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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Finding your style series part one: Life is not a funeral and the neutral dilemma


Well remember when I did a hemming knits series?

I really enjoyed doing that but even more I enjoyed the comments.

I like this blog best when it is a discussion, not a presentation.

So before I do a series on hand stitches, and I am still going to do that, I thought it would be interesting to open up the floor to a discussion of finding your style.

This is an issue a lot of women think about a lot.

Like me.


And today.

People who are thinking about their personal style, in my opinion, have just had one of these life experiences:

  • they catch sight of themselves in a window on the walk down some street. They see that reflection and they think "is that dowdy/fat/schleppy woman me?" They realize at some point they have become the person their younger selves promised they would never be.
  • they go to an evening event where all the other women seem to be wearing high heeled boots and tight black sheath dresses and they feel they have a sign on them that reads "I got my pants at Costco and I spend most of my nights in bed knitting while I watch Netflx." As opposed to say drinking Nergronis.
  • they get out the clothes they save for good to go out to a meeting, or to meet folks they used to work with, and realize while they were waiting for good the same clothes got way out of date and way too tight.
  • they realize that if they had to pull together a favourite outfit there is nothing they have in the closet that they really like all that much, in particular those things that they put on their bodies most days.
  • they go to parent teacher and they wish they could be as fashionable as the grade three teacher.
  • they show the kids pictures of themselves when they were younger and the kids say "Mom you were so stylish!" in surprised sort of voices.
Women start to think about personal style when they suspect they don't have any.

Real style that is.

I have been reading, as we all have, a lot of wardrobing and style advice. 

My idea right now is that we consider, on a large and philosophical level, some of the big ideas in the style advising world, kick them around and explore what isn't and is true.

How does that sound to you?

To start with I want to talk about a central concept. 

And that is that every wardrobe, every plan of a bunch of clothes that express your own personal style, begin with some neutral basics.

As a common sense approach neutrals make a lot of common sense. Here, in my view, are those sensible ideas:

1. Economic. If you want to save money and cover the something to wear to a lot of events territory, then neutrals will do that. I know when I worked a fairly dressed up job my two black skirts and two black pants were worn in some incarnation nearly every day. No one in human history has ever said "Hey aren't those the same black pants you wore just Tuesday this week?" 

Who can tell? Who would remember? Who would even care?

You wear the same orange mohair sweater three times a week for six months and someone is going to say something eventually, guaranteed, as in "Gee you sure must like that sweater (I sure don't)."

Black separates are the ultimate invisible man garments.

2. The neutrals go with everything, assuming you can contain yourself to some sort of a colour family. Navy, grey, brown, beige, black. Except for navy which is sort of its own territory reserved for the navy I guess, most neutrals can even be extended into neutral pairs, black and grey, beige and brown. In this case the neutral even can go with itself. Economic and practical.

Mind boggling in its efficiency.

3. A lot of neutrals, particularly those that go with themselves or something nearly like itself, really reduces dressing thought. Put it on, it goes with everything, and no one will remember it anyway. Men have this down pat. Maybe twice a year a man might think "navy suit or grey suit" and his wardrobe plotting is done for the rest of that calendar year. If you are too tired or too busy or too thinking about more important things than clothes neutrals take the pressure off.

In general taking the pressure off IMO should always be a major life aim.

4. Neutrals are classy. We are back here to that orange mohair sweater. Neutrals are elegant. Monochromatic neutral outfits are dignified in particular and always appropriate. The same cannot be said for clown pants for example. And since pretty well no one I know, myself comes to mind, are really on the inside all that elegant, dignified, or always appropriate, it surely is helpful to have clothes disguise you out in these areas.

Now all of this leads us naturally to press conferences.

In my other life, one of my several other lives, I had to go online and watch a press conference on the local news so I could comment on it.

I can't show you the whole panorama but here is a small part of the view of the folks on stage:

Now there were about 40 people there and remarkably every single one of them was wearing black, all or mostly. 

This is in Nova Scotia in February which is itself pretty dark and depressing to the point that folks either end up in RVs down south or are sitting at the kitchen table in front of seasonal affective disorder lights (I sold mine on Kijji when we decided to go south in the winters and spent the money on fabric).

I looked at this press conference and thought, well life isn't a funeral and maybe this whole neutral thing has got out of hand.

Really it as enough to make this girl go put on this top made out of some nice poplin bought in New York at one of this tiny shops that sadly is now out of business. The pattern Stylearc's Maggie Shirt

Not one of my more flattering pictures, so just look at the top not the face. And of course the navy pants.

So my questions to you for tonight is this:

How important to defining a personal style and building a wardrobe to reflect it are neutral colours. Do you think you have to pick one, or two?

Is your position on neutrals settling in or changing?

What advice would you give anyone on the subject of neutrals?

Over to you.


