How To Find Your Personal Style

Today’s post was originally intended to be a pattern review and pics of my Sew Over It Lucia Top. The top itself has been finished for a while – in fact, I’ve already taken it on a couple of outings (when the crazy hot weather lets up a little and I’m not restricted to shorts and vest tops). Unfortunately, I’ve been struck down with a mega eye infection for the past week (super gross, I know) and, although I’m actually pretty much cured at this point, I’m still stuck in glasses. Despite my husband’s constant reassurances that I look “totally cute” in glasses, I really hate wearing them and basically avoid it as much as I can. And although my self-confidence has blossomed incredibly since starting Sew For Victory, glasses-wearing Laura is a very ‘unwilling to have her picture taken’ kind of girl. That said, I’m planning on getting the photos taken this weekend and should have a post about the Lucia Top coming up next week!

In the meantime, I wanted to post about something that’s been on my mind for the past few weeks (and a lot of this year, honestly) – the process of developing your own sense of personal style, whether vintage or otherwise. I’ve always admired people who have a very clear and concrete sense of personal style. As someone who spends far too much time trawling social media, I’m constantly confronted with pictures of people who obviously have a fully-realised idea of how they represent themselves through the clothes that they wear. As a member (albeit a casual one) of the vintage community, the need to have a very definite sense of personal style is particularly acute.

While I see nothing wrong whatsoever with having a clear-cut notion of your own identity through fashion, the image of ‘dressing vintage’ that we get online is very all-or-nothing. I generally come across few online personalities of the vintage persuasion who dress in anything but vintage outfits. Every photo, every #ootd, is very vintage specific. Don’t get me wrong, these images are incredibly inspiring and, ultimately, if what you wear makes you feel good, I say go for it! But in my own world, I’m constantly worried that what I present on this blog isn’t ‘sufficient’ because it is not exclusively vintage. I love vintage styles (and I’m aware that I’m using the term ‘vintage’ very loosely here) and I adore sewing vintage-inspired garments. They’re my favourite thing to make, without a doubt. However, they are not what I spend most of my life wearing, largely because it’s not totally practical given my lifestyle. However, vintage clothes also represent only a small fraction of the outfits that I actually enjoy wearing and in which I feel most myself.

When it comes to my own sense of personal style, I’m something of a split personality. On the one hand, I love vintage looks – circle skirts, petticoats, shoulder pads. It’s all beautiful to me! But another side of me is very much jeans, t-shirts, and generally pretty grungy (my hubs tells me I often look like I’ve rolled straight out of The Ramones). Where I used to dither about this – totally unable to reconcile both parts of the fashions I love – I’ve come to embrace it. Although Sew For Victory will always be largely vintage-focused, it’s also a personal sewing blog. And it makes no sense for me to narrow my own sewing projects to a niche that doesn’t represent what I wear most of the time. More than anything else, sewing my own clothes has helped my sense of personal style evolve dramatically. I pay far closer attention to things like colour and lines than I ever have before. And it’s so much fun. It also gives us the space to allow our own styles to change in parallel to other things in our life. This freedom is, I think, one of the major advantages of taking up garment-making as a hobby.

Vintage or otherwise, sewing has given me the tools to think about what I wear and how I want to portray myself. Although what we wear is a relatively superficial consideration compared to the most important things about us, it is still a form of communication with those around us. Playing with this is something that I enjoy massively. When I feel uninspired or am otherwise looking to plan out sewing projects that conform to the ways I like to dress, I have a few go-to methods for turning it out. These are techniques that apply whether you’re interested in vintage fashion or not, and they’ve all come in super handy for me over the past few months (especially in light of my 2018 goal to develop a better balance in sewing vintage versus everyday garments). So, here we go:

1. Find Inspiration

I’ve talked about this in other blog posts but I don’t think I would be half as productive in my sewing life if I wasn’t constantly searching out inspiration. Whether you do this online or through books, the world is a treasure trove of images and ideas! I’m generally not an advocate of spending too much time on social media – I definitely have to restrict my own time online because I tend to fall down a hole of self-comparison and general despair. But, used correctly and in moderation, social media can also be an incredible resource for finding outfit inspiration. I’m always saving screenshots of outfits I love and then searching out sewing patterns that would work to replicate the look. When you have a sewing machine, the world of fashion truly is at your finger tips!

