Wardrobe Architect: Designing and Building Thoughtful Attire

I’m not going to go over old ground here as I’m sure many of you read Coletterie.com, the blog for Colette Patterns.  Sarai is writing a series of blog posts about designing and curating a wardrobe that reflects who we are.  This is a wordy post.  I completely understand if you’d rather skip over this one as this is as much me ‘thinking out loud’ as it is anything else!


I love the shiny and new, I love outlandish patterns as well as the pretty ones.  I also work in a pretty conservative office that may not appreciate some of my favourite dresses in certain circumstances (but they can deal with my bright red hair so…).  I’d also like to sew things I’m going to wear to threads.  I’ve already culled part of my pattern collection and raised a bit of money through eBay that has bought me some knit fabric and a rather fabulous umbrella.  A second cull is forthcoming.  But before I cull patterns that made it through the first cut, it makes sense to think a little more about what I want as well as what I need in my wardrobe.

Want and need aren’t exclusive in my books.  I can want a pretty pattern but not need it, I can make a wardrobe key stone in a less than basic fabric.  Some of my sewing is going to be just because I want a garment in that print or because I like that pattern, some is going to be built around requirements such as solids and work basics.  There’s going to be a mixture of cake and frosting as whilst I sew for my unique shape I also sew for fun and the sheer joy wearing a full skirted dress brings me!

My tastes have changed over the years, they can change at the drop of a hat or take a while to evolve.  I have a split personality when it comes to my wardrobe; a tomboy and a girly girl.  As I write it’s been a long day at work and I’m still in one of (and there are a number due to the variety involved in my job) my ‘uniforms’.   Today is jeans, a long sleeve T with a work polo-shirt over the top and my work fleece on the back of the chair as I’ve been digging around, handling things and been in cold places.  Other days may require ‘professional’ as I’m interviewing or in court.  Then there are days where either goes or a fun dress is going to be OK.  Day’s where I’m not quite sure what’s on the agenda (or know that it my change at short notice) means black trousers and the polo shirt.

So, my wardrobe has to wear many hats professionally!  Then of course, there is Boy.  Who loves it when I wear dresses but also wants to climb trees, race the dogs in the park, or bounce on a trampoline.  So there’s even more reasons to support my multi-personality wardrobe.

What I do know is that I like dresses with a fitted bodice and a flared skirt.  Trousers always used to be wide legged and for work that still holds true, but I now prefer a slimmer cut for my jeans.  I need my work wardrobe to be different to my home wardrobe.  I don’t mind an element of overlap but for a long time I wore the same thing working or not.  I need to put work in a box when I’m not there and dressing differently helps me do that.

My religion doesn’t affect my aesthetic.  My philosophy towards clothes has changed though as a result of a number of factors: money, learning to sew, recent events in the clothing trade.  I’m more grown-up with my money now and consider my purchases more.  Learning to sew means that I expect more from my off the peg clothing – I look at construction and finish and will pay for a better garment (within reason).  The name on a piece of clothing means nothing and I’m sure as hell not paying more just because it’s on there!

This is a departure from when I was growing up.  To be frank, I really was clueless about fashion until my mid-teens and then only became aware because my younger sister was really trend conscious and started steering me towards and away from certain things.  For a while she was (and would admit) that the name meant everything and I followed suit.  Thankfully nothing horribly expensive but there was a lot of branded sports wear for our tom boy lifestyles.  When I met Husband I didn’t change the way I dressed as I was comfortable and it didn’t bother him, although a nice dress was always appreciated!

The turning point for me has been the addition of Boy.  For a few reasons.

The first is that I want him to have a really strong set of values about respect (for himself and for others), equality, pride (as in self worth and confidence) as well as empathy.  So much you can tell, but you can teach so much more by example.  If I show him that I have respect for myself and take pride in myself then he will too.  If I show him that he doesn’t need to follow the herd to be respected and treated as anyone’s equal then that will be his expectation.  Believe me, I don’t want some bratty, attitude laden little s*** as a son.  I do want him to follow his own path (he’s got some strong ideas about what he’ll wear and he isn’t afraid to be different.  School uniform may be a challenge in September!) whilst also being mindful and accepting that others may choose a different way and that this does not make them any more or any less than him.