Anonymous said...

neutrals are the BEST! Certainly, the pattern makes the difference no matter what latitude you reside in. using the Maggie pattern was a poor choice as an example, in my opinion...looks like a bowling shirt to me. (But then we are all entitled to OOSO. Our own Stoopid Opinion)

Sheila said...

Neutrals - I think of them as the necessary background which allow my self made garments to shine. They are always plain-not patterned, made from the best materials I can find so they last without becoming tired fast.

BarbaraShowell said...

I’ve always worked in a uniform, first Army, then nurses. So neutral meant to me blue jeans and denim. Until maybe 3 or 4 years ago, when my post menopausal (70 lb heavier) body became increasingly less comfortable in denim. Now, I wish I could wear scrubs ALL the time except now and then I want to feel like I have some style. In a good way. Thinking about it.

ACraftyScrivener said...

I have been thinking about this, as I am going through my current clothes. But neutral clothes can be so boring! I do feel more comfortable in darker closet thes, so I have brighter shoes and scarfs, hoping that reflects a bit more personality. Interesting stuff!

KS_Sews said...

I have a lot of fun with my wardrobe. And I’ve been in a professional position since ~22 and have dressed to convey authority. Now that I have much experience under my belt (and enough grays that people no longer think I’m 5-7 years younger!) I have FUN.

I like black and grey and own wayyyyyy too many navy garments. Blue is my favorite color. I realized recently I own zero brown or tan pants; but have 3 skirts lighter brown shades. I always joke that I’m brown so I dislike brown clothes! I have to find heathered or tweedy fabrics in mid-to-light toned “browns”.

I do wear my solid black and white knit shells A TON. They make completing an outfit so easy. And you really can’t go wrong with black pants. I have a wide leg trouser, a bootcut trouser, a wide cropped trouser, a slim ankle fit pant, and two ponte knit pants. Lol!!!

Jess said...

I've decided that neutrals are for earrings. And shoes. My grey acrylic and silver earrings are lovely with that mad tropical print jersey dress I made last winter. The gold monstera earrings? Brilliant for my palm leaf print dress. I'm not going to be the middle aged mother who disappears into the background. #notsorry
BTW, Barbara, you're my favourite sewing writer. You can sew neutrals forever, but I'll still read everything you write. xJ

SewRuthie said...

This year I decided to choose two neutrals, navy and dark brown (black and grey are very boring on me) and two colour ranges pink/burgundy and teal/tuquoise/soft green and work at building those up including garments and accessories purchased and sewn. All neutrals is terribly boring on me, but I can do a youniform of trousers + top + layer + scarf/necklace. where something on the top half has colours.
I like other neutrals and colours too, but to get a wearable everyday wardrobe some limitations have been helpful to get easily wearable combinations.

wendy said...

When I was working in a ‘dressed up’ job I too had black, navy suits and in the summer black, navy or neutral dresses. As you said, it makes getting dressed in the morning really easy. I would add colour with my shirts and accessories, but not too much. Apart from the ease of dressing there was another reason, which seemed quite important at the time . Most of my working days were sat in meetings with men in their neutral suits and in order to feel confident I needed to fit in. When I was wearing those clothes I felt polished and didn’t give my outfit a second thought. Easy.
Now I’m not working my wardrobe is quite different, still lots of blues and greys but softer versions and softer silhouettes. Lots more colours creeping in too and I’m enjoying experimenting with my style.

Janine said...

Charcoal grey is my ultimate neutral because it goes with everything ( except perhaps brown ? ) I own one ( hand made ) charcoal skirt. If I could start again with neutrals I would go with that. Of course I have lots in the other neutrals . Navy is my favourite neutral except it is hard to get navy shoes. So shock horror I now just use black shoes. Not one person has commented so that would be another piece of advice.I have a neutrally kind of personality / style so neutrals are perfect for me. Also I can't understand why beige gets sch a bad wrap. My beige skirt and pants work really hard - harder than me ! Fnally black is meant to be sophisticated but it hasn't really rubbed off on me . BTW I do actually have an orange mohair cardigan ( also handmade ) and I love it ! Guess I have great taste 😜. Good luck with your book.

Ana Rita said...

Hey Barbara!
Hey people :)

1st - loved the knit hemming series and I'll be an avid reader for the hand sewing one;

2nd - personal style overall
I have a defined personal style in my head and in my pinterest board. And then I have my wardrobe... there is quite a difference! I am changing jobs next week and one of my happy feelings, after career development opportunities, skill fit, other important stuff, etc., comes from being able to dress like myself in the new job xD

3rd - neutrals
YES - they are economic (cost/use) and efficient.
YES - they are boring!
YES - they are a key part in my style and wardrobe as they function as the canvas for the fun stuff. I have three favourites - white navy denim and two useful but not favourite neutrals - beige and grey. No black apart from a pair of training leggings.
As for the other questions, I guess my position is changing, as my style is influenced by my other female family members, and I don't know what advice I would give because I don't have it figured out...

