Archive for October 2012

Change in proportions

October 27, 2012

One of my key garments is a shirt-jacket. I had fun recently looking at older shirt-jacket wardrobe patterns on Etsy. There were dozens of very similar patterns published in the 70s to 90s.

Here’s one from the 70s. McCall’s 3280, 1972.
(Goodness, that summer I bought this house, so lived on crusts for several years. And I finished my thesis. It wasn’t a time I was thinking much about new clothes !)


This look was popular for decades. A recent pattern like this was only discontinued a short time ago, Butterick 4811.


In the late 80s to 90s, there was also another popular look for unlined casual jackets – oversized and collarless. Here’s McCall’s 7501, 1995. Huge oversize supported by huge shoulder pads, worn with a small skirt or full pants.


So, what is it about these styles that makes them look not quite up to date ?

Well, some designers have been showing oversized jackets in recent seasons, but usually without the huge support structures, and worn with slim pants or leggings. You Look Fab has a post about these here. Jackets like this haven’t reached this suburb (except for the students who buy men’s overcoats from the charity shops).

These days there’s so much freedom in fashion, you can find at least one designer who uses any given look. I’ve tried to focus on what’s frequently seen.

Here’s what I might replace those looks with.

New wardrobe pattern for wovens, Butterick 5821.


For a less casual jacket look, use the wardrobe jacket, but thigh length and without the hem casing. Add a waist casing for this season’s waist emphasis if that suits your body shape. Lots of seams for adding hip width if you’re pear shaped.

Or Nancy Zieman’s knits wardrobe McCall’s 6247.


I want a shirt-jacket wardrobe so would add McCall’s 6606, especially lower right.


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What are the differences compared with earlier styles ?
Ignore the curved versus straight style elements, a matter of personal style.
I think the key is proportions and silhouette.

Shirts and tops

Shirts are now often not mid hip length but low hip or thigh length.
Several common proportions :

The trendy shirt look is slim with slight waist shaping, such as Butterick 5678.


A narrow belt at waist is ‘this season’.

Or oversized but without the huge shoulder pads, such as Katherine Tilton Vogue 8748.


Or for overlayers, try the indoor poncho look in a woven fabric, see McCall’s 6603.
Actually, in the trendy mail order catalogues I’ve received this season, there have been knit sweaters this shape and ponchos, but not shirts. (The ‘arty’ catalogue always has an oversized shirt.)

Both slim shirts and big trendy tops are worn with slim pants/ skirt or leggings.

The current casual shirt look is looser fitting, as in McCall’s 6606 shown with the wardrobes above. Straight not shaped to the body, but not very loose fit. Even the new Palmer-Pletsch unisex shirt (McCall’s 6613) has 4 inches of ease not 8.
Worn with straight or boot-cut pants.

The ways style elements are used to emphasise the shoulders has also changed.
We no longer wear :
– huge shoulder pads or very dropped shoulders,
– wide spreading or high collars.
These days unlined casual jackets rarely have shoulder pads. And shirt and notch collars are usually not emphasised. Instead we have :
– yokes or epaulets,
– fitted or slightly dropped sleeves.

Shoulders dropped well down the arm are coming back as they’re essential for over-sized styles, but they’re not generally used. Though dropped shoulders are featured by some boutique designers – like the Katherine Tilton shirt – as arty rather than trendy personal style.
Raglan sleeves rather than dropped shoulders are currently used on gear for easy movement like sweatshirts.


Skirts are now usually straight or slightly tapered (pencil),
or subtle rather than full A-line.
Knee length or shorter, or below knee, or calf length.
Or short and flirty pleated (one of the very, very few styles I think is best worn only by the young).

You can wear a full skirt if you like the ease of movement. Make it in soft fabric so the silhouette isn’t wide and stiff (unless you’re going for a vintage look), and wear at lower calf length with a fitted top.
Such as Butterick 5650.


Pants are now usually slim,
or straight,
or boot cut rather than flared.

All styles in new Butterick 5818.

You can wear very full or very flared pants (with a high-hip length top) if you have the body shape for them, but happily we haven’t got to wear them if we haven’t !

P.S. Lovely new post by Imogen Lamport on what is in/out of style – letting go of trends.
Key question : “Could you go into a store and buy a similar garment today (if not, it’s gone out of fashion) ?”

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Nowadays there aren’t many full wardrobe patterns in shirt-jacket style.
There are many patterns for shirt plus pants. Add a simple top, and a skirt if you wear them.

