Fashion on the ration: looking back, part 1
A whole year looking hard at the clothes I wear, sew and buy. So much learningks.
Because everything I’ve bought or sewed in these 12 months has had to pull its weight, probably the #1 most important thing I’ve taken away from FOTR is the 90% rule: 90% of my wardrobe needs to equip me for my real life, not my fantasy life. Therefore, no matter how fun it is to perv out on patterns for 1930s bias-cut evening gowns and whatnot, I need to focus 90% of the money, time and effort I put into sewing and shopping time on clothing for my real life. This has been a hard lesson to internalize.
Living on a clothing and fabric ration has forced me to look hard at what clothes I actually wear in order to make every clothing purchase and sewing project count. It turned out that I’d bought and sewn a lot of clothing I never wore because it didn’t suit me or wasn’t comfortable. Mostly I’d bought or sewn it out of wishful love for for the fantasy lifestyle or body shape it suited.
[You mean I will never actually wear that pink chiffon ballgown with 6-foot detachable train??]
For most of the year, this clothing sat in my wardrobe moldering gently.What I reached for, day after day after day, was clothing that fit a few basic criteria:
It must keep me warm and dry. This meant layers, natural fibers and, for most of the year, wool. Underneath, merino tights and base layers were a clear winner, as were cashmere sweaters on top and wool skirts and trousers. I fell madly in love with wool this year, actually; it really is the secret weapon against the cool, damp, changeable British climate, and generations of grannies were right about the invulnerability conferred by wearing wool next to the skin. Single violin: the legions of pretty cotton frocks, summer sundress patterns and sleeveless blouses my fellow bloggers model so beautifully will never be practical options while I live in the UK.
It must allow me to go about an average day in comfort. Unless you are Kate Middleton and can afford to take taxis everywhere, daily life in London throws a lot of unexpected physical trials your way. You can end up freezing at a bus stop, smothering in a Tube tunnel, struggling with a load of grocery bags, running for a bus, cycling on a Boris bike or standing for hours in queues, trains and crowded pubs. Your clothing must be able to cope. I love darling little heels and pretty dresses as much as the next girl, but they can become instruments of torture if worn incautiously. The vast majority of the time, comfortable shoes and warm, layerable pieces carried the day. Single violin: this effectively rules out most heels higher than kitten height, or ever leaving the house without a sweater.
It must be versatile. I adore my 1940s jitterbug dress and it is one of the prettiest things in my closet, but the situations in which I can wear it are few and far between. The two Jalie tops I made from ivory bamboo interlock, on the other hand, I have worn over and over, with skirts, work trousers and jeans. Unsurprisingly, the most mixable items got the most wear. Single violin: farewell to most of the really drool-inducing sewing projects on my wish list, like the 1870s cuirass bodice and skirt.
It must suit my coloring and actual body size and shape. Harder to accept than it sounds, especially if you’re an inverted triangle who’s just spent hours painstakingly sewing a dress designed for an hourglass. Single violin: the wiggle dress, she and I will never be right for each other. Ditto obi belts, ruched sleeves and anything orange or purple.
It must be low- to medium-maintenance. This means no uncomfortable underpinnings, pantyhose, painful shoes, anti-static spray, elaborate hair and makeup or tit tape. The outfit must not be excessively vulnerable to wind, rain or red wine. I know this rules out huge swathes of women’s clothing, including the vintage looks I love, but what can I say? I will probably go to my grave an unregenerate tomboy. Remember Britches Dottie from the Great Brain books? That’s basically me. Single violin: Even on my super-motivated days I still don’t look as ladylike as Casey Brown phoning it in.
It must suit my actual personality. Frills are out — way out. As is pink, soft pastels, chiffon, ballet flats, Mary Janes, Alice bands, floral prints, puffed sleeves, super-slutty looks or anything uncomfortably juvenile. Like I said… tomboy. I do like feminine looks, but I like them womanly rather than girly, and with a strong spike of the masculine. (I’m digging Steph’s current interest in androgynous women’s fashion in Weimar Berlin. )
Although these basic principles have long been floating murkily at the back of my mind, it feels good to make them explicit and start altering my behavior to follow them. I feel like the 90% rule will focus my efforts and save me a lot of time and money in future sewing and shopping.
Only 5 days left to go!