Boring, but extremely useful op shop blouse ruined with bike chain grease on the cuff, restored by cutting off the cuffs, hemming the sleeves, and adding the cuff buttons to the placket: more buttons= less boringAt this stage in my life I don't have much interest in clothes, although they were something of an obsession during my teens. A life-long tendency to yo-yo between size 12 and size 16, a lack of money and other preoccupations have steered me into considering "clean, comfortable and weather-appropriate" to be my most relevant sartorial considerations. Thus I have ended up with a second hand wardrobe that conceals, more than reveals, my sense of who I really am.
In the past couple of years the only items of clothing I have sought out and bought new for pleasure rather than necessity are rainbow stripey socks. These are the clothes I own (and wear frequently) with which I can most associate a sense of expressing the self I aspire to. To me, these are the socks of a free-spirited, playful, hippy-chick with an exuberant creative optimism and I bought my first pair while living in the rainforest. These days my socks are usually hidden under jeans, giving me a similar frisson of secret self to that suggested by magazine ads promoting sexy underwear concealed beneath a power suit.
However, recent exposure to a couple of women around my age who dress beautifully with little reference to 'fashion' or excessive spending; and reading Linda Grant's The Thoughtful Dresser, have me considering my wardrobe more critically as a potential expression of my identity. (You may notice that I cannot name a single sartorial blog which has had any influence on my shifting attitude to clothing. Please feel free to suggest inspiring links).
Anna is the friend with the most influence on my shifting attitude. I've never seen her in anything other than beautiful rich colours, flattering cuts and luscious textures. Her style is completely her own and seems to perfectly express her passions for children (she is a kindergarten teacher) and sustainability; and a sensual yet practical generosity manifested in gardening, cooking, crafting, nurturing and fun. It's not that I want to dress like Anna (though we like the same colours), it's that she's made me reconsider the desirability of dressing more like Meliors.
Every few months Anna and I have a sewing bee at her place. She has a sewing machine and an overlocker and I am gradually overcoming my fear and loathing of such equipment. These sewing bees are almost the only time I do anything creative relating to clothing. I don't mean by this that I make clothes from scratch, though I did once make an apron out of a table cloth. Rather, I mend, alter and, lately enhance, clothing acquired from frock swaps, op shops and hand-me-downs.
Hand me down merino pullover with uncomfortably tight crewneck cut down the front to make a cardigan and trimmed with leopardAnna and I have completely different approaches to the sewing bee experience. It's her house, and her school holidays, so for her our bee is part of a continuum of several days of sewing. She pulls out her entire and extensive stash of fabrics and clothes-to-be-worked-on and can happily spend hours considering creative possibilities for that stretched t-shirt or this embroidered tulle. Her sewing day is punctuated with numerous long phone calls with friends and family, the provision of endless cups of hot juice, tea, snacks and meals and frequent patient rethreading of the sewing machines.
Meanwhile, by the time I've got to Anna's, I've gone through my own small stash and chosen a pile of potential projects to bring with me. I launch into the first inevitable hemming task as soon as I arrive and work without stopping until lack of chocolate has me weak and shaky. Then once refueled with my drug of choice, I continue until I've finished or the light is gone. As I'm not naturally inclined to moderation or balance I benefit enormously from Anna's generous and distracted hostessing.
Yesterday's sewing bee was distinguished by some experimenting on my part, to expand my pragmatic wardrobe with some clothes that I might choose for pleasure in their look and feel, rather than for being tidy. This experimentation is exemplified in my use of the bundle of leopard print plush scraps I pounced on at our last frock swap. My enthusiasm for this fabric stems from fond memories of a vintage leopard print swing coat and matching pillbox hat I wore through several teenage winters in 1980s Dunedin. No matter how tacky leopard print may be considered in the mainstream, it has a special place in my heart, and now once again, in my wardrobe.