I also make a point to visit second hand bookshops whenever I get a chance to see if I can find anything particularly inspiring. This is particularly the case when it comes to my vintage makes. I’ve had good luck on a few trips and landed some books with wonderful pictures and information about style during eras that especially interest me. If you have your mind set on any particular era, see if there are any used books you can get that might inspire or help you to develop a more concrete sense of how you might adapt the style for yourself. Sewing gives us an incredible ability of interpretation – with a photo or idea as a starting point, you can piece together a Frankenstein’s monster of an outfit that works for you. But inspiration will always be the starting point!

Really it’s all about exploring and seeing what ticks the boxes for you. If you’re not exposed to it, then you won’t know that it’s a possibility. Look at anything and everything that you think might interest you and you will find yourself naturally clinging on to images or ideas that come together to form a more defined notion of what you want your ‘personal style’ to be (even if it’s a thousand different things).

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2. Research Sewing Patterns

I’m obsessed with googling different sewing patterns. I pass many an evening looking at pattern makers and their patterns, noting anything that looks interesting. Once you’ve found some sources of inspiration, the next step is looking for sewing patterns that conform to this image – or might otherwise be manipulated to look the way that you want them to.

More generally, looking through sewing patterns (in person or online) is just another great way to find that inspiration. Part of the reason that my vintage sewing pattern collection has grown so large is because I find the patterns themselves to be super inspiring. Even patterns that I have no intention of making come together to form a bigger picture in my mind. It’s become a mini-education – I’ve learnt what I like, what I don’t like, and what I find interesting but wouldn’t necessarily what to integrate into my wardrobe. Part of the reason I loved getting the sewing patterns from my aunt was precisely because they don’t represent what I would normally make. Whether or not I get round to making them myself, I love seeing the patterns and thinking about how they might be interpreted to fit my own sense of style. It’s amazing what you can do with a pattern by choosing the right fabric and making a few alterations – it can become pretty much whatever you want it to be.

So have fun and explore what’s out there. If you’re of the vintage persuasion, I definitely recommend digging through the Vintage Patterns Wikia – although be sure to leave yourself plenty of time because you will likely fall down a bit of a vintage pattern hole.

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3. Lists Are Everything

Is anyone surprised that lists are one of my favourite tools?! You all know that I love planning, especially when I get to involve my bullet journal!

When I set out my sewing goals at the start of the year, I put a lot of emphasis on my desire to create more of a balance in the types of things that I was sewing. Sewing is a big time investment, particularly when I’m already juggling multiple things, so it’s important to get a good return for that time! Although I will always love sewing vintage (and gravitating toward vintage patterns will always be my default), I also want to make sure that I’m spending some time sewing things that will get worn regularly. This has meant thinking about practical restrictions (like walking the dog multiple times per day, doing yoga, and the crazy summers/winters in Missouri), as well as the sorts of clothes that I most enjoy wearing.

As part of my 2018 objective, I started creating lists of patterns that I felt had a place in my wardrobe. These are typically not lists of vintage patterns – since I already have so many in my collection and will pretty much always end up making one of these patterns for every one ‘everyday’ garment that I sew. But it’s come in super handy as a way to plan my makes, whilst also giving some direction to my regular pattern/inspiration searches. I’ve started a list at the back of my bullet journal to accommodate all of this. It’s not necessarily a ‘to make’ list. More of a place to record patterns I like, particularly when I have multiple patterns that I think would work together to create a complete outfit.

There are so many different ways that you can do this – and having a bullet journal definitely isn’t a requirement! But I think that having some way of recording your pattern finds and inspiration (even in the form of a scrap book or a folder on your computer) is really key to developing a concrete sense of your own style and plans to execute it.

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So there we have it! Some of the different methods I use for developing my own sense of style. Although so much of this has evolved naturally for me – and I think most of us just gravitate towards the things we love – part of the joy of sewing is in the exploration. I have things I’ve sewn that I look at and think ‘WHY ON EARTH?!’ But it suited me at the time and worked into the sort of identity I gave to the clothes that I chose to wear.

Ultimately, sense of style or not, you need to feel good, happy, and confident in what you wear. Taking some time to search for what’s out there in terms of patterns and fashions is just one way of figuring out what makes you feel your best and brightest. But we’re all constantly changing and learning, so it only makes sense that our style would evolve and adapt alongside us. Have you worked consciously to create your own personal style? Do you have any particular things you do (or have done) that have helped you to figure out what you most love to wear?

Another Vintage Pattern Haul!

Happy mid-week, everyone! I’m back after a short break. Life got a bit chaotic last week so I decided to take some time off from the blog to get my schedule in order. Although there are definitely no prospects of things calming down any time soon (I’ve taken on new work commitments, plus I’m prepping for my Yoga Teacher Training course – yes, I got accepted!!!), I’m at least starting to work out where everything will fit. When I was studying for my PhD and working towards a career in academia, it never occurred to me that I might end up having a life made up of so many different components. But I’m in the fortunate position to be able to pursue most of my passions alongside one another! The challenge is in finding enough time to get everything done – something that I’m working on, whilst also bearing in mind the many lessons on self-care that I’ve picked up over the years. But any extra detail on this will be saved for another day and another post.