Would this be a good casual look for you ? – or do you feel as miserable in a shirt as I do in a blazer 😀

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Links available October 2012

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Build your wardrobe in small groups

October 20, 2012

The Vivienne Files post on building a wardrobe by fours started me on yet more thoughts about basic wardrobe building.

Perhaps it’s part of your personal style that you don’t like to plan, prefer a free-flow approach to choosing your clothes, and just use general guidelines on colour and shape so you haven’t got a closet full of orphans.

If instead you want the simplest possible scheme for wardrobe building – add small groups, rather than a whole wardrobe all at once.

What are the garment types you wear all the time : dresses or jeans ? shirts or tees ? jackets or sweaters ? If you’re not sure, look at my personal wardrobe plan post.

What clothes grouping do these items make ? Would it suit you to build your wardrobe in co-ordinated capsules of 4/ 5/ 6 items, or individual outfits of 1/ 2/ 3 items ?

Here are the common possibilities.

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Small groups which include enough clothes for you to make several outfits.

Core 4

Often 2 tops, 2 bottoms. For example, Butterick 5333. Easy to make four different outfits.


If one top can layer over the other, that adds two more outfits.


Janice of The Vivienne Files builds a basic wardrobe of 12 items by adding 4 items at a time. Here’s her original post.
– Core Four – sleeveless and sleeved tops, skirt, pants, in interesting colour.
– Expansion Four – 2 more tops and bottoms, in neutral colour.
– Mileage Four – more tops, in fabrics which combine colours.

She calls her approach ‘Four by Four’, and adds 4 accessories to the 12 clothes.

I’ve written posts on patterns for her original scheme, and on adding layers.

Janice has several other posts suggesting four-by-four wardrobes, with good illustrations of outfit combinations. See her Archive for May 2012, and here. (In that post the Core 4 is 3 tops, 1 bottom – sweater knit, shirt, tee, pants).

P.S. Janice now has a post on building up to a Project 333 wardrobe in groups of 4 items, each group in one colour. To me her later mixed version is more interesting but also more difficult to achieve.

Janice’s 4×4 clothes are rather similar to Nancy Nix-Rice’s 12 item basic wardrobe. Nancy makes nearly 100 different outfits from her 12 clothes.

– Start with one of each item needed (Nancy’s Core 4 is jacket, top, skirt, pants), in a dark neutral.
– repeat in a light neutral, using the same or more relaxed styles.
– add another 4 with fabric interest to add variety : a top and layer in an accent colour, and a 2-piece dress in a mixed colour print.

Sadly Nancy’s list of newsletters is no longer on her site, but they are still available :
21. Core 4
22. Second top and layer
23. 2 more bottoms
24. accent colour twinset
25. 2-piece print dress.
She also has a post on a 16-item travel wardrobe.

I wrote a post on patterns for Nancy’s starter 12 here. See full list of my posts about her wardrobe on Index page 4.

Or there’s Eileen Fisher‘s ‘system’ of wardrobe basics. Her ‘system’ changes from season to season. (For the current version, see the Eileen Fisher Video on “What if it were this easy”.) She makes co-ordination especially easy by having nearly everything in black ! perhaps with one cream top and one grey one. In summer 2010 the ‘system’ consisted of 3 Core 4s : 3 layers, 3 tops, 3 skirts, 3 pants. Here’s my post on patterns for that.

Vital 5

Judith Rasband recommends a basic wardrobe ‘cluster’ of 5 items. Such as : jacket/ layer, 2 tops, skirt, pants. See her Wardrobe strategies for Women book, and 5 Easy Pieces DVD.

Simplicity 1945

These particular 5 items make 10 different outfits (including layering the wrap top over the cowl one.) Add some scarves or statement jewellery, dressy and casual shoes – and there’s your wardrobe for a week’s trip !

To build on this basic group, Judith Rasband adds one item at a time. So long as each new item co-ordinates with all the items you already have, it can double the number of different outfits possible (see my power of the boring post).

My personal Vital 5 is rather different, as in winter I need 5 garments to make one outfit. I don’t own any fitted jackets or dresses, and only wear skirts on formal occasions. But I can’t get my wardrobe needs down to less than 5 different types of item : shirt, pullover layer, shirt-jacket layer, vest, pants. Simplifying, that’s shirt, pants, and 3 added layer options. In winter I wear all 3 added layers at the same time !

I could repeat this group two or three times, to make a wardrobe of 10 – 15 items.

