Refining my Personal Style // The Curated Closet // Closet Case Patterns
Fashion Sewing & Wardrobe

Refining My Personal Style // Lessons From the Curated Closet

I’ve mentioned the book The Curated Closet a few times on the blog now. Based on the wonderful Into Mind style blog by Anuschka Rees (which was one of the inspirations behind the Wardrobe Architect series on the Colette blog a few years ago), it promises something elusive: that with some thought and analysis it is possible to dig down and actually figure out a definable personal style.

The idea that I could somehow figure this out was extremely appealing, since I’ve often had a hard time defining what my personal style actually is  (as far back as 2014 I’ve wrestled with it here on the blog). My style has always been pretty eclectic; as someone who has always loved fashion and getting dressed, my style has changed and morphed more times than I can count, especially as I moved through my “Who the hell am I?” twenties and into my “No but seriously, WHO AM I?!?” early thirties.

For the most part, I am a lot less stressed about who I am and what my style is and says about me these days. Is it the benefit of getting a little older and caring a lot less what people think? Or having a career that really fulfills me and takes up a lot of the mental energy I used to spend thinking about getting dressed? Or perhaps it’s being in a strong, committed relationship with a man I don’t need to impress or dress up for in order to be loved. (Personal confession time: When I was younger, I feel like I rarely “dressed for other women”, as the saying goes. In my hunt for a partner over the last 15 years, I think I was often getting dressed with the intention of finding a ma-yan. Now that I’ve found him, I’ve discovered that clothing is completely irrelevant to keeping our love going, although I’m sure that cleavagey top I wore on our first date didn’t hurt our chances).

Basically, I am much calmer about fashion than I’ve ever been before. I’m a homebody in a relationship who works a lot and has two dogs; it’s kind of hard to freak out about what to wear when you’re just going to the park for an hour or cooking dinner at home. What I need from my wardrobe has become really clear, and those needs are pretty simple.

What I wanted to do was really refine my current ideas about style and fashion into a cohesive vision that would let me build a highly functional wardrobe perfectly suited to my lifestyle. I wanted to get rid of all the filler, and create a more minimal closet filled with only things that I really love and that actually work for me. As much work as it turned out to be, I am really grateful for all the exercises in The Curated Closet, since it really forces you to think about your lifestyle and wardrobe in a highly analytical and borderline obsessive way (if you want to get truly nerdy about it, Anuschka created a PDF workbook that I found really helpful).

One of the first things I did was go through my dozens of public and hidden pinterest boards to pull out the images that really spoke to me in a meaningful way. This is a pretty intuitive exercise, and what surprised me is how clearly themes started emerging, and what ideas have been pretty consistent for a long time (I will clearly never stop loving 70s fashion).

What is consistent: I am undoubtedly attracted to neutrals, since my boards were dominated by grey, cream and black. Comfort and coziness were well represented; I clearly have never seen a slouchy cashmere sweater I didn’t want to immediately jump into. I like layers and texture, playing with volume and proportion. I love things that are covered up and sexy at the same time. I like flashes of skin in unexpected places. I worship at the altar of natural fibers, and am drawn to clean, modern shapes without a lot of fussy, extraneous detail. Even when a particular style plays with a more avant garde or menswear inspired sensibility, it is still feminine and a little glamourous. I am also having a real moment with unfitted silhouettes, and love the comfort of unstructured dresses and tops.

If I had to define my current personal style, I’d describe it as “cozy minimalist chic”. Here’s what it looks like.

