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A practical, personal wardrobe

Photo by Digital Noise

We recently talked about climate appropriate wardrobes but what about activity appropriate wardrobes? How do you create a wardrobe that fits all the things you do day to day? How can we make our wardrobes more practical?

Caitlin had this great idea. She suggested we write down our activities for a week or two, then make little charts to see how we spend our time. Being a nerd, I love charts, so I approached the task with gusto.

As you can see, I ended up with a bit more granularity than Caitlin. Perhaps I did not need to write down the time I spend getting dressed and bathing, but whatever. The amazing thing is what a huge chunk of time I spend at work! There’s another large chunk spent around the house, which might mean reading a book, knitting, having dinner, or watching a movie. And the rest is pretty evenly divided between socializing, running errands, and my other favorite hobbies (gardening, running, and cooking/baking).

Here’s what Caitlin says:

“I found that while I spend part of my time at work wearing nicer clothing, most of my time is spent at home (which was a no-brainer since I am a homebody through and through!). My work wardrobe is the same as what I would wear to go out running errands and meeting friends. At home I prefer to wear comfortable, stretchy clothing but I still want to look nice and feel put together.

I used the information I gathered to look more critically at the fabric I’ve been stashing away. Do I really need to sew outfits with fancy fabrics if most of my time is spent at home or running errands? Instead of sewing lots of lovely dresses for rare occasions, maybe I should just make one really beautiful dress.”

I feel similarly to Caitlin. I like wearing comfy things at home, but I also don’t want to look like a slob. This has confirmed my belief that I ought to make more loungewear.

And then there are the specialty activities that you might need specific clothing for. Caitlin says:

“Since I practice yoga regularly and need specific clothing for it, I recently made a simple cropped sweatshirt with some cute contrasting ribbing and a small silk swatch. I made a sweatshirt special by choosing two things I love, silk and color, with one thing I needed, a comfy sweatshirt.”

For me, the activities I need special clothing for are running, swimming, and gardening. And Caitlin’s right, why not make them a little special too?


Photo by ElenaLu

I think what I’ve learned from this is the following:

  • Start with a base wardrobe: This is the wardrobe for normal day-to-day life, including work, socializing, or running errands. We both agreed that we basically wear the same kinds of things for these activities that make up the bulk of our time.
  • Add comfortable loungewear: After this, the next most important component is comfy things to wear around the house. I never realized how much time I spend in this type of clothing.
  • Sprinkle in some specialty items: If there are activities that require special clothing, collect a small number of these. I go minimalist here. I have enough running clothes to get me through a week of laundry, for example. I have a few shirts and jeans I use just for gardening, because they are cool, sturdy, and keep the sun off. I don’t need more, really.

This is just what I think would work for me (and it sounds like Caitlin too). What do you think about this approach, would it work for you?

I’m also curious about how you guys personalize some of the more mundane items, like the sweatshirt Caitlin made for herself. Do you think it’s worth it to make items like that, or would you rather buy the practical things like workout clothing and focus on the fun stuff?

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On , LadyD said: | stitchintimeandspace.blogspot.co.uk

I’m sticking to basics at the moment. I wear blouses, shirts and skirts a lot. But with my recent introduction to dancing found a derth of ‘dancing’ clothes. They need to look nice but at the same time be practical (cool and easy to wash). Dresses are my next challenge. I’ve started on a drop waist 20′s inspired ‘tennis dress’ as it will work for both dance and work. I can even put long sleeve top underneath or wear trousers with it and becomes a tunic top.
I don’t see why ‘workout’ or activity clothing can’t be fun and stylish…why wear scruffy trainers and a tracksuit when you can look fabulous.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

I agree, though I suppose different activities have different clothing requirements. For me, one problem is that running is more comfortable in moisture wicking materials, and it’s important that seams don’t rub or chafe. So those things go ahead of style for me.

Also, I run up to 12 miles and have to carry water, which means an ugly fuel belt. And now that it’s getting sunnier, I could use a baseball cap to protect my eyes. I’ve sort of resigned myself to looking like a dork when I run. :)

On , Violet said:

That’s okay Sarai,
You just keep running and protect protect your eyes while you do it for as long as you are able. You’ll be an 80 year old who looks and feels like a 50 year old!
Good habits reap great rewards!

