So now that it’s spring… here’s an outfit from my winter capsule wardrobe! I’ve been meaning to get a photo of this skirt ever since I sewed it last fall, but here we are already in April. I figured I had better post this outfit before Easter at least!
I sewed this skirt along with this plaid one, last fall to create a “capsule wardrobe” of sorts. I absolutely loved my wardrobe this past season, and I’m kind of sad to have to start packing winter items away, switching them for spring and summer items. Although, I am happy to have warmer days ahead!
I bought a bunch of this brown and black houndstooth fabric more than ten years ago with the intention of making a 1950’s suit. I didn’t feel confident at the time to sew a suit jacket though, and as it turns out, it was just as well that I didn’t go to the time and effort to do that. While I absolutely love the pattern and colour of this fabric, I would never buy it today. It’s synthetic, with an elastane woven through it, which made it terrible to sew without puckering (imagine trying to sew a collar!) and sadly, even though I only wore it for one season, it’s already pilling. I’m going to see if I can rescue this skirt with a shaver, because it’s been a great piece for my wardrobe since it coordinates so well with other pieces in my closet. It’s got a bit of a greenish undertone to it, which doesn’t come through in the photos at all, so it doesn’t work with most of my other browns, but I love how it looks with black, and it also pairs nicely with the antique brass of this necklace.
This sweater was a recent thrift store fine (one of those rare occasions when you find a whole bunch of beautiful pieces to bring home!) and I’ve already worn it a few times because it’s so lovely. It’s by the brand Tanjay, which I always think of as a “mature” brand, but the best thing about buying pieces from those sorts of brands is that they tend to be good quality, and not “fast fashion”. This one has a beautiful french knot detail across the front…this would be a lovely way to spruce up a plain sweater, wouldn’t it?
Well, that’s pretty much all I have to share for this outfit. I’ve been wearing a lot of these simpler, pared back outfits..not even adding in a hat. As much as I love accessories, it’s been a nice change.
We’ve still got lots of snow cover, as you can see, so I’ll be wearing these cool weather clothes for a while yet, but I’ve already started on some new summer sewing projects in anticipation of warmer days!
ps. if you notice that in all of the photos I am looking at the ground or squinting, that’s because it was so incredibly bright out!
There are so many articles out there, each claiming that you need “these 10 wardrobe essentials” in your closet to make you a stylish and well put together lady, but that usually doesn’t work out the way they claim. While I do think there are a lot of pieces out there that will add value to your closet, the details might look different for each person both in terms of personal style, and body type and what suits one woman, may not the next. That being said, I think there are a lot of pieces that in general can be useful for everyone, and when thinking about capsule wardrobes and my post about 10 pieces I still love after 10 years etc. I started compiling this list of 10 chic wardrobe essentials I think every one could use in their closet, curated and personalized to each individual of course. If you are looking to level up your personal style in 2023, then I hope this list can help! I made it a bit more open ended in order to help inspire your wardrobe, rather than stifling it.
A skirt in your “Neutral” colour
“Neutral” can mean different things for different wardrobes. For many women, black is their neutral simply because that is what is the most readily available. For me, I have chosen tan and brown as my neutral base to build my wardrobe off of, but I know of ladies who have chosen what would usually be considered an accent colour as their neutral. Whatever you have chosen as a “neutral” in your wardrobe, whether that’s navy, black, brown or even olive or blush, you should have at least one skirt in that colour. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a solid, but if it contains an element of this neutral tone, it will coordinate with a lot of other pieces in your wardrobe and give you a base to wear your statement tops and jewelry. A skirt in a neutral tone will easily mix and match with many other pieces in your closet, extending the variety in your wardrobe. And, of course, if you’re not a skirt person, then pants work just as well!
Black tights in both sheer and opaque
I used to wear a lot of coloured tights in the Winter, but in recent years I have gravitated towards black ones for a few reasons. First, they are classic and they will never go out of style. Secondly, they pair with so many things, unless as discussed above, you don’t have black in your closet. Black is not my neutral, brown is, and yet I find that black tights still pair well with so many of the pieces I wear, and they ground an outfit in a way that a coloured tight doesn’t. I switch between opaque and sheer finishes, depending on the outfit. Sometimes sheer black tights can look too dressy, and sometimes opaque can look too heavy, so it’s nice to have both options. Opaque tights pair nicely with black shoes, as they will give you a really nice long uninterrupted line. And, as with any colour of tights, you can wear them with a shorter skirt to either make it a bit more modest, or cold weather appropriate. I also often find that you can wear lighter summer weight pieces, paired with dark tights and they suddenly look more cold weather appropriate, so they can help to extend your wardrobe in that way too.
