Personal Style – And the Passage of Time

Over the past few weeks, in anticipation of my current project, I have been thinking about personal style and how it changes – or doesn’t change – over the decades of one’s life.  What  prompted my contemplation is this pattern:

I purchased this pattern when it was new about 1974 or ’75, when I was in my mid-twenties.  I loved the style then, and although I was in dire need of clothes to wear to work, such as dresses and skirts, I must have decided I needed this coat more.  I made it in a tan cotton twill, and it accompanied me on many a trip on the commuter rail line into Philadelphia (Pennsylvania.)    At some point years later, I obviously discarded it, along with other pieces I had diligently sewn.  I am certainly glad I kept the pattern, as I still love this style. Working on it now is a true deja vu experience.

I am not sure I recognized it per se, but my fascination with coats must have already been firmly established in my personal style, even then.  For example, I was obsessed with this color-blocked coat pattern:

At the time, I remember resisting the urge to purchase it, as I could not guarantee to myself that I would actually get around to making it.  The pattern was too expensive ($3.50) for me, at that time, to take that risk.  However, though many years passed by, I never forgot it. Those of you who follow this blog know that I did finally purchase this pattern a few years ago and this time, I did make it! It continues to be one of my favorite pieces, and I feel wonderful wearing it.

Then there is this pattern, also purchased in the mid-seventies:  

I must have thought this was a more practical style and worth the cost.  I never made it, but one of these days I intend to.  

Buried deep in my cedar closet is a white wool coat, purchased when I was in high school in the mid-sixties.  I am not sure why I have kept it all these years except that I loved it and perhaps in some way treasured it more since my father bought it for me.  Its style is very similar to the coat of this pattern – a style I still love  – and also hope to make some day. 

I find it interesting that three of the patterns pictured are Christian Dior designs. Hmmmm…

I guess what I am getting at, using these coats as an example, is how consistent my style has remained over almost five decades.  How about you?  Do you still gravitate to the same profiles in clothes that you wore in your twenties (assuming you are at least 40)?  If not, what has changed?  

What has changed for me is not the style, but the choice of fabrics and color.  I am more adventurous in using color than I was as a young woman, although even then, I gravitated towards pink. 

I made this Moygashel linen dress for our Honeymoon in 1973. Pink? YES!

All this makes me wonder if one’s personal style is part of their DNA; why, for example, do I like softly tailored, feminine clothes (and have obviously done so for years) while someone else likes the Bohemian look and wears it well; why does someone prefer to wear black, and more black, while I love color (and the occasional black, too).  Quentin Bell summed this observation up well in his quote:  “Our clothes are too much a part of us ever to be entirely indifferent to their condition; it is as though the fabric were indeed a natural extension of the body or even of the soul.”  [my italics]

And what about the person who follows every fashion trend that comes along?  Do they not have that personal style component in their DNA, or are they governed by different needs?  Toby Fischer-Mirkin, in her book Dress Code addresses this – and offers some frank advice – in her chapter entitled Fashion and Status:  Under the Spell of Haute Couture:  “The unrelenting quest to be fashionable is usually undertaken to fill not a closet, but a personal void….  A woman’s fashion compass should come from within.  When you’re aware of what works for you, you’ll take pride in that aesthetic and, within the boundaries of good taste, project the person you truly are.”  (pages 146-147)

Clarkson Potter/Publishers, New York, New York, c1995

Is your personal style really that important?  Does it allow you to project the person you truly are?  If so, I can understand why one’s personal style does not change very much over the years.  Indeed, Givenchy once said, “With style, you must stay as you are.”  When I was a young woman in my twenties, I never would have guessed I would, decades later, still gravitate towards the same patterns, the same silhouettes, and have the same weaknesses for certain apparel (such as coats.)  I have changed personally in many other ways, but obviously my personal style has not – the recognition of which has been a revelation to me.  

I suspect there are many, many of you who, once you think about it, can say the same thing?  


Filed under Christian Dior, Coats, Fashion commentary, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized

22 responses to “Personal Style – And the Passage of Time

  1. I admire your dedication and skill when you speak about making coats. I never had the desire to make one. I have no doubt that you will create a beautiful coat, whichever one you make. My personal style has always been the classic American sportswear look. That being basic separates put together to make a complete ensemble. I love a blouse with collar and cuffs worn with a skirt or slacks. My favorite accessories are a scarf, just enough jewelry and a vivid application of lipstick. My favorite separates are made from fabrics with texture and structure, no flimsy bias cut silks for me. I like dresses with a fuller skirt that has a bit of movement at the hem. That makes sitting easier and more comfortable. I’ve found my preferred pattern style of slacks and dresses. I’m still contemplating which blouse pattern I best.

    • Love your reference to a “vivid application of lipstick.” I don’t feel dressed without my lipstick, and I am trying to move past pinks and corals into reds. I look at people with bright red lipstick applied and find it so attractive, but I’m still personally trying to get there… Thank you for your comment!