On , LadyD said: | thelearningtoclogblog.blogspot.co.uk

sounds like an idea… collette patterns sportswear collection maybe?

On , Dana said: | peppertreeroad.blogspot.com

I really liked this post. I have spent some time recently thinking about what I need to add to my wardrobe to make it “liveable” but really hadn’t come up with any good solutions. Great idea to to make a chart, I could whip one up based on my current routine and identify easily the key items I need to focus on.
As I still consider my self new to sewing, I find it easy to bog myself down in the details of things, this post helped me take a step back and say ” well I spend x amount of time at work, so that would be x work outfits that I need to sew”. Easy as pie.

Also wanted to say a big thank you for the Iris shorts pattern, who knows what we all wore before it was available.

On , charlottepb said: | charlottesewfarsewgood.blogspot.com

You can never beat basic! I actually started a Sew Active project this year so that I made clothes for all parts of my life.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

That’s really cool! I think I’ll continue to use thrifted clothes for some things (like grubby gardening clothes), but I’d love to inject some handmade clothing into other activities. A running dress would be awesome.

On , Stephanie said:

A Colette Running Dress pattern would be awesome! Especially if it had a zip pocket for Gu, etc…

On , Amanda said: | bimbleandpimble.blogspot.com

I have to agree with this approach and it’s a wonderful idea! I’m trying to rebuild my wardrobe this year which is working in terms of volume but not so much in terms of items I need. Or maybe sundresses really CAN be worn for everything…

On , Melanie said: | queenoftheflies.blogspot.com

I have actually been giving this topic a lot of thought lately. After 7 years of a constantly changing body, I’ve left pregnancy and nursing behind. Now I’m back to a normal body and can start thinking about a permanent wardrobe. However, I still haven’t figured out what elements will make a good everyday wardrobe. I like to look put together too, but I need clothes that allow lots of bending down and won’t be ruined when the little ones use my shoulder as a tissue. I’m open to suggestions on this one!

On , Jen said: | mommymadebyjen.blogspot.com

Pre-children, I wore so much more of my wardrobe and wore skirts/dresses far more often, particularly when I was teaching. And there was a time, between the birth of my oldest and the birth of the middle child when I wasn’t pregnant or nursing and had the ability to choose my clothing based on what I wanted to wear, and not according to how easy it is to chase a 3 year-old in it. I’d love to wear more dresses and skirts, but finding some that also allow me to take my son to the playground and actually play with him is difficult. There’s also the question of footwear, since I’m not really into the sneakers with a skirt look although it can work occasionally. It’s really difficult to find cute flats that a dressier and which come in a wide width. This is my perennial excuse for not wearing more than jeans – I don’t have the right shoes!

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

I haven’t tried them, but I think land’s end makes some flats that are simple and inexpensive and come in wide widths!

On , Brenda Marks said:

Miz Mooz. I love their mary jane flats!

On , Tasha Miller Griffith said: | tashamillergriffith.com

I love doing just about everything in skirts and dresses in the summer, and have had the same shoes issues – mine also have to be super comfy, cute, come in wide and reasonably sturdy! My current favorites are from Clarks Unstructured collection, they have some really cute styles!

On , Nell said: | misshelenesews.blogspot.com.au

I’ve been giving this issue a lot of thought recently. I do a lot of salsa dancing and am struggling to come up with pieces from my wardrobe that are easy to dance in and stylish. In addition, I do a lot of exercise, but I haven’t yet come round to the idea of sewing a practical wardrobe – I so prefer sewing lovely dresses.

I think I’ll be making a plan to incorporate more practical items in my sewing projects from now on.

On , Vanessa Traylor said: | DesignsbySessa.com

The chart idea is really fun! Recently, I’ve been looking at my closet and trying to examine what really needs to be in there, because now that I stay home with our baby and not working, my wardrobe really could down size in many ways! And I would much rather buy the basic around the house type wear and focus on fun statement things or cute shorts or whatever! :)

On , Chelsea said:

I am so excited! What an efficient way to approach ones wardrobe! After 12 years of wearing whatever sortof fits and works for the ever-changing-pregnant-nursing-body, I get to choose what I want to have in my closet! Really has to be wash and wear and durable, comfy but not frumpy (no more frumpy, Wahoo!) Perhaps something that flatters my waistline (yeah, I have one!!) Ready to feel cute!
Thanks for the timely post!