The second is that being pregnant, nursing and being a Mum has changed my body.  It’s softer, it’s bigger and my stomach will never be flat again.  So bodycon dresses aren’t for me; if it’s too fitted over my stomach I spend all my time trying to put something over it!  I still have a thing for pencil skirts and whilst I’m not sure if they’ll work for me, I’m gonna give it a try.  I do know I like a fitted bodice though and if I pair that with a flared skirt I can concentrate on the areas in which I have a level of confidence (above the waist and below the hips) and gloss over the bits I’m not so comfortable with (my stomach and butt).  This isn’t said to fish for compliments or reassurance.  I’m damn proud of what I achieved in giving birth to a happy and healthy little boy.  I’d do it all again with the same physical fall out in a heartbeat.  Sure I’d love to be slimmer but that’s mainly for health reasons (there is some vanity in there too because I had passport photos done this week and they are horrific, ugh).


I also interact with a much broader range of people now as a Mum.  Prior to Boy it was work and friends where we all have common ground of one sort or another.  Now that common ground can simply be that you have a small person with you.  I’m interacting with childcare professionals, other parents, other children aged 0 to 18, teachers, doctors, nurses that I came into contact much more infrequently before.  I don’t want Boy to loose out on possible opportunities because my presentation brands me as ‘scruffy’ or ‘up tight’ or ‘high maintenance’ or ‘slob’.  I want to be approachable by all those people I now deal with so that I am told what’s going on with Boy and so that I’m not a barrier to him being friends with anyone because the child finds me scary or the parents apply some label.  I know I’m never going to please everyone and I’m not trying to do that, I’m simply aware that going to an extreme with a certain style alienates as much as conforming means you get lost in the crowd.  My ideal is somewhere in the middle ground; enough personality and individuality that I stand apart but not to the extreme where it puts people off.  Clothes as a conversation starter rather than a barrier.

Of course, you lovely bloggers have had an influence as well.  Without you I wouldn’t have dared use some of the prints I now love.  I wouldn’t be aware of the patterns I turn to over and over again.  I wouldn’t be as confident in myself without you.  And that makes me a better Mum; because I believe in myself Boy can see that self belief in me and I hope will naturally believe in himself.  Wearing dresses makes me feel feminine, the prints make me feel like an individual – there is no one else going to be wearing what I am!  And that gives me confidence and because I like what I’m wearing I walk taller, swing my hips and feel more attractive.

Then of course there is the endless subject of conversation that is the weather.  I live in East Anglia and I swear we have our own microclimate.  Safe to say we experience the whole range of weather but not to the extremes of other areas of the country and certainly not other countries!  Occasional snow, occasional heat, lots of temperate weather and rain (although we’re the driest part of the UK apparently?!).  Dresses (unless wool) work all year; the main consideration is whether tights and / or a cardigan are required or not.  This gives massive scope to the wearability of what I make as it isn’t confined to a set period of the year and honestly the wool dresses do get worn in the summer for formal work stuff.  So no seasonal limitations!

So, if I had to summarise my ideal core style it would be:

Suitable for the task
An element of whimsy or fun


20 thoughts on “Wardrobe Architect: Designing and Building Thoughtful Attire

  1. Great post. I totally agree with a lot of your points especially related to Boy. But I hadn’t really thought about clothes making me approachable or not (however my default is flat shoes which maybe helps – and avoids me towering over people too much). Good point! Definitely don’t give up the pretty dresses – who says you can’t bounce on a trampoline with them on!

    1. Circle skirts + trampoline = massive fun! although a little indecent without a slip!
      I guess it’s inevitable really, having Boy changed our lives and my wardrobe is just one facet of that change. The pretty dresses are here to stay though, that’s for sure!

  2. You sure do think about your wardrobe from every perspective! I’m starting to face some of the same challenges as you, and now you have given me even more to think of in light children and the people we interact with as a result of them.

    Are there certain people that you look to for “mom” style? I’m struggling to find more influences in that area.

    1. Yes and no! Fox in Flats is an Aussie blog but I like her style and she has some great solutions. I need to keep my own identity and have fun with my clothes without causing Boy embarrassment or seeming weird or odd to other parents. With some of the prints I’d love to wear, the potential is there!

