Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Emotional Wardrobe

I woke up in the wee hours this morning, still heavy with sleep, but part of my mind started this very long blog post. It was really strange but what it said to me was Fashion is Emotional.  On one end of the scale, there are people who look to clothing as something only functional, on the other end are the fashionistas. I'm somewhere on that scale that looks to clothing as an expression of myself, my equivalent of an artist (wannabe that's me) painting on canvas.

This will be a long post, something I normally don't do, haven't done on my other blog.  The door has been opened, the key was the Wardrobe Architect. Such a simple set of questions and they were the prompts that I needed. I should preface the following by saying that (1) should you want to look at my responses to the Wardrobe Architect questions, you can scroll down to the end, and (2) I am at a big transition point in my life - I took early retirement last year and along with that *snap* I've landed in a new place, still trying to figure out this new part of my life out.

To get to where I am today and where I want to be, wardrobe-wise, I must look back to where I've been.

Pre-migration: that's a funny sub-title, isn't it? I was born in Hong Kong and we emigrated to Canada when I was 10.  I wasn't a girly-girl but I remember my mom taking me to the tailors to get dresses made. I got to choose the fabrics. The only dress I clearly remember, and this speaks to my future preferences, was a sleeveless shift dress made with cotton (perhaps sateen?). It had a medium green background, with the clear front and back panel of large flowers, predominantly pink. It was a very Monet-like print and I loved it.

Growing up in Canada: once we got here, we began a completely different life. We were strangers in a strange land. We didn't speak the language. We weren't white. It was not easy. My parents bought a grocery store business (surprise, surprise) and we all worked, all the time. My clothes grew smaller as I grew taller. My parents had no time to take me shopping. My clothes started to come from the Sears catalog.

Learning to sew and Cruella: When I started junior high and we had mandatory sewing class, I was so happy! I took to sewing like a fish to water. You see, I'm really tall (now 5'11") and I was always the tallest in class growing up. Clothes then were always too short for me. With sewing class I learned to lengthen and make clothes to fit.  However, it took me a long time to get it right. By that I mean my techniques were good, but finding the right fabric for the right pattern was the puzzle I had to solve.

That's where Cousin Cruella came to the "rescue". I joke when I say this but this cousin was like a bossy older sister (by 10 years) who had a lot sewing experience.  She would cackle at the things I made because she said the fabrics were terrible. True. I used things my mom had brought from Hong Kong. Nowadays they would be "vintage" and cool, but back then making an A-line skirt with a tulip pattern was not cool. I was told I should've used a plain coloured fabric. I think the jibes from my cousin did help and it took me till senior high when we made some serious clothing (tweed suit, slinky Jean Muir jersey dress) for me to get better at the fabric-to-pattern fit.  I say "get better at" as I think I still struggle with that part of sewing.  To this day, I gravitate to prints!

Twenties and working: once I had a college education and a "real" job and paycheck, oh my, I went crazy buying clothes. I was tall, slim and young. I had looked good in so many things. I loved buying designer clothes. Oy, those were the days! In my early twenties I went for a bohemian, Annie-Hall look. I bought purple designer linen suit while in Italy. It was such fun. (In case you are wondering, I stopped sewing clothes  then when I could buy these gorgeous stuff from Italy! Me bad.)

Mommy phase: in terms of fashion, this was probably my worse "moment". Yup. Sweatshirts, t-shirts, things with elastic waist plus the short mommy haircut. Our son had arrived a month earlier than expected and we were totally thrown. It was a blurry time. I took a year's maternity leave.

Corporate work life: when I got back to work, it was all about suits. Beautiful suits. Thankfully the trend towards business casual dress made wardrobe expenses less and I could wear things in my non-work life too.

Retirement - now what?  So here I am. I was surprised how this has all surfaced for me because when I look at my Style Pinboard, I recognize the style of things I had loved in my twenties.  I also realized how I really was "into" what  clothes I put on, hence the "Emotional Wardrobe".

I think feminine menswear is something that grabs my eye. In terms of style icons - Katherine Hepburn comes to mind, as does Lauren Hutton. As to Aubrey Hepburn I love her look but "petite" and "gamine" do not describe me at all.

Wardrobe Architect - Words to describe me - I wrote down:

Strength - strong clean lines
Softness - in texture, drape and feel of fabrics
Fun - something with a touch of whimsy
Colour - I think this refers to prints. Funny enough when I look at my Style Pinboard a lot of what I like are linens of solid colours.
Freedom - clothes that allow me to move because I am doing more yoga now.

Shapes - loose, boxy? I seem to tend towards that but in fact, I think I need to get more shaping into my sewing. I think an empire silhouette would be good.

Patterns - Hmmm, there are lots of choices. This month I want to sew the Girl Friday culottes, the simple Cynthia Rowley S1366 top , the Robe Aubepine.

Doing the WA2015 process has helped me organize my patterns too which I desperately needed to do.

Are you doing Wardrobe Architect 2015? If you are, what have you learned about yourself?


  1. Oooh, I really like that Robe Aubepine! I enjoyed reading your post, learning more about you and also about your journey through sewing and life. I can imagine that early retirement has made you pause and think about what's next for your wardrobe. As for me, well there was only one time I got to experience the tailored dress -- it was when I made my one trip to China with my dad around 1981. I got 2 or 3 dresses made -- some were supposed to be for my sister who was sick and didn't make the trip. Turned out I was skinnier than she was -- the only time in my life that was true! -- and got to keep all the dresses. :D I went through a time in my life before kids when I loved buying clothes -- but then motherhood struck, just like it did for you. lol! Since I don't work, my wardrobe is basic necessities. When I want to look nice, I find it's hard to put something together.

    Anyway, I'm looking forward to more of your sewing journey. (I had and have the opposite problem to you. I'm short -- 5' 2" or so. Sigh.)

  2. For a moment I thought I clicked on the wrong blog! LOL!! Very nice write-up and looks like you've come one big round back to your passion for sewing.

    I really like your Style Inspirations!

  3. I really enjoyed this post SO MUCH, Melissa!! I learned a lot about you and am in awe at all your family went through in your move to Canada. I had no idea that English wasn't your native language! I think I thought you were born in Canada, but you parent's weren't. Now I know :)

    Ah yes--the mommy phase :) And all mom's go through it, don't they? I never had a corporate phase as we don't dress up a lot at the library. Just nice slacks/sweaters--that sort of thing. I enjoyed looking at your pinterest board, too. Although, most of those things would swallow me up as I am the opposite of you--only a bit over 5 feet 1 inch! I loved being tiny when I was young--now I hate it!

    Longer posts suit you--you are an excellent writer and I truly enjoyed the glimpse into your private life :)

  4. That's awesome! Your parents purchasing a grocery store is a stand-out. That is indeed a business where you can never go wrong. Anyway, the things you listed are indeed a lot to handle, but I know that you're doing well in doing so. Thanks for sharing that, Melissa! I wish you all the best!

    Sheldon Ward @ Brett Halvorson & Associates