Previously on Makeover Monday, I showed you the beginnings of my Take Tango to Work (TTTW) wardrobe, thanks to a fantastic find at one of my favorite thrift shops. I also concluded that, to make my tango wardrobe work-appropriate (and vice-versa), I should focus on professional fabrics and colors, and wear them in tango-ready silhouettes. Now that I’ve started sewing a few things based on that general concept, today we’ll be talking about how to choose patterns for maximum garment versatility. And I’ll show you a fabulous skirt I’ve just made, in 2 outfit variations: Professional Lindy and Tango Lindy!
Since I’ve decided a new skirt is a top wardrobe priority, my first step was finding the right pattern. I was lucky enough to find this in my pattern collection:
I love the silhouette of this skirt, because it combines a fairly slim front with a back that’s fitted around the hips, then flares out to a very swishy hemline. (All the better to tango with, my dear!) I decided to make Version B; I love Version A, especially the contrast bands (although I have to say I’d choose very different colors), but I thought it would end up looking a little more tango and a lot less professional. And sticking with my strategy of business-y fabrics combined with dance-y silhouettes, I chose a heavy herringbone linen from my fabric stash. (Those of you with particularly sharp eyes and memories might just recognize the fabric: it’s the same linen I used to add the tuxedo stripes to my sage-green linen trousers for my Santa Fe Wardrobe! I knew the leftovers would come in handy one day…)
Tip: Even if you’re looking specifically for a skirt pattern, check out other style categories too; I found this amazing skirt under “Suits/Coordinates”! And patterns in that category almost always include patterns for more than one garment, making it easy to create a cohesive ensemble.
The front of this skirt is cut on the bias; I must say, after making the skirt, I’m not sure I see the point. Certainly cutting the front on the bias changes the way it hangs, but honestly, it makes it more difficult to fit, because of the bias “give”. (The back and lining pieces are cut on the straight grain.) Also, sewing a bias piece to a non-bias one, like the side seams in this skirt, is pretty challenging. (In spite of my best efforts, you can see a little rippling on the side seams near my hips. Sigh…) I may just try making another skirt from this pattern, but cut the front straight instead of bias. It would take some careful fitting, but I think it would be worth the experiment.
I’m making a wild assumption here that not all of you are actually into Argentine tango, and for that matter, I know you don’t all sew your own clothes, so how is all this TTTW business relevant to you? Well, whether you dance or not, chances are good that you need at least some clothes that do double duty in your wardrobe; since this post is focusing on sewing, for now, I’m going to try to give you a general strategy for choosing patterns for maximum versatility. (You can apply the same process to shopping for ready-to-wear clothes too.) Here’s how:
Step 1. Zero in on an area of your life where one activity overlaps another. Do you often go straight from the airport to giving a presentation? Then you’ll want to focus on clothes that combine low maintenance (non-wrinkly fabrics, for example) with professional appearance. Or maybe you want to be able to go straight from your teaching job to a night on the town; here’s where a change of accessories will be the most helpful, but only if your clothes work dressed up and down.
What I did: In my case, as you know, I’m aiming for a wardrobe that combines a creative-professional image with tango-ready practicality. In tango, people can and do wear almost anything, including jeans, for dancing. Personally, I prefer to dance in dresses and skirts, but unlike other dances, like swing, skirts don’t need to be full; pencil skirts and sheath dresses are commonly worn at milongas (social dances for Argentine tango). Another popular silhouette is a skirt that’s fitted in front with a flared fishtail effect in back. (And all of these options would work well for professional clothes too, in the right fabrics, and worn with appropriate accessories.) Observing what experienced tango dancers wear has been extremely helpful to me.
Step 2. Analyze the clothes you already have, relative to the overlapping needs you’ve identified. This will be a huge help in identifying the gaps in your wardrobe. For instance, if you tend to keep all your work clothes separated from everything else in your closet, try moving some of them around, mixing them with other garments; maybe that suit you only wear to work could be split up so that the jacket could go over a sparkly tank top and jeans for a casual night out. Make two lists of top-priority items, one for each of the needs you’ve identified (e.g. work and dining out).
What I did: well, after looking at every single garment I own, I had to conclude that I had very little indeed that could be combined into even a single work outfit! (My criterion: Would I wear it to a job interview?) So I decided that would have to be my priority, and if I can make new garments work for tango, so much the better.
Step 3. Once you have your two lists, start “shopping” through your patterns for anything that might be useable (or look online at currently-available patterns; this website carries several different pattern lines, so it’s a good place to start). Make one stack for each of your lists, then go through each stack and ask yourself: would this work for the other list? Set aside any pattern that would only work for its original list; these are your less-versatile patterns, still useable, but probably shouldn’t be your top-priority items.
What I did: I had one stack of every pattern I thought was tango-worthy, and another stack of patterns that could possibly work for, well, work. (The tango stack was a LOT bigger.) When I went through the tango stack, actually, I could envision quite a few of them as work-appropriate— if they were done in the right fabrics, textures, and colors.
Okay! That should give you a good start on your own multi-tasking wardrobe! (And remember, whether you sew or not, this same process will work for ready-to-wear. Just don’t go shopping without your lists from Step 2!)
Now let’s get back to my skirt for a minute. Again, in keeping with my strategy of combining work-worthy fabrics and colors with tango-worthy silhouettes, I’ve made this beautiful deep taupe/charcoal grey herringbone linen skirt; the fabric definitely has a menswear look, while the skirt shape is quite feminine. (This yin-yang quality not only increases the versatility of this skirt, it makes it more interesting!) I’m wearing it here, as part of a professional look:
And all I have to do is ditch the jacket and change into my dancing shoes, and I’m ready to tango:
And there it is— the first piece in my TTTW wardrobe that I’ve made myself! I must say, I’ve noticed such a difference in the process of getting here, since I’ve started (gasp!) putting a little effort into planning before I start cutting and sewing. Before, I was just making a skirt here, a dress there, maybe a top or two, as I felt like it (or when I found a fabulous fabric), but I’m realizing now that, even though I have loved all the things I’ve made, that old approach (I use the term loosely) is what has resulted in my closet being full of lots of nice things that don’t work that well for my life as it is today. Hence this ongoing series, and related ones, like my brand-new Thrift-Shop