  3. Great post Vicki Kate. I can relate to a lot of the content especially the work wardrobe. Although I’m only working occasionally now, it involves field work, then needing to look professional &I I haven’t had the courage to wear skirts/dresses to meetings etc. Need to work on that. I never thought about the impact of my appearance on boys & their friends/school mums etc maybe I’ll think twice when I’m too lazy to put on something other than scruffy track pants & fleeces!!

    1. I may be over thinking the school gate scenario! Quite possible as I over think a LOT of things!
      I completely understand a job that requires a varied wardrobe though. Makes having a compact work wardrobe nigh on impossible!
      I love getting all dressed up though so quite happily wear a dress to work when I get the opportunity. Sometimes clothing is armour (court comes to mind) but I’d rather it wasn’t a barrier to people talking to me in my normal life.
      As I’m getting older I’m getting more comfortable with who I am, or giving less of a damn what others think?!

  4. I always enjoy your posts because you clearly think a lot about things before you hit the publish button. They’re always reflective, relevant and worth reading 🙂

    1. Thanks Fiona. I’m never quite sure if I manage to convey myself properly so it’s rare that I type and publish immediately. I prefer to schedule things so that I have time to re-read and add anything that I’ve forgotten! I’m glad you liked reading it – it wasn’t a short post!

  5. Interesting post. I have to say that as I get older I find myself being less concerned with how I am perceived and more comfortable just being me. That being said, I don’t work in an office or formal setting as such so don’t have to switch between the expectations of work and ‘home’ either.

    I also don’t own track pants and fleeces – but my fave ripped jeans (because they’re well worn) are on regular rotation with or without heels!

    1. Gotta love well broken in jeans! I have a pair that I love to death and am going to be very sad to see go, but I’m already breaking in their successor! I really appreciate your point about being less concerned about how you’re perceived and just being comfortable with who you are. That’s probably the most important thing – gotta be comfortable in your own skin and clothes first and foremost.

  6. love your thought process and conclusions on wardrobe building. I am still at the stage of being tempted by fabric and patterns I see on other peoples blogs, as I have recently come back to sewing.

    1. That temptation will always be there! I still succumb to it although with time I’ve become better at looking more objectively at a garment and determining why I love it; shape, fabric, colour. Believe me though, I still go through stages of ‘want all the things’! And sometimes it’s fun just to sew something for the fun of it, rather than because it has a practical place in the wardrobe. It may not be in heavy rotation but there will be occasions to wear it, all the same.

  7. This is such a lovely, thoughtful post! It’s so cool that you’re using your wardrobe to help pass on values to your son– how awesome to use EVERYTHING as a teachable moment! You seem like a great mom and I bet Boy is a joy to be around! I also love the idea of using your wardrobe to remove barriers and be approachable. That’s a really great goal. It can be hard to find ways to relate to disparate groups (this is something that is sometimes a struggle at work when I’m dealing with high-end gallery owners and sanitation workers alike, often in the same day!). This is all so well thought-out. You’re one of my favorite bloggers, especially because of posts like these. 🙂

    1. Aww, thanks Sonja! That’s really sweet of you! I really hear you on the disparate groups thing. It’s a headache waiting to happen and sometimes I just end up in ‘sod it’ mode and wear something I love (within reason, lol)! Thankfully some of the legal people I deal with have some odd quirks too; very expensive suits with the most ridiculous socks comes to mind – but it’s where they can have some fun so they do! In fact, if I do have to be suited and booted so to speak, there will be some detail (hidden I might add!) that makes me smile, is completely ridiculous and sometimes inappropriate!

  8. A very thoughtful and thought provoking post. I’m currently working through my first two worksheets and my, don’t they open a can of worms! 😉 I don’t know about you, though, I’m glad to be working through the process…

  9. There’s a LOT to be said for executing a well planned, practical wardrobe, but Vicki, you wouldn’t be YOU without some whimsy in your closet!! 🙂 I know you won’t, but don’t ever give up the fun prints or poufy skirts, love – life demands enough of us; we need some sunshine in our closets from time to time ^__^

    1. Oh, the whimsy will never leave and I adore circle skirts (even on a day like today the risk of wind induced flashing is high!). You’ll love the fabric I’ve ordered for a dress and there are some fabulous prints to be used too!

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