At the beginning of Me-Made May, I pledged to wear one piece of handmade clothing each day and to alter five pieces of clothing to make them more wearable. I didn’t take pictures everyday, but I did keep track of what I wore in one of my journals. I easily managed wearing at least one handmade garment everyday. However, I only got around to altering one garment—I took my Ottobre “Get Moving” hoodie in at the sides and shaved some of the depth off of the pocket bags since they tended to poke out of the bottom when I put anything in them. We took a week-long trip to San Francisco in the middle of the month (where I wore my altered hoodie almost everyday), and when we got back I was tired and busy and needed time to recover the energy to sew, so ….no more alterations. I at least made a list of alterations I want to make and actually intend to take them on, so there’s that.
The biggest thing I learned during Me-Made May is that I find my clothes very boring. There are, of course, some exceptions (I got a lot of joy out of wearing my Simplicity 1062 shirt and my newest Onyx shirt this month). It would have also been different if I had done this during colder weather, since I have a lot of hand knits that definitely do not feel boring. But for the most part, my closet—store bought and hand-made alike—is lean, utilitarian, and uninspiring.
So I’ve spent a lot of time this month thinking about my history and experience with clothing. I grew up in kind of a big family, living in very small Midwestern farming towns. My father is also a pastor (as was his father). I don’t ever describe myself as coming from a religious family or as having been “raised in the church” since people in the U.S. tend to have very specific associations with these ideas that don’t at all reflect my experience growing up in a very liberal, progressive church environment. But, looking back on my childhood and my family, I feel like there was always a distinctly Protestant moralism to the way my family looked at clothing.
The basic goals for clothing in my family were that we had enough (and not much more), that our clothes were practical, and that they were economical. My family did not shop for clothing for fun—we got things as needed (and my dad is a no bullshit kind of guy so the need had to be real and demonstrable). My dad was also really suspicious of trends and a lot of the more ornamental aspects of fashion, which he saw as frivolous, irrational, and as a distraction from inner, personal growth. I remember having several conversations with my dad in which he basically argued for the value of intentionally eschewing trends and changes in fashion as a way of demonstrating humility, challenging the cultural value placed on material things, and developing a sense of self that does not depend on external validation. I think my dad has actually relaxed his view a bit as he’s gotten older, but I’ve really internalized a lot of his ideals and I can see now how much my attitudes toward clothing are tied to a very specific set of ethical principles that have shaped who I am.
But before I was thinking enough about my clothes to see how they are tied to a set of ethical principles, I just thought about myself as a person who didn’t care about clothes. This attitude was bolstered by my deep, deep hatred of shopping for clothes. Shopping for clothes feels like such a massive waste of time and just an ongoing exercise in disappointment. For basically all of my adult life, I’ve waited until I was at the point where I didn’t have enough clothes to get through a laundry cycle and then I would do one big shopping trip where I would fill in the holes with new clothing that was just minimally acceptable to my tastes. I go through cycles of being deeply dissatisfied with my clothes and then just deciding not to care about what I wear until the angst surfaces again. In Overdressed, Elizabeth Cline argues at one point that if we all think about it enough, we are actually very particular about the style and fit of our clothes, although the conditions of fast fashion tend to force us to settle for things that are just okay. I’ve done a lot of settling and had basically given up on finding things to suit my particular desires because they just didn’t exist.
Even when I started sewing, I didn’t really focus on sewing things that would suit my particular tastes. I started sewing so that I could quit shopping for clothes, so my concern was being able to produce enough and on producing things that were practical enough to get a lot of wear out of. So I’ve made a lot of basic things like t-shirts, underwear, leggings, pajama pants, etc.—basically things that are fairly easy to make and easy to wear. I’m happy with what I’ve learned about sewing in the process and happy enough with the things I’ve made to keep wearing them, but a lot of what I’ve made still leaves me feeling a little cold. I think my closet still says, “I don’t care about clothes,” which seems like the wrong message for someone who cares enough to take a lot of time and effort to actually make my own clothes.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m gearing up for some kind of radical shift in style. I lean towards minimal, casual, and monochrome so the garments I really love and find joy in (all three or four of them) are things other people would find very boring. I don’t see that changing. I guess I’d just like to have more clothes that I actually enjoy wearing and that I care enough about to really want to preserve and take care of (unlike a lot of my handmade t-shirts, which frankly feel about as disposable as the ones I’ve bought from Old Navy).
Me-Made May was helpful in terms of helping me see that I have enough clothes, so I can shift the way I make my sewing and knitting plans. I don’t have a specific project list in mind. Instead, I guess I’m just trying to focus on slowing down and paying more attention to my internal sense of what I’d like to make, what I’d like to wear, and on the details that will make things all the more enjoyable. I’d like to move away from super easy projects, take some more risks, and try to learn some more things. I want to become more confident in altering patterns (not just in terms of fit but also in terms of changing details) and more proactive in terms of caring for and altering my clothes. Basically, I don’t want to keep replicating the generic and dissatisfying results of fast fashion in my own sewing. If my closet is even 25% less mind numbing next May, I’ll be very happy.