  2. Thank you for showing your 70’s patterns. I got through college in 1975, and remember most which you acquired and share here and other times. Detailed memories are not a priority for me – but I surely do remember patterns! 😊

    I also wonder the same about personal style preferences and how much growing up in the mountain West impacted it – although designer garments were non-existent there. I still have a few Designer and other patterns I bought starting in the 70’s, and continue to like them – and have made a few recently, with more planned. My style has always gravitated toward a somewhat fitted bodice, or defined waist and overall a garment with shape and unique features. Like Peggy above, I prefer classic sportswear (as defined in the 70’s vs now) and also dresses with some feminine feature and a waist – but not drapey garments or large slerves!! Lately I’ve been drawn to ruffles. And always woven, natural fibers. I’ll think more about this! Thanks again.

    • So fun to hear your thoughts, Heather. I do think there is a real Western influence in the mountain west of this country – to me that is quintessential American style. That would make an interesting blog post, right?

  3. I have never been a fan of gathering as a design feature on clothing. It’s rare for me to make a garment with it. More than 30 years ago my mom made an ” interview dress” for me when I was graduating from university. I had a piece of Viyella for it, blue background and white polka dots. I described the Vogue coat dress for my mom, but didn’t know the pattern number. I was so disappointed when my mom made up the dress and it wasn’t the pattern I was thinking of. It had gathering along the skirt panels..

    • Such an interesting memory to have, Susan. I understand your lack of enthusiasm for gathering – it needs to be handled correctly. Look for my answer to Cheryl’s comment for more on this.

  4. Mery

    I believe that, because styles changed drastically in the decades before us, I expected styles to change again so drastically that we wouldn’t be wearing our favorites decades later. Yet I too am enjoying my favorites from early adulthood. I discovered your blog when I was searching what people were making with Pucci patterns because he was my old favorite and I was realizing those old favorites were what I want to live in. I have a few other old favorites too.

    Once a certain life was k works for us, we wear it again.

  5. Cheryl

    Hello Mery, I shall be watching your progress with the Christian Dior trench with great interest. I have had this pattern for many years but getting the fabric right always made me step away from it. I was concerned that the gathered back could balloon out, so the pattern would be put away again for another time.

    • When I first made this coat back in the mid ’70s, I remember being a bit concerned about how full the back turned out to be. I was using a midweight twill, and I felt the finished coat was a little too bulky in the back. This time I am using a lighter weight fabric (silk taffeta), but I am experimenting with my muslin right now, taking some of the width out in those back panels. I think I am going to like it better.

  6. Dianne R

    I have always liked classic, well fitted clothes which especially suited my office life. Now I am retired and much larger, I long for that classic look again. Clothing in the stores just don’t fit and the fabrics are not as nice as in earlier times. My pear-shaped figure is a challenge. So I am going to try my hand at sewing some clothing. I love following your projects and am inspired by your skills and attention to details.
    I have hung on to a coat that is very similar to the first pattern you show. It’s a beautiful chocolate brown in a size 12, made in France, and almost fits me (I’m a 16 in today’s sizing). I am glad I still have it. I also have a blouse from the 70’s that still fits and is very sharp.
    Thank you for posting all your wonderful clothes-making journeys.

    • Hi, I enjoyed your comment. In case it helps, I’ve found fitting help on the website “In House Patterns Studio” and Alexandra Morgan. I took a course on fitting essentials, online with weekly zoom type gatherings. It turned on the fitting light for me. My next challenge – to up my sewing ski!is to get to 10-20% of what are here! 😊

    • I am so happy to hear form you, and I hope you embark on some sewing journeys of your own. In the meantime, enjoy that coat you described – it sounds gorgeous!

  7. Karen

    Karen, Oh, that Moygashel pink linen dress is wonderful! How I would love it to be hanging in my closet right now in time for Easter. Do you still remember what pattern you used and if it might be a pattern I could try to find online? My grandfather was a fabric sales rep during the 1940-1950s and Moygashel was one of his very favorite lines of fabric to sell.

    • Happy Easter to you, Karen, and I hope your Easter dress is pink and beautiful! I do not remember the pattern (it was almost 49 years ago, which is a shock to admit), but I suspect it was a Very Easy Vogue. It was a very simple silhouette, A-line, with cut-on short sleeves. I added the belt a few years later to make it look more current. Amazingly, I found a piece of the same fabric for sale on eBay a few years ago and snatched it up. I have had an ongoing love affair with Moygashel linen since I was a young girl and I heard my mother talk about it. It really is the most wonderful fabric, so I can see why your grandfather was partial to it.

  8. Hi Karen!
    You sure have an amazing pattern library!
    And it’s true, when one does look at the patterns that have been acquired over the years you can see that a certain personal style persists…but yet one keeps evolving while revolving around ones own personal style tendencies…updating, reinventing, yet somehow staying true to our own sense of style and silhouette preferences.
    Being able to make our own beautiful garments is great because we don’t have to be so dependent on fashion’s forecasts and expectations to change change change – buy buy buy. We can make those few timeless pieces that we personally can wear so well and who really show who we are as individuals.
    Beautiful post, Karen!


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