I can’t think of a better person to inaugurate my Style Icon series than my perpetually stylish baby sister Grace.
After living in a variety of places around the world (most recently in Kathmandu) for the past few years, Grace now makes her home in Berlin. She is an accomplished videographer and photographer and a licensed yoga instructor.
She was kind enough to spend some time answering my questions and sending me some photos of herself and her wardrobe. So, take it away, Poodle!
How would you describe your personal style?
Someone once said my style was sorta sporty/structured, and I think that is pretty accurate. I wear yoga pants most days and love jackets and drapey stuff too.
Has your personal style changed over the years? If so, why do you think it changed?
I’ve always worn a good deal of black, even when I was younger and now (apart from maybe four colored things in my whole wardrobe, it is all I wear). Shopping is easy now, and when I see a rack of clothes, I just go to the black ones, and if I don’t see anything I like, then I leave. Texture is really important and always has been to me. When I was little, my mom couldn’t take me to fabric stores because I would have to touch every fabric sample… few things change. These days, I love leather, velvet, and lace.
What do you hope you communicate by what you choose to wear?
I find pleasure in getting dressed, and I hope that comes across. How I feel in my clothes is more important than what people think.
What are some crucial pieces of your current wardrobe? Items you wouldn’t feel complete without?
My fuzzy black sweater, my Doc Marten Chelsea boots, my grandma’s necklaces, my silver earrings from Nepal, and my numerous pairs of black leggings and jeans.
What is your most recent purchase?
A pair of black wool socks…it’s cold in Berlin!
Is there anything you’re on the hunt for right now?
A practical leather wallet. I’ve always carried my small, black magic wallet with me everywhere I go, but here I use cash and coins frequently.
Who are some of your style icons?
For me, my style icons are seriously scattered, and they often include places and how I feel in those places: Rishikesh, Kathmandu, Bangkok, Florence… But there are also some people too: Erin Wasson, Georgia O’Keeffe, Tilda Swinton, Amirah Jiwa, Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona…
What do you most notice or admire in a well-dressed person?
Cool, casual confidence. I truly admire people who dress with great confidence and who also don’t take themselves too terribly seriously. Getting dressed should be fun, and my definition of someone who is well-dressed is someone who is simultaneously creative and laid-back. I also admire people who can apply and wear makeup well (I know nothing about makeup and envy those who do).
Merci, Gracie! Such fun to read about your sense of style, which has always been distinct, even when you were tiny. More in the series to come (I hope!).
During my recent foray into wardrobe minimalism and a general engagement on the philosophy of what to wear and where to find it, I’ve been thinking a lot about buying well-made clothes. And well made in two senses: made with a high degree quality and made in an ethical and socially responsible way. I’d love to jump off the fast fashion train entirely, but let me tell you, it is hard to find affordable, ethically made garments. If you get tired of searching, you could be like my friend Maggie, who just makes her own clothes.
Yes! She makes her own clothes. Even though I was homeschooled, I cannot even imagine attempting the same. But I find her endeavor so inspiring, and I wanted to sit down with her and talk about her lifestyle of dressing herself in handmade garments.
Interview with Maggie Stein, Who Makes Her Own Clothes
When did you start making your own clothes? (And how long have you been doing it now?)
Growing up, my mom made a portion of my clothes. I had a number of jumpers with very full, satisfying-to-twirl-in skirts during the early grade-school years, and flowy butterfly-princess costumes. I was very opinionated about clothes and the feelings I wanted them to evoke. When she could create something to fit my vision, she would. Otherwise, I’d wear boring department store clothes.
In my sophomore year of high school, she agreed to make my homecoming dress. We worked together during every step of the process. I was uncomfortable with my changing body, so I asked her to make alterations to the pattern that were either beyond her skill level (what we thought at the time) or completely impossible (what I now believe), and she made a gorgeous dress that couldn’t meet my expectations. We both cried over it and I wore a cardigan over my dress the entire night.