On , Nina said: | toftsnummulite.blogspot.com

This is an interesting topic! I’ve become aware of certain gaps in my wardrobe – at the moment I’ve got plenty of everyday stuff (jeans, t-shirts, jumpers) and some quite formal evening wear because I play in an orchestra and need that for concerts. But I don’t really have much in between, e.g. for lunch with my boyfriend’s parents, meeting friends in the evenings, or the occasional date night. I think making a list of ways I spend my time, and then working out what clothing I need from that, might really help.

On , Brenda Marks said:

Me, too. I have work clothes and house clothes, but I was stumped recently when I tried to get dressed for coffee with a friend.

On , Sarah said: | rhinestonesandtelephones.blogspot.com

This is a great post! I have currently fallen in love with knits and have been whipping up pretty and practical loungewear, as that is definitely lacking in my wardrobe. I primarily wear skirts and dresses, but I do prefer to relax in comfy, drawstring pants.

I am in the process of making a colour-blocked sweatshirt for myself with Lisette’s Portfolio tunic. I definitely need a colourful layering pieces with a pretty, feminine cut.

On , anne jewell said:

one way i tried this was to really look at what was so worn out that i had to discard it. you know what i found out? my preferred garments are cotton dresses! i love them for work(in a bookstore),housework, church, dinner/lunch out, and meetings.

On , Elena said:

I love this idea. After a few too many beautiful but lonely garments in my closet, I feel like I’ve finally learned to stop buying things that aren’t practical for my life. Many of us are creatures of habit and I’ve heard it said that most people wear 20% of their wardrobe 80% of the time. Those numbers may be sort of extreme, but it reflects the habit of always wanting to wear one’s favourite things!

I’d really like to try this myself—did you find a good method for tracking the time spent on your activities? And did you factor in your amount of time spent sleeping or wearing PJs (or are pyjamas and loungewear the same thing)?

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

All I did was create a table in a document (a spreadsheet would also work), with a row for each hour in the day, and columns for each day of the week. At the end of the day or beginning of the next, I’d write down generally what I was doing each of those hours. I did this for two weeks, then added up the hours at the end.

I think Caitlin did it slightly differently, in that she just wrote how many hours she spent doing each activity each day.

I only counted waking hours, since I figured time spent sleeping is pretty easy to estimate. I considered time spent lounging in pajamas as “home” time. Loungewear and pajamas are pretty interchangeable for me.

On , Sharon said: | sunshinemaedesigns.com

How do you define loungewear? Is it sweatpants, yoga pants, blue jeans, that kind of thing? I have lots of what I think is loungewear, but I never feel “put together” while wearing it! :)
This method is a great way to look critically at the functionality of a wardrobe. Thanks!

On , Caitlin said:

For me, loungewear is something I feel comfortable in at home but not frumpy wearing. It’s been my goal this year to find some cute things that fit the bill. So far I’ve been wearing leggings with tunics or bright colored t-shirts and fun socks. When it’s warmer, I wear some loose fitting knit dresses that I made for myself out of fun fabrics.

On , Amy said: | clothhabit.com

This is something I’ve been trying to define over the last year–how to add more of what is practical for my lifestyle while still feeling like me. I work at home so home-work are kinda the same thing. It’s all a balancing act… I have a lot of very impractical clothes but I love wearing them because they are a mood. So I’ve worn some strange exotic things at home even if I’m not leaving the house, just to help me transition mentally between activities.

On , Caitlin said:

I love this idea, Amy! It’s so interesting how just changing your outfit, even if you’re staying at home, will change your mood and/or attitude.