4th - The style arc garment is cool, I like the Maggie pattern and the fabric, but I think that they aren't made for each other ;)

Keep on it!

Amanda said...

In theory I like neutrals, but when choosing fabric and getting excited about things to sew for myself I just can't get excited about them (unless it's a sexy little black dress). I love colour - I get really sad about my outfit if it's only neutrals, there has to at least be some colour. So a personal style is important to me - it just doesn't involve a lot of neutrals.


Chrisagriff2 said...

Maybe I should care more if my students (college students) think I look like Ms. Frizzle, but damn neutral is boring. I have neutral pants and skirts. My dresses and tops are more WooHoo. Why not! I can throw a black or navy cardigan over a woohoo dress and tone it down. Might as well have fun.

Janet said...

I have purchased the occasional coat - particularly in winter, another colour than black. Black coats in a Toronto winter are the worst culprits. Like the photo you show Toronto streets can look very bleak. I wore a mint green with cobalt blue lining for several years. It sounds horrendous, bought it for 75% off at a winter sale. But you know, I got so many compliments. It suited my complexion so well. I just purchased an optic white rain coat. And again, people comment on my hair and even my tan!! I do not have a tan. But the reflection of white on my face with the silver hair around my face. Wow! So here is the thing. I really enjoy colour and I agree that scarves and shoes help a whole lot. But I was a fashion school student in the 1980's and everything we wore was black, everything. It is hard to break that habit that black is chic. Now my younger colleagues wear jeans to work all the time an rarely wear black. So I can only conclude that jeans are the new black. Jeans are fine in my workplace by the way.

Jane M said...

I worked in the financial industry so your remarks about neutrals always made sense from a practical and image sense. However, back in the eighties even though I was wearing the expected two piece suit, I was wearing them in those parrot like colors quite frequently. Fast forward decades and I think of neutrals as medium tone colors....when I am up north in Maryland. I base my every day choices on medium to dark bottoms and consider brown a real basic for myself although black is so much easier to use for fabric coordination. My most common three season easy dressing is the "column of color" and pants that match with cardigan, jacket for interest. Next favorite silhouette is tunic top, knit or woven, slim pant. I too am in Florida for the winter and the light is dramatically different and so my wardrobe is lighter and brighter because the medium and saturated colors can hold up to the strong light. Lots of white jeans and colorful tops or dark pants, colorful tops and colorful shoes. Up north I would look like a myna bird in the colorful everyday wear of my FL time. For the occasional dressy event those guidelines change and my goal is to look happy and rested in colors and styles that let me enjoy the moment. I do tend to wear prints for those slightly dressier more casual times (dancing at a winery in the summer for instance) but if it is even dressier (a family wedding where I am now in the matriarch category) I would choose solid colors for a dress or two piece outfit.
I do think that pictures tell us interesting things and allow us to examine our clothing choices. Several years ago I made a voile peplum top that fit wonderfully but when I saw my own pictures I released it to the charity shop bag. It was way too young a style and print for me. It might have worked in a solid silky medium tone fabric that would have looked more sophisticated but I didn't want to spend my sewing time and dollars to find out. Pattern and garment, gone.

Mary Deeter said...

Good morning Barb! I am on the neutral train and agree it makes dressing for a busy lifestyle easier to remain somewhat stylish. That being said, I still have some whackier get ups that I love. Take yesterday for example. I wore a pair of leggings I made of a purple with black threads runnning through them with a purple silk blouse and a long black cardigan. Cozy and quite functional for a snowy negative temperature day at the clinic. It also was a crazy day at work where I had to stop the sign company from putting up a sign in our clinic. The group that wanted said sign knew just who to go to when the sign guy said "go talk to the lady in the purple pants". Clearly identifiable in clutch business negotiations. I also have my yeti vests (also me-made) that people always want to pet. I don't wear those on days when I want to appear powerful. I wear the black suit! I think being comfortable with who you are allows you to let your personal style shine and be uniquely you.

Robyn said...

My Personal story about neutrals: I lost a lot of weight, moved (so the sewing machine was packed up) and needed clothes. I went out and bought just enough tops and bottoms to get by, all gray or natural/beige, and they all went with one another. I had a gray duster that could top everything. To my surprise, I absolutely loved dressing this way. The neutrals made it possible to accessorize easily. I felt well-presented every day. So all-neutral has kind of become my signatue style.

I think a person’s love or hate of neutrals has a lot to do with their personal coloring. Mine is really delicate and it doesn’t take much color for me to feel washed out. People who can handle more color will of course want to wear it.