Today’s post is devoted to more vintage patterns! I’ve really been lucking out in regards to growing my vintage pattern collection. Fortunately, this time around I didn’t even have to visit any shops. My mum recently made a trip back to the UK (for those who don’t know, my parents are also British expats living in the US) to see family. And my aunt took the opportunity to pass on some vintage patterns to help boost my collection! Interestingly, these patterns lie a bit outside of my typical vintage ‘comfort zone’. I’m very much about the 1940s and 1950s, although I do enjoy the more ’50s-inspired silhouettes in 1960s patterns. However, looking at the patterns gifted to me by my aunt, I’m so encouraged to step away from my traditional makes. They’re such lovely patterns!

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I actually think that these patterns offer more ‘everyday’ looks than my typical vintage pattern finds. Since I’m working hard to expand my everyday wardrobe, I’m definitely seeing a lot of potential for new sewing projects!

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I do love a playsuit! In fact, one of my upcoming projects is the Sew Over It playsuit. But I really like the versions in this Vogue pattern. I’m particularly happy that V9464 offers multiple leg length variations – especially the knee length version. This seems to be a rarity in most modern playsuit patterns, which typically opt for long leg or short leg alternatives with nothing in between. Plus the waist tie is just so sweet!

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Simplicity 5471 is adorable! I’ve yet to make any halterneck dresses or tops, although I recently bought one of Simplicity’s reproduction vintage patterns that offers multiple halterneck tops. I think this is the perfect look for the summer – particularly with temperatures currently as high as they are in St. Louis. S5471 looks like a wonderful addition to any summer wardrobe. I’m thinking that this might be a great pattern to put on my short-term list of makes so that it can get some outings during the height of summer!

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If you’ve seen any of my previous vintage pattern hauls, you’ll know that I have a real love for patterns that feel slightly unconventional. My 1940s bathing suit pattern is probably one of my all-time favourites! So it’s unsurprising that I love V6644. When I first saw it, my immediate question was whether the shower cap is included in the pattern – imagine my joy to discover that it is! Adorable!

I genuinely am quite enamoured with the dressing gown on the left. I think it is so cute – especially the little bow ties on the front! Thinking ahead, I’m definitely in need of a dressing gown for the autumn. I’m one of those people that is obsessed with layers and just generally being covered up. Even at 35C outside, I’ll sit with the fan on so that I can justify having a blanket over me. I love thick socks, comfy pjs, and just generally being snug. As you can probably guess, summer isn’t a time of year that I inhabit with much success. But the nice thing with sewing is that I can plan ahead and feel autumnal in my makes. So perhaps indulging in a bit of dressing gown making will help me feel like October is already here!

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Saving the best for last! This pattern is actually super special because it’s the pattern that my aunt used to make her wedding dress – specifically version C. Isn’t it wonderful? I’ve been trying to find a photo of said dress but my laptop is being uncooperative. I’ll ask my aunt to send me a picture so that I can share in a future post. Although I’m not planning any future marriages (I’m sure my husband will be relieved), I’m so happy to have such an important pattern in my collection.

Although I have family members that have sewn or do sew, I didn’t grow up being exposed to these skills. I don’t remember ever seeing any family members sewing – but I always heard from my aunt how she used to sew her own clothes and had made her wedding dress. Having been traumatised by a sewing machine experience early in secondary school, these stories obviously failed to resonate with me. However, now that sewing is such a big part of my life, I think about this sewing legacy very often. The thing that I love most about sewing vintage and vintage-inspired patterns is the feeling of touching history. It’s not usually about actually wearing the garments I make – although obviously this is a bonus. Rather, I love the feeling of somehow connecting to the past through sewing such vivid examples of vintage patterns. Getting these patterns from my aunt gives me an especially strong sense of that connection!

So another vintage pattern haul done and dusted! I’m excited to try stepping out of my vintage niche with some patterns from other decades. Do you typically stick to a certain decade when you sew vintage? Or do you have no preference?

