Finding your style 4 : trying on clothes

Do you feel good about your clothes ? Do they help you to feel you ? to feel special ? to feel confident ?

Have you done some initial sorts of what clothes appeal to you ?
Some of us can imagine ourselves in clothes, but all of us need to try them for real.

Real clothes – if you start from a difficult point

If you have difficulty getting dressed at all, there’s the lovely little book How to keep house while drowning. Celebrate when you can put on anything at all. All this emphasis on your ideal style is not something you need to be concerned about at the moment. A good plan for when you can manage to buy some clothes : get casual wear which can also be worn as night wear.

If you are just starting to try to improve your style, you may find it upsetting – all you’re aware of is how far you are from a ‘good’ solution. But very few people can make the jump from awful to ideal in one step.

If you do a closet clear-out following the rule to keep only items that fill you with joy, and find you have nothing left (I’ve been there. . . ), then keep items that are ‘good enough’ – just remove the items that are clearly ‘never again’.

Deciding if something is ‘best’ for you among all the options may be overwhelming. Especially if you’re not yet very clear about your preferences. If so, just try comparing 2 items and deciding which makes you look and feel ‘better’ or ‘more me’, which do you prefer ? Most people eventually work down to a smaller group of ‘good’ items. Though some people do like to wear a different style every day 😀

During this phase, try to avoid buying anything that you feel doubtful or negative about.

If you feel doubtful or negative about everything, maybe it’s time to take a pause and focus for a while on other aspects of your clothes choices – perhaps with help from some of the on-line style advisors suggested in this post.

Size numbers, like style and colour categories, are tools for getting to a starting point for making items you probably look and feel good in. Often people look better and feel more physically comfortable in a looser garment.
Size measures are actually morally neutral. Marketing pressures may teach you that they are important, but I don’t know of any religion which has commandments about body size.
Different RTW and pattern companies use different size numbers, so choose pattern size by body measurements. Measurements are just a tool – you can keep your measures secret, but knowing what they are is essential for choosing patterns that are comfortable and a good starting point for fit improvements.
Simplicity patterns go up to 50″ bust, Butterick, McCall’s up to 54″ bust.
Many indie pattern designers are extending their size range, so it’s possible to look good and current at many sizes. Muna and Broad patterns go up to 71″ hip, and they offer to grade up for larger sizes (look at their instagram hash tags for happy larger ladies 😀 ).

Body shape : Ready-To-Wear necessarily has to make clothes only for ‘average’ body shapes. Pattern makers have to start that way too. At least when you make your own clothes you can work towards getting clothes that work well for your body whatever shape you are. Getting a perfect fit can be a long-term process for people whose bodies are not ‘average’, but even something relatively simple such as using different sizes for your upper and lower body, or changing lengths, can make a dramatic difference to how well your clothes work for you.
There are many fitting methods, and you may have to explore to find the ones which work best for you (here’s a post with some suggestions).

Some pattern companies give more help with fit.
A drafting ruler (metric) can deal with the main changes from average.
Sure-Fit Designs provides master patterns which make it quite easy to make simple changes to fit, with many supporting posts and videos.
Fit For Art have 3 basic patterns which include extensive help with fit.
Sew Liberated patterns Mindful Wardrobe and Curated by In the Folds patterns are subscription services which include fitting help.
Those are just some examples I have come across.

There are several general posts and books which focus on how to get away from all the marketing-driven social pressure to be slim, and instead accept and celebrate your body whatever its size and shape.
Some suggestions from Imogen Lamport. Several of the courses linked in the post about on-line advisors have sections on body positivity. And there are several style books which focus on this, such as Anuschka Rees Beyond Beautiful.

– Do you know what flatters your body shape ? (if that is important to you!). Some of the courses linked in the post about on-line advisors include it.
– And how about exploring your best clothes colours (for over half the population, black is not good colour – look for colours that make your eyes shine and your skin look healthy) – see post about on-line advisors for some places to start.
– Or explore your hair shape – get some ideas from this flattering hair style post by Imogen Lamport.
– And consider your hair colour – another colour that needs to make your eyes and skin look good. Here’s a post from Imogen Lamport on the stages she has gone through to embracing her grey. Personally I got my first grey hairs when I was a student, so I’m lucky that I’ve always accepted it !

For all these aspects of your clothing, give yourself the gift of making small changes towards ‘more me’ or ‘makes me feel good’. A pity to think you have to achieve ‘perfect’ in one step !
Make small changes towards having some ‘better for me’ items in your closet, and it will work out in the end. ‘Better’ includes throwing out, mending, sorting out – for accessories as well as clothes – you may not have to get more !
Little and often may be less stressful than attempting a big jump : aim for a 1% improvement each week, and after less than 18 months your wardrobe will be 100% better 😀

What to do

Try all this with the clothes in your existing wardrobe. Then go to a store which has full length mirrors on the shop floor and repeat.