OVERALL VIBE

These images really capture what I find alluring right now. Here is the overall vibe I’m going for:

  • That elusive Parisian chic
  • Beautiful but refined details
  • Monochromatic with pops of intentional colour
  • Clean and minimalist, nothing without purpose and intent
  • Comfortable, soft, cozy, warm
  • Understated 1970s inspired glamour
  • Subtle sexiness
  • Thoughtful proportions and layers

SILHOUETTES I LOVE

I definitely have strong feelings about shapes and silhouettes. While I used to really love the waist defined New Look style, I am much more about interesting pants and looser fitting dresses and tops these days. I think this is definitely the result of not having a nightlife or office job to dress up for; I’m all about comfort. Here’s what I want to wear:

  • Oversized sweaters with slim fitting pants
  • Boxy oxfords with skinny jeans
  • High-waisted pants with cropped shirts
  • Full skirts for dressing up
  • Sack or trapeze dresses
  • Structured or architectural shift dresses
  • Maxi skirts and dresses
  • Flared jeans and tshirts
  • Maxi cardigans with comfy pants for a luxe homebody look
  • Jumpsuits with full legs
  • Slim oxford shirts with boyfriend jeans
  • Unfitted coats
  • Camisoles tucked into jeans
  • Blazers with slim fitting tops and jeans
  • Flowy caftans

In terms of individual items, these are the key ingredients in my wardrobe:

  • High waisted skinny jeans
  • Maxi skirts, sweaters and dresses
  • Oversized oxford skirts
  • Slouchy sweaters
  • Statement coats
  • Sack/trapeze dresses
  • Silk camis
  • Striped tshirts and shift dresses
  • Jumpsuits
  • Jean jackets & blazers
  • Wide legged, cropped trousers
  • Comfortable but stylish lounge pants
  • Simple tops with dramatic shapes

I did a massive closet purge this year, and plan on doing another one this spring since we’ll be moving and I want to really downsize just about everything I own. I’m so happy I took the time to really think about what I want out of my wardrobe. I feel much more confidant now that I have a clear vision moving forward, and have a really clear sewing agenda I’ll be talking about in an upcoming post.

It’s funny to think about all this stuff in relation to my business, since I can’t help but design sewing patterns that reflect my taste, even when I’m trying to think about what you would also like to wear. Having said that, I have started and abandoned quite a few patterns that I felt were probably a little too specific to my particular lifestyle (the tote bag you can carry your dog in comes to mind, haha), so I would hope that even if you don’t closely identify with my own personal style journey, you’ll still find designs that will work for you. The beautiful thing about a well designed pattern is that it theoretically should be able to work for anyone, since we’re all putting our individual stamp on it.

Have you done a similar analysis of your wardrobe? How would you define your personal style? I love hearing about how people have defined this process for themselves!

  • Carly

    I requested this book from the library when you first mentioned it, but I’m something like hold 25, so maybe I’ll finally get it in 2018.

    • Ah haha. Its worth buying in my opinion 😉

      • Carly

        I used to buy books all the time but somewhere in the last few years I’ve started leaning heavily on the library and putting all my ‘stuff’ money into patterns and fabric.

  • JD

    This process is interesting to me, as I went through it about a year ago. I also kept having that “who am I??” crisis. Or I would have clothes I really loved one summer, and then I’d pack them away for winter only to hate them all next summer. Was my personal style really changing that much?? It didn’t feel like it was, yet here I was buying all new clothes again. I didn’t get it.

    I ended up reading How to Get Dressed. The section on finding a style wasn’t terribly long, but it was still really helpful to me. I was able to narrow down what I like and what I’m going for. As I said, it’s only been a year, so there’s still plenty of time to decide I hate all my fall 2016 clothes, but I did catch a peek at some of my summer dresses the other day, and I still like them. So…good sign.

    I work from home and really only leave the house during the week for school pickup/drop off. There’s really only so much effort you can put into your outfit when that’s your daily routine, but I also don’t want to just wear yoga pants and a 10 year old sweatshirt every day either. So, for me, it’s a lot of casual, classic basics. Jeans and a t-shirt, if you will, but jeans that fit really well and a t-shirt that has a modern cut or something. I’m borderline obsessed with breton tops. Then I usually add shoes that work for unexpected trips to the playground but still have a bit of flair to elevate things (ex. gold flats). Any more than that and you start looking out-of-place gussied at the elementary school. LOL.

    • I am also totally obsessed with breton tops. I have sooooo many. I think parenting would really add an additional chlallenge to all of this. Then you need to think about like, dirty kid hands on top of everything else, haha. I like your pick-up uniform though – sounds casual and chic.

