Bicyclists and Cersei and Oz, oh my!

Happy Saturday. A morning of bright, clear light here. Drinking coffee as the rest of the house wakes up.

As sewing goes, I’m happily sewing up little samples of lingerie for different sizes to test, learning about the legalities of garment tags, etc. I’m also mulling a jacket project, in part because Game of Thrones will be back on soon and I’ve wanted to make something power-dressing Cersei inspired since the last finale. And also because suffragette bicyclists in spats and bloomers and epic riding habit style suit jackets has hooked my interest.


Remember Miss Gulch from Wizard of Oz? Sure, she was a horrible wretch in the movie, but if Frank L. Baum was writing a story set in 1900, could she also have been a caricature of the New Women of the day? Game of Thrones and bicyclists may not seem to have much in common but in my mind they relate because a) I love cinematic representations of women that involve them not always being perfect and good and angelic but instead as creatures capable of the full range of complicated humanity and as straining in various ways against their prescribed societal roles and b) fitted bodices with high collars as activewear for the WIN. Structure wise Cersei’s ruling with an iron fist wardrobe is not so different from the traditional riding habit/”sportswear” of the 1800s. I’ve always found her wardrobe fascinating; even in her more feminine garb of earlier seasons there was often an element of armor; arguably for Cersei her femininity IS a kind of tactical wear. Cersei as a character is fantastic. We feel for her earlier struggles and can understand why her life made her what she now is, although we can’t condone it. We almost root for her strength and defiance when she is imprisoned and powerless and still threatening Septa Unella. But then she gets power, and she’s terrifying. She’s a complicated representation of human ambition who happens to be female. In 50 years I wonder what humanities scholars will have to say about that in relation to the Clinton campaign. Not that I’m equating Cersei and Clinton, but she’s the closest thing we’ve had to a female president, and the reactions to Clinton are so intense it’s kind of fascinating. ¬†I think especially in her earlier days in the White House the world preferred her playing dutiful wifey and baking cookies and not hyphenating her name, and some of the casting of her as shrew figure by the right (then and now) seems loaded with gender symbolism. She’s got a different field of symbolism to navigate than a man, and, well, the rest is history.

But bicycles…the women circa 1900 seem to have been subjected to a lot of mockery and derision for their chosen mode of transportation. Some things I read talked about people looking at it as scandalous because of the physical exertion, the physicality and the fact that (oh lordy) women were sitting on a seat in such a way, that it meant more outings with the opposite sex. And given the eternal strain of youthful generations against the prohibitions of the old, it must have had some subtly sexy, defiant undercurrents that resonated with some subset of the population because there are some great advertisements of women riding bicycles floating around the interwebz. (There are also a large number of topless Grecian goddess type bicycle women?) Here are some from the era that interest me at the moment:


And there are a few surviving garments in exhibitions that have me drooling:


So I’ll have to play around and see what kind of GoT watching garb I can come up with. ūüôā


(Photos are all from Pinterest searches of things like “Victorian bloomer bicycle” etc. Most are uncited. Some of the great extant garments are originally from The Met exhibitions, and some of the advertising is originally from the French Gallica website.)

Wardrobe Building: Underlayers



Happy New Year. ‘Tis the season, I suppose, of navel gazing, doomed promises to oneself, aspirational yearnings. Mine usually involve decluttering and increasing my focus, which is why they typically fail to materialize. My nature is what it is.

I think I have a brain that is addicted to systems and systematizing. I was never very¬†interested in all the fripperies and ebbs and flows of fashion until the last few years of my life. Once I started to see it as a system of recurring variances with social connections that ebbs and flows historically, it began to fascinate me. Now I’m like, excuse me, sir, do you have a second to talk about the recurrence of the flounce as a design element in the last 200 years?

I get really interested in wardrobe planning sometimes, too, but this is where a minimalistic focus might just be able to sneak in to my world. There are some great systems that break down wardrobe creation into addictive little chunks of lists and worksheets like Into Mind’s, here–she has a book and a workbook, as well as a ton of free materials on her website. (I think her system would be great for breaking down things other than wardrobes, too–like my cooking aspirations!) ¬†For a similar system for planning what items to actually sew, ¬†Wardrobe Architect¬†is fantastic too. There are vintage inspired ones, actual vintage ones, French ones, minimalist ones, capsule ones, the blogosphere goes on and on. It is funny the way that a perfect wardrobe seems to carry the promise of success, confidence, grace, coherence. If I can dress like a Hitchcock ice queen, surely my life will fall into place glamorously, yes?

I have emerged in the last few years with a relatively stable sense of my style. I learn toward dark minimalism basics with small touches of bohemian and gothic flair–simple presentation with an air of nostalgia or romanticism. Think Morticia Addams or Vanessa Ives in trousers. Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal¬†with a 1930s closet. Scully in a silk blouse and garter belt under that suit. I don’t do full blown femininity like gowns or dresses, nor do I like to show much skin. But I like little touches like a tailored waistline, cowl neckline or lace cuffs. I secretly wish I could wear a medieval ruff to the grocery store.

