Wardrobe Architect 4: Proportions & Silhouettes

I must admit I struggled with this month’s exercises. In the first place, there’s the confusion of the terminology. Both ‘proportions’ and ‘silhouettes’ seem to be referring to the shape of garments that you wear together. Jeans + t-shirt + sneakers, for example. I might call it an ensemble, but regardless of the label you choose, that’s what we’re talking about.

The second problem I had is that at first I could only think of one ensemble that I wear – leaving aside for the nonce such things as headwear (always) and footwear (socks and slippers, mostly; shoes or boots outside).
I wear a long-sleeved full-length dress pretty much every day. But there are variations on the theme. With or without belt; with or without cardigan/jersey; skirt full or straighter. Occasionally short sleeves in summer.

Then I realized that there are other ensembles I wear – sometimes. Tunic over full skirt, tunic over loose trousers, tunic over laplap (straight wrap skirt). But I don’t want to include these in my wardrobe architecting, much as I enjoy wearing them, because they leave me stranded without pockets (cue Scarlett-O’Hara-at-intermission moment again).

What else is there? Then I remembered: one of my dresses has fasteners all the way down the front (it was designed to be a throw-on layer over less-modest clothing), and I often wear it half-open over a full skirt, in a vaguely Elizabethan sort of way.

Portrait of Mary Tudor, Queen Mary I (1516 - 1558), circa 1550s
As the dress contains the all-important pockets, this is a satisfactory outfit, even allowing for different combinations – had I more than one of each sort of garment, which I don’t. I have occasionally worn the dress with loose trousers and a tunic or long slip, but there comes a point where you wonder if you are still wearing a dress, or just adding a light coat with convenient pockets.

Of course, if we’re talking about what we’d like to wear, I’d love a dress designed to look like a full skirt and matching waistcoat, which could then be worn over a variety of shirts – allowing for a simplicity approaching or even exceeding that of my husband’s wardrobe.

Not that I have ever seen such a dress, mind you, in person or otherwise. But I have hopes that one day, as I pursue my sewing endeavours, I will eventually gain the necessary skills to make myself one of these dream-dresses (with perhaps a matching jacket).

English women's riding habit c 1890 LACMA
What are your favourite ensembles (/silhouettes/proportions)? What ensembles do you as yet only dream of?

Dresses, Whole Dresses, and Nothing But Dresses

I made the decision: I’m moving to a dress-only wardrobe. Separates: farewell.

This isn’t due to some profound philosophical or metaphysical principle, it just makes simple sense. Over half of my wardrobe is dresses anyway, and I find myself increasingly irritated the other half of the time by the fuss of finding skirt, top, and more than likely under- and over-layers which will all work with each other.

A-line skirtsI could, of course, have just formed them into regimented ‘outfits’: this top always with this skirt, etc etc, but frankly, that defeats the whole purpose of separates, viz: that you can mix and match. I always found there was rather more mixing than matching going on, and it was a sore trial to my overdeveloped sense of aesthetics. I had the eye for it, but I didn’t have the wardrobe for it.

For some time now I have been dreaming of a simplicity of wardrobe akin to that of the Caped Gooseberry: every day he wears a collared shirt, trousers, and as many warm layers as are required to reach the point marked x. Amount of thinking required: virtually nil. (At least until he married a woman who insisted that colour be taken into account. Maroon, for example, should not be worn with pale green. I do not think I am being unreasonable in this matter. After all, I have to look at him more often than he does.)

TeofilThe problem is that dressing as a woman is not the same thing as dressing as a man. (I do not wish to dress as a man. I don’t have the figure for it, for a start.) Men can buy a pair of trousers which will quietly go along with every shirt they own, and do so for years at a time. Women’s garments seem intended to be attention-grabbers every one, each piece struggling to upstage the others. If you want something more neutral, it is pretty well guaranteed to be black, unless you luck out and find something grey. And even then, it is intended to be worn for a year or two at most, after which it will die the death of planned obsolescence, so you have to go and buy some more. I can’t be having with this.

Admittedly, part of the problem is that I am very choosy about my clothes. I want them to be of a colour that suits me, in a style that I like, and of a fabric that breathes. I don’t wear see-through clothing (defeats the point of getting dressed), or polyester (plastic has its uses, but clothing should not be one of them), or short skirts, or frills, and I definitely don’t subscribe to the view that if you wear a long skirt you’ve got to ‘balance’ it by showing more skin up top, as though women owe the world a certain proportion of their surface area.

Miranda Kerr at InStyle Women Of Style Awards (2)Imagine what the world would look like if men who wore ankle-length trousers had to wear shirts which only buttoned half-way up. (Sorry. Would you like some bleach for your mind’s eye?) And if they chose to rebel and wear a shirt which buttoned all the way up, people would assume they suffered from low self-esteem…

Back to the dresses, however. Having all these criteria does make it rather hard to find clothes, particularly on a budget. I can’t remember the last time I bought anything in a shop, other than an underlayer. It simply doesn’t seem worth looking any more, since everything I find is either of poor quality, a colour or style I don’t like, or too expensive. Or all of the above. I have long been a fan of second-hand shopping, but it’s getting harder to find what I’m looking for there, too. I try to shop like a tiger, but all too often these days I shop like a tiger in a tofu warehouse.

As much as I like the idea of wearing, say, an elegant Thirties-style suit, such things are not to be had for the asking. They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To. And people would be more likely to notice that I was wearing basically the same clothes every day, than they would if a man did it. (This man, for example.)

Shocking Pink SchiaparelliElsa Schiaparelli said a woman should never be afraid to be seen in her suit too often, but then, that was eighty years ago. Anyway, do I really want to take clothing advice from a woman famous for the shoe hat and the lobster dress, whose signature colour was shocking pink, a colour I would walk over hot coals to avoid wearing?

So, the dresses. As Hoda Kotb said, “I usually go for a dress. No matching involved. I am bad at matching! I like easy and when you’re done, it looks like a second skin. I wear dresses every day for that reason. It’s easy!” Easy is simple. Dresses still allow for plenty of variety, of course. A light, flowy summer dress; a dress of tailored wool for winter… And of course you can add warm layers, which only have to go with the dress, rather than two or more other pieces.

Mistake me not: this is not to say that I’m going through my wardrobe and chucking out everything that isn’t a dress. In the first place, I tend to wear my clothes until they die of extreme old age, and in the second place, I don’t have sufficient dresses to manage year round. Yet. As always, it’s a work in progress. But at least now I have an idea of what I’m aiming for.

Museo del Traje - MTFD062753 - Figurín de un vestido de Madeleine Vionnet

Have you been hankering for greater simplicity in your wardrobe? What steps are you taking? I’d love to hear!