In a full length mirror, hold up clothes in front of you and assess the effect.
Try on ones which you feel positive about.

Some people find it helpful to take photos. Gives a more objective view of whether the fit, proportions, colours, shapes, style are how you would like your clothes to be. Many of us don’t know what to look for. If that’s you, you might try a style course, such as those suggested in the second post of this group.

Have a good look at yourself, from back and sides as well as front.
Can you can move and bend easily – walk, run, sit down, bend over, bend your arms and knees, reach forward and overhead. . . and does this matter to you ?

Asses the clothes both quickly and slowly : how do you feel ? what do you like/ dislike ?
One feature may be right for you but not all : colour, style of print, size of pattern, texture, amount and type of trim, amount and type of detail, fabric drape/ body/ cling, style drape, line, shape, length, proportions, placement of style elements, closeness of fit. . .
Make notes or take photos of what you feel good about (and what you hate), so you can go back over your experience later and pull together an overview of your positive reactions and what to avoid in future.

Aren’t we sewists lucky that we can pick out the best of these features and combine them for ourselves when they’re not available in RTW 😀

More comments on this process

Trying on RTW is rather depressing for me as my body details are so far from ‘average’ that nothing fits well. Add on to that problems with finding flattering colours and quality makes. . . If you’re like me, just look out for favourite style elements when you look round the stores. We need to do some work on fitting our own basic patterns, then we can think about how to add favourite style elements onto them.

Remember to try outfits as well as individual items. Perhaps some of your garments look ‘right’ in combination with some others but not all.

You may not have only one style. You may find you enjoy several styles, perhaps different styles for different occasions – you may enjoy sweatsuits at home, but wear dresses so tight you can’t sit down when at posh parties. Or you like one style for clothes and another for accessories. Some people like to wear similar outfits all the time – a ‘uniform’, some like to dress for the mood of the day or always wear something different.

Some of us do not enjoy shopping – if so you will have to grit your teeth and keep trying at an early stage of this process ! Most people who are working can’t shop then, but stores are quieter in the mornings for the first few days of the week. You do have to make a commitment and put in the time if you want to improve your style. Always buying black because it’s easy to find is not the best idea for the billions of us who don’t look good in black.

If possible start by walking through a mall, along a shopping street, or around a big department store. Preferably a better quality one. Looking around a cheap store can be depressing – as items have to be very easy to manufacture, they have simple shapes and few style elements, along with cheap fabrics and a small range of colours. Do look at better stores, for ideas and inspiration. Don’t worry at this point if you can’t buy high quality items – you’re just finding out what you like, so you need to be looking at a good range of options.

You will probably find that you often take a quick look and walk straight past. Would you feel at your best when wearing these items ? Try not to feel you ‘ought’ to want to wear any of the styles – at this point you’re just exploring your preferences. Your likes may not be ideal for working in a bank, impressing a fashion stylist, being a fairy princess, attracting attention at a festival, climbing a mountain – but you’re now just finding what is ideal for you.

Or perhaps you linger in places you were not expecting. Can you think out why ? what message does this give you about what you like ? about what you feel at your best when wearing ? You’re just exploring, so ignore any ‘I can’t wear that’ messages that spring to mind. You can go into the reasons for that, and how true it is, at some other time.

I remember when I first ‘knew my colours’ and found I could just walk in the door of a store, glance quickly around at the colours on the clothes racks, and walk straight out again. Most amazing !

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Make your own choices

Many of us find that limiting ourselves to following a particular stylist’s categories is not the best option for us. We can start by learning from them, as a guide to exploring what we like to wear, but we may end up wearing our own combination of style elements which doesn’t fit closely to any particular category names.

My list of personal style questions is about style elements, not general categories. Perhaps use this as a starting point for finding your own personal combination.

I remember with glee the time when a well known stylist said that no-one should wear what I’ve found is my signature style element ! I’m happiest if I’m wearing a small frill or some ‘heirloom’ stitching, which may be categorised as soft/ romantic/ prairie/ ingenue. Here are my current ‘5 favourite items’, worn with slim but not skin tight pants.


The frill collar shirt is my ‘signature item’. I’m nearly always wearing one. With an oversized pullover layer, another item that most stylists don’t mention. Gathers aren’t essential but often included my outfits, and decorative stitching.

Most stylists are very against over-sized clothes, but I love them. In Kibbe categories, oversized clothes are called ‘Flamboyant Natural’ in style. But my combination of over-sized with softness in neutral colours is not, I suspect, what the person who devised ‘Flamboyant Natural’ style was thinking of 😀

If you don’t fit into any simple group of 1, 2, 3 style categories ? Some advisors suggest you make a short list of descriptive words, or a phrase, as a quick reminder when making decisions. Don’t be surprised if they are words which are not used by stylists. If they’re words that look at first glance as if they’re opposites, that might be why you have difficulty in finding your style among the options suggested by stylists. Mine might be “everyday heirloom”, “crafter chic”, or “practical moonbeams”.

