A little over a year ago, I was inspired by a review of my own handsewn wardrobe–following months and months (and months) in a sewing rut–to GET DRESSED TO STAY HOME. I have worked from home for more than a decade, and had begun to think of getting dressed as an unnecessary waste of time, something I could skip in favor of More Important (or more enjoyable) tasks. It took a huge toll on me, y’all, in a quiet, sneaky way–breaking free from that has been work, but it’s been JOYOUS work. I’ve actually been cataloging the outfits I put together each day and taking photos of them, and am developing the whole series into a project I’m sharing with the League of Dressmakers, where I’m pairing sewing pattern suggestions and video guides with the four concepts I’ve developed to formalize what’s worked for me.
Given the Current Situation, where nearly the entire globe are now finding ourselves sheltering in place and unexpectedly, indefinitely staying or working from home, I want to share these ideas in a five-part series here with all of you. These posts are about getting dressed, but they’re also about taking active steps to keep ourselves mentally well when we don’t “have to” go anywhere–and are tempted to stay in pajamas all day, every day.
I knew I wasn’t wearing my handmades. I also knew I was wearing more or less the same thing every day: a pair of jeans, a tee shirt, a cardigan. Done. And I felt unproductive, unattractive, unworthy, and uninteresting a large proportion of the time. What I learned, through trial and error, is that I can improve my mood; create a healthier mental space for myself; set and achieve daily, specific, measurable goals; and experience better, more memorable moments in my relationships simply by deliberately and intentionally CHOOSING to get dressed, like, Get Dressed. Like, every day, rain or shine, meeting or no meeting, I get “dressed up” to leave my bedroom and head to my basement.
Let me tell you why.
I learned as I was going through my own closet and dresser drawers that I tend to wear the same clothes over and over again. And again. Which meant that when I look in the mirror, I saw the same tired version of me, in the same clothes that were getting increasingly thread-bare. My outside-me was looking droopier, which made my inside-me feel LESS: less worthy, less attractive, less productive, less invigorated. I didn’t see ME in the mirror, a lot of days, I just saw…kinda the inevitability of every negative stereotype? Like, I didn’t look BAD, I just looked like “A Mom,” like a cartoon version of myself, but in sepia tones of disillusionment and depression.
I realize that sounds pretty dismal. The reality is that I spent a large portion of the past few years suffering from undiagnosed clinical depression. As I have worked to seek treatment and heal, I needed not just to FEEL better, I needed to SEE better: to learn to re-frame circumstances, to see myself in a new way. But also an old way? If that makes sense. To rediscover the version of me that’s the most ME of me. To track down the Best Version of Myself and bring her out into the open.
By intentionally getting DRESSED each morning–not just “putting on clothes” to check a box, but wearing clothes for the purpose of making my outsides match my insides, I’ve made measurable in-roads into seeing myself in new ways. The ad-hoc rules I developed along the way have helped me do that, and I’m sharing them over the next week with the idea that they can be easily generalized to lots of different lifestyles, with similar positive impact for others.
These four guidelines developed pretty organically over the past two years as I was trying to stretch myself a bit, and they’ve been priceless in the way they’ve allowed me to show up as the person I most want to be. By setting limits around what I would or wouldn’t wear each day, I reached further back into my closet to wear things I hadn’t worn in a long time, and occasionally discovered facets of myself I’d forgotten. Other days, I wanted to SEEK OUT a particular feeling, like joy or courage, and discovered I could use my wardrobe to fake-it-til-I-make-it, to invite an emotion in and use my clothing to host it until it took root. The temptation to give in to resistance was very, very strong and those years of habit were hard to break–on many, MANY days I discovered I was grateful that I’d set boundaries for my own getting-dressed that REQUIRED me to try something maybe I wasn’t in the mood for, because I discovered that frequently the mood FOLLOWED the clothing, and that I could CALL UP FEELINGS ON DEMAND.
WITH MY CLOTHES.
This was revolutionary for me. As I learned to change my clothes, I learned to change my mood, which helped me to change how I see myself, which changed how I interact with the world, which improved my relationships and my work life and my housekeeping and my skin. (This is all true, I’ll swear it on the stand, even MY SKIN IS BETTER.)
