Building an Audrey Wardrobe

Building an Audrey Wardrobe | Whipstitch

Very few individuals in recent memory can compare with the class and beauty of Audrey Hepburn.  Her grace, her loveliness, her charm and her kind nature permeate every image, every foot of film we have of her.  Something about Audrey–like Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Grace Kelly–has the power to capture our attention and hold it.  And is there any one of us who doesn’t admire Audrey, and want to emulate her, at least a little?  I’ve been doing my own Audrey binge lately, and cannot get enough.  Again.

The stories of how Audrey handled her wardrobe are legend.  She was well-known for being incredibly specific about what looked best on her frame and what shapes and fabrics and colors she would wear to give her the look she sought.  She had the most flawless taste in clothing, choosing looks that were both timeless and edgy, and that you could wear any day of the week and any year throughout history (well, since Audrey’s day, anyway) and look absolutely perfect.

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image via Vogue

I haven’t had that skill for most of my life.  I mean, I do think I do a good job of choosing my clothing, for the most part, and I’ve had a life of training in Shopping as an Art Form (thanks, Mom!), but I don’t think any of us is born with the gift of always putting together a WARDROBE, in the sense of choosing individual pieces and creating a collection of our own from which we can build looks and create an overall style of our own.

When I think of going through my closet and analyzing what I have and what I need, I generally get as far as deleting things I no longer wear, but I’m not very good at adding things that I WILL wear.  I understand the idea of filling in gaps in my wardrobe, but I don’t always do that in a timely fashion–I’m not very good at dumping the stuff that hasn’t been worn in ages and adding in new things RIGHT AWAY so that I can have a complete range of things to choose each day when I dress.

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image via Biography

Sarai over at Colette Patterns put together a really excellent post about evaluating your wardrobe and thinning out the categories that are over-full while plumping up the categories that need additional items.  I love that idea–and I super love her template that she created to help you do it (and not just because she and I share what amounts to an unnatural love for the cardigan).  It’s pretty close to spring cleaning time around here–which I tend to do every year, not in a deliberate way, but just because it’s when the kids outgrow all their winter clothes and it’s time to supply all of us with new things for the warmer weather.  I’m ready to work my way through this list, through my closet, and build myself what I’ve always pictured in my head: an Audrey Wardrobe.

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image via The Telegraph (UK)

No matter what she wore, Audrey always looked (1) classic, (2) lovely, and (3) appropriate.  I remember being just out of college, blissfully past those Grunge Days (by the narrowest of margins), and saying to my mother that what I most wanted from my wardrobe was to never have to be embarrassed if I ran into someone unexpectedly.  She told me that was probably the chief goal we should all have–but in the decades (eek!) since then, something has happened in fashion, day-to-day fashion in the sense of how individuals as real people out on the street get dressed to present themselves to the public.  It’s as if folks just plain don’t care any more: pajamas on airplanes, boxer shorts to the grocery store, yoga pants to every occasion other than yoga, and flip flops to meet the President.  Audrey would have had NONE of that, y’all.

I love what Sarai said in her post, too, about using her inventory of her existing closet to plan out sewing (and knitting) projects for herself: that by evaluating what she does have and what she wants to have, she can make better use of her time and create garments that are most likely to get worn often and loved much.  I want to do that same thing, while layering in my love for the sense of clean, uncomplicated lines and modern, sophisticated fashion that Audrey represents.

audrey on the set

image via IMDb

So here we go, over the next week: a dive into the available sewing patterns on the market and which ones I think will best serve my needs in building an Audrey wardrobe.  I’m not planning a giant sew-along, or to drag you all through narrowing down my list of things-I-have and things-I-need.  I’m not planning on sewing up every look I discover.  But I do think the exercise of pin-pointing what looks I’d like to add to my wardrobe is a motivating one, and will become even more so as I locate patterns on the market and available to me today–not the super hard to find vintage patterns available only on eBay if you cash in your kid’s college tuition, but patterns I can order and have shipped this week–will make it even more of a project that can realistically be completed by an actual human with a life over the coming few months.

Anyone else up for it?  Want to spend the next few days digging through pattern catalogs and books about Audrey to compile a list of designs and sources for fabric that will sew up into a luscious Audrey Wardrobe for this spring and summer?  I’ve already got a list going and some really great ideas in mind–and the pictures!  You’ll lose your marbles, really.