But at first none of those phrases stopped me from buying the wrong patterns ! I find images (such as the above collage) much more helpful as a summary of my style than words. What do you find helpful as a reminder of your style to keep you on track when you go shopping : words, images, movements, feelings, sounds, some combination ?

I have no idea which of their categories most stylists would put my 5 items into. But so long as I know that is what I like, I don’t see that the category label matters.  Categories are aids.  When stylists are asked for advice, categories help them suggest clothes styles which you may like. You can just chose what you like directly, without trying to put a category label on it.

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Big or little steps

A few people are in for a big surprise about their style.
I know someone who went from being a tweed and brogue wearing hockey player to reclining on a chaise longue in velvet maxi dresses.
And someone who went from insisting on wearing a wig if her hair was not perfect to being a sportswoman in a wet suit.
Of course for most of us the changes are not so dramatic, but do allow the process to take you where your heart indicates.

And keep an eye open, and an open mind 😀 , for garment types and style words which stylists rarely mention.

Improving your style is like improving the fit of your clothes – for most people finding your personal style is not a quick process, but every little step can improve the way you feel.

Categories can help us at first by simplifying things enough to make sense of all the styling issues. But in truth we are all different, and ultimately we have to make our own decisions. Perhaps Nancy Nix-Rice’s book Looking Good is the best short introduction to all wardrobing issues, and so can be a helpful place to start (though some people find the examples very dated). But you may quickly find such brief discussions don’t cover all your needs. At the other end of the scale, Imogen Lamport’s blog posts and 7 Steps to Style course are good for introducing all the complexities of individual differences – but there is so much to consider that it can be overwhelming for a beginner. Start with generalities and small steps, and gradually work up to understanding all the special features of your life, your personality and your body.

You may find there’s a switch point in this search for your style. At first you hope someone else can tell you what to wear. But you find that you need to change someone else’s ideas a little to suit yourself. Then you begin to recognise special clothes which help you feel confident when you’re wearing them, and this eventually leads to – magic – you can make your own decisions.

– – –

Comment from a style board :
“if you don’t feel confident and comfortable in your clothes then half the battle has been lost”.
April Grow of Stunning Style has some key phrases :
about the ‘no’s :
“If you’re trying to talk yourself into anything you don’t genuinely love, just put it away.”
about the ‘yes’s’ :
“I want it to make your heart sing and I want it to tell your style story.”

It’s so heart warming and expanding to be surrounded by what you love and what makes you feel good.
♥️ ♥️ ♥️ ♥️ ♥️

And also knowing
your favourite styles and the colours, shapes, fabrics and trims that suit your body and warm your spirit
can greatly reduce the number of times you start sewing a garment and don’t want to finish it, or finish making a garment and then find you don’t want to wear it !

Really you can ignore all this lengthy discussion. These 10,000 words can be summarised :
Wear only what you love, what makes you feel and look good.
Sew only in a way you enjoy.
👍 ♥️

Start by building up a small group of items you love – garments, accessories. Then think about your climate, lifestyle, possible unexpected events, for guidance about the important gaps to fill 😀  

And make what you love making, what makes your heart glow, too ♥️
If your style is ‘normcore’ but what you love is couture technique, you can forget all this style commentary and happily make gala dresses and tailored jackets while completely ignoring that you never have reason to wear them 😀 Making clothes is a hobby,’treat’ time, after all.

Sewing has so many aspects : style, construction technique, embellishment, fit, pattern ‘hacking’, pattern making – or spending more time reading, writing, watching, listening about sewing than doing it 😀 And there are so many different ways of doing each possible style-related activity.
There are no sewing police. Sewing is a hobby, we can choose to spend our time on style and sewing-related activities in whatever way adds to our enjoyment, relaxation and treats.

Best Wishes for going through all this self-discovery 😀
And allowing yourself to emphasise what you love and enjoy.

– – –

There are 4 in this group of posts about personal style. The others are :
1. using style categories.
2. on-line style advisors.
3. exploring styles.

– – – – –

August 2019

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Explore posts in the same categories: personal style

4 Comments on “Finding your style 4 : trying on clothes”

  1. vancouverbarbara Says:

    Thanks for this great series. What a lot of thought and effort you put into this. I’m particularly interested in the travel wardrobe book.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks Barbara – there are a whole lot more comments on personal style accessed at the top of the menu on the right – I seem to have been concerned about this for some time 😀

  2. Katrina B Says:

    You’ve covered a vast amount of information in a short series of posts! Thank you for all the resources as well as a good dose of common sense.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks Katrina – one of the advantages of exploring my style for a long time is that I’ve fallen into and climbed out of most of the pitfalls 😀

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