In the process of taking photos for this series, I saw some trends in how I dress start to emerge that didn’t particularly surprise me: I love stripes, solids, and texture; I create outfits by balancing a fitted bottom with a looser top or vice versa; and I lean toward bright pops of color combined with neutrals almost across the board (heavy on the yellow). I DIDN’T expect to transition from feeling self-conscious about taking a picture of myself each day to looking forward to it (and since I text them to my husband both for accountability and to flirt, he doesn’t mind it, either). I learned I can step back and analyze both my clothing selections and what they say about my current mental state, and use that information to grow.
I was surprised, too, by the way this project SERIOUSLY impacted my Future Sewing Plans, causing me to re-evaluate WHAT items I want to add to my wardrobe, WHEN to prioritize making them, and HOW to select the shapes & fabrics I’m using. The intentionality was contagious. Better skin AND better sewing?? I mean.
I’m so excited to share the outline of what I’ve learned with this series, and to talk (at length) about it with the League of Dressmakers. I know so, so many of us are sheltering in place right now, and finding ourselves unexpectedly NOT NEEDING to “get dressed.” I really struggled, for years, with the ennui that stemmed from treating my outside-self as an after-thought, and while I don’t think that necessarily develops into depression for everyone the way it did for me, I think there’s room right now to have a frank conversation about things WE CAN CHOOSE, just by reaching in our closets, that can make quarantine not just more bearable, but a legitimate growth experience.
I hope you’ll join me over the next week and share your thoughts in the comments!
Full disclosure: not all the outfits I share in this series include handmade garments. This isn’t a series about how you MUST sew your own clothes or BUY anything new in order to improve your mental health. The guidelines are valid for BOTH handmade and store-bought clothing, and I’m learning as I go along that I’m more likely to wear my handmades when I combine them with my purchased clothing, making new looks that are more versatile; as a resource, the vast majority (like, nearly all) of the purchased garments in these images came second-hand via Poshmark or Goodwill, or off the end-of-season sale rack from local designers like Billy Reid or Ann Mashburn.
Mary ParkerApril 13, 2020 at 7:09 pm
I love this! It’s so important to make getting dressed an event that you do for your own self-health and to pay respect and give weight to the tasks and work you plan to do each day. One of the things I think about is church and how I dress up to go to church (I wear a uniform to work otherwise). It’s something I do to mark this activity as meaningful to me and it changes it to something elevates it from ordinary life (although it might be a Sunday in Ordinary Time!).
I’m always amazed at vintage patterns that feature clothing for sports activities, for beach events, for day dresses, work, and dressy evening events. Then they have wardrobes for casual weekends hiking, or outdoors, and so on. What do we have? Jeans. Jeans and tees. I say it’s time to break out of the rut!
Thanks again for linking the importance of matching insides and outsides. It does matter.
DeborahApril 15, 2020 at 4:48 pm
I never thought of getting dressed as an “event” before this experiment, but your comment brought to mind an interview I remember seeing with a film critic years ago, talking about Richard Gere in American Gigolo? I’ve never seen the film, but I’ve watched the scene where he gets intoxicated to lay out his ties and suits and prepares to get dressed to go out–what really struck me was the way the critic was talking about that film scene as an insight into his character, that the ACT OF DRESSING WAS THE EVENT for him. Why don’t more of us see our own selves as worthy of celebrating, and investing time in each day? I must have seen a zillion posts about “fast and easy” hair or makeup or getting-dressed “tips and tricks,” but I can’t recall even one that says, “Take your time, you’ve got an extra seven minutes to invest in feeling great today.” It has been such a discovery, I’m so excited to know you’ve been feeling the same way, too!!
SusanApril 14, 2020 at 2:52 pm
I’m wondering if you can help me. I’ve sent you private messages on facebook, and the email on your site, about the dressmakers league. I can’t get into my account, and i’m Really excited about the new content. Please help!
DeborahApril 14, 2020 at 3:20 pm
Hi, Susan! I’ve just replied to you via email–I am excited to sew with you again in the League this year! 🙂
SabrinaApril 15, 2020 at 6:39 am
Looking forward to the series! I have always loved your blog.
