Emery Dress in Japanese Cotton

Three years ago, I wrote a draft of this post where I said the following:

The Emery Dress by Christine Haynes is such a classic, classic silhouette.  I actually put off finally sewing a version because I thought, on some level, that because it’s a fitted bodice with a full skirt, that it wouldn’t fit into my “lifestyle.”  Translation: will I really wear this dress as much as I wear jeans and a tee shirt?

Since then, I’ve had a pretty serious change of heart about jeans-and-a-tee-shirt as an everyday “uniform.” What seemed like an efficient way to streamline getting dressed every day revealed itself to be fuel for my daily struggle with anxiety and depression. I thought I was beating the system by grabbing the jeans from the foot of the bed and any-old-tee-shirt each morning, throwing my hair up in a messy ponytail, and heading into my day.  In invisible, insidious ways, though, my own system was beating me.

What was sort of an internet/moms in carpool joke about “wearing a uniform” rather than “getting dressed” every day had turned into a trap, a pair of velvet handcuffs–Lycra + denim handcuffs, if you will–that obscured my own sense of self-worth.  My inability to see any point or purpose in wearing “real clothes” when I wasn’t “going to see anyone” caused me to lose respect for value of the labor I exerted each day.  Over time, that became a black cloud that led to panic attacks and my desire to seek professional help.

I needed something, which I found in part through the books I read and the relationships I built with therapists and mentors over the past three years, that gave me a path by which to RETRAIN MY BRAIN.  I had habits that didn’t serve me any longer, and one of those was how I thought about myself–which was revealed more in how I dressed each day than in probably any other tangible way.  I wrote a whole series of posts about the guidelines I developed to break out of old habits and build new ones for myself, simply by heading to my closet and wearing what I already had on the hanging rod.

When I first sat down three years ago to post about the Emery Dress, I wrote this:

I don’t know if it was our time in Japan, where literally NO ONE wore stretchy pants, but I suddenly feel like dresses are THE THING for this next season of my life.  One piece, slip it over your head and you’re set for the day, simple to sew (or complicated, my choice).  And they always feel put together, like I’m starting out on the right foot.

Funny how we look back from a new vantage point and see how the Old Version of our Selves was waking up, bit by bit.  I wasn’t really aware of it then, but I needed my outsides to match my insides.  I needed congruency, and I was suffocating without it.

Changing the way I dress each day has been an act of self care–a trendy term that I don’t really care for, to be honest, because as a friend pointed out recently, it has largely been co-opted by self-important but inexpert “guides” and turned into an excuse for everything from overeating to overdieting to overshopping to over-everything.  True self care seems more to be about finding the acts in our lives that allow us to be the Best Version of Ourselves (as opposed to the voices touting self numbing, which encourages us to hide in acts that we will later regret or hide out of shame).

Adding dresses to my wardrobe rotation wasn’t just a small thing.  Literally half my wardrobe is now composed of dresses, and I was right: they really are the easiest way to feel put together and ready for the day, no matter whom I may see.  They are the fastest means by which I can re-set my brain when it veers into anxiety or tension or shame, and communicate to myself that I can CHOOSE TO FEEL BETTER in small, tactile ways that will send tendrils through my words and thoughts, like roots of a healthy plant. 

Our daughter’s elementary school counselor taught them over Zoom this week: when anxiety comes along, place it on a leaf and let it float down the river–it’s OK if it comes back, that happens! Just place it on the leaf again and let it float away.  Putting on clothing with purpose, in a way that helps me feel VISIBLE on the outside, is my way of placing worry on a leaf and letting it float down the river.  It’s a concrete, noticeable reminder that while my feelings are real, they’re temporary, and how I respond to them is my choice–what a gift that’s been, and how incredible that sewing has been a major part of bringing it alive for me.

This dress, in particular, is such a great style and fit.  It’s simple–maybe deceptively simple, because the lines are so clean that it becomes this canvas for the details.  The kind of style that you can sew over and over again, but never look like you’ve got a closet filled with one thing.  Other than the Archer Shirt, I’m not sure I have another pattern that would be so easy to use as a canvas on which to paint in novelty fabrics.

The fabric is one I bought when we were in Japan, as it happens, and the print is eye-catching and bright and cheerful, perfect for days when I need a little boost. Because the style is so easy to wear, I know I can put on heels or clogs or sneakers and feel equally comfortable; but I also know that the sensation of crisp cotton and the structure of wearing a dress helps to redirect my thoughts and mood as my day goes along, allowing me a space to be mindful about how I’m talking to myself and how my level of anxiety or tension might be influencing my internal monologue.

Believe me, this sounds woo-woo to me, too, and if you’d told me three or four years ago that I’d be asking this much of a dress, I would have pushed back HARD. But when I read back through my older posts, I can see elements of these same ideas beginning to form under the surface, and there’s comfort in that continuity, that I’m not foisting heavy loads on to the garments I sew, but rather than I’m listening to what I’m learning from the time I spend in front of the machine, and maybe becoming a better version of myself along the way.

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  • Samina
    September 16, 2020 at 4:39 pm

    Oh my gosh, I love that fabric so much! It’s absolutely stunning in that dress & that dress looks amazing on you. I also like the classic lines of this dress – it’s something that’s instantly timeless & always wearable. And, pockets! I’m going to have to pick this up for when I get back to sewing.

    • Deborah
      September 17, 2020 at 12:18 pm

      It’s such a great pattern! Quick to cut out, quick to sew up. I would have hesitated to break into this fabric otherwise, it’s the only cotton like it I brought back from Japan and I wanted to make sure I got to see it often–now I wear this dress most of the year! 🙂