I don’t get bored sewing neutrals because they show off all kinds of interesting details really well. Details that are fun to puzzle out and construct. And when I do feel up to a pop of color, I can pair it with almost anything I own. Happy girl.

Catherine said...

I work in a job where I have to wear light blue scrubs all the time. I love color and mostly wear jeans. Lately though, I've needed pants for other purposes and have been unprepared. (Wore a casual, colorful dress instead.) This has made me see that I need at least a few neutrals in my wardrobe to complement the color. As you say, it will also make getting dressed easier as the prints will have something to play with besides my "other uniform" of jeans.

theresa said...

Just neutrals are horribly boring and little black dresses are for funerals. And even for funerals, I want something other than just black.

I live in the Southwest where we have plenty of sun. I do not do black (except for funerals of course) and my neutrals are sandy tan, off-white, light olive khaki, grayish green and faded blue denim. I used to wear a uniform (U,S, Army) and now have a civvy uniform of neutral bottom and coordinating print top.

Good discussion.

Theresa in Tucson

alina said...

Nice post; enjoyed reading it.
As to the neutrals: they are very rich. They are unexpected: military green and maroon are neutrals for me. They combine brilliantly amongst each other (love navy+brown) and with anything else (love grey+pink).
I can't have enough of neutrals, esp. in an expanded framework.
Margaret Howell is an inspiration in her masterful use of neutral season to season.

Julie Culshaw said...

I really like that blouse on you. Nice fabric for that pattern, the stripes are cheery. I know that I should focus on neutrals, but prints and colour get me every time. So nothing coordinates in my wardrobe!

LinB said...

A deep, bright, cherry red is my favorite neutral. I pair it with royal purple and with mustard yellow. Can make several entire outfits with the separates in those solids, plus several prints in those colors. (Because of my age, I automatically retain the superpower of invisibility, even when decked out thusly.)((I achieved invisibility at age 40. Took some getting used to, until I realized how useful it can be.))

I do like black with red, and can do more than half a closet-full of separates in that color combination. All-black makes my skin and hair look fabulous, so sometimes I'll dress myself like that.

Also, dark indigo (denim) blue is a good neutral, all on its own or paired with any color in the rainbow.

Maybe one day I'll subside into wearing only swamp-slime green and camel brown, but I doubt it.

Catherine Daze said...

Second try on this comment!

Neutrals for me. I wear grey and black. But it’s not boring because I have a wide variety of textures and shapes in my wardrobe. I also have a few very bright dresses for when the mood takes me. Because they are dresses they don’t need anything to ‘go’ with them other than shoes and a coat. I generally only feel like wearing colour in very good weather.

Black is practical and flattering. All the colour analysis stuff says that most pale washed out people like me shouldn’t ever wear it, but it looks better on me than most colours. Can’t explain that one at all but it’s true.

Great topic, I’m enjoying reading along.

Chabe said...

So much fun to read your post!
I do like my neutrals. Like you said, they make life easier.
And I do love color, but not all over :)
I think black can be a bit over done, and I do find it way too dark in the spring and summer.
I love navy and I feel it's the happier sister of black :)
I finally got over the no-black-shoes-with-navy thing, and wear pretty much anything with black tights and black shoes. Sure makes life easier! No more brown whatsoever in my wardrobe, except for maybe a khaki skirt in summer.
Love this conversation and plan to follow it :)

Chabe said...

Just finishing reading other's comments...

Theresa, I wish I live somewhere warmer and sunnier (I am in Northern VA).
Maybe then I could get rid of all my black :)

But it is so true that the weather affects the colors we choose.

Margaret said...

Hi Barbara,

for some time I have been following a blog, "The Vivienne Files",, which deals with exactly this issue. It is written by a lady called Janice, with lots of info on wardrobe building. Definitely worth a look.
I love your blog by the way; always informative and entertaining.

AlaskaBerninaGirl said...

I died reading the first line on catching sight of ones self as it happened to me in a big way just yesterday, then the second line on others wearing high heeled boots and tight sheath dresses, have you been spying on me from inside the treeline? I work in a 100 year old schoolhouse building of 400 local government employees, in an office of 9+ and I feel I am the dowdest of the dowd. We could get away with wearing a gunny sack as long as we aren't in flip flops or advertising beer on our shirt and what people wear here is all over the board. This winter I wore three pairs of black slacks, one olive green pair and one deep purple pair, plus a few denim with blouses and sweaters to match. Funny though, no navy, no grey and no brown and these are colors I really like. Interesting. Rotate, rotate, rotate. My goal for this year is to sew blouses from my lighter neutral stash to go with these slacks and denims then move on to making slacks in lighter colored neutrals as I grow more tired of this darkness (clothing and Alaska.) I want to add more tops like the one you are pictured in and yes, lighter neutral sweaters to go with. I am anywhere from 1 to 3 years away from retiring and my style is definitely converting to Comfort Is Queen even if catching site of myself sends me into a short-term tailspin. I do have a few Important Meeting items I hold back all in PLAIN BLACK and I won't change that as I like to meld in as best possible in these settings. I did try the monochrome look a couple of weeks ago, all in a dark olive green (thought I looked nice AND thin, haha) then someone asked said, What are you, a tree? So glad I can laugh at comments like that but I did escape thru a fire hatch as quickly as was feasible. Black must be the rule from the picture you presented. When I add neutrals I am going to put them into the rotation as quickly as I can and in turn remove the dark until six months from now when this all darkness cycle starts over again. This past winter I tried to keep lighter neutrals in for far too long, it wasn't until I caught someone look down at my taupe slacks and new what they were thinking... My advice? Wear what makes you happy and won't shock you when you catch sight of yourself or be able to laugh at yourself, and make sure it is comfortable but keep the hold back in plain black because one thing is for sure when in plain black it really doesn't matter the style unless it is a tight sheath dress and high heeled boots.