A wool coat in a classic cut
Whether you choose a swing coat, a peacoat or an A-Line style, a wool coat in a classic silhouette won’t go out of style. Take this popular A-Line style of jacket-it’s been around since the 1900’s, changing pretty much only in length as the years go by. Of course some of the details and styling differ throughout the decades, some years it’s tighter, others looser, some years knee length, then hip length, then calf length, but even if you are wearing a different length than the current “look”, it still manages to look current. Look at the coats from 1940, 1970 and 2005; they are almost identical! The key to a good coat, is choosing a good quality wool. If you buy a coat with too high of a synthetic fibre content, not only will it not keep you very warm, but it won’t last. There’s just something about synthetic blends that tend to degrade and pill and look cheap over time in a way that wool doesn’t. (You can still get a wool blend, but try to get one where the natural fibres make up the majority of the fibre content, with only a small amount of synthetic.) If you invest in a good wool coat in a classic cut, it will last you forever. And by “invest” that doesn’t necessarily mean hundreds of dollars. (Although if you divide $400 over 10 years that cost breakdown is pretty good!) My wool coat is from the 1980’s, and it’s not even in a very classic cut (it’s a raglan sleeve) but I’ve had it for 10 winters now and it’s still in great condition. I bought it from a thrift store, which is getting harder to do these days, I realize, so if you can’t find a good one at the thrift shops, you may be able to find one at a consignment store or outlet store. My biggest takeaway is just to look at the fibre content.
A coordinating set of leather shoes, bag and belt
While in recent years many people have eschewed matching accessories, having a set of matching shoes and bags is actually a great idea, and adding in a belt makes it even better. (Ladies from the past knew what they were doing!) If you create “sets” of coordinating pieces, you will always be able to finish off your outfit nicely, even if you don’t always wear each the pieces together.
While many women do own matching shoes and purses, adding a belt will make this combination even more versatile. Colours look better when they comes in threes, so this is a really easy way to do that. (The other option would be a hat in the same colour) When creating a set of accessories, you can choose whether you want to create a neutral combination or go for something bold with a pop of colour. I have a set of cognac brown accessories (they aren’t perfect match, but I don’t mind that bit of colour variation) and I wear those pieces all the time because they coordinate really well with the other pieces in my wardrobe. It’s a lot harder for me to wear some of my statement purses like my olive green or navy blue ones, because I have to be conscious of what shoes and garments to pair them with. When you have matching shoes, purse and bag, it makes it so much easier to create your base, and then you can add in statement pieces as a fun detail afterwards.
A closed-toe pump or Mary Jane
A classic style pump or Mary Jane heel will serve you well since a closed toe style can easily be worn in warm or cold weather. While we often gravitate to sandals or peep toe styles in the summer, a closed toe pump can often be worn without being too warm. And then, if you take that same shoe and add hosiery, they will work well for cold weather too. (well, not too cold of weather). I personally love the Mary Jane style of shoe, but a pump will give you the same amount of versatility.
A “Background” dress.
A “Background’ dress is a dress that is a one stop outfit. I saw this term used in the Sears catalogue from 1939, which reads, “What every woman wants! A really good dress with exquisite line and perfect fit. Smart enough to be lovely just as it is…or adaptable to accessory changes.” The junior version on the same page reads, “Superbly simple background dress that’s perfect when worn unadorned…and takes accessories with the greatest of ease! Wins you fame as the Girl who has Lots of Clothes without costing you lots of money!”
You don’t have to add anything to a background dress in order to make a complete outfit, but a background dress can be mixed and matched with plenty of accessories to create a whole new look. For example, my new navy dress can be worn all on it’s own for an entire outfit, but because of it’s simple design and colour palette, I can easily match it with other pieces from my wardrobe. I could add a belt and a cardigan for a new look, or instead wear some tights and a scarf and it’s an entirely different one. The key with a background dress is that it coordinates well with the items in your closet to give you maximum versatility. While I love skirts and tops, dresses are definitely one of the easiest things to wear as they are an outfit-in-one.