Season’s 6

ejvc’s 6 item 6PACs are another capsule-to-wardrobe building idea. Make a 6 item capsule each season, following the colour suggestions (3 neutrals, accent), and you have a marvellous 24 item co-ordinated wardrobe by the end of the year ! Here’s the original summary of the overall concept. See comments on the current 6PAC season at Stitchers Guild. This inspiration has been running successfully for several years.


Do all those possibilities make you feel overwhelmed and confused ? If so – start with outfits rather than trying to achieve interchangeable items.

Perhaps it’s your personal style to wear a few favourite outfits, rather than wanting to look different each day. Here’s an encouraging piece from YouLookFab. And another post from her, on ways of building outfits.

Key 3

Simpler than a Core 4, if you only wear pants never skirts, or the other way round – a Key 3 : layer, top, bottom.

Butterick 4989, McCall’s 5889

Simplicity 2635

The original and long oop wardrobe planning book, “Working Wardrobe” by Janet Wallach, was written when women rarely wore pants to work. Her 12 items consist of 4 Key 3s :
– 4 layers (jackets and sweater knits),
– 4 blouses,
– 3 skirts plus either pants or dress.
A coat gives 13 items.
She uses 2-3 basic colours plus one item in an accent colour. Four pages of suggestions for colour pairs – not only used as solids but also as mixed weaves or prints.

Easiest possible wardrobe building :
Choose your Tried ‘N True patterns, for top, jacket/ layer, pants/ skirt.
Choose 3 fabrics : perhaps dark neutral, light neutral, accent print or solid.
Make your 3 patterns in each fabric.
Hey presto, 9 basic co-ordinates. . .

Nice and easy – except many of us don’t like to wear the same fabric for both tops and pants ! Perhaps make the 3 in the same colour.

One Key 3 group needn’t only make a single outfit – if they co-ordinate with other items. Make a Key 3 all from the same fabric/ colour. This gives you an ‘inner column’ of top and bottom the same.  To which you can add other layers. And an ‘outer column’ of layer and bottom the same. Add other tops. All 3 items the same gives infinite options for combining with other clothes 😀

I don’t know where this ‘column of colour’ idea started. I heard it first from Nancy Nix-Rice, Lesson 22. Imogen Lamport has several posts with good illustrations – links here. Also she and Jill Chivers have a video on styling up a basic outfit of tee and jeans.

Dress 1

Your wardrobe plan could be much simpler : 10 dresses and have done with it 😀 No co-ordination needed ! Though I voice my usual objection to “every woman should have. . .” as I’m a happy zero dresses person.

The Vivienne Files has many posts on styling a dress for different looks. They are usually sleeveless sheaths, but you can apply the same ideas to other dress shapes too.

If you prefer pants, jumpsuits are a current ‘one-item outfit’ option.

Simply 2

Or do you always and only wear two item outfits, such as:

– dress and layer, example from Butterick 5247 :


– top and bottom, perhaps tee and jeans/ blouse and skirt/ shirt and shorts, or slouchy Butterick 5651 :

Make up 5 to 7 outfits without worrying about co-ordination. If any of the items combine into other outfits that’s just a bonus 😀

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Did any of these ideas make you think – “ah, that’s right for me” or “no, not for me, I need. . .”

Do you feel it would all be too limiting ? Here’s a post from Inside-Out Style on getting variety from a capsule wardrobe.

If you decide to make a personal wardrobe plan, rather than ‘winging it’, the process can be daunting. There’s not only the basic group of clothes to pick out, but also your personal style and colours – see my post on so many choices. With all these individual variations, probably few people follow any of these schemes exactly. They can be a good guide for first thoughts. But getting flattering enjoyable outfits is the key goal.

Don’t try to do everything at once. Every little step can help. I learned a lot about what’s best for me by trying to fit myself to other people’s plans.

I’m most in tune with Judith Rasband’s ideas. Which is your preference 😀

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Links available October 2012

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Change style by changing jacket

October 13, 2012

If you typically wear a ‘Key 3’ outfit of top, bottom, and layer – you probably already know it’s easy to change the whole look simply by changing the layer (or, even easier, the fabric).

Janice of the Vivienne Files recently suggested a basic wardrobe of classic knits, tees, shirts, slim pants/ jeans. Here’s her post on it. And my post on possible patterns.

Janice’s only ‘layer’ was a denim shirt-jacket. Which made the whole wardrobe look ultra-casual.

Very easy to change the style of this garment group by changing the jacket.
Here are some of the many options.