  • stevie

    Heather I totally love your considered approach on this. I have been trying to pin my style down since the age of 14 and my current thoughts are that we are fluid. I’m with you. 7 or 8 years ago I was all about the full skirt 50’s vibe. Now I’m drawn to pale colours one day and shocking brights the next. I like the idea of breaking it down into vibe, silhouette etc.
    I think wardrobe essentials and working outwards from that is a great plan.

    • Oh its definitely fluid for most of us! Having said that, I do feel like I am settling into something that feels authentic and sustainable, although since I am very open to change and trends, I’m sure it will evolve.

  • Aja

    Timely blog post, was just on the fence about this book!
    Thanks for the in depth description.
    My problem is that I’ve got some beautiful prints in my stash but always seem to reach for solids when I get dressed. 🤔
    Elizabeth Suzanne clothes have influenced my recent love of unstructured garments, as well.

    • Oh she makes beautiful things. I think she’s been very influential (along with a few other female designers) at spreading the unstructured comfort gospel.

  • Nia Lorre

    I am currently crushing hard on a gender neutral/androgyny vibe.

    Like you I have a hefty collection images that inspire me, but unlike you I have a couple of extra decades of self-reinvention. I chuckle when I do this now because I always find super old pictures that represent and resonate with whatever phase I may be going through. A bit of a chameleon-like, but not a drastic as when I was teens to thirties.

    I am old enough to recognize and embrace my sartorial cycles. So I don’t worry about nailing The One Look that will define me forever. Just aim for a smartly curated wardrobe that feels spot on right now.

    If anyone of you reading this has a sense of self and accompanying style/expression that has been stable for decades, I truly envy you.

    • I find this intensely reassuring Nia! MY hope is that I am building up a great base of high quality staples that I will wear for years, and then mix in the new fun stuff as it appeals to me. Sartorial Cycles will be a great band name 😉

  • Emily

    Ah. I’ve been doing some style evaluating of my own in the last couple of weeks. Basically I have none… Or not a defined one at least! I realised this when none of the clothes I was making could actually be worn together and I pretty much still had nothing to wear in the mornings despite the giant pile of clothes I have.

    I’m now working on sewing list to get some good basics – jeans, camisoles and the like – so I have something to match my more eclectic makes!

    Also I’m deeply in love with no 7 on your second collage pic. That maxi dress wrap skirt thing! Must get/make one now!

    • I know. I’m obsessed with that dress, especially in that fabric. I think your plan sounds solid. If you have a good base you can mix in the more eclectic pieces no problem!

  • I had to look up “Breton Top” 🙂 My fashion savvy needs some beefing up! I found a site dedicated to Kate Middleton’s 3 bretons – is that what mean by Breton top? On your urging I did buy the Curated Closet and loved it. I think I need to go through it again. It’s so critical to know WHAT you wear everyday – not what you dream of wearing or think you MIGHT like to wear but what you DO wear especially if you intend to sew everything you wear. I’m learning more about my silhouette – something else that completely eluded me until I was sewing for a while. What the dickens IS a silhouette? I wondered. If you sew, you must know what a silhouette is! I was too embarrassed to ask and no where in my books did it actually define what it is. Finally I do think I have a grasp of it – mostly from just reading it in context often enough. I have discovered that my own preferred “silhouette” is much like the one you demonstrate in your pics – sweaters with skinny pants, or tunics with leggings – some pants with short bomber style jackets and lots of gortex (living on the west coast this is more necessity than choice 🙂 ) I’ve been on a blouse making binge over the past couple of months (now I’m working on the Rosa by Tilly & the Buttons – I just love that pattern!) It turned out to be amazingly long (more tunic than short blouse) and curvy which is fun. I made it in this vintage white eyelet lace and although rather thin not really see-through it does allow some pink to reflect through reminding me of what you say about “skin showing in surprising places” 🙂 Next I’m making it in a lovely Liberty cotton I ordered from the UK. Is this my silhouette? I think so since I can pair it with slim capri length leggings 🙂

