Like many of us, I love buying patterns! Each little envelope brings joy as a fun surprise in the mail, and as potential for a head-turning garment in the future. But they multiply, don’t they? One minute you have a handful of patterns, then can’t fit them into a box, then they’re in a collection of plastic bins, then they’re jammed into random corners because you can’t fit them all in any one spot. Or maybe you’re one of the more disciplined souls who only buys patterns they’re definitely going to sew. Perhaps your collection is ten or fifteen patterns that you make over and over again, hacking them with abandon to make them seem different. Either way, you have all the information you need to decide what to wear.
Going through my vast pattern stash – I’m definitely not in the buy-what-I’m-going-to-actually-make camp – I realized certain themes kept popping up. But before I get to that, let’s talk about the components of a wardrobe.
Most wardrobe builders tell you how many of a particular garment you need. Realistically, no wardrobe builder can dictate quantity of garments to you: that’s something you decide based on factors like how often you do laundry! But the idea of garment categories is solid. And few garments are more important than the humble coat.
I live in Georgia now, but I’m a New England girl. And in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, the Midwest, and even the Pacific Northwest, you probably wear coats nearly year round. Even here in Georgia, we’re definitely in coat season. Coats are key because they’re an outfit in and of themselves, and you don’t generally own more than ten or twelve.
Next up is what you put under that coat: your topper. That’s the term I used to encompass all layering options. So cardigans, blazers, sweaters, vests, and shawls all go here. Toppers are another category that everybody wears, and another area where you don’t have that many. Most people own up to fifteen or twenty toppers, and usually prefer a particular type.
Under the topper is where we get into what is normally considered when we think of a wardrobe: tops and bottoms. I’m going to skip to the bottoms, because I get the feeling that we have fewer bottoms. More than toppers, but probably no more than thirty or so. Bottoms include skirts, shorts, jeans, trousers, and variations like skorts and culottes.
Next are tops (not toppers, hah). Tops are the most visible part of our wardrobe, but also the most variable. You might wear the same style of cardigan over and over in different colors, but you probably wouldn’t wear the same style of shirt over and over again. Tops are where we really cut loose and express our personal style – color, pattern, cut, etc. But most people have an abundance of tops. They’re pretty easy to make and you change them out at least once a day, every day. So even though they’re highly visible and we have lots of them, I feel that they actually carry the least oomph when trying to present yourself a certain way. There’s simply too much variation to pack a punch. Tops include everything above the waist – t-shirts, button downs, blouses, knitwear, camisoles and tank tops, etc.
After tops come whole body outfits like dresses, jumpsuits, and overalls. Whole body outfits, like coats, are a one-stop outfit, and therefore have major impact. That said, we typically wear these less than separates. As convenient as they area, they require functional and visual commitment that make them less easy to wear. Now, if you’re the type who has a closet just for their accessories, then whole body outfits could be great for you! But for most of us, each whole body garment is highly noticeable and will make apparent the size of your wardrobe. I’m sure we’ve all experienced comments on that dress…every time we wear it. Whole body outfits work well if you have at least fifteen or twenty per situation, or five or ten that you wear sparingly overall.
So now we have garment types, we need a filter to help us sift through our patterns. This filter comes from a category that many of us still purchase – our underwear. Underwear has three qualities: coverage, comfort/movability, and visual impact. If you value coverage the most, you probably want things that fit your body. Focus on patterns that can be tailored to fit your body with princess seams, darts, yokes, and other interior design lines. If you value comfort/movability the most, you probably want patterns that feel effortless, like knit and loose fitting styles. You may also be more sensitive to ambient temperature, so season-specific patterns (turtlenecks, camisoles, etc) are up your alley. If you value visual impact the most, you want patterns with design elements! Dramatic sleeves, contrast yokes, flares, pleats, peplums, the works. If you value two of these, simply combine them. For example, I like fullllll coverage, reasonably cute underwear. I’m obsessed with coverage, and very particular about matching my underwear to my outfit. Combined, that equals dramatic patterns with perfect fit. If I were all about that coverage but also comfort, I might want knit garments with darts and waist seams, or loose fitting garments that start out fitted before flaring out.
Okay, now grab your patterns! Again, it doesn’t matter how many you have, as long as it’s the right amount for you. Go through them with the awareness you have now and select the finalists for the next step of the wardrobe planning process. Look out for gaps and beware of clutter. For example: you live in Milwaukee and you’re all about comfy underwear, but you only have denim jacket patterns. Oh no, right? No worries! You need to research coats, from dead-of-winter to I-thought-it-was-spring-but-it’s-still-winter and it’s-finally-nice-out-but-it’s-kind-of-windy, focusing on easy-wear shapes like duffle, puffer, trench, etc. Or perhaps you’re a full coverage panty resident of San Antonio and you stay in the AC year round. You’ve got lots of topper patterns, but what do you have the most of – blazers, vests, cardigans? If they’re all equal, which group has the most pattern with fitting options?
Seeds of a Wardrobe is a six post series covering my journey from needing a wardrobe to having a plan for making a wardrobe. It’s a thought and question based method of wardrobe building, with the goal of helping create a truly personal wardrobe that meets real needs, and provides an alternative to methods that dictate what you should wear based on an impersonal, general framework. The first post is here – Seeds of a Wardrobe (post) – and you can see all the posts in the series here – Seeds of a Wardrobe (category) – in reverse chronological order.