A silk scarf is another one of my favourite “investment’ pieces. You don’t actually have to spend a lot on them, since you can often find them in thrift stores, and they are another versatile piece to add to your wardrobe. There are so many options to utilize silk scarves: as turbans and headbands, as a bow detail on a handbag, and of course as a scarf around your neck! There are tons of ways to tie scarves; I have a vintage book with all sorts of ways to tie scarves (I plan to share some of those here in the future). Not only can scarves add a certain pop to your outfit, but they will help to protect the collars of your coats from getting dirty so quickly, reducing the need to clean your coats as often. Of course, while silk is lovely, vintage nylon scarves are also great. I have a few vintage ones from the seventies in fun colours and patterns.
On the other end of the spectrum from a silk scarf is a blanket scarf! Large blanket scarves came into popularity a few years ago and I think they are such a great piece to have if you live in a cold climate. They can add so much impact to your outfit, especially when paired with simpler outerwear. And not only do they add colour and drama to your outfit, they can double as a shawl/blanket if you don’t have a sweater. Of course, shawls have been around forever, so this is definitely one piece that will never go out of style! Blanket scarves come in a range of fabrics and styles, including knitted/crocheted or woven. I most commonly see wool and rayon fabrics in a wide range of colours and patterns. I personally have two extra large scarves; this ivory wool knitted one, and a black and tan geometric rayon one, and I am also on the lookout for a woven one in plaid that coordinates with the other colours in my wardrobe, while also adding some pattern and texture.
Your sunglasses don’t necessarily have to be “statement” ones, but in my opinion as far as sunglasses go, you really can’t go too crazy. Whereas everyday, prescription glasses are usually a bit more neutral because you’re wearing them all the time, sunglasses are only worn out of doors (or whenever you want to be left alone!) so you can go big with them. I have these crazy cream and tortoise striped sunglasses and I LOVE them. When I got them, I wasn’t sure if they were “too much”, but they are so fun and I get a lot of compliments on them. If stripes or patterns aren’t your thing, you can of course go for a more traditional style such as aviators or cat eye but make sure that whatever you choose looks glam!
An adjustable skirt or dress
We all have those days when we feel bloated or sick, or the weather is +40 and a tight fitting garment just isn’t going to cut it. While loungewear is great for when you’re at home, when you need to leave the house, a wrap skirt or dress is a great option. I used to make all of my clothes with fixed waistbands, before realizing that sometimes you want to be comfortable, yet still stylish (aka. not wearing an elastic waistband). I made a few wrap skirts a couple of years ago, and I love them! You can easily tie them to the size needed, you’ll look great and you’ll feel great too. I don’t have any wrap dresses yet, but that’s on the list of things to sew…someday.
A statement clutch
And I added a bonus one to the list just for fun! They’re not really wardrobe essentials, but I do love a good statement clutch. We all have events to go to, whether it’s a wedding, or an evening party, and a statement clutch or bag can add so much interest and personality to your outfit. While there may be a dress code for an event that limits your choice of attire, a clutch is available in so many options! Having several clutches also means that you can recycle the same outfit to multiple events without feeling like you’re wearing exactly the same outfit over and over again. And while clutches aren’t necessarily the best for everyday use, you can always add them to a daytime outfit for a vintage look if you don’t have to carry too many items with you.
Well, there is my list of the 10, or rather 11, chic wardrobe essentials that I think every woman can add into her closet to make it a bit more stylish and put together.
What do you think? Do you have any of these pieces in your closet?What are some of your favourite wardrobe essentials that you’d include in this list?
I found this great vintage knitting book when we were organizing our new sewing/craft room. It was mixed in with some sewing patterns and books from the 1980’s, so I’d never looked closely at what was in that folder (the anorak pattern dissuaded me) but when I emptied out that folder to put on the shelf, I came across this book by Patons & Baldwins Limited Toronto: Styles By Beehive Series No. 40. The back page was torn, so I didn’t know what year it was from, but judging by the styles I guessed 1940’s. I was able to track the year down online and I was right; it was from 1949! This book was my Grandma’s and it was open to Page 9, the “Antelopes” sweater, below right, which is why much of the colour is rubbed off that page. I wonder if she ever made that sweater?
I hope you enjoy seeing these lovely 40’s fashions!
On a different style note- I love the waistband of this skirt, above, it looks kind of like a half waistcoat.
The checked grid pattern on the cardigan above adds such a great detail.
The earliest “Uggs”, above.
Would you wear a hood like these?
I like the texture of the one on the left, above.
I love the cardigan on the right, below, too. It’s lightweight and would look so nice paired with a skirt.