After that is when I started making my own clothes.
What was one of the first pieces you made? Do you still wear it?
The first few pieces I made, as a teenager in the late 90s, were HIDEOUS! They were my own lazy/unique interpretation of the strappy, backless tops that club kids and hippies wore.
I probably wasn’t brave enough to wear them out of the house, so my parents never told me I couldn’t. They were quickly discarded.
What inspired you to attempt to make your own clothes?
I was about to say “teenage shenanigans aside…” but I think that was a great example of why I sew. Sometimes I have an idea in my head of something I’d like to wear, and I’m unable to find it in stores, or unable to find it in my proportions, or unwilling to pay the asking price if I do find it.
Another example: I was given my own sewing machine in college and spent years making nothing but flannel and fleece pajama pants, mainly because I’d never been able to find loungewear pants that were long enough.
How has making your own clothes changed the way you dress yourself? Your sense of style?
I no longer have to figure out how to fit my body into the clothes I find or the current trends but instead can accept my body as it is and create a wardrobe that fits my particular shape and style preferences.
I guess the real question I want to answer is, “How has this changed my relationship with my body?” I no longer feel like there’s something wrong with my size. I’m taller and curvier than standard RTW sizes, which means clothes in stores are often too tight across the bust and hips, too loose on the shoulders and waist, too wide and too short on the arms, waistbands are too high, hems are WAY too short… I used to approach these thinking, “If only my hips were narrower and my shoulders wider! There is something wrong with me!” But, in reality, I have an awesome body! I am TALLER and CURVIER than the standard woman! I am TOTALLY WINNING! The problem is not my body, but those clothes, because they weren’t made to fit my body.
The way I dress myself and my sense of style were influenced by my mom’s strong eye for color and knowledge of what flatters (I still have her copy of Color Me Beautiful) and years of watching What Not to Wear every Friday night. (Maybe I shouldn’t admit that. I would watch it with my best friend! We would always have beer and popcorn, so it was almost like a party!) Making my own clothes has allowed me to take what I’ve learned and apply it without being restricted by what’s available in stores.
How has this changed the way that you shop? Do you look at clothes in stores differently? Do you have higher (or lower?) standards for store-bought clothes now?
Well, for starters, I rarely expect to find what I want in a store. So I’m often shopping for inspiration, or I study the way something is made. I’ll ask, “Can I make this? If I made this, what would I change?”
I’ll buy something if it’s well made in a fabric that I might not be able to purchase or wouldn’t want to sew with (silky, sheer, difficult to source). I’ll also buy something if it’s super-trendy or inexpensive. In both of those cases, I have to ask whether it’s really something I need.
Given the cost of supplies, and the time investment, it’s not always less expensive to make my own clothes. It might be more ethical — at least I know who made my garment, but I don’t necessarily know who grew the fiber or where the cloth was made.
About what proportion of your regular wardrobe is handmade by you?
Hmmm… good question. I mean, I have a lot of T-shirts and sweaters and pants that aren’t made by me. But a majority of dresses and skirts I wear at this point are handmade.
What’s one of your favorite garments to make?
There are so many! I have one pattern that I’ve made perhaps a dozen different dresses from — the pattern itself came from a dissected Target dress that fit me perfectly. Each version is different — the original was sleeveless with an A-line skirt, then I made one with a fuller skirt, then I figured out how to add sleeves, and it became my staple day dress. I have it in a lightweight cotton for summer and long-sleeved in flannel for winter. I attempted to make it out of a suiting-weight wool, with lining, but that version is currently in Time Out. (I made some mistakes. I’m making it up as I go along, and some of the choices aren’t very flattering, so I need to unpick a lot of work and start again.)
I finally overcame my fear of knits and have enjoyed the freedom of sewing with fabric that stretches! My three most recent favorites are all knits: a ¾-sleeve ballet-neck skater dress, a scoop neck loosely fitted T-shirt, and a wrap cardigan that I drafted myself using pieces of the T-shirt pattern.
