“What a deformed thief this fashion is.” -- William Shakespeare
The fashion that takes my heart captive and steals my breath away are the styles of the early 1960s. In 1961, a fashionable woman usually left the house wearing an elegantly styled bouffant and a simply cut dress known affectionately as “little nothing.” Almost always sleeveless and slim, the “little nothing” recalled the flapper dresses of the 1920s.
Also in this year, skirts rose above the kneecap, and designers created “the look” by selling not just garments, but hats, shoes and make-up. Princess Margaret, Jacqueline Kennedy, Grace Kelly and Brigitte Bardot were muses of laywomen. A year later, in 1962, not much changed. Audrey Hepburn’s Hubert de Givenchy dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Yves Saint Laurent’s show-stopping collection dominated fashion news. Then, from 1963 to 1965, the sartorial world turned modern and young. Knee-high skirts, vivid prints and lower heels became popular. In London, a fashion revolution broke out, and for the first time, the British were the most vogue folk. Yet, throughout these five years, women carefully considered their outfits knowing that it spoke volumes about their station in life and what face they wanted to present to the world.
Call my soul bygone or dated, but what happened to this type of dressing? When did we lose sight of the fact that our outfit states who we are in the eyes of others and ourselves? Luckily, there exists a hamlet of women and men bringing the art of dressing back. They, or I should say we, call ourselves the sewing community and by creating “me-made” garments that fit our bodies, flatter our coloring and suit our lifestyles are resurrecting an old, but not dead, trend.
At the beginning of 2014, Colette Patterns, an independent pattern and sewing company, launched an experimental project called The Wardrobe Architect. Point blank, its purpose was to “construct” a wardrobe that reflects a person’s identity, not a fashion trend. Through a series of posts over the course of several months, Sarai Mitnick, founder and owner of Colette Patterns, discussed form and function, the deeper implications of fashion choices, how clothing reflects identities and how the sewing community could sew more and buy less.
“When you sew, your possibilities are almost limitless. But that can also make it difficult to develop a coherent style – one that really reflects who you are and where you come from. If you can make nearly anything, you discover that merely liking something isn't enough. You begin looking a little more inward to discover what your clothes really say about you,” said Sarai. “I wanted to create a process for this kind of discovery, for myself if nothing else. I wanted to stop buying and making things that weren't really me, that went unused or that didn't really fit my personality.”
In week one, Sarai examined the concept of individuality and identity. One of fashion’s main functions is to tell a story about a person, but the language of clothing is limited, and both women and men are constrained by the styles of time and the meanings that are affixed to clothing by others. Through downloadable online exercises, Sarai asked readers to identify the ways they are different, including their history, philosophy, culture, community, activities, location and body, so that they could identify their own style and be freed from trends. Adding a bit of interactivity to the lesson, Sarai uploaded a photo of herself everyday on Instagram explaining how each element (listed above) affected her style. She asked readers to the do same, sharing their photos with the hashtag #wardrobearchitect.
After exploring shapes, discussing proportions and silhouettes, identifying color stories and finding a beauty regime, Sarai put her lessons to practical use and created a capsule wardrobe. Consisting of core silhouettes in a specific color assortment, a capsule wardrobe would be a small, manageable subset of a women’s closet that would serve as a guide or a template for her when planning her seasonal wardrobe (2-4 times per year), and would include both ready-to-wear and me-made garments.
“Over the course of the project, I learned just how many other women struggled with the same issues I had. Many of us are interested in taking a more thoughtful, minimalist and considered approach to dressing, but we often stumble over discovering who we are and what we really want. Having a process to go through really helps with this, because it forces you to ask some questions you normally wouldn't, such as what your clothes really communicate, how they reflect your history and values and why you are drawn to certain things and not others.”
I followed along with Sarai’s challenges and activities, and by the end of the series, I had purged 75 percent of my closet. My collection of clothing is smaller than it’s ever been, but I’m happier with the way I dress. Every piece of clothing has a purpose and goes with the other items of my wardrobe (for the most part, at least). But it was only through careful consideration over several months that I got to that point.
While looking for a new place to live recently, the realtor walked me into the bedroom and said, “I’m not sure you’re going to like this next room, it has a small closet.”
My retort: “That’s all I need.”
Maddie Flanigan is behind Madalynne, the cool pattern-making and sewing blog. If Steve McQueen was the “King of Cool,” then Madalynne is the “Queen of Cool.” An educational, informational and inspirational blog, Madalynne provides how-to’s and tutorials on pattern-making and all things sewing related. Madalynne also documents the life of Maddie, including her own sewing projects, endeavors and sometimes struggles, so she can serve as an inspiration to her readers.
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