I met Margaret Wilds of the shop DeniseBrain Vintage on Instagram a few years ago. I believe it was through the #myvintagecover challenge that Tanith Rowan and I hosted in 2017 and 2018, and I have been following her blog ever since. (I have linked to her posts in the past here and here) In 2019 Margaret asked me whether she could use one of my photos in a book she was writing. I was, of course, honoured and said yes! I finally was able to buy her book, Wear Vintage Now: Choose It, Care For It, Style It Your Way, just over a month ago, so I thought I’d share a review of it here.
Note: I purchased this book myself, and was not asked to give a review or receive compensation- I just wanted to share it with you all.
Firstly, in terms of the book itself, it came beautifully wrapped in bright pink tissue paper… and I was so excited that I ripped it off before I took a picture- oops! But at least I was able to get a picture of the sticker afterwards. Also, Margaret signed the book for me, which was such a nice touch; I love buying things from small businesses, since it feels like you’re opening a gift.
It is a softcover book, 150 pages, and she did such a sweet cover design (the cover is laminated with a soft touch, velvet finish too). The only critique I have of the book is that I wish the pictures were larger! But I know that would have changed the price of printing…and so I completely understand why they were on the smaller side. I just wish I could have seen even more details!
As for the content, I really liked her premise for the book, “Who can wear vintage? I can’t think of one single person who can’t!” She focuses on several topics: how to find your vintage “look” or “style”, how to shop for vintage online and how to care for your vintage pieces.
In the first section, she shares tips for styling vintage, whether you want to be what she calls a “time traveler” or a “modern/vintage mixer” (which is the category my picture is in!) She then moves on to talking about which pieces to select if you’re new to wearing vintage, and easy pieces to add to your wardrobe first if you’re not quite ready to dive in headfirst. This section is definitely aimed at those who are new to wearing vintage, and I wish I’d had this book 10 years ago when I first got interested in wearing vintage clothing.
In the next section she shares tips on how to measure, figure out what will suit you and make wise purchases avoiding pieces that are going to be more of a headache than a joy. With over 20 years of experience in collecting, repairing and selling vintage clothing, she has a wealth of knowledge about buying vintage online. I don’t buy very much clothing online, but armed with her tips, I actually might start doing so.
Since I’ve been following vintage blogs for years, I honestly wasn’t sure whether there would be much “new” information in this book for me, but I really liked her final chapters on “Taking Care of Your Vintage Finery”. She shares a lot of information on fibre content, laundering and stain removal, damage prevention and storage. I learned more than a few new cleaning tricks that I will definitely be using in the future.
And then in the final section she gives some information about vintage reproduction and alternatives to authentic vintage, in case you’re interested in a vintage look, but true vintage is not an option.
Margaret’s love and passion for vintage clothing shines through her entire book, but especially in her last part titled “Wear Vintage and Make the World Brighter” where she says “Vintage fashion is the creative, high quality, thoughtful and beautiful answer to fast fashion. Go forth and wear it well!”
I honestly couldn’t have said it better myself; those are my exact feelings about vintage clothing as well.
If you have any interest in wearing vintage clothing, then this is the book for you. I’m glad that I finally bought Wear Vintage Now because it will be a great reference to have on my bookshelf.
The book is available either through her Etsy shop, or via her website. (I purchased through her website, since the shipping on Etsy was cost prohibitive to Canada).
…Not to get married, but to witness one! Summers for most people means weddings, especially with the backlog of weddings from the past two years, but I actually haven’t attended very many weddings in my life, and I only had one to go to this year. Of course, where there is a wedding, there is wedding attire, and this one was no exception. When planning what to wear to this wedding, I needed it to check three boxes: a colour that wouldn’t clash with the bridal party (green) because I was going to get some photos taken with the bride (my friend Chantelle), something comfortable and in a natural fibre because it was going to be an outdoor wedding in August and, finally, something that coordinated with my giant straw hat- because it was going to be in the sun and I needed to bring my own shade!
Despite the fact that I knew about this wedding since March, I didn’t actually figure out all of these important details until July, and then I didn’t actually sew the dress until a week before the wedding. In my defence, I was hoping to be able to find something to buy in the shops, but that shopping trip immediately reminded of why I even started to sew clothing in the first place. If it wasn’t synthetic fibres, it was cheaply sewn, and if it was good quality, it didn’t fit…which meant that it was time for a sewing project! (And one with a deadline too, but I got it done….and my mom’s outfit too!)
I knew that this wasn’t going to be a quick and easy sewing project, since I’ve changed sizes and needed to draft an entirely new bodice block. After a failed attempt at draping a bodice, I found a tutorial for creating a bodice block, and another for fitting it, and with the help of my mom we were able to make a fairly well fitting bodice block/sloper. Then from that base, I was able to customize it and turn it into a pattern for this dress.