On , Megan Webster said: | farmerkeith.blogspot.com

This is exactly what I have been trying to figure out for a few years. And why I started sewing again. But I never thought of making a chart. I will make one soon and maybe it will help me. For me figuring out what to wear began when my husband and I left the city & bought a farm. After the first 2 years I was tired of wearing grungy clothes all the time and have been trying to come up with fun pretty farm clothes. I haven’t gotten too far but I’m still trying. I’ve got your book and hope to tackle it soon.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

I think it’s such an interesting challenge! I just thrifted a cute lightweight button-down voile shirt for gardening, and I have a couple of cute straw hats for keeping the sun off. I’m no farmer, but I think looking nice even while getting muddy is certainly doable!

On , Pamela said:

This is one excellent topic!! ( thanks for thinking of this~)
I have recently been making yoga pants b/c I do work out every day and I am at home more now than before~

Yoga pants work for me b/c they can go from the store ( w/ cute top/jacket) to really working out hard, therefore they have become a new staple for me in my wardrobe ~ i I came to terms w/ this just a short while ago~
Just cut out a pair of them in jegging fabric for fun,( will see how they turn out)~

I have been looking into the blouse department b/c a nice blouse can really look great w/ anything from jean to skirts, however, as I have said before in other posts this is the year of the TNT for me, so fine tuning a yoga pant pattern was essential, next to fine tune several blouse patterns ( I have done pants so that is covered)\

Skirts are great for summer, and those in between times when you do not need to go very dressy but want to just look pretty ( and skirts are much easier to work on fit than pants any day~)
Last but not least,,,I want one heck of a great dress pattern ( or 2) that I can turn to when I need a new dress,, I want it fitted already so I can play w/ my fabrics and my machine and have fun~
I think I have that already,,,,one of my favorites is of course a Colette pattern that I will probably use and re use forever,,,the other is a knits only pattern,( probably the same thing there to) I guess I am set, yes??
I basically think if you have really some TNT patterns, you can go to town on changing things , adding things… and having a LOT of fun w/o all that dreaded fitting! ( I know how I like my sleeve so why not re use and tweak to a diff style and just have some fun?) I did have to read a lot to learn how to do this, how to use a French curve correctly etc but once you understand those skills and apply them , you will Know your body better and adjust fit a whole lot easier~
Knowing how you spend your time the most is extremely helpful in deciding that you need to work on,,,,,and yes, I totally agree,,,how about having one REALLY pretty dress that you love love love, than 10 you never use??
Splurge on that fabric and look fabulous ( and get the shoes too,)
No guilt about over indulging when you have that one TDF special dress/outfit~

On , Pamela said:

Caitlin,,,,,would LOVE to see a picture of what you did w/ your sweatshirt!
Would love some great ideas for gardening clothing
thanks,,,,

On , Caitlin said: | thestorygirl.kendale-drive.net

Pamela, here is a link to a blog post I wrote about my lounging around outfit and there’s a photo of the sweatshirt I mentioned.

On , Romy said:

What a thought-provoking post! What has worked for me – between managing two kids, two dogs, and running a sewing business at home – is to find a perfect outfit and then replicate it many times over. I have a daily uniform of a homemade cotton dress, tights or jeans, cardigan, and motorcycle boots. It always works no matter where I find myself. Also, when I’m considering making a new dress or other item, I find a $2 similar version at the thrift store and wear it a bit to see if the style works before I invest in creating one. This is how I know never to bother with a drop-waist dress, for example, even though they look so cute on everyone else!

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Yes! For me right now, my “formula” outfits are cigarette pants + sweaters, or (now that it’s warming) little 60s style cotton shifts.

On , Trisha said: | madebytrisha.blogspot.com

This year, I have come to the realization that I need to sew more clothes for home. So I have been sewing a lot of knit tops. And I’m currently working on a cute pair of lounging pyjamas! I’m excited to make special, comfy home clothes!

On , Shannon said:

I think this makes a lot of sense. Sometimes it’s hard for me to motivate myself to sew things that aren’t “special,” but then I look at my closet and wonder why I have so many party and evening dresses. I’m more or less a homebody and I don’t even like to shave my legs! I wear pants 95% of the time! Being a graduate student (and one that is constantly thinking about quitting) makes my wardrobe issues all the more strange, because I’ll need to look “academic” professional (which is nothing like business professional), but only for an hour or two during the day when I teach, then it’s back to sitting, reading and writing in exclusion.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

I think I practically lived in leggings when I was a grad student. Also with you on the hating to shave thing.