Soft cascade styles, short drape (McCall’s 6444), or long drape (McCall’s 6084), depending which flatters your body shape.

”m6444” ”m6064”

Other casual styles, such as hoodie (McCall’s 6614), or quilted (Butterick 5532).

”m6614” ”b5532”

More fitted, such as notched collar blazer (Palmer-Pletsch McCall’s 6655), or collarless (Palmer-Pletsch McCall’s 6441).

”m6655” ”m6441”

These are all ‘modern classics’.

Angie at You Look Fab suggests the blazer version as a fashion formula for this season.
(Though actually it’s been a fashion formula for decades. I can remember navy blazer/ white shirt/ blue jeans/ black flats being standard Parisienne style around 1990.)

More edgy/ trendy – the ‘tough-luxe’ look : biker (Kwik Sew 3764), or military (Kwik Sew 3466)

”ks3764” ”ks3466”

Try lace instead of leather for a biker jacket this season.
‘Military’ is emphasised in the November issues of UK Elle and In Style. Easy to use a double breasted jacket and add lots of gold buttons, including on the sleeves.

More arty-creative : asymmetric (Sewing Workshop Riviera), or oversized (Sewing Workshop Ikina).

”swriviera” ”swikina”

Janice at The Vivienne Files herself suggests a similar variety of jacket choices in a post on alternatives to the blazer.

(P.S. See photos of winter 2012-13 versions of these jacket styles from YouLookFab here.)

All these layering possibilities would look good with a tee and slim pants/ jeans/ skirt. No wonder those are considered ‘basics’ !
(See new wardrobe pattern for wovens, Butterick 5821 – hurrah – a wardrobe pattern with a top with sleeves !)


If, like me, you like a top with a collar (more flattering with my body shape and hair style), take a little more care with neckline co-ordination.
I think a mandarin/ band collar would look better with many of these jackets than a shirt collar.

If you like this season’s bow collar blouse, I think a blazer or other classic V-neck or slightly lowered round neck (examples in Simplicity 2154) looks best.

To go with the rest of the basic wardrobe in the colours Janice suggested, use tan, grey, navy, black, or your accent colour.
For jackets that will last for seasons, use solid fabrics.
For jackets that look ‘winter 2012’, use unusual tweed, brocade, brightly coloured fake fur, leather or leather trim.

Which layer is your style ?
Pick your favourite pattern with this style, and make it in casual, business, and special occasion colours or fabrics.
See Imogen Lamport at Inside-Out Style on changing the level of refinement of your clothes by changing the fabrics.
Even a hoodie can be multi-purpose ‘sports luxe’ if made in quality fabric.

Or alter your jacket using trims and embellishment.

There are a couple of on-line videos from Sewing with Nancy : ‘1 easy jacket pattern, 6 terrific looks’ : part 1, part 2. (The pattern used is Indygo Junction 885 Chinois coat, but many patterns are possible.) (book pattern DVD package)

Or, even more adventurous, Marcy Tilton’s Jackets CD.

Personally I’m happiest in a shirt-jacket, though definitely not a blue denim one. Only one pattern – hmm, that I would have difficulty with 😀 In winter I wear thicker fabrics and more ease for multiple layering. And my layers are where I like the interest of my outfits. There are luscious choices by named designers in the shirt section at Vogue. And over 2,000 vintage patterns on Etsy !

Or if you have many moods, make one of each jacket style 😀 and add some vests in a similar range of styles.
(Wear them with dresses and skirts too.)

What’s your pick from all the possibilities ?

Patterns and links available October 2012

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Extreme accessories ?

October 6, 2012

What is your accessories style ? None at all – or wild profusion 😀
What is the style of your accessories ? hard-edged or soft, colours or neutrals. . .

Janice of The Vivienne Files recently suggested a very basic wardrobe of classic knits, tees, shirts and slim jeans/ pants, to be worn as the background to interesting accessories. Here’s her post, and my post on possible patterns for the clothes.

Nancy Nix-Rice suggested a basic group of accessories as part of her classic wardrobe plan. I have a post on that here. She uses accessories to integrate an outfit and give a finishing touch, not for individual expression.

Here’s another style consultant’s post about trendy accessories.

The approach of Janice’s simple wardrobe is to wear clothes which attract no attention, and add your own special style with the accessories. While Nancy’s approach is to choose accessories in the same neutral colours as the clothes. Opposites.
A huge range of possible choices.