I originally planned on buying some new fabric, but when the fabric search also proved unfruitful, I turned to what was already in my stash and decided that this cross printed navy cotton would be elegant, yet still good for an outdoor event. I had originally intended the fabric for a button front skirt, but am actually glad I made it into a dress instead, because the tan and navy colour combination probably wouldn’t have coordinated with very many of my tops, and as a dress, it is a perfect one-step outfit.
The fabric also proved to be a great choice because it’s 100% cotton, with a linen textured weave, so it was lightweight and breathable, but it didn’t crease! I wore it from about 10:00 am to 10:00 pm and it looked almost as fresh in the evening when I took it off as when I’d put it on, which was incredible because we were outside melting in the summer sun. I bought this fabric from the clearance rack at Fabricland, and it’s by the Japanese brand Sevenberry. (That’s all I know about it, as that info was printed on the selvedge).
When thinking about the dress, I first designed it as button front, but then the thought of making 20+ buttonholes in a short period of time just seemed like asking for trouble, so I opted for a simple back zipper, v-neck, short sleeved bodice and knee length pleated skirt. In the end I’m actually glad that I went for the zipper closure, because that meant that I didn’t have to fiddle with the buttons and make sure they weren’t gaping or pulling.
When you are sewing, you need to keep in mind not only your ideas for the design, but what the fabric itself calls for. When designing, I planned for a turned up sleeve cuff with a button detail and maybe a bit of navy contrast fabric. I’d found some pretty cream and antique brass buttons in the stash and designed the entire dress around using these button accents on both sleeves and at the back neck. As it turns out, the fabric had a mind of it’s own and it did not want to have a cuff or button detail on the sleeve, and instead asked for the simplest of sleeve styles. I kept trying to add some sort of feature- a pleat, a contrast binding, a keyhole…but the nature of the fabric called for something simple and structured.
Likewise, after I had sewn the keyhole at the top of the back zipper, I discovered that the cream and brass buttons I’d planned for actually didn’t actually look good! Then I had to go through the entire stash (of course it was at night) looking for a new button. This one (an extra from my green cardigan) was a bit more subtle in colour and sheen and worked perfectly. When sewing, things don’t always turn out the way you planned…but sometimes they turn out even better. This simple style of dress is actually a better addition to my wardrobe than any kind of statement piece. It’s almost like a “background” dress in the fact that the fabric pattern is interesting and detailed, but can easily be matched with many of my accessories for a different look. Those simple sleeves will also layer very nicely with cardigans for Fall and with the heavier texture of the fabric, it isn’t going to just be a summer dress, but will carry over for cooler weather too.
For the day of the wedding, because it was outdoors in the sun, I wore my giant straw hat. I love this hat, and was so thankful for it because we were sitting in the sun with no breeze. (At least a rainstorm came up after to cool us off.) I made a hat band out of a coordinating navy grosgrain ribbon, and while it wasn’t perfect, it worked well for one day. However, that is not the hatband you are seeing here because…I lost it somewhere. I guess I put it somewhere “safe”, so I had to quickly hot glue a new ribbon for these pictures. Oops!
I chose to wear my pearl necklace and earrings, since they make any outfit instantly more dressy and for shoes wore my low heeled sandals since they are comfortable and don’t have heels that would sink into the grass.
And I didn’t actually bring this purse to the wedding, even though I wanted to, because I didn’t get the handles in time. I bought this straw bag from the thrift store, removed the (ugly!) fake leather handles, put a new lining in the bag and added leather handles I bought from this Etsy shop. (She did a custom size for me, 26″ x 5/8″ in cognac leather.) I wish that they had arrived in time so I could have carried this bag, since I had to use a tote bag instead, which was way too floppy, and not nearly as stylish.
So, that’s what I wore, and I’ve already worn this dress again because it’s so versatile. I’m am so glad that I went to the effort to make a new bodice block because that means that the hard part of fitting (the most hated part) is already done, and it’s pretty easy to whip up a dress once that’s out the way. I was planning on making another summer dress, but decided that since we are almost at the end of the season, I will instead start some sewing for fall and winter! That’s the thing with sewing…you always need to be thinking ahead to what season it will be when your projects will be finished. I’ve got some plans for more cool weather sewing projects, hopefully my next projects will be as quick as this one was, and I will have a few more things to wear this winter!
Have you attended many weddings in the past couple of years? When you go to a wedding, do you repeat the outfits you wear, or try to find something new?