On , elizabeth said:

I love this idea. I began sewing clothing by sewing some bamboo yoga pants–which was quite appropriate because I teach pilates/personal training and perform massage everyday. so i am on and off the floor, moving, etc. i do love skirts though–and sewing items for date nights etc. When I am not at work i like to wear nicer items–since I feel as though i live in workout clothes.
I would love some patterns for fun workout tops and pants…

On , Ali said: | wardrobereimagined.blogspot.com

I love this! You had me at the charts — I’m so going to chart my time for a week and see what I come up with, though I suspect it’s similar — lots of time at work (which is casual) to home (which is lounging). Such a nerd.

I know you’ve shared some of your loungewear projects — but I’d love to see what you both come up with on this journey to balance out your wardrobe.

By the by, the new patterns are just stunning. Small details with a lot of punch. Lovely. For me, strappy dresses go with EVERYTHING. I tend to balance it out by making them in neutrals that can be dressed up with colorful cardigans and scarves and jewelry, and that brings me nicely from activity to activity.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Thanks Ali, glad you like them!

On , Uli said:

I have just recently started to sew clothing. For now I stick to tops I can wear at work (business casual, but I like to dress up a little more).
I will try a skirt and a dress, next. After that come pants.

I hope to eventually be able to sew everything I want for myself, but I doubt I will stop shopping at the thrift store. It’s just quicker if you need something (and you are lucky) and I just love the thrifty part. And maybe I will find some things to upcyle.

I think there is nothing wrong with sewing all your clothes. Even simple things like sweatshirts. This way you can tailor everything to your specific needs, add pockets, and whatever else you find important.
I think you will take much better care of them, too, and wear them longer. It makes it more personal.

On , Angela said: | bonnechanceblogspot.blogspot.com

Thank you for bringing up this discussion, I have been thinking about it lately myself. Actually I have been questioning my go to weekend outfits, and wondering if my work wear is always professional looking enough. I spend a lot of time at work and I think for sewing I would rather be updating work wear and fun dresses, than spending time on lounge wear and work out wear, that is just my preference.

On , Maddie said: | madalynne.com

I definitely feel that loungewear is something I need and should make more of. Since the beginning of my sewing career, I have always made occasional outfits and have only recently grown a liking to making simple every day wear. Why spend months in a gorgeous gown that you will only wear once. I feel like these are the items we should buy and the everyday items that we use so much, are the items we should sew

On , bird said:

What a perfect topic! Despite my lofty ambitions of sewing a closet full of floaty dresses, I realized this weekend that what I really rely on everyday are comfortable skirts. I spend most of my time at home and I enjoy laying around in skirts (elastic waistbands) and thin cotton shirts. I even clean my house in a skirt. So, I’ve decided to make a project of it and use the loads of printed cotton fabric that I have lying around. Thanks for the encouragement!

On , erin said: | opportunityknits.blogspot.com

I’ve thought about the clothes I need for the different things I do everyday. But I have not thought about how I can use sewing in a such focused way. Thanks for this post, it’s wonderful food for thought. I will definitely chew on this!

On , Violet said:

Still smiling at the thought of , “the running dress”!

On , mary said: | kf-biblioblog.blogspot.com

I am retired and have no need for pencil skirts, or other serious clothing. I do like to sew casual clothing which runs the gamut from walking/yoga clothes to horseback riding breeches and tops to skirts and dresses. I will sometimes sew something that is absolutely far too nice for my real life and then I realize I am missing dressing for work. One of my goals is to sew more outfits or capsules with much better fabric. That is the key for me—invest in higher quality fabric for my casual but artsy wardrobe.

On , Lydia said:

Like many others, I am also trying to sew and wear the clothing for the actual activites I do and life I live. I enjoy wearing dresses to work, and sewing a ‘work dress’ — often worn with a cardi, or as a solo dress with sleeves.

