Wardrobe Architect 2: Defining a Core Style

This month, we consider what lies at the core of our style. Themes as opposed to plot or events, to use a bookish metaphor. There are a few questions, and then you distill your answers into key words and images. As always, you can download the worksheet (and read the original post & comments) on the Colette site.
Wholesome Milkmaid in 1945 (Phyllis Robins)
How do you feel in your favourite clothes? I think my favourite dress, strangely enough, is one of the plainest: brown, with a faint bleach stain at bench height. But wearing it, I feel capable, adult, set up and ready to go, prepared for everything – practical. (It may help that I like the things I wear with it: my most colourful kerchief and a harmonizing belt.)

How do you feel in not-right clothes? Itchy, uncoordinated (in colour not movement), over-exposed or shapeless; constricted – either in movement or in midsection.

Who are your style icons – what appeals? This is always a difficult one for me, because so seldom do I see anyone who dresses the way I’d like to. Pretty well never, in fact. The closest? Jane Eyre comes to mind, weirdly enough. A small, neat wardrobe, with one or two items reserved for special occasions (but I’d rather not have them all in black or grey!).
The Governess by Richard Redgrave
And then perhaps Andrea Grinberg for headwear, though her wraps are sometimes larger and more elaborate than I would feel me-ish in. Occasional items worn by the Duchess of Cambridge – although mostly eveningwear, as that seems to be the only time fashion permits the longer length I like. Other than that I mostly see things I like in historical and fantasy movies.  (Who’s with me?)

Actually, the 1840s seem to have been a reasonably reasonable time in clothing, compared to many eras: dresses mostly woman-shaped and the skirts not excessively immense. Not keen on the evening drop-shoulder, though: it’s bad for duelling (and most other things you might want to do).

What are some words for styles that aren’t quite you, though you like them?
I’m not sure of the reason behind this question, since “not quite you” isn’t what you really want to be focussing on. I suppose the ladylike suited look of the 1930s appeals, but isn’t quite me. Swashbuckling, Pre-Raphaelite, early medieval… Nice places to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Brown lapin over green woolList about 15 words from last week’s answers.
long, fitted, quality, devotee, nonconformist, Melanesian, modesty, historical, kerchief, freedom [of movement], skirts, pockets, layers, waist, privacy.

Add some from this week’s answers. Neat, plain, capable, practical.

Boil down to 3-5 words.
Neat, historical, practical, quality, devotee.

And then – this is the fun bit – you go looking for 15-20 images that express these words for you. Not just images of clothing, but images generally which sum up the feel you’re looking for. You can do this online or old-school (back when cut and paste actually involved scissors and glue). I prefer old-school, but since we’re online, here’s one of mine in digital format.

Helen Allingham - Drying Clothes
Neat, historical, practical.
What words would you use to evoke your core style?

Look Closer

One of the things I collect images of for my scrapbook is buildings I like the look of – doesn’t matter if it’s a one-room cottage or a vast palace complex, if I like it, I stick it in there. (I also like browsing real estate magazines for the perfect house, secure in the knowledge that it doesn’t exist and I will therefore never have to worry about how to pay for it.)

There was one picture, however, which I thought long and hard about before including in my scrapbook. It was from a magazine – the travel section. A handsome two-story brick building glows in the warm light of an autumn day. A large tree opposite the building balances it and reflects the autumn colouring. A large wrought-iron gateway stands in the foreground. It looks spacious and idyllic.

Look closer.

The fence seems a bit out of place here. Tall grey fence-posts, bent in at the top, wrapped in barbed wire. There are letters in the wrought-iron archway. They spell ARBEIT MACHT FREI – work makes you free.

This is the entrance to Auschwitz. Over a million people walked in those gates who never walked out again.

But I put this picture in my scrapbook, all the same. I keep it there to remind me that looks can be deceiving, that the foulest evil can present the fairest face, and that the most handsome of buildings can nonetheless stand at the mouth of hell.

It reminds me not to place too much stock in what the home of my dreams might look like. For in truth, what we desire above all else for our home is something no cut-and-pasted clipping can display: to live in peace, loving and loved.

December: A Sense of Faith

Confession time: I didn’t think when this year began that I’d be able to withstand another year in the Dreaded Day Job. I cried, I begged, I pleaded, I fasted and prayed – and I stayed stuck. It was like fighting with the Tar-Baby – the more I fought the stucker I got (and like the Tar-Baby, He say nuthin’).

Twelve months on, and I’m still at the DDJ, and none of the myriad resignation letters I have composed in thought have yet been set to paper. (A question for any employment lawyers out there: what’s the legal status of an employee who sends in several different resignation letters in one envelope?) But the year has not been wasted.

Resignation Letter

During the year I have worked through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  (Although I did miss some exercises due to a bout of zombieism bronchitis and I did get a couple of months behind at one point.) This has involved fun things like starting a scrapbook, playing with bubbles and making a jester’s hat. Less enjoyably, there was the dire Week Without Reading. Never Again.

While I haven’t been exactly religious in my observance of the ‘basic tools’ of the Artist’s Way – morning pages and Artist’s Dates – I have used them, and found them useful. One of the best things about the Artist’s Way is that it’s adaptable – not everyone has to do it the same way. It’s alter-to-fit, not One Size Fits All (which it never does).


The exercises for Chapter 12 include restorative and expansive tasks like mending something (in my case a summer dress that I can now wear after 18 months in the mending pile) or repotting a plant. I have brought home Bob the Parlour Palm (named after my favourite Simpsons character) and am on the lookout for a larger pot for him.

In the meantime I shall remove the freesia bulbs which ended up in the same pot (long story) and give them a taste of the fridge. For some reason they sprout in autumn, bloom in winter and die off in spring. Are they hemispherically confused?
I dare to dream that bringing Bob home from the DDJ is just the beginning of the longed-for ritual of Cleaning Out The Desk.


I am becoming unstuck. (Not in the two-sandwiches-short-of-a-picnic way. I think.) I wouldn’t say that the Artist’s Way is the key to creative freedom and the solution to all your problems, but it’s helped me push the boundaries of what I thought possible in my life – and to my delight, some of the boundaries give. (Although they do need to be pushed pretty hard…)

I am glad I did the Artist’s Way, and perhaps someday I shall do it again. But for now, I’m going to look back with gladness – and look forward with hope.