Is there any type of garment that you would never attempt to make yourself? If so, why?
Until recently, I would have said jeans and bras. But a few indie patternmakers have started tackling those. Not only are their instructions clear and detailed, but they often post sew-alongs on their blogs, sharing pictures of each step and discussing the more complicated techniques. (Also, I can wait until other people/bloggers have made the patterns and learn from their lessons.) In my room right now are supplies and patterns for both jeans and bras, waiting for me to be ready.
What are some of your favorite fabrics to work with? Least favorite fabrics?
Lately, I’m moving away from very simple, sturdy, inexpensive woven fabrics (think bedsheets) to higher quality fabrics with more interesting draping qualities. Fabrics that require more attention/preparation when sewing are often more beautiful to wear, so I’m slowly learning how to handle them well. I’ve also started using heavy-weight knits, which are so cozy and delightful!
If someone wanted to make his or her own clothes, what advice would you give them? Where does a person start with such a venture?
I’m tempted to say, “Start with something simple!” Easy wins will give you confidence to move forward. But really, I think it’s just as fun to start with something you’re REALLY motivated to make for yourself over and over again. There are things that fall into both categories, but no matter where you start, you’re going to have a lot to learn, so my advice would be to have patience, to expect mistakes, to learn from them, and to keep going!
Okay, one piece of solid advice: Start with an indie pattern. They tend to have instructions catered to a beginner versus established patterns that assume you know the lingo.
What are you wearing right now?
My winter wardrobe: a cozy handmade dress, black tights, and sturdy black ankle boots.
For more of Maggie’s musings and examples of her impressive handmade clothes, check out her great blog: Maggie Makes It Better. Thanks so much, Maggie! A delight to feature you and your work.
This past weekend, we traveled to Southern Pines and Chapel Hill to celebrate Granddad’s 80th birthday.
He is a gem! We love any excuse to get to see him.
I like this Tillman clan (my mother-in-law’s family); they are such genial, polite, formal people. They also know how to have a good time at a luncheon!
Favorite party moment: Granddad’s sister, after we all listened to a series of moving and sincere toasts, looks around the room and shouts at her ride: “I would like to leave now!” 50 points for Big Jane. A woman who knows what she wants.
Back in the Pines, our weekend was spent watching the dogs and taking them on long, leisurely walks. So relaxing.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
I’ve been thinking lately about friends (and family) who emulate great style and who have taught me what little I know about dress. I was also thinking about how I would define their personal style. Taking a stab at it:
Grace (Aztec ghetto meets bohemian grunge) Jonathan (urban woodsman art collector) Catherine (risk-taking French sophisticate) Stephanie (late 1950s, early 1960s painter and travel writer)
They have all taught me a lot, from simple observation.
Grace has always had panache, even as a child. She would change her clothes five, six times a day. Mom finally got tired of fighting her on it, and one morning, six-year-old Grace came to church in a 101 Dalmatians bathing suit, snakeskin cowboy boots, and a tutu.
It still amazes (and infuriates) me how she has this innate ability to pick out great clothes. She shops primarily at thrift stores, and she can pick out every single designer item in what looks to me to be a pile of worthless junk. For example, she recently gave me some of her clothes, including a Proenza Schouler skirt and a vintage Laura Ashley dress (hilarious in its cuteness), which fit me perfectly. HOW DOES SHE DO IT. I don’t know. I do not have that gift. I wish that I did.
In the meantime, I am continuing on my recent journey to study style, fashion, fit, and fabric, and I am even starting to dress like a grown-ass woman. Advice always welcome.
Disclaimers: I have never been to France. I only know a handful of French people. These are merely an amateur’s observations of French style icons, based purely upon photographs and a small amount of reading.
Observation no. 1: Hair is either very long or very short and extremely minimalist.