You do look very stylish in that top it is really cute on you. You should not be alarmed catching sight of yourself wearing any of the clothes you make.

LWS said...

I think Robyn got it right when she said one’s coloring can determine how one feels about neutrals. I always feel good in black, gray, beige, cream, or navy; more intense colors wash me out horribly. I have also embraced the ease and simplicity of limited color in my wardrobe —no hassles about what goes with what, and I can get by with fewer clothes if I stick to my color comfort zone, making it possible for me to buy/make things of better quality. A few good accessories help keep things from getting boring.

That said, At age 71, I think about personal style ALL THE TIME. It seems to be something I have to reconsider every decade. I am now a post-career grandmother, carrying a few more pounds than I would like, but I don’t want to look like I have given up. Terribly grateful for the mature bloggers who are addressing these issues and re-defining what a stylish woman looks like.

The epiphany experiences you list at the beginning of this post are right on, by the way.

Nancy JC said...

Barbara, every post you share is one that I look forward to and savor (sometimes I wait days until I feel like i can give it my full attention). I want to send you my flypaper thoughts before I finish reading everyone's great comments/feedback so my musings aren't entirely polluted.

Your tests/tutorials are wonderful!

Personal style. I'm thinking about this a lot right now because I'm counting down the days 'til retirement. All the Sew Alongs are so tempting, so I'm really focused on what makes sense to bother with at the end of my career and what can I sew that is still snappy and defining, and then casual enough to be worn in retirement? I am a weaver, too, and love to use my handwoven fabrics for the special pieces.

The neutrals. That, too, is a concern right now. I've moved from "hair color" to who I really am, and it definitely is silver/white! So fun—bright colors in remarkable pieces is where I'm going, and the neutrals are always a great backdrop. The neutrals make it so easy to get dressed in the morning for a less intense day, or the day where I need to lead a meeting (typically filled with WASP males). Took pairs of white jeans and blue jeans with me to Florida for two weeks. The white got worn much more. Back in Michigan...and it's blue every day after work, at least for now. ;)

My thoughts. Hope You're having a wonderful trip and enjoying grandchildren! Keep leading us....

beckster said...

I had to wear white nursing uniforms for years, then I was an executive, and I was excited to wear whatever I wanted. My enthusiasm didn't last long about that. I didn't like making decisions about what to wear every morning; I had more important things to think about. So I was haphazard about my wardrobe in that I didn't buy things to coordinate much, just basics. I do love color, but at my current age (67), I have been searching for a daily "uniform" for each season. My winter uniform is easy and consists of dark neutral bottoms (gray and black mostly) with colorful turtlenecks. The spring and summer uniform consists of much more colorful tops, but still neutral bottoms. I would like to have less in my closet but of greater quality. So, I am making sewing plans to go in that direction. I have never been trendy, and I have always bought clothing that I thought complimented my body. I am pretty much the Eileen Fisher type of dresser, classic styles, but not so oversized. I think neutrals make sense for a lot of reasons, and with careful selection are not boring. There are lots of textures and fabrics that create interest. I have a beautiful heathered linen open front cardigan that I wear constantly in warmer weather, and I don't think it looks boring at all. By the way, I love your shirt on you. You are tall and can wear those horizontal stripes like a boss. Me, not so much! And they are paired with those neutral trousers! I love your blog!

Esther said...

Hi Barbara! I loved your series about hemming as I almost always love your posts. I am 52, with dark features and I hate neutrals. I love white, red, green and yellow. I made the mistake of buying a little black dress to go to the theatre last Christmas, oh, I look much older in it. I could add that to make it easy to get dressed you should try to have a lot of solid colours in your wardrobe, but bold colours , at least for me!

Loretta said...