My sewing over the last few months has been somewhat guided by this style exploration. I decided to start with underthings, since I’m most picky and least satisfied by contemporary ready to wear in this regard, and because why not start at the bottom layer, my closest fit, the least ease and work my way out? Socks, underwear, camisoles, basic knit blouse shells. I also decided to stop fighting it and embrace sewing with knits–they’re more comfortable to wear, and my wardrobe needs are not at all elaborate since I work remotely. I may love trying to sew Vionnet dresses, but it’s silly for me to spend a month on one that I won’t be happy with and will wear maybe once in five years. But a drawer full of flattering, comfortable knit blouses that have some style to them? Yes, please. Also, since the significant other has been sharing his love of the pajama jean with messianic zeal, I have resolved to one day create a stable knit type pant pattern that can be stabilized enough in the right areas to pass as business casual. Also, I am much more likely to actually do my workout if I can do it in the clothes I have on. The more layers of resistance I have working against me being healthy, the easier it is to say screw it, and as silly as it sounds, not having to change into specialized gear will make a difference.

My New Years resolutions are simple enough–sew a new lingerie wardrobe and discard everything old, worn out or unflattering in my wardrobe. Work toward a satisfying, expressive, inspiring wardrobe guided by my style. Work out more so I feel better, and feel better in my clothes. Eat healthier so that I feel better and have more energy to accomplish my goals. Be more selective in my acquisition of material things, trying to opt for quality over quantity in all things, especially my wardrobe. Work on my sewing/writing space so that instead of being full of scraps and broken sewing machine parts and crafting clutter I have an enjoyable place to do my actual work. Try to acquire fewer things but more experiences of working through problems. Work towards my goals in small, steady increments instead of my sweeping general enthusiasms.

Toward that end, a finished object. Stockings, in the style of the 1700s, self drafted:

I was going for a somewhat Victorian feel with the self stripe fabric and solid sole.
center back seam with v-effect when sewn into shape.
view from the bottom of the sole.
side view.
in choosing a stable knit rather than softer rayon spandex of my first attempts, the finished seams look much better and the fit is more stable.






Oh, Marilyn: 1952 Pageant Interview

Marilyn Monroe is one of the those lifestyle icons most of us interested in vintage style venerate. I’m no exception, though I’m rather late to the party. I’ve been meaning to find the biography Gloria Steinem wrote about her life; I had no idea she’d been written about by a proper feminist scholar. She is a fascinating figure, both as a study of self fashioning and persona, as well as a woman who built herself up from an awful childhood. There’s a great interview with her from the Pageant, circa 1952, in which she discusses her exercise and eating habits–pretty fascinating. (source)





Wardrobe Curation Inspiration, Tools, and Deep Seated Existential Angst.

This is a process I’ve tried and failed to execute multiple times. Here’s hoping the New Years DO ALL THE THINGS momentum will help me renew this project with a vengeance.

Here’s my shortlist of inspiration and refinement tools:

Into Mind on wardrobe refinement. (¬† This site is full of checklists and exercises and even a workbook to help refine one’s personal style into a steamlined, satisfying source of inspiration and pleasure. The author writes from a minimalist perspective, which I love, and even her blog page layouts are enjoyable examples of her aesthetic.

(Coletterie’s Wardrobe Architect.) Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes. How to define your style, your colors, etc, and actually plan your sewing in such a way that you create a wardrobe based on those principles. I cannot heap enough praise upon this series. I’m working through it right now to choose my sewing patterns/projects after way too many meh projects that aren’t exactly everyday wear anyway.

This might be weird, but, The Well Dressed Home by Annette Tatum. (It’s on Google books here.) While it’s intended to help you develop a style for your home decor based on your personal style, I find it very inspiring in a broader way. I like the way it establishes general styles and then shows creative ways to combine those styles. There is so much visual interest here that it’s impossible for me not to be inspired when I read this.

Style Statement, a book by Carrie McCarthy and Danielle LaPointe (see it on Google books here) which has a weird cult-ish following online and which is maybe 20% useful/80% too hippy fluffy for me, is nevertheless a useful tool for clarifying one’s own aesthetic. (They also love the Pareto principle.) The Manifesto of Style is fun food for thought. I very much enjoyed the book and the gorgeous visual design, but wasn’t struck by the lightning bolt of clarity when I “discovered” my two-word self descriptor. (Creative nostalgic. Pardon my French, but no shit. I could have identified that without doing all of the touchy feely self explore-y pages.) Mostly I find it interesting as a book full of beautiful things and interesting studies in specific personal styles. There’s also something intellectually important about exposing yourself to other worldviews; sometimes I find happy-hippy-self-fulfillment-actualizey speechifying to be a nice change of pace from my internal McConaulogues.




I also have a hard time with the concept of identity as anything fixed or as anything so simplistic; I identify more with David Bowie figures who transform themselves repeatedly throughout their lives in accordance with whatever speaks to them best at a given time. So, in a nutshell, I’m thinking my sewing and wardrobe curation for winter/spring can be boiled down to: What would catwoman wear? Vintage style lines and silhouettes in a very simple, monochromatic palette (blacks, creams, a splash of oxblood here and there). Elegant and understated. Form fitting but allowing for movement and not revealing. Subdued feminine. My next move is to select about five patterns to stick with until I get them just right.