DeborahApril 15, 2020 at 4:49 pm
Oh, thank you for saying that!! I’m always so grateful to know you’re reading!! 🙂
ConnieApril 15, 2020 at 6:52 am
This is such a relevant read for me RN. We moved out of our house in Feb for a renovation and moved to a rental in the country… I packed my favorite clothes, including a new spring dress, wondering why? But deep down I knew why and your blog put all of it into words. Thanks for writing about this, will be sharing with my friends…
DeborahApril 15, 2020 at 4:51 pm
Isn’t that funny? I’ve been working on this for months, and even then I didn’t really make the connection until I started seeing people post on social about how they’re in their sweats or jammies for the twentieth day in a row, and I thought, “NOOOOO!!! IT’S A TRAP!!!” I’m honestly so thrilled to know that you’ve got your favorite lovely things with you while you’re in a rental–having just lived in our guest room for six months while we repaired a flooded bath, I can sincerely say that it made each difficult day a little easier to be able to get dressed in my favorite things and bring myself some cheer that way. Sending you good reno vibes!!
MaureenApril 15, 2020 at 8:47 am
Technology is rapidly changing how we communicate. During the last few years, the sewing community has migrated to Instagram, which has its own appeal; however, I miss reading regular blog posts, especially yours, of which I am a big fan. It’s like reading a novel or a short story, they are both enjoyable, but different.
I am looking forward to your new series and it couldn’t come at a better time. I always try to look put together when I leave the house, because your clothes give a message to everyone who sees you. So it makes sense that when I look in the mirror I am giving myself a message and I should put some thought into how I feel about that image. You always inspire me to think in new ways and that makes you a great teacher.
DeborahApril 15, 2020 at 4:56 pm
Oh, thank you so much for saying that, Maureen, and for reading!! My favorite blogs are the ones that give me something to chew on for later, and I’m really touched that you feel that way about what I’m sharing here.
I remember a conversation I had with my mother in my early 20s about how I wanted to have a wardrobe where I could run into anyone, anywhere, and I wouldn’t feel embarrassed about my appearance–but it took me years to see more clearly that it’s less about the clothes and more about HOW I SEE ME. Staying home revealed that in a way that couldn’t be frosted over, simply because when I didn’t “have to” get dressed, I began to uncover some hidden assumptions about myself. I’m so interested to hear what you think of the rest of the series!!
PatriciaApril 15, 2020 at 9:19 am
Like this, I always perk up when I get dressed.
DeborahApril 15, 2020 at 4:53 pm
Exactly!! Something about it lends a real-ness to the day, as if anywhere I’m going is MORE because I am showing up On Purpose, as the Best Version of Me.
DeborahApril 15, 2020 at 4:10 pm
Thank you so much for this post. Exactly what I needed to read. Thank you.
DeborahApril 15, 2020 at 4:52 pm
Awww, it’s so lovely to hear from you!! I’m glad this hit the right note today–I’m so curious to hear what you think of the rest of the series, you always have so much insight. Wishing you well during this tricky time!! <3
DeborahApril 15, 2020 at 5:04 pm
I have been reading your blog since our beehive days ????. I have read the first two articles in your series and I think they are excellent. I look forward to more (or did I miss them?). I think the posts resonated with me because I have followed a similar path to you regarding my wardrobe, working remotely and realizing that I still needed to dress up for me because of how I felt about me when I didn’t. I took over one of the small bedrooms in my house so that I can see all of my clothes. Everything but workout clothes gets put on a hanger so that I can see it. About half of my clothes are me made now. Anyway, you have given me the inspiration to keep going. Simple but elegant is my motto. Thanks again! ????
Stop With The Jeans Every Day. Stop. | WhipstitchJuly 18, 2020 at 11:09 am
[…] a window through which we can feed our hearts and minds. For the introduction to the series, visit this post, and for a deeper dive, join us at the League of Dressmakers, where we’re developing this […]
Emery Dress by Christine Haynes patterns, pattern review | WhipstitchSeptember 16, 2020 at 5:01 pm
[…] 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 […]
Mushroom Shirtdress: Simplicity 8014 | WhipstitchFebruary 26, 2021 at 8:41 am
[…] Simplicity 8014 for the save!! I know in my gut that had I completed the original McCall’s design, I would never have worn the finished dress, and I’m committed to only expending energy and resources on garments I know I’ll really WEAR AND WEAR AND WEAR. To do otherwise has increasingly felt like poor stewardship and an unwise use of my time, you know? The longer, fuller skirt with the more defined waist of this shirt dress suits my style much more than the previous version and reminds me of one of the reasons I love sewing my own clothes: by evaluating my Pain Points, the places where I see a design and don’t love it, I can better refine and curate my own personal sense of style in a way that helps me wear my insides on my outsides. […]