Well, my hair has gone white and that forced me to reevaluate the colors I could wear, then I broke up the love affair with prints. I’m drawn to them on the bolt or on the Internet but in real life, I don’t really like wearing them much. They feel really old lady on me most of the time, and although I’ll be 62 in a few days, I do not feel old!
I like navy and gray on me. I like white on me. I have quite a bit of burgundy in my wardrobe and dusty turquoise/teal and dusty plum. All dreary but they look good with my coloring and mix quite nicely. So, I meet my need for color with scarves and big jewelry. (Well big on me, I’m short) But, scarves are too fussy some days and too hot in the south in summer so I’m starting to meet my color yearnings with shoes. Fortunately, sensible shoes are starting to look less so and come in nice colors.
I am retired. Like you, I’ve made the switch from professional to casual, which is pretty much an entire wardrobe replacement. So, I keep it simple and mix and match. I just stretch the definition of neutral a bit!

Vancouver Barbara said...

Pick your best colour and make that your first neutral. Then next best and so on.

Robert Kahan said...

Hi, great topic! There are some excellent writers on personal style (LLoyd Boston, Nina Garcia, etc.). I hate neutrals, mostly. But I do like black, and a heather grey. My dressing is colourful, and fun, even if I am 68. I love patterns. But I do love a grey winter coat, with loads of colourful scarves, mittens, hats to play with. Clothing should make us smile, happy. Cathie.

CJ Wright said...

I was born in Southern California with red hair. Red hair (and freckles!) means that you're already visible so I've always worn color. . .green (naturally!), all the hues of blue, yellow,orange, and brown. I also love prints. . .big, bold prints even though I'm not a big woman. The climate also allowed me to wear my wonderful colors all year long. Now in my 70's, I've shifted my palette to accomodate my silver gray hair but I still wear lots of color. Why would I change now?

JoCookMakes... said...

I love colour but I need neutrals so I can wear colour. I mostly wear separates and generally I'll have a neutral colour on one half and a bright or pattern on the other. Usually it's neutral on the bottom, but I'm just sewing some BRIGHT red trousers so I guess not always!

Anne Frances said...

I really don't think in terms of neutrals as such, and tend to get a bit depressed when I see so many people in grey, beige or black. I worked in a senior role in a semi formal environment, and tended to think in terms of individual co-ordinated outfits, not lots of mix and match. As a student many decades ago I developed a sort of uniform - flared skirt, white shirt, coloured V neck lightish sweater, opaque tights in the same colour as the sweater or at least toning with it. Much later in a senior role in a semi-formal workplace I pretty much stuck to that, though the tights were more often black or navy and I tended to have a smart jacket - burgundy, green, navy. In summer a dress with a toning blazer - a "foxglove pink" one I recall, which went beautifully with a pink and black print. The only outfit that ever got a comment - a complimentary one - was my best suit (if my colleagues saw it they knew there was an important meeting) in what one of them called "St Laurent blue" - bright and clear. One black skirt suit for funerals and "sub fusc" - underneath academic robes for graduations! Now I am retired I rotate trousers - green, purple, burgundy, brown, grey- which all have tops and cardigans/sweaters that tone - bright red with the grey, for example. I must be one in a million, but I haven't owned a pair of jeans since I hit 18 - I had a pair as a teenager and hated them - heavy, stiff and uncomfortable! Overcoats, on the other hand, need to be suitable for almost any occasion and have always been black or grey.

Galica said...

I think that people find themselves to be suddenly adrift from their own style when they forget to keep tweaking it. So, in a sense, setting yourself a style can be a trap if you think that you can set it up and forget about it. Because things change and your style has to change with them or it is not reflecting the true you to the world. And if you are thinking while you are out and about 'I hate what I'm wearing' then it's going to be pretty hard to focus on the people around you, let alone what other business you need to be attending to. I think that the Erin who writes (wrote?) the 'a dress a day' blog had the right philosophy with the question 'do I look happy in this?' If you do, the it's your style, and you should run with that. But don't forget to keep asking the question.

PS what makes me happy is what I sewed last, also killer frocks and neutral bottoms with printed tops. Though, for me, red is virtually a neutral. (And in old style books I've seen dark teal, dark green and burgundy, and I say go for that). Finally, I think that as sewists we have a number of advantages in finding our style. We are always updating our eye because new patterns tend to show new styles. And we tend to know what works on our bodies.

BeccaA said...

Like so many of the commenters above, I love my neutrals. I grew up in NYC, so black is my go to neutral. Unfortunately, now that I'm older (55) black washes me out and isn't flattering near my face. I am searching for a good replacement neutral. Navy is another of my favorite colors and again I find that many shades of blue bring out the dark circles under my eyes. When fabric shopping I am always drawn to busy patterns and colors but then can't bring myself to wear them once sewn. I prefer to dress up a neutral with a colorful scarf or bright sweater. In the summer or when I go south to escape the grey and darkness of winter in northern New England I find dark dresses too hot in the sun, so I wear much lighter and brighter colors. I also think people in different regions tend to wear different colors, so while all black is almost a uniform in northern cities especially in winter, it looks out of place further south. As a very petite person I am overwhelmed by large or bright patterns and feel more comfortable in neutrals or at least solid colors.