Essentially, French hair is the opposite of Texas hair. French hair seems to be best when it looks like you have done absolutely nothing to it. Messy is better than structured and coiffed.
Observation no. 2: Color and patterns are used sparingly.
One color seems to be more than enough for one outfit. French women never seem to overdo it. The proverb seems to be: If you’re going to use a pattern or a crazy color, use them carefully; the pattern and the color should never be excessively distracting.
Observation no. 3: Subtle sexiness.
Again, we find the opposite of American sexiness (BOOBS! In your face!) in the way that the French woman seems to project how alluring she is. French women don’t show a lot of skin, but when they do, they really know how to do it tastefully, playing up their best assets (e.g., a short skirt if you have great legs, an exposed collarbone if that’s your angle). Sheer also seems to be really big in everyday French fashion right now.
Observation no. 4: FIT!
If it doesn’t fit your body, don’t wear it. I still have a lot to learn in this department. This is something that Jonathan is always (wisely) preaching to me, too. One of my goals this year is to actually take some of my clothes to a tailor! Gasp. I have never done this before. Few of us, as Jonathan says, are lucky enough to be able to buy clothes that fit straight off the rack. The majority of us should get our clothes tailored. Accordingly, French women seem to inherently understand this principle of fit. Their clothes seem to be made for them.
Observation no. 5: Minimal makeup.
It seems that the French trick to makeup is to always look as if you weren’t wearing any. This was always what my mom told me, too, when I started experimenting with makeup as a young teen. French women never look overdone. French women are also famous for their skincare routines and their seeming acceptance of natural skin tone (e.g., lack of the American urge to be perennially bronzed). And if in doubt, just wear a bold red lip with nothing else on your face.
My conclusion is one word: Natural. French style strikes me as so very natural. Obviously, it takes a lot of time and effort and money and a great eye, but French style presents itself as natural: This is the way my hair and face naturally look; I have done nothing to them. These are the clothes that I just “throw on” when I roll out of bed in the morning. That seems to be the consistent theme of French style, if I had to narrow it down, in my limited observation.
To an American like myself, cultivating this aesthetic will clearly take a lot of work before it comes to me “naturally.” But that’s the idea.
There is nothing to eat,
seek it where you will,
but the body of the Lord.
The blessed plants
and the sea, yield it
to the imagination intact.
— William Carlos Williams
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I am looking forward to:
Getting our yard in shape; planting things (pepper garden, onions, potatoes, flowers). I am desperate for some of our flowers to grow. The daffodils and tulips in the front yard have been taking their sweet time, probably because it’s been so unseasonably cold.
Actual spring weather. This cold weather and the persistent threat of snow every weekend is really getting me down.
Rescue adoption event tomorrow, to which I will be taking Laszlo. Here’s to hoping that he garners some positive attention!
Reading again. I have been in a non-reading funk, mainly because caring for a puppy all day means that I have little ability to divert my attention to quiet, stationary pastimes. I think I have also lost a lot of enthusiasm for fiction, which has never happened to me before.
Buying clothes and thinking about clothes and paring down my wardrobe. Still musing a lot on fashion and the importance of dressing well. I am reading a poorly organized book on British fashion, The Thoughtful Dresser, but it has inspired some thoughts. For instance: There is a reason why Paris and New York are hubs of fashion. In those cities, women are seen on the streets all day long. In contrast, there is a reason why Wyoming is not a fashionable center; women fulfill different roles (cattle wrangling?) and thus have no need for stylish, meticulous presentation in dress (functional presentation, yes, but no one would see you in vintage Dior even if you owned it). Something else I’ve been thinking about: Why is there such a lack of diversity in men’s fashion? Has it always been this way?
Shorts. No shorts ever again, unless I am doing some strenuous physical activity. I can’t look good in them, no matter how hard I try.
Cable-knit sweaters. I can’t even begin to tell you how ugly these make me.
Boxy turtlenecks.À la Lands’ End. You know what I’m talking about. You know they’re bad when not even the models can make them look good. I don’t think I’ve worn one since the late 1990s, though, so I’m fairly safe from repeating this one.
