I’ve been reading Anne Hollander’s book ‘Sex and Suits,’ and while I don’t always agree with everything she theorizes about clothing, I find what she writes unfailingly interesting. One quote that struck me is about fear of fashion:
“People uncomfortable with taking full responsibility for their own looks, who either fear the purely visual demands of social life—‘appearance’ or ‘appearances’----or don’t trust the operation of their own taste, feel threatened and manipulated by fashion, and have called it a tyrant. The constant element of fiction in it makes it smack of inauthenticity, pretense, and pretention; and it is indeed obvious that fashion is a perpetual test of character and self-knowledge. . .”
I recognized myself in her description. I certainly feared fashion when I was younger, and felt intense dread and helplessness about being judged on my appearance, and anger that we are judged on appearances more rather than the substance of our spirit. But as I have grown older I’ve realized that external appearance and internal states are connected, and although we cannot control our face or body shape to a great extent, we can still shape our appearance through grooming, posture, and clothing choice. I use my sewing now to try to bring my external appearance closer to my internal perceptions of self. Although I am still not certain that I pass the “perpetual test of character and self-knowledge” that fashion presents, as I feel that my understanding of what I like and what suits me is still deveoping as my skills at sewing and what materials are available to me continue to evolve.
Have any of you read any of Anne Hollander’s books about fashion theory and clothing history? What do you think of her ideas about why people are afraid of fashion? Do you recognize yourself in any part of her description too? Do you believe that fashion is a “test of character and self-knowledge?” Does it really matter how we look and present ourselves to the world, or is clothing only superficial and cannot be relied on to reflect personality?
The weather has become decidedly cool, and I found myself wishing for warmer skirts to wear under my coats and capes. Sometimes I am afraid to use my wool that I have found over the years at the thrift store, aware of how expensive it would otherwise be if I hadn’t found it secondhand. But this year I have decided to be braver and use more of it. I still have several pieces, so I hope more wool pieces will find their way to the sewing table and then to be photographed and posted here.
The wool I used to make this skirt is very lovely---very lightweight, with a soft drape----but had some problems when I bought it cheaply from the thrift store. It had been cut into several narrow pieces and had extensive tears and holes around the edges. My first step was to cut the damaged areas off so that the pieces were long rectangles. Then I sewed them together into one large panel that I then used to make a skirt based on my favorite 1970s era Simplicity 7880 skirt pattern. I used waistband interfacing to stiffen the waist, pinked the inner seams, and finished the bottom hem with pale grey lace seam binding, also thrifted. The lace gives the hem a beautifully clean finish, and it doesn’t snag on my boots the way that my folded and sewn hems sometimes do. I like this method of hemming so much that I think I will do it much more often for my skirts and dresses.
I am wearing my new wool skirt with my handmade peter-pan collar shirt, previously reviewed here, and my favorite vintage cape, made of heavy double-faced wool. It is wonderfully warm and comfortable, and ideal for all the walking we do in all kinds of weather. When we were walking to church, a man crossing the other way smiled at my husband and me and told us that we looked like we were ready to go Christmas caroling.
Simplicity 5976 from the 1970s is likely one of my most exotic vintage patterns, with its angel wings and bows and decorative bands. I’ve had all kinds of reactions from other people when wearing the dress I made from it, everything from being reminded of Pre-Raphaelite paintings to graduation or judicial gowns.
I sewed my version out of black broadcloth trimmed with black cotton calico patterned with little black flowers. After the bands were attached using the machine, I sewed black ribbon around the edges of the bands and the square neckline by hand. While the instructions were not difficult to understand, the pattern is complex enough in construction that I would not recommend it for a beginner. Having some previous experience makes it satisfying to sew instead of frustrating. The bands and trims took some time to apply, but were well worth it for the interesting effect they give to the finished dress. It is unique.
It is also comfortable to wear, and versatile for most kinds of weather, since in the summer I can wear it alone with sandals, and in the winter I can wear it as I am doing here, with a turtleneck sweater and long tights underneath for warmth. The necklace is handmade also, using glass beads from JoAnns and jewelry-making supplies that my husband gave me for Christmas last year.
Aloha shirts have always been a favorite of mine. I have a closet full of Aloha Shirts I have found at thrift shops. A year ago, while hunting around a local thrift shop, Mrs. Rat discovered an uncut 1960’s era Aloha shirt pattern by Patterns Pacifica. I was pretty stoked although I kept putting off making my own shirt despite the fact that I already had accumulated a number of Aloha print fabrics. This month I decided to give this pattern a shot. We found 4 yards of this beautiful seascape fabric at another thrift shop. Since we had so much I thought it would make a really nice shirt to do as much pattern matching as possible. We managed to match up the entire front of the shirt and pocket as one continuous seascape scene. I sewed the shirt using the reverse side of the fabric and authentic coconut shell buttons salvaged from a previous shirt. These details give it that Aloha shirt authenticity. The construction was amazingly simple and fast. It took me only one afternoon and 3 evenings to finish this shirt from start to finish. The collar definitely has 60’s era flare. At first I was a little wary about a collar this large, but the more I wear the shirt, the more I like it for that unique detail. What’s wrong with a big collar anyway? I am really happy with the way this pattern turned out and will definitely make a few more.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.