Jodie said...

I'll wade in. I'm currently in my early 40s, in the middle of my career (high school Home Ec teacher, 16 years in). When I started teaching I had been a university student for 8 years (3 Bachelors degrees - what WAS I Thinking). So my year before starting my Education degree I did some planning and sewing for myself. I essentially sewed myself some basics/neutrals. Black skirt, black pants, grey pinstripe skirt and pants and made/purchased some tops to go with, a dress or two and my Mom bought me some good/comfortable shoes. That got me through student teaching and into a job. And with that first paycheque I went shopping. I actively filled my wardrobe with pieces - mostly solids, and have stuck a lot to the grey/black tones. Love it, works with my shoes, goes with my colouring. I add colour in the form of knit tops (love them) and in ponte knit dresses. Someone referred to the "column of colour" and I have that in the form of sleeveless knit dress, cardigan to match. I've expanded my wardrobe to include main pieces in a chartreuse green/yellow and a burgandy/purple.
In the warmer months, I have some lighter colours and certainly wear more denim. In my job, the room starts out cool, ends up warm and I can hit 15K steps per day (yesterday caramel work, it was exciting!). And generally come home lightly coated in flour, sugar or butter. But in a day I can meet a chef, a parent, the minister of Education and the principal. I'd like to look put together if possible AND like I'm supposed to be in the classroom, not there by accident.
As a young teacher I looked very young (something I appreciate now in my 40s). So I dressed in a uniform of sorts (dark pants/pencil skirt, top , cardigan) to help with that authority. I've expanded that a bit, but for the most part stick to it. I love dresses now as it makes things SO easy to pull together in the morning. I'm glad now that I focused so carefully on colour choices so that many pieces/separates work together. I'm now adding colour in doses but with a functioning wardrobe I'm now sewing other things (bras and hope to try jeans out soon). I do wear jeans (worked at a aboriginal high school for a few years, and dark jeans now work like dark pants, really).
I really feel that for young/beginning teachers the athletic/leisure style isn't helpful. In the last 4 or 5 years I've had many student teachers struggle with professional dress. It's hard to achieve - especially in teaching where we are active, moving (and in my case) cooking.
Great post, Barb - and as always, the comments awesome. Enjoy the sun - it's cold and snowy still here in Alberta.

Erika Otter said...

The best blogs are the ones with a good comment section!

I either sew or shop at thrift stores, and my steady search for high-quality garments in a thrift store setting drove me toward neutrals - just easier to find high-quality in a neutral. So my wardrobe got pretty neutral. It was fine and I felt put-together, and I could think about a more limited wardrobe. But ... colors make me HAPPY. And so does being creative with my self-presentation. So now I've moved toward colors ... I end up buying basics and sewing the vivid stuff. I'm working on trying to have a rich, elegant set of colored clothes for work. It's a fun project!

Kay said...

Before I finish reading I wanted to jump in and say that navy and grey are a pretty good neutral pair, at least if it's the right grey.

OK back to reading.

Candis said...

I am enjoying this discussion and thought I'd jump in. I agree with the woman who said her "neutral" choices hinged on her coloring. I am a middle of the road gal, as coloring goes, so white/cream/pastels wash me out dreadfully and dark anything pushes my face into obscurity. So my neutrals are a medium brown, olive green and teal blue. Not completely neutral in the most common sense of white/black/grey/navy blue. They are my base and I am very comfortable in them. But I must allow that I do not work in a business suit environment so I get to just be me in my own stand alone setting. I had a color palette professionally done for me and I LOVE it. It provides the same structure people love about the neutral colors. Everything goes together, not so much thinking when getting dressed, feeling polished. And also the silhouette of your clothes can also be "neutral" not just the color. Shells, trousers, jackets, pencil skirts. So I suppose what I am saying is YES to neutrals if you mean base colors that suit your coloring and are done in neutral styles. And then let the flourishes move out from there either with patterned fabric or flourish-y designed pieces (ie flowing sleeves, ruffles, fancy piece work).

Since I came to the discussion late I only get to repeat others when I say that you are my favorite sewing blogger. Thank you for the time and effort that you put into challenging us all to be better at our craft.

Carol in Denver said...

I wear black slacks, black shoes, black underpants and sometimes a nice black cardigan. Tops are pretty or interesting colors and, if plain necklines, a colorful scarf. A jacket or vest in an interesting color, too. Love to layer colors. I feel depressed if I wear black tops.

tpotty28 said...