    • Oh Kathleen, I love your comments so much! It sounds to me like you have your silhouettes all figured out! Slim pants and tunics are such a classic combination and can take on so many different looks based on what style of each. I would like to try Rosa at some point, although I’m not sure about the shape of the yoke for me. I like a more traditional shirt myself 😉

      • I was hesitant at first re the Rosa – mostly because I was a little concerned about its “western style” – never having been a country and western girl (and I really doubt that was Tilly’s intention when she designed the blouse – now if she were from Calgary….:) ) but actually when I made it up in this eyelet it didn’t really look western at all. I think if you wanted it to though you could really go to town with plaids and piping! I love your blog so much Heather! I just glow when I read how very much you are lauded and loved around the world for your patterns, guidance and warm personality 🙂

  • I enjoy your second-last paragraph, because through the whole post was thinking, “I would never wear ANY of that!” but you consistently make patterns that feel like “me” once they are sewn up in my favourite colours and fabrics! I guess that’s why sewing is so awesome – we can dream about totally different ideal wardrobes, but still enjoy the process together!

    • Absolutely! And I also try to be a little more universalist thinking in pattern mode, not so specific in taste and style. Although our late summer pattern will probably not appeal to everyone I am sure, very much in keeping with the overall vibe of this post, I did want to have one kind of outsider pattern before returning to more standard fare the rest of the year 😉

  • I just loaned my book out, which I had to wait for for almost 2 months… I did start the work before the book arrived.
    Mine and your board (s) look early similar….tho on my boards the girls are dressed in more blues-greys and flats. I don’t wear much high heels and the 5cm dream granny heel is so hard to find.
    It’s odd if i think back on what I used to wear, and what i wear now. There was a lot of fuchsia and bright blue in my wardrobe. … then there was the rock period….everything was very black….. and now there is me.
    I try not to dress for him or anyone else. I do ask his opinion on things but his idea of a Woman is something he built in his teens and can’t let go of.
    Dressing for the male gaze…. I had that in my early 20′. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that then i had BOOBS.
    One thing that the Curated Closet got me doing is organising my closet and dresser. I didn’t do a huge ass total purge at once. I am doing it slowly as the seasons change. But I did change the way i fold and store my clothes. I wear a lot more of my current closet now bc I can see the stuff I have!

    • I’m not a huge heels wearer anymore, if you don’t count all my clogs, but they are so sturdy they hardly count 😉 I do have a few pair of platforms that are surprisingly comfortable, and still love the looks of heels even if my feet have forgotten how to wear them for long periods of time.

      • Francesca Amodeo

        Snap to all this:)

  • eirini

    Great post! I ‘ve been widowed recently and I find that my style has changed a lot since then – I am not into fitted dresses and waist definition at all these days, I totally relate to the description of cosy minimalistic you gave in your post and I would definitely wear almost all the items in your list. Do you happen to have in mind a pants pattern similar to the pants of image four of your Overall Vibe board above?

    • I am so sorry to hear about your recent lost. My condolences and I hope you are finding some solace in sewing. I can’t think of a pants pattern for that image, although I think a wide legged pleated pant pattern could certainly be adopted.

  • DIY Wardrobe

    I do love these sorts of posts. I think you’ve boiled it down pretty neatly here, and I’m excited to see how that infiltrates future CC patterns. In my own wardrobe, there’s always a conflict between the clothes that appeal to me, and the clothes I actually need in my life to walk the dog, work from home and play with a 3-year old. And that means my inner selves are always arguing about what to make next. So next I need to find a way to make useful, everyday clothes more appealing to my inner magpie.

    • I think the secret is just getting the really good fabric for the “boring” projects 🙂 I think even a classic but down or sweatshirt can be found to make if the fabric is really special. I’ve just learned I rarely wear the fancy, sparkly stuff and that I feel so much better with a wardrobe filled with things I actually want to wear every.day.

