Thursday, March 10, 2011

Musings on dressing for work

Friday will be exactly 4 weeks, or one month that I have been at my real-person job.

And, it will be 11 days that I have been participating in the Me-Made-March.

And, of course, there was the death of my sewing machine (a bit overdramatic, yes, I know – I got it back on Friday, good as new, and in the mean time bought myself a baby sewing machine, which happily sewed me two skirts and a jacket).

Between these three things, I haven’t really had a lot of time to devote to the blog. Although, I have been sewing heaps.

So far, I have created three dresses, two skirts and a blazer. I have added two dresses I made years ago to this, and I have basically been able to dress myself each day for work. I have 7 base items to build my day’s clothing from. I’d like it to be closer to 20, but I’m working on it. Really.

I have discovered a few things along the way.

I love dresses. This isn’t a new revelation for me, but, it was really bough home to me over the last few weeks. I like being able to get dressed in the morning, and only have to pull on a single item of clothing, and be ready for the day. It makes me happy. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Natalie Chanin wrote something very similar in the Alabama Stitch book, I think.

Stretch dresses are lovely to wear, but a bit harder to wash. The first time I washed the burgundy-with-white-collar dress, I forgot that the skirt was made of a single circle of fabric. One way stretch for that matter. So, I now have a weirdly stretched skirt that I need to re-hem an even length. When I washed the green stretch dress, I washed it in a delicates bag, and didn’t have the same problem.

I really dislike high neck-lines. Again, this isn’t a revelation. However, I’ve only worn the purple cap-sleeve dress once because the neckline sits about 1.5cm above my collar bones. For most people this is fine, but I find it unnecessarily uncomfortable. I wore it a second time today, and it wasn't as bad - I think the fabric had stretched just that little bit that it sat a touch looser. Which is good, because I was really dreading having to alter the neckline, with the fully lined bodice.

I don’t like high-waisted skirts. Again, not a revelation, but when I was making the shell for a pleated skirt concept idea I had, I thought it might be kinda cute. I ended up at the conclusion that while I don’t hate it (and, in fact, I’ve worn the shell to work several times now), it’s not my favourite style.

While matching skirts-jacket combinations work, cream and white just make you look like some sort of strange bride who got lost on the way to the alter.

Blazers are great for getting to and from the office, but I find them a bit restricting actually wearing them day to day. It’s something I might get over with a bit more wear, but so far, each time I wear a blazer to work, it gets taken off almost as soon as I sit down and start typing.

For commercially made patterns, I have to take 1cm out from between the nipples, and add it to between the nipples and side seams. This is mainly because I have a large bust and a small frame, so my nipples (and for that matter, my breasts) sit closer together than the dress-form the pattern sizing is based on. If I forget this step, it’s not a disaster, it just looks better if I remember it. Like in this purple dress I made years ago. It fits and sits fine, but I know that the princess seam is sitting about 1 cm to the outside of here my nipples are.

Doona (Duvet or Blanket) covers can make great shells (muslins) for clothing. Each of the shells I have made are actually wearable, for not much money. This goes for the pleated cream jacquard skirt, the cream jacquard blazer, and the burgundy pleated skirt.

I really like the lacing at the back of this dress. This is one of my not-new items, but I like it as much as I did then. It is slightly higher around the neckline that I would like, but because the back is open, it doesn’t pull to much, so I can get through a full day without fiddling with it too much. The one downside is that I do need to wear a black singlet top underneath it, making the dress slightly too warm for summer. But, the lacing adds a bit of my tastes to an otherwise simple dress (and means that I just need to pull on a cardigan, and I look totally respectable and corporate, but if I take the cardigan off, I can be a bit more me.

And lastly, I need more t-shirts. Plain colours, blacks and creams, but more of them.

My two major sources of inspiration for my wardrobe were mod-cloth and anthropologie. I didn’t set out to create knock-offs of any of their creations, simply to use them as inspiration. And, that worked. I tried to figure out what drew me to each of the pieces – was it the neckline? the detailing? the silhouette? the colour? and then incorporate that into my creations. It’s a technique I’ll use in the future.

In some ways, I’m lucky that, even before deciding I would have to sew myself a work wardrobe, I have basically figured out what works and doesn’t work for my body-shape. I can now (mostly) look at a pattern and know if it’s going to work on me or not. And, thankfully, my tastes align with what works for me.

In terms of an appropriate work wardrobe, I’m lucky that my workplace doesn’t have a dress-code. Not a formal one at least. So, I have been able to take my own style and make it work for my job. I wear colour, but tend to steer clear of busy prints. Jewel tones and rich colours work well, especially when paired with block coloured (black or beige/cream) cardigans. In some of my outfits, I feel a little like I should be going to afternoon tea with the other debutants, but that is largely because I have chosen a silhouette that wouldn’t look out of place in the 1950s. because I feel comfortable in it. I would suggest anyone looking to get a corporate wardrobe to do the same. Think about what you are comfortable in. For me, that is dresses and skirts. This about sitting still in an air-conditioned office all day. I am cold almost all the time, so I find it really necessary to have a cardigan with me at all times. But most of all, I would say, let your clothing reflect as much of you as possible while conforming to the dress codes (written or unwritten) of your office. For me, that means that I have necklines that aren’t plunging, and skirts that are at least long enough to reach my knees.

I’ve also learnt that I’m not great with accessories. Because of the lack of sewing machine and time, I haven’t sewed any bags like I wanted to. So, with the exception of the rose I made for Day 1 of MMMarch, I have kinda cheated with the accessories. And by cheated, I’ve been calling my store-bought ribbon roses that I threaded onto hair pins my ‘handmade accessory.’ Which even I can’t kid myself is kinda stretching the definition of handmade. A touch. With the weekend coming up (well, not really, it’s only Tuesday), I hope I can make a few accessories that really are hand made, so I can stop cheating.

So, that’s a quick recap of what I’ve learnt in a month of my real-person-job.


  1. oh, did you do a post on making the lace back dress? maybe a tips and tricks kinda thing?

  2. I made the dress before I started blogging, but I updated it recently. It's blogged about here.

    I would suggest finding a pattern that fits you well and you find comfortable. I had made a differed view of this dress, and so I knew it fitted. I used fabric loops for the lacing, and spaced them about 5cm apart. In terms of fitting the lacing to the dress, I knew I wanted about 10-15cm of lacing to be visible, so I took about that much out of the back pieces. The skirt crosses over at the back, and is secured in two places - on the right on the inside with a black ribbon bow, and on the left on the outside with three black ribbon bows. I had originally used hook and eyes for this, but I found that a bit too tight - the ribbon bows allow me to adjust to what I;m feeling like that day - am I bloated? did i eat lots? am i having a skinny day? Hope that helps :)