Thought provoking post as always and after some consideration here is my two cents worth. Bearing in mind that I live in New Zealand which is a lot less formal than the northern hemisphere. Possibly because of the NZ vibe I don't feel the pressure to conform to a corporate uniform and wear clothes to work that are the me outside work. My colleagues do sometimes comment on my butterfly appearance, generally in a positive way, and Wellington is the black uniform capital of NZ.

I don't want to give the impression that I don't wear neutrals I do and they are black and navy, but always something bright with them. I went through a period of wearing black with a colourful jacket. That gave me confidence with colour and now I don't need that restriction. As I work away from home and take four days of outfits with one pair of shoes my wardrobe is extremely easy wear. I achieved this by being conscious in my buying and making decisions not by eliminating colour.

The newscast picture made me sad and I would find wearing clothes like that really depressing - they join in with the grey world. Your shirt on the other hand was my kind of thing bright and fun but still work appropriate.

When having a style crisis my solution is to shop (not to buy) to try out the different options, colours etc. You can then identify what is good for you and sew it.

Alison Garnett said...

It's interesting to see clothing ranges with colourful clothes for children, but mostly black for adults. That's largely why I make things. I wear neutrals, but only as a background for something zingy. It's a bit dismal that grown ups aren't allowed to enjoy colour and pattern like children can. Although I can live without the Peppa Pig pyjamas. But wearing something cheerful and colourful, as long as it suits me, always attracts compliments. It's easier to dress in neutrals and not accidentally get it wrong: bright patterns need more thought and planning. But if they're good quality and the outfit is well put together, it shouldn't stop anyone taking us seriously!

Anonymous said...

Hi - loving the comments here. Returning to work in my late sixties after retiring has been a challenge clothes wise, wishing I'd never donated all my old career clothes, it is impossible to find well made clothes even in higher price ranges. So, sewing again, just a few neutral simple jackets in navy and greys, black pants and dark jeans, silk sleeveless tops under. I look at the beautiful 30 year olds who also have very simple uniforms (of course they fit better). But here is a true role model, especially for someone sewing in an RV!

One who sews said...

Just love, love, love your blog! I am all for using any “color” as your neutral. I have a rich red nylon-polyester type (water resistant) unlined trench coat for spring and fall that I think of as a neutral when worn with just about any color (except maybe pinks and purples)! It really brightens up a rainy day to put on that red trench. I also like camel/vicuna as a neutral color and have a winter coat as well as a spring slicker and a camel color blazer that I can pair with white jeans/pants, black pants or skirts, or even rich red bottoms. Of course navy and other blues in a monochrome outfit would also work with these top layers. I do not favor “ muddy” colors or deep browns as I don’t think they flatter most complexions, and I only wear monochrome black outfits with a large swath of commanding color on top! Thanks for letting us join in the conversation.

MInnie said...

Hey, Barbara. I just discovered your blog and am loving it!!!
I'm 71 and have been sewing since childhood -on and off.

I love colors. I love neutrals. But I can't say I ever stuck to a conscious plan. I started to think back on the colors I loved at different stages of my life. FWIW, you may find this amusing (or just wierd).

Age 0 to 6 - who knows? Probably lots of pink because my mom made my clothes.

Age 6 -11 Black, red and white, if I was given a choice. Favorite outfits: black velveteen pinafore, white blouse, black patent shoes, white socks and red hair ribbons, or my junior beatnik outfit, which was black/red print dirndl skirt, black turtleneck, red tights , black shoes. I completed the look with a chunky faux silver pendant that looked like medieval weapon. Don't know how I got away with all that!

Age 11-17 Heavily into browns, earth colors in general. Favorite outfits: Jackie Kennedy shift dresses in taupe, chocolate brown etc. Moss green wool coat with brown leather gloves. Wanted a pillbox hat to match, but it wouldn't stay on my bouffant hair.

17 through 30's Hippy/mod/possible circus escapee? - lots of super bright colors, especially paisley and polka dots. I sewed most of clothes by then, and added my own handmade jewelry. Whoopee!! Every day was a festival.

Late 30's through 60s - Belatedly realized I had to be a grown up. Damn! Turned to neutrals to look adult and responsible. Lots of taupe, beige, cream in warm weather, black in cold season. Oddly, my beige-based wardrobe got me more compliments than anything else I ever wore! It also got me more job offers. Go figure. I almost never wear it now, although I do like it on others.

Now: well, it's hard to say. I buy most things because I can't find the quality of fabrics I like any more. Some neutrals, some colors, whatever. I choose clothes that aren't specific to one age group, or ethnicity, just to keep people guessing - I guess. The one thing I stick to is to only buy an item that goes with things I already have. Rather than focus on colors, I look for clothes to flatter my shape (such as it still is) and that look current.

I'm happy with that, but will maybe revert to hippy paisley if I ever retire from work.