      • DIY Wardrobe

        You’re right, of course. Time to conquer my FOMO on the fun stuff and appreciate well-made clothes that are only ordinary on the surface.

  • Piper Springs

    I am totally feeling your vibe. Your description of your style puts into words eloquently my own style. I am happily awaiting your next post!

  • Ann T.

    Many years ago, The Smothers Brothers wrote a song called “The Streets of Laredo” which included: “We see by our outfits that we are both cowboys; If you get an outfit, you can be a cowboy, too.” Although this was a comedic routine, and we like to think that our personal style reflects who we are, many times over the years, I have found myself opting for a style that suited the life I’d like to have had, rather than the one I led. Now that I am retired, and make all of my clothes, I have become more realistic about what clothes actually suit my lifestyle. As I live in southwestern Florida, where it is always summer, everything is casual and comfortable. I like a lot of the styles you posted, but find myself drawn to fun prints, such as Liberty of London and Lilly Pulitzer, when I buy fabric. I would like to purge my closet of most, or perhaps all, of the things, which I did not make, or the ones I did, but do not wear. However, I understand that most donated clothing ends up in a landfill. Therefore, I try to use them for buttons, facings, yokes, etc. when I can. As I do not wish to contribute to the landfill, I feel it is even more important to figure out what I want to wear, so as to minimize the waste. Thank you for your thought-provoking post.

    • Nia Lorre

      Ann please reconsider donating your unwanted clothes.

      There are retailers, like Levis, American Eagle, H&M, ec. that will take your unwanted clothes, no matter what condition or manufacturer and recycle them. Please take a look at this: http://www.ico-spirit.com/en/storelocator/?loc=Florida%2C+United+States this is the list for your state.

      This company, I:CO is closing the loop on fashion by recycling unwanted clothing. Zero goes to landfill.

      No, I don’t shop at any of the stores or I would have found out sooner. I found out about this looking for a place to recycle my sewing scraps. Like my donated clothing, I want to keep everything I can out of landfill, too.

    • I have a system for closet purges: sell/trade (there are a few shops here who will pay me for the good stuff), clothing swap (always a great afternoon with friends) and donate. The donate pile is always the smallest so that’s good 😉 I do need to find a fabric recycler here for all my scraps though.

  • When I saw your Overall Vibe collage, I immediately thought….seven, Seven, SEVEN. {LOL, I miss Friends so much!}

    Ermmm….how to say this? It just feels, at least to me, that your patterns are so much more than a garment that fills a need or fits with a trend. YOU are Closet Case Patterns. Your brand does start with you and you integrate You so beautifully into your designs. A clarifying of your unique style can only be a hundred kinds of positive for your business!

    More please!

    • Ah hahahaha Sue, that Friends reference made me laugh. We just rewatched the entire thing and I forgot how great it is.

      Thanks for the kind words! I am trying to not be SO much the center of the brand but it is me and they are sort of interchangable at the end of the day 😉

  • Ah, happy to see Leandra (#4 overall vibe) Medine, the face of Man Repeller (the must read of my day, the funniest friggin website ever).
    I work from home, or my boss’s home office, and only now and then have to look adult (from the waist up), so my wardrobe is what I want to wear. And a really killer jacket (that waist up thing). I have changed shape, I have become a postmenopausal lady who is almost always too cold or too hot. So a lot of wild print woven tanks and stenciled hoodies and this cat on my shoulder (so the stuff has to be cat friendly, no sweaters). And many jeans and culottes (in clashing prints). And a blue French work jacket, because Bill Cunningham was right.
    My sewing plan is a Chanel style jacket for next fall (killer jacket #2).

    The greater joke is that I have almost exclusively worn a down jacket 24/7 for the last eleventybillion months, because this house is COLD.

    • I really want a down vest at some point for just such a reason. And if the stars align I would love to go take a Susan Khalje jacket class!What a fun week.