Though dresses are my favorite item to sew, and I do wear them, it is tough to find that balance of wearable day dress, with a dress that seems too partyish. (I don’t mind being overdressed, but as an hourglass figure, even a simple dress can make me seem dressed to attend a function!). I like pointe dresses for work, but I am wary of sewing knits, as they don’t seem to come in as many patterns as silks, or cotton blends. My challenge as a sewer is finding fabrics that suit the activities, rather than avoid wearing the item itself, and not be seduced by the lure of fabrics that don’t serve their purpose.

On , Sky Turtle said: | skyturtle.net

Your approach is always practical and I love that. Also, I am sucker for charts and statistics myself :D
I am also on the having less, using less train for a few months now. I am getting rid of things I kept for ages (As much as I’d like to be one, I am not a clothes recycler – I prefer new fabric, clean cuts).
I am also putting more thought into planning my sewing (since I am only sewing for 3.8% of my time in a week and working on my day job for more than 70%).

Conclusion is: one should sew more for work and make it fun :>

On , Katrina Marie said:

I really love your blog and colette patterns in general. I love the posts you put up that consider the planning process of sewing. However, I was disappointed by some of the language used regarding comfy house clothes. In particular I felt shamed when I read the part that said “I don’t want to feel like a slob.” I understand and share the feeling of wanting to feel nice and pretty even when not being see by others, however it can’t always work out that way and its hard to feel like people I respect would therefore see me as a slob. As a broke graduate student, I have very little time to sew. Although someday I am sure I will find my time (and money) to make beautiful silk lounging pants most of my precious sewing time is currently spent making garments suitable for a professional environment. Am I just a slob because my house time is often spent studying in a pair of cozy pink sweatpants?

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

I’m not judging anyone else. I don’t want to FEEL like a slob, and that’s a highly individual thing. I’m talking about how I feel about myself, and the truth is that I feel better in some things than others.

On , Kerry said:

If you want to make pretty loungewear, check out the Lola dress by Victory Patterns. It’s a comfy yet flattering sweatshirt dress…awesome.

http://www.victorypatterns.com/products/lola/

On , Karen said:

I follow a fashion blog for ‘women of a certain age’ and spluttered with laughter at the recommended outfit for home-workers: cashmere, silk, belts and perfume featured heavily in my blogger’s wardrobe. At the time, I was wearing well-worn yoga pants, odd socks, a t-shirt, silk scarf, and my son’s emerald green hand-knitted aran jumper that reached down to my knees.

And yet, and yet ……. I yearn for comfy, pull-on trousers or pedal-pushers, to sit in while I’m working from home. I’m always on the look out for a pattern that tries to re-invent the pyjama/jogger/yoga pant. (I’m not experienced enough to draft my own – I’ve tried and it has defeated me so far).

When I find that pattern I’ll make my go-tos in wool, in linen, in cotton-with-a-bit-of-lycra and yes in sensuous silk and soft cashmere too. (Oh, and I want pockets – big, deep, fun pockets – Colette patterns have given me a taste for them now.)

Thanks for the thought-provoking post. Much love to you all.

On , Sky Turtle said: | skyturtle.net

Odd socks = <3 :)
Man, you made me want some floral karate pants :D

On , Elizabeth said:

I work in an arts centre so my dress code can be something different everyday. Slick corporate skirts, quirky shifts, long funky jackets and fun cocktail dresses for gallery openings or theatre events. I have lots of fun with my work wear. I’m finding myself also branching out more on weekends, escaping just jeans and playing with sundresses, girly hats and accessories.

On , Signe Marie said:

When I first started sewing, I only did sundresses. I rarely see sundresses that I like in stores, and there is so much nice cotton voile out there, so I made quite a few. Problem is, the weather in my country is only fit for sundresses maybe 10 days a year, 20 if we’re lucky. And the rest of the time I prefer to wear pants /jeans and a top with a thin, wool sweater or cardigan. I am by no means experienced enough to sew my own pants and it seems to me that dress patterns make up a rather unproportional chunk of the patterns out there.

I would love to see more top/blouse patterns from you guys, maybe some nice knit ones? Sometimes I get the feeling that knits have a bad rep in sewing circles, but the knits you buy in a fabric store are a thousand times nicer than what you see in the average store. Good quality knits can easily be made into work or date appropriate tops in my opinion, and they are so quick to make, when you don’t need to do zippers or a lot of fitting.

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