23 Comments on “Building an Audrey Wardrobe

  1. I love this idea. Yesterday, while wearing my only green shirt, realized it was from when I was a Freshman in High School. Add in I was 30 lbs lighter, 2 kids later and there are multiple things in my closet that fit that category it’s time to reorganize. It doesn’t help that I’m starting up a vintage sewing pattern etsy shop so I have hundreds of beautiful sewing patterns around that I want to now keep for myself… I think some of these need to become my new, timeless wardrobe.

    • My husband and I are both the WORST when it comes to hanging on to clothes for.ev.er, partly because we tend to buy (as grown-ups, at least) investment pieces that last and look good. In my younger days, though, I was muuuuuuch cheaper, and more spotty with my purchases–so I have plenty of those shirts lying around, too, from when my body was shaped differently and I had different taste, and that I only wear when I don’t own anything else that will do (like St Patty’s Day). So I’m pretty excited about finally acting on an instinct from, oh, fifteen years ago and really overhauling my closet, purposefully! We’re in it together, Heather! :)

  2. I LOVE Audrey. And her clean, classic, tailored style. Here’s the catch – I’m half as tall and twice as wide as she was, so her style, as much as I love it, would not look good on my frame. That’s my big question about building a wardrobe with a lot of sewing – how do I know what would look good on me, without a whole bunch of trial and error, emphasis on the word “error”?

    • You know, what Audrey was best at was understanding HER shape and what flattered it. Did you know she was SUPER self-conscious about the size of her feet, and once threw a temper tantrum when a director wanted her to wear white socks with black shoes, because she was convinced that it woudl draw attention to her foot size? True story. She also knew she had a long, slender neck and worked to emphasize it, and that she was super slender, and what looks would flatter that and what would make it work against her. I suspect she would tell someone who had a thicker frame to find the elements you prefer–she liked to show off her collar bones–and choose styles that bring those out while down-playing the ones you don’t like. I have some book titles I’ll share this week that should help!

      • This is my exact problem…short and wide. I love Audrey’s look. I believe short and wide can also do classic and simple and sophisticated without having to be put on a midieval stretching machine! I say let’s work on this! My new favorite pattern is (even though I haven’t bought it nor do I wear dresses except to weddings) is BurdaStyle 7077. It’s a shift style dress with coat to match. Very classic!

        • I agree! I’ll look at that Burda pattern–I don’t remember off-hand if it’s one of the ones on my list or not, but they’ve got some really clean, subtle designs out this spring that I love!

  3. I’m so excited to see how this goes for you! I’m focusing this year on making garments, as I really want my wardrobe to reflect my own taste as well as my crazy love of sewing. I think I’m going to steal a page from your post up there and try to make sure I’m focusing that garment-making on specific gaps and wardrobe-goals, too!

    • I had a whole phase where I was loving making quilts, and hardly made any garments for myself at all. And then one day I realized that I really MISSED making clothing. So I’m on a clothing kick again. Add in that I really would like to get dressed without having to dig or think so much, and I’d like to eliminate all the overlap and just have a ton of great pieces that I love to wear, and this seems like the perfect time to plan out this project. Glad it’s actually interesting to someone besides me! Hee!

  4. Love this idea! My wardrobe is pretty sad. I’ve only recently started to figure out what sorts of things look good on me, and then I went and lost weight so now none of my new clothes fit and my old clothes are basically rags!

    And I HATE it when people go out in public in pajamas. Or yoga pants. It’s not that hard to put on a pair of pants. Seriously. Or wearing house slippers as regular shoes. Just… no.

    • Ha!! Well, as someone who has ACCIDENTALLY arrived at the grocery store in house shoes before…well, it does, in fact, indicate that you’ve officially stopped trying. And I want to start trying again, right? Yes! Very excited to plan out some really great projects and put together some inspiration boards over the next few days–hope you’ll share some ideas, too! :)

  5. I would love this! I feel like her style really fits my life right now and I can’t wait to see what you choose.

    • Most of the styles I’m looking at are dresses and very forgiving tops, so we won’t all feel as though we need to lose ten pounds! :)

  6. I love this idea, I have always loved Audrey’s classic style. Like many, after 4 kids my body shape has changed so much and so has my lifestyle. I am one of those mums who drops the kids off at school wearing yoga pants and trainers, but I’m not going to the gym! Just back home to clear up the mess 😉
    Getting back int sewing cute things for my kids has made me want to sew for me again. I know I was waiting to lose the extra lbs but I’ve realised I can still look good while I’m trying :)
    I have so much trouble getting nice classic pants, so that would be something I’ll be looking for.