  • I just got this book from the library (after being on the waitlist for some time!) and I don’t know, it all seems so overwhelming! I tried to do wardrobe architect once and just gave up. One thing I definitely noticed, though, is that while I feel fairly comfortable with clothes for work, my home life is a mess. It’s all yoga pants and free sweatshirts from work, which is not inspiring! I’ve been trying to make more home clothes, embracing this athleisure trend a bit 🙂 Anyway, your boards and descriptions are fantastic!

    • It’s a crazy amount of work. I really dedicated a few serious afternoons working through it so the time commitment is not a joke. Part of the reason I realized I HAD too was because my “home office uniform” was seriously frightening so I got rid of all my disgusting yoga pants this winter and tried to be a little more conscious of that like you 😉 Its crazy how much better you feel about yourself when you’re at home, catch a glimpse in a mirror and don’t mistake yourself for a street person.

  • Tammy

    I like hearing about how you’re curating your wardrobe. I’m on a similar journey with my handmade wardrobe.

    • It’s fun isn’t it? I like thinking about it more analytically.

  • Oh I loved this post! I think a comprehensive wardrobe review would be time-involved but really worth it!! I really loved your “overall vibe” and while I think it’s smart for business to produce (fairly) universally liked patterns, I love seeing designers introducing patterns that are a bit quirky or different and it gives us an option to try something out of our usual repoirtoire.

    • I think what I have planned in the coming year will be a mix of both. I have one pattern this summer that people will either love or hate, but I’m okay with that 😉

  • Francesca Amodeo

    What a great post.. I also went back and re-read your other post that you refer to – I think that as women rather more than men it’s pretty common to go through style changes at different periods of your life and sometimes within the same month… we go through different cycles even after the big Puberty one, and body changes monthly – and perhaps through pregnancy, and later through menopause….

    I grew up loving luxurious fabric and sewing from a very early age – but never wanting to follow trends. I realised a long time ago that comfort was essential to me – I hate feeling constricted or having to re-tuck things or adjust straps or whatever – and I looove navy blue and hot pink with a passion. I also fell deeply in love with the 30s silhouette at a very early age with a serving of the occasional 50s look, and that’s remained pretty constant:). I never actually wore vintage unless it was family owned (20s beaded and fringed flapper dress saw a lot of carnival balls) but the silhouette was always informed by those two decades, although again I never actually try to look like I live in them. But there are times when it’s pretty obvious – through my love for cloche type hats when it’s windy paired with a dark lipstick (my only makeup) and a bob and wide legged pants – I never stopped wearing them from my teens through the decades that followed and hate peg top pants with a vengeance. My fave skirt silhouette is that long slim flared shape which I find so elegant and comfortable to wear too – room for movement and cute with a flat to mid-heel – there is no way I am wearing heels for anything but a fancy dinner any more:).

    My favourite dress silhouette though is a total outsider – way back when I was maybe 19 I fell totally in love with a low calf length cream linen trapeze dress dress with a high neck and cutaway armholes, mid calf length and with a couple of dramatic lace inserts… I actually bought it instead of just copying it, and it cost a fortune – French stocked boutique. I copied it in different linens for summer, and found it the best for our heat. And since then I’ve sewn sooo many trapeze dresses for both summer and winter.

    Even though I’m happy in my skin and wardrobe, I do like to experiment and try things out of my comfort range except if there’s something that really doesn’t appeal to me – funnily enough, one of those factors is assi

    I’ve looked at different wardrobe solutions and have had loads of wardrobe purges over the years, and am pretty happy with where I am right now. My sis and I are moving house, and I’ve been through everything with a fine toothcomb – and was very pleased to see that the only things I don’t want to take are the hangovers – presents from my sisters that are so wrong but too recent for me to have decently recycled them :).

    • Your wardrobe sounds dreamy 😉 I love the way you’re mixing vintage silhouettes in there! I also love the 30s. Probably the reason I love the 70s so much is how inspired the time is by the 30s!

      I am so excited to move and get rid of all the crap. My new apartment has much smaller closets.

      • Francesca Amodeo

        With you in the 70s:)… moving is brilliant for getting rid of crap – we’ve accumulated so much stuff and it’s great to be forced to get rid of crap!