Wardrobes the Way they Were

Time immemorial…. Has a lovely sound to it, doesn’t it? Like days of yore.

In fact, in British law, time immemorial is defined as everything before the sixth of July 1189. This was decided in 1275, presumably because by that point no one could remember anything before the sixth of July 1189 and it was therefore literally time immemorial – a time that no one living could remember.

Hunterian Psalter c. 1170 feasting
Don’t worry, no one remembers you taking the last piece of pizza in 1170.
It is interesting to consider what time immemorial would be these days. It’s so easy to forget how short a time, relatively speaking, things have been The Way Things Are. Mass transport, antibiotics, Queen Elizabeth II, the Internet… Fast fashion has only been around for a few decades, and yet how strange it now seems to have just a few carefully tended items of clothing, worn for years and infrequently replaced.

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Miss Silver’s Wardrobe Precepts

Have you ever wanted a simple, sane, reliable wardrobe that lets you be you and just works?
So have I – and then I found someone who has one: Miss Maud Silver, from the novels of Patricia Wentworth.
I carefully scrutinized how she did it, and here are the results: ten precepts to guide you toward a wardrobe that works for you.Edwardian lady writing (6908558900)Precept the First: Do not be limited by fashion.
Choose clothes that you like, that suit you and work for your life, and pay no heed to whether they are in fashion or not.
Furthermore, if such clothes are not readily available, feel free to alter what is available to suit yourself.
Miss Silver, for example, prefers a high neck, and has her dresses adapted accordingly.

Precept the Second: To thine own self be true.
Never use clothing as a way to pretend to be someone or something you’re not.
Do not be embarrassed to be seen repeatedly in the same clothes; nor ashamed to be seen in old clothes, if well cared for.
Miss Silver would certainly agree that “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” as Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have said.

A Working Class Family in Wartime- Every Day Life With the Suter Family in London, 1940 D788Precept the Third: Choose quality.
Don’t shop needlessly, but when you must buy, buy the best you can afford. To buy an inferior garment which won’t last is a false economy.
And naturally, having bought good quality, you will want to take good care of it, with appropriate washing, pressing, mending and so forth.

Precept the Fourth: Have a line of succession.
In due course of wear your once-new “best” will be relegated to “second best” and so forth, down the line of wear, and a new “best” will be acquired.
This policy works in many different areas of the wardrobe, although the time involved may be different for different areas.
Miss Silver buys a new summer and winter dress every year, but new hats are acquired much less often.

A customer tries on a new hat in the millinery department of Bourne and Hollingsworth on London's Oxford Street in 1942. D6596
Precept the Fifth: Buy flexible clothing.
Look for clothes which work for more than one level of formality. Miss Silver wears last year’s summer silk dress for evening-wear, for example.
There’s no point in buying, say, a special-occasions-only dress which becomes entirely useless once it’s worn enough to no longer be suitable for special occasions.

Precept the Sixth: Coordinate accessories.
Miss Silver has her hats, coat, shoes, stockings, gloves and handbag in black. These coordinate with each other and with all her dresses, and she is thus spared the need to buy and maintain multiple sets of everything.
Of course, you needn’t choose black, nor all matching, but make sure everything works together.

Teacher in a Negro grammar school in her bedroom at home. 8d20236vPrecept the Seventh: Be selective in ornamentation.
Choose a few favourite ornaments. You need no others.
(This doesn’t include any family heirlooms you do not wear yourself but are waiting to pass down to younger members of the family.)
Miss Silver has a string of gold filigree beads, a locket with her late parents’ initials, and three brooches (one of which carries her pince-nez). Note: she doesn’t wear them all at once.

Precept the Eighth: Make use of trimmings.
A plain hat, for example, can be varied from year to year by altering the trimmings (which can themselves be recycled).
Trimmings can also be removed from worn-out garments and attached to the new, as Miss Silver does with the trim on her dressing-gown.
One can also choose to trim the clothing no one sees. (Miss Silver has three rows of crocheted lace trimming on her knicker legs.)
Detalj, pipkrage - Livrustkammaren - 68113Precept the Ninth: Make it yourself.
Miss Silver not only crocheted the aforementioned trimming, she designed it herself.
She also knits an endless series of garments (although generally they are for friends and family, rather than herself).
Making things yourself allows for endless customization. Quite literally, suit yourself.

Precept the Tenth: Always have a handkerchief.
Clean, plain, and of a sensible size. You never know when they will come in handy – nor for what.

Dye, Dye, Dye!

Three packets of dye, that is.

Some of you may remember the hemming escapade I went on nearly a year ago. Amazingly, it’s taken me this long to realize that the colours of the dress didn’t really suit me. I looked ok, but just ok. I decided… to dye.


After quite some time (a whole evening, if I recall correctly), doing research on what was available where, what people thought of it, and what colour it came out, I ordered a four-pack of Dylon Burlesque Red. Which isn’t red, in case you were wondering. In fact, I’m pretty sure it is also known as Plum, which makes a lot more sense.

After a bit of hassle (ordered 4x50g, got 1x50g, returned the one, reordered the four, followed by a supply issue, followed by some clever person realizing that four ones is the same as one four), I received the dye and set to work.

Each packet dyes up to 250g of fabric (dry weight) to the full colour, or more to a paler shade. I didn’t want a paler shade, so for my 700g of fabric I used three packets. I wasn’t sure about whether the required 250g of salt or the 6L dye bath also needed to be tripled, and I couldn’t find any definite advice online, so I didn’t triple the salt, and I only tripled the 500mL for dissolving each packet of dye.

After. A trifle blurry, but it gives you the best idea of the colour.

I quite like the colour it came out – a sort of ripe plum. Or at least, what I would call ripe, which is what everyone else would likely call not quite ripe yet. It’s not too bluey, and not too pink; and I really hope it doesn’t fade. As you can probably see, the triangles are still darker (“colour mixing rules apply,” as the packet notes).

The kerchief/Super-Bandanna came out a slightly different shade, being made of tea-dyed calico; but the triangle on the kerchief is the same fabric as the triangle on the dress, and thus came out the same colour as that. (Confused?) The lack of complete match doesn’t really bother me as I don’t often wear the Super-Bandanna: it’s too big for convenience, and doesn’t produce the line I was hoping for. Maybe one day I will alter it, but so far I haven’t got round to it.

The one downside in all this is the fact that the thread and zip didn’t take the dye. The thread is likely polyester (unlike the dress, which is linen/rayon blend) and the zip is metal. So the seams clearly stand out, outlining the neck, triangles etc.


But overall, I’m happy with it. Plenty of dye came out during the rinsing process, and I’m just hoping that what’s left stays fast, because I like the deep tones and I don’t want to lose them!