The Ultimate Vintage Pattern Haul! (And Some Tips For Buying Vintage Patterns)

As you all know, one of my favourite things in the world is trawling antiques malls in the hopes of finding some vintage delights. I’m super fortunate that, in moving to the US, I’ve found so many amazing vintage and antiques shops – my vintage collection has obviously benefitted where my bank balance has suffered. So when my hubs offered take me out for another vintage hunt, I totally jumped at the chance. We went back to my favourite antiques mall in the world – one that has never let me down – and oh boy did it come through for me. I can only described my resulting purchase as the ULTIMATE vintage pattern haul. Because seriously these patterns are some of the most beautiful – not to mention reasonably priced – that I’ve seen in the wild…

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Yes, yes, yes! I am so much in love. And I got literally all of these patterns from just one seller (and I think I pretty much bought them out!). Not only was I super impressed with the collection but they’re also all in amazing condition. One issue I find in buying vintage patterns from antiques shops is that there’s rarely a guarantee that the patterns are totally intact. I’ve bought a couple in the past that have turned out to be missing several pattern pieces. This feels very much the equivalent of buying a jigsaw puzzle and finding pieces missing – it’s frustrating and you always feel a bit cheated. But I was fortunate to get all of these patterns from a seller who had actually made sure that the patterns were complete! If you’re on the lookout for vintage patterns but are similarly concerned about finding ones that are complete, I have a few tips that might help:

  1. Look online! If you want to guarantee that a pattern is complete, it is probably best to look on Etsy or eBay. Sellers will typically state whether or not a pattern is complete in the description (if they don’t, you can always send them a message to ask). There will usually also be a returns policy, so you know that you can return it if you aren’t happy with the condition! That said, you will pay considerably more for these patterns than you would buying from a shop in-person.
  2. If shopping in person (at an antiques mall, for example), check their returns policy first! My favourite antiques place – where I bought all of the patterns in this post – has a no returns, no exceptions policy. So I always assume a degree of risk whenever I buy something from there. However, the prices are also about 50% of the price of the same items on Etsy or eBay so, for the most part, I’m happy to trust the seller and take the chance.
  3. You can tell a lot from the external condition. Generally speaking, I find that the external condition of the pattern is pretty reflective of what you’ll find inside. In some cases, you’ll be able to have a look through the pattern itself – this is usually the case in charity shops. Often, however, sellers will put the pattern into a sealed plastic folder (as was the case with the ones I just bought). In these circumstances, I will typically just check over the external condition – if the packaging is all torn up and rough, there’s a good chance that some of the pieces will be missing. You can also gauge a lot from the thickness of the pattern envelope – a coat, for example, will typically have a lot of pattern pieces to it so, if the envelope is super flimsy and thin, it probably doesn’t have a lot of the pieces inside!

There’s often going to be an element of guesswork involved when buying vintage patterns but, the more purchasing you do, the easier it’ll become to tell the complete from the incomplete! And yes, I’m definitely giving you license to go out and buy lots of vintage patterns for yourself so that you can learn!

Anyway, back to my pattern haul! I wanted to give close-ups of some of my favourites because I’m just so obsessed with these gorgeous finds. First up:

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Most of the patterns are 1940s but I also found these stunning 1950s gowns! Just look at them! I’m absolutely in love with the bodice on Vogue S-4264 (on the right) – it makes me think of a prom dress! Plus the sleeves are just incredible! Simplicity  2442 is also beautiful. I’m not usually one for sleeveless or strapless dresses but this one is so adorable. It definitely gives me a summer in Havana vibe!

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Who wouldn’t want some vintage swimwear?! I won’t lie, when I first saw this pattern (Hollywood 1775) I thought it was for nighties and dressing gowns. But no. And, honestly, who wouldn’t want to venture into the ocean wearing something this chic? I’ve actually never owned (or seen firsthand) a Hollywood pattern. I’ve seen them pop up on eBay and was always intrigued – largely because most of their patterns feature a Hollywood starlet on whom the pattern is based. However they also produce generic patterns, as with Hollywood 1775. If you haven’t seen their patterns before, it’s definitely worth having a look online because they’re so gorgeous!

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Here we have some gorgeous 1940s dresses! Do I even really need to say much about these? They are both so unique – I mean just look at the bodice on both of these patterns! I think I’ve actually seen the McCall pattern on the left reproduced – at the very least, I’ve definitely seen something very similar as a reproduction.

And, finally, I didn’t neglect menswear. I found a couple of gems:

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I’m pretty well in love with the blazers on the left. They’re definitely screaming Mad Men to me. And, even though I have no infant children in my life, I just couldn’t resist the coats on the right. Every time I look at it, I think of the Famous Five. I clearly have so many amazing cultural influences at work in my life right now.

So there we have it! I honestly can’t believe my luck. Proving once and for all that spending your free time trawling around antiques shops is always a valuable use of your time!