to put it on.

    I keep my individual wardrobe pieces fairly basic and traditional in shape and fit. I think about what the busy man in the street might call my clothing. Want him or her to think in one word descriptions like “jacket,” “pants”. Since I wear both geometrics and florals, I don’t mind if that description is “loud” or “busy”. I guess I want all of Janice’s accessories but I want them to take a back seat. I suppose *that’s* a key to my style.

    I’ve been trying to figure out why I think of my look as partly Romantic even though I’m not wearing those full blown romantic style details and I often like my look a little staccato. I never dress immodestly (we won’t talk about my youthful days at the dawn of the miniskirt and the years of fashionable bralessness, both of which read, to me, as “freedom” but it was the zeitgeist) but have often received transmission of commentary that guys I have met briefly at a friend’s house thought I was, say, a “hot mama.” Hunh?
    I like to emphasize looking pretty/fetching and I think that doing this communicates that I have a high opinion of my own attractiveness. I think that translates to “hot” for a lot of guys.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks for all the interesting observations Vildy.
      I know what you mean about recoiling – I physically winced at the sight of Janice’s all black close fitting wardrobe 😀 but her posts are full of interesting ideas.

  9. Paloverde Says:

    How interesting. This approach is the opposite to mine. I simply do not wear accessories and it takes a lot of effort on my part to even remember to pin on a brooch a couple of times a year. I really don’t wear jewelry or scarves or hats or anything twiddly that gets in the way or needs to be adjusted. Color is my core. I love color: print, solid, as part of textile texture. And I love interesting design details and shapes.

  10. sewingplums Says:

    Many thanks everyone for all your interesting comments.
    I really enjoy that we cover so many possibilities between us 😀

  11. Robyn Says:

    Congratulations on 150 posts! These on a basic wardrobe and accessories are most interesting. I love a wardrobe like this, but the items are not as fun to sew as some crazier choices.

  12. ejvc Says:

    I would totally make these clothes, and also the sweater knits; this is how I like to dress. I wouldn’t use the patterns you show, though; this is exactly the kind of basic pattern for which I love Ottobre Woman magazine patterns. I hope you don’t mind if I offer suggestions?

    Sweater knits: Rollneck 5/2011-8 (up to plus sized); Long-sleeved crewneck with “saddle” shoulders (is that what they’re called? can’t remember) 5/2011-4 (up to plus sized); Cardigan – absent but I might shorten 5/2009-8 (up to plus sized), which is tunic length.

    Crewneck tees: for sure the series of patterns that includes 2/2006-1 — comes with a range of sleeve and neck variations and a modern fit. Absolutely true to size, and there is a plus sized range with slightly different drafting. Scoop necks and more sleeve variations in the 2/2007 issue, again up to plus.

    Shirts: I use 5/2010-5 which has gathers at the yoke as it’s more feminine, but for a classic tailored women’s shirt, 2/2006-5, 5/2007-1 or 5/2007-8 are all suitable. Also 5/2012-7 is a good modern variant (and available in plus sizes).

    Slim jeans: 5/2012-9/10, for regular and plus sizes; and for chinos the 2/2012-18 pattern, available in some plus sizes – there’s an elastic waist version in larger plus sizes in the same issue.

    You can see/download line drawings for every issue at the Ottobre design website, and all the issues can be backordered singly. Not affiliated, just a happy user.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Of course I’m happy for you to make suggestions ! mine are always just examples, and BMV are easy for me to use.

      I haven’t used Ottobre patterns, but know you are a fan. I can’t find how to get the information about magazine contents at the Ottobre site, though it’s easy to order from there once you know what you want.

      I enjoy looking at the information about individual issues accessible from Dots n Stripes.

      Thanks very much for giving all the detail 😀

      • ejvc Says:

        Hi, thanks for your response — a quick comment on accessing line drawings —, click “English”, then click on any of the little pictures of the magazine covers. Women’s issues published twice a year (the 2 issue is spring summer, the 5 issue is autumn/winter). A window will open showing you the photo shoots for the magazine and a link to download a PDF of all the line drawings for that issue. Hope that’s helpful!

      • sewingplums Says:

        Thanks Elizabeth – don’t know why that hasn’t worked for me before 😀

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