Your personal style for accessories

Specific accessories can be high fashion, and ‘must have at all costs’ items for fashionistas.
(Bringing home the Birkin by Michael Tonello is an entertaining read. Nowadays there are many Birkin bags and Hermes scarves on eBay !)

Paying £500, £5000, £50,000 for a bag or shoes is not something I aspire to.
Hermes wants £1350 from me for replacing my wallet, and it doesn’t look as useful as my present one. I think I would look elsewhere even if I was a multi-millionaire (which I also don’t aspire to :D).
Though I agree it must be real leather. Hmm, back to using baskets or fabric bags. . .

Happily accessories can be a way of expressing individuality.

For the students round here, cheap clothes are black, grey, or denim. So they wear a fascinating range of scarves, boots, and bags.

Have you got a ‘signature’ accessory ? shoes, or boots, or bags, or scarves, hats, eyeglasses, gloves, socks, belts, patterned pantyhose ? or do you always wear earrings, or bracelets, or pins, necklaces, rings, hair ornaments, body piercing, special watches ?
I’m a bags and scarves person, occasional pins or bangles. . .

And what style of accessories would you choose ?
What prints/ textures/ shapes/ colours for your scarves ?
What materials, shapes, embellishments for your bags, your shoes, your hats ?
There’s a huge variety of possible styles for each jewellery item – dainty or striking, angular or curved, smooth or textured, modern or antique, real or fake, in different materials – wood, stone, fabric, metal, plastic.

If you’re not sure, visit an accessories store and allow yourself to notice what you’re attracted to, without censoring that those things are too vulgar/ dainty/ impractical/ dull. . . Then try them – do they make you feel special ? centred ? ready for a laugh ?

The fun aspect of scarves and jewellery is that it’s possible to experiment, without overspending if your choice turns out to be a long-term mistake.

Janice’s accessory choices

After her post on the basic common wardrobe, Janice of The Vivienne Files has several posts with suggested accessories to wear with it. I found these fascinating, as her suggestions are usually monochromatic and follow the colours in the basic wardrobe. Much quieter than I was expecting 😀

Using the original ‘common wardrobe’ colours (white grey black tan indigo) :
black and white
black, white, gold polka dots
tan/gold and black, plus pink flowers

Monochromatic use of accent colour :
soft purple
cherry red
hot pink

All these accent colours contain some blue. As the wardrobe is mainly denim blue, yellow toned accents like yellow, orange, scarlet would make a much more forceful contrast – not to everyone’s taste. Animal prints could work well.

P.S. Janice added a ‘common wardrobe’ in warm colours, here.
And here’s her warm wardrobe with accessories :
romance (muted pale peach pink)

P.P.S. There are many more of these, as Janice adds a new colour to her accessory suggestions nearly weekly. She has also added a ‘common office wardrobe” with a skirt and blazer. Here’s her ‘common wardrobe’ category.

Janice is an excellent source of accessory inspiration to try out, if you like non-aggressive combinations.
The Vivienne Files always has an underlying focus on elegance.

Wild and outrageous

I had assumed the ‘creative’ accessory style Janice refers to would have wild variety – in-your-face colours and lots of mixed patterns and bling. Altogether more flamboyant – something like these :

recent ads from UK River Island

This is called ‘blogger’ style by UK Elle (October 2012) : over-sized accessories, bold clashing prints, fun fur, patchwork, plus chunky knits and added fabric textures such as studs and embossing, also slim pants, below knee pencil skirts, and ankle socks or ankle boots.

Sadly it can actually take considerable styling skill to do this successfully. Any-old-mixture of items thrown together can look terrible. Though this is an area where people make very different judgements. Other people may greatly admire an outfit that I think looks awful 😀

Develop your skill. Experiment by putting together colours/ patterns/ shapes/ styles that you don’t think will work, that are supposed to be ‘wrong’ together, and see if you like/ enjoy/ have fun with the result.
Try some barely noticeable integration. Perhaps mainly blue toned colours, like the top photos. Or mainly yellow toned colours. Or smaller amounts of varied colours mixed with a lot of black white grey and metallics, like the lower photo.

Here’s a You Tube from Iris Apfel about her love of accessories.

Sadly I haven’t seen any students round here looking like this. (Current popular look is very short denim shorts over black leggings.)

Using clashing accessories does look a fun style, but not one I would be comfortable wearing myself.
I may blog but I’ve never aimed for attention grabbing !

Which of these accessory styles is more to your taste ?
What colours/ materials/ shapes/ sizes/ amount of variety do you enjoy wearing for your accessories ?

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Links available October 2012

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