Polo shirts. I have never been preppy enough to pull off a polo. I don’t think people with naturally curly hair are allowed to wear polos?
Capri pants. Do people still wear capris? Are they even called that anymore? (And is a capri higher than an ankle jean? Someone educate me.)
Jean jackets. I’ve never been able to pull off a jean jacket.
If you wear any of these things, I am not passing judgment on you. I have simply come to the point in my young adult life where I have learned that I cannot wear certain things. I need to establish these rules. Because deep down, I think I just want to float around in big, drapey, tent-like garments, the kind that 50-year-old community college art teachers wear. I have to put some limits on myself.
Long weekend = totally awesome and relaxing and filled with dogs and girlfriends and films. (Unrelated side note: Our romantic peach orchard shoot with the great Kristin Moore was also featured on her blog this past week.) My mind escapes me right now, so here are some distracting links.
One Hundred and One White Women. Findings: Danish people age really well (see especially the men once they get into their first century). And they have great skin. (The Hairpin)
Cuppow. Would totally use this, although I looked at that photo and instantly thought, “Gross, who wants to drink JAM?” I don’t like drinking out of plastic and I should stop using paper cups at work, so this is the perfect solution. It makes mason jars so much more usable on a daily, travel basis! Now hipsters won’t look like doofuses drinking out of mason jars and spilling all over themselves. (Linda & Harriett)
Icebergs. Thoughts, poems, and paintings on the sublime (beautiful, haunting, terrifying) nature of the iceberg. (Ill Seen, Ill Said)
Valentino. Sometimes I just like to look at pretty dresses. (Ill Seen, Ill Said)
The Best Time I Almost Bought a Falcon. I think Nicole Cliffe is the funniest. I definitely LOL’ed at this one, mainly because I’ve probably been tempted to get a falcon myself? (The Hairpin)
We had a great weekend with Jonathan at the Virginia Film Festival. We all agreed that “Melancholia” was the best we saw, although we would caution you not to watch it when you are feeling sad.
The Birth Control Solution. “Contraceptives no more cause sex than umbrellas cause rain.” An important and illuminating article by Nicholas D. Kristof. The efforts of conservatives to block birth control measures have paradoxically increased the number of abortions over time: “When contraception is unavailable, the likely consequence is not less sex, but more pregnancy.” The goals of family planning and Christian morality are not opposed to one another. (New York Times)
Bright Young Things. The winner of TIME magazine’s photo competition, Andrea Morales, presents a simultaneously moving and troubling glimpse into the lives of girls growing up poor in Glouster, Ohio. (TIME, LightBox)
General rule: If I don’t have any photos from the weekend, it means that we had a very peaceful, uneventful one, which, in this case, was true. Except for the mice infestation, which is something I am not brave enough to discuss right now.
Formerly Known As. A thoughtful and great article by a Christian man on why he decided to take his wife’s name when they married. (The Curator)
Kyoko Hamada: Letter to Fukushima. A poignant photo essay and journal of a photographer’s journey back to Fukushima. As the media frenzy dies down, the residents of Fukushima still carry on their extremely difficult lives in a barren town. (The New Yorker)
Veiled. Unbelievable Italian sculptures of veiled women. I remember my mother talking about the incredible beauty of these in an art book when I was young. Since then, I’ve always been mesmerized by them. (Even Cleveland)
Flick Chicks. Mindy Kaling reflects on the absurd and limited number of women that are permitted to appear in romantic comedies. My favorite tropes: “The Klutz” and “The Forty-Two-Year-Old Mother of the Thirty-Year-Old Male Lead.” (The New Yorker)
Ask an Orthodox Christian. Orthodox Christianity is also incredibly fascinating to me, and it seems that way for all of the people who asked questions here, because they all sound like they want to convert. Interesting answers, though! (Rachel Held Evans)