  7. I desperately need this and desperately need the time to do it. Ha! When I think of Audrey I think of Colette’s Clover pants!! They are elegant and classic. :)

  8. Waou, that is an awsome idea. Audrey Hepburn as well as Jackie Kennedy had this aptitude to know waht is good, what will value them and their features, what would make them who they were.
    I think for myself, would be to define who I am exactly, what I like…if I look at my wardrobe which is, about 1/3 the size of my husband’s (I know my friends say that I am a lost cause), well, I cannot say tat I have style, I have none.
    I already bought 3 patterns for me from Colette. I made one, and it just looked terrible on me because I have no clue for the fitting…The dress looks nice when hanged though….
    So yes, I’ll be up for this week of learning style, features, value myself….I will try.

  9. Looking forward to seeing where this is going. I’m concious my wardrobe consists of about 90% work clothes (which my mother would burn in an instant if she could as I do not invest big bucks on things I schlep into the office in) and I really need a bunch more ‘going out’ clothes that don’t make me look like a student over 10 years after I graduated!

  10. Lydia gave me a book about Audrey for Christmas. I’ll try to remember to bring it with me to the Whipstitch event on Friday.

    Audrey was trained as a ballet dancer and, baby, they spend some time in front of merciless mirrors. But the lesson here is not to look like her, but to learn what is best on ourselves. I buy pieces willy-nilly, but have a good sense of how they will work NOW, on my 63 year old self versus my 30 year old self.

    Maybe you take 2 girlfriends and go to a department store and simply try on EVERYTHING that appeals to you. Prep with a recent Vogue or internet search and then give it a whirl. OH! Don’t forget, as Tim Gunn and Deborah remind us, “It’s not you, it’s the clothes.” Better brands will fit differently than cheaper stuff. You might be surprised with what works and what doesn’t.

  11. I love your idea. I just wish I could hire Hubert de Givenchy to do it all for me :-) Of course he would probably have thrown out my entire wardrobe and started over from scratch!

    I also hear you about not wanting to be embarrassed when you run into someone on the street. I find myself throwing on any old thing that is comfortable when I go out to walk the dog and, of course, that is when I see every single person in the neighborhood I know. I need to work on that.

  12. This is a great idea! I am beginning to make clothes for myself but still struggling with just finding the right fit in the pattern – which is, of course, related to knowing your body and what looks best on it. I have purchased patterns only to realize they will not be flattering for me! Probably why I stick to sewing for the kids more.

    I am hopeful your posts will help get me going too!

  13. This is one area in my life where I would totally hire an expert (except not because we’re cheap). I feel out of touch with a vision for how I want to present myself clothes-wise. I don’t want to become overly concerned with clothing and outward appearance (like a high school re-run), but I do want to be lovely and be “me”. Maybe you can help? Maybe I’ll go follow that link to Sarah’s post now…

  14. Audrey isn’t my personal style, but I think you will wind up with a lovely wardrobe. I’m really looking forward to seeing more garment related posts from you!

  15. I’m reading “Overdressed” right now. And this really resonates especially in an ecological, and geopolitical way. PS- It didn’t hurt that Audrey had a teeny tiny figure as well. But she is one of my fashion icons as well.

    • I’ve had that book on my to-read list for a while now–based on your comment, I’m finally going to pull the trigger and order a copy. (Anyone who hasn’t seen reviews or a synopsis, check it out here: http://www.amazon.com/Overdressed-Shockingly-High-Cheap-Fashion/dp/1591844614 ). Thanks for pointing out the parallels–these ideas are absolutely part of my thinking and goals in trimming the fat from my wardrobe and creating “looks” that are composed of pieces that can be made well and worn often. Excited to read what she’s discovered in her research!