Get Dressed On Purpose and With Purpose

This is the fifth post in a series about how getting dressed, even when you’re only going from your bedroom to the living room and back again, can have an enormous impact on your mood, your sense of self, and how well you handle stress and change.  I know very well the temptation to wear only stretchy pants and sweatshirts when working from (or just staying) home; I also know the insidious ways in which giving in to that temptation ate away at my ability to fight through mental fog and maintain a healthy headspace.

I learned through trial and error, by working from home over the past ten+ years–and then, as the result of some dark days, actively altering what I wear over the past two years–that there are some basic guidelines I can employ when getting dressed each day that give me the tools and the margin to intentionally improve my outlook and mental health.  I’m sharing them here in hopes they’ll create a framework where we can have a bigger conversation about how sewing our own clothes allows us 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 topic in greater depth, complete with silhouette guides, sewing pattern suggestions, video discussions and live chats!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my debt of gratitude to Elaine, a League of Dressmakers member who pointed me toward Stasia’s Style School–I confess that I completed only the first two lessons of Style School, but the impact of Stasia’s message from just that little taste was so huge for me.  Her newsletters are a delight to read, and her TEDx Talk will change the way you think about fashion.

I love that Stasia doesn’t encourage you to go out and buy all new clothing–she challenges you to THINK IN A NEW WAY about clothes you already have, and to consider that it isn’t the STUFF that is making the difference, it’s the viewpoint each of us brings.  The biggest influences in the guidelines I’m sharing–BrenĂ© Brown, The Holistic Psychologist, Harriet Lerner, Stasia Savasuk, even George Bernard Shaw–all encourage me to challenge my own assumptions and re-frame my experiences.  That one idea, that I don’t have to start over but rather can view through a different lens, extends so naturally to getting dressed.

4.  Get dressed on purpose, using what I have, to change how I feel

The fourth and final principle I follow is this: create new styles using what I ALREADY HAVE on hand, built specifically around the goal of getting outside-me in line with inside-me.  The act of intentionally selecting what to wear based on how you WANT TO FEEL rather than how you CURRENTLY FEEL was so transformative to me.  I stalled out completing the lessons in Style School because I took that idea and CONSUMED it, then ran and ran and ran with it.  I have seen tangible benefit in my everyday life from simply working deliberately to create a vision for the Best Version of Me, and then BE that each day through how I dress and how my clothes make feel.

It doesn’t work every day.  This isn’t a magic bullet.  I yelled at my kids this morning FOR TALKING, you guys.  (Seriously.) So please don’t infer that my goal here is to boss or soapbox or become pedantic as if I have The Answers.  What I’ve learned from all those names I mentioned, and from counseling, and from just like, living with other humans, is this: there is no finish line.  There is only forward motion.

It’s less like a race than it is like bowling, you know?  It’s not that I will some day have it All Figured Out.  It’s that EACH day, as I move through the world next to the people I love, I want to veer toward the center, avoid the gutters, knock over as many pins as I can and keep in mind that there’s ALWAYS ANOTHER BALL COMING, so on the days when I miss and have to eat that seven/ten split, I can forgive myself and keep on rolling.

I must have internalized the underlying assumption that there’s a goal line in my sewing, too, as if it was some kind of contest that could be won.  As if the items I was making existed outside of how they made me feel?  Looking at clothing I’d made myself over the years and asking WHY I wasn’t wearing certain pieces pushed me to consider the disparity between how I wanted to feel and how the clothes made me feel when I wore them–and to pursue ways to combine items I already owned with items I discovered along the way, creating new silhouettes and color palettes and EMOTIONS and INTENTIONS.

This is not a small thing.  I think sewing clothing gets a slightly better rap than “fashion” in the general sense, but there’s still an undercurrent out there that clothes aren’t “serious,” that somehow how we dress–which we all agree is a reflection of how we feel about ourselves and how we wish to be seen by others–is shallow? Or unimportant, bordering on meaningless?


My experience has been the opposite.  Changing how I felt about getting dressed didn’t change how other people treat me–it changed how I TREAT ME, and that impacted how I think about myself, how I respond to others, and how I value my relationships.  In the end, it both required and allowed me to look closely at the frame through which I was experiencing the world, and do it ON PURPOSE.

This last principle, getting dressed ON PURPOSE and WITH PURPOSE, is summative of the other three, I suppose, but I like that by asking it to stand alone, I’m challenging myself MOVING FORWARD.  I can more freely eliminate items from my existing wardrobe that aren’t serving me, and I can be laser-focused on what new things I choose to make so they will ALSO serve me.  I am maintaining the momentum that these ad hoc, organically-developed guidelines have offered me, and folding that growth into….whatever comes next.

There’s a lot more to say about all these ideas, and I’ve developed a lot of them into a series for the League of Dressmakers.  We talk about silhouette, balance, fabric selection, and which patterns can be used again and again to create a closet that’s an intentional reflection of the best parts of you.  We would love to play with you over there–learn more here about the League!

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  • Deborah Makarios
    April 22, 2020 at 7:44 pm

    Slightly off-topic, but that yellow outfit is so chic and cheerful! Just the thing for a grey rainy day.

    • Deborah
      April 22, 2020 at 9:50 pm

      Haha! Thank you! It’s actually a rain jacket over a sweater + skirt, and that’s EXACTLY how it felt that day: like a brighter mood than the sky was sending me. đŸ™‚

  • Maureen
    April 23, 2020 at 12:40 pm

    I like the way you set out your feelings in a timeline. I have changed my ideas about getting dressed over the decades as my lifestyle and needs changed. When I graduated high school, I didn’t have the funds to go to college, so I worked in an office and went to school at night. That meant I needed business appropriate attire and I had very little money. I didn’t buy many clothes, but I bought two outfits a year that I thought of as investments. I chose things that I loved and I took good care of them and they lasted for years. Recently a friend commented on a top I was wearing. She thought it was beautiful and asked where I purchased it. I had to laugh because I couldn’t remember how long I have worn it, but I got it at a store that has been out of business since 1996. I don’t think I could find that quality today at any price. We don’t have as many options available now. There are many fewer options for women in my age group (65+) that fit well and look appropriate. I have given in and given up. I think the answer to my problem is to try a little harder. I am going to start by learning how to make a full bust adjustment so that I can wear a shirt that actually fits. That has been on my to-do-list for years. If I can do that, I might try pants.

    • Deborah
      April 24, 2020 at 4:46 pm

      Your point about changing our ideas over time is so powerful–some of what I’ve learned wouldn’t have meant much to me 20 years ago. When we had tiny babies at home, I was in survival mode, and getting dressed was the LAST thing on my mind. (I tell new moms now, actually, that if you have a single child under five and everyone’s in one piece at the end of the day, you’re doing GREAT.) I also see the paradox: I couldn’t have really understood at that stage how much it would encourage me to wear an empowering outfit, but that would have been SUCH an important gift for me to receive then. So yeah, totally, like you my clothing needs have changed over the years. I love that you point out that in your current season of life, though, wearing a shirt that actually fits remains something that we still crave, because it’s discouraging to think we have to just give up.

      For the full-bust adjustment, may I HIGHLY recommend Nancy Zieman’s pivot-and-slide method?? We use that in the League of Dressmakers, and I think it’s MUCH superior to the other methods out there, they all seem to add too much volume at the waist in addition to the bust; her method increases the bust ONLY and gets me a better fit! Hope it does the same for you!

  • Maureen
    May 2, 2020 at 9:47 am

    Thank you for the recommendation. Now that I have a place to start, I am encouraged to persevere. Nancy was such an inspiring person. If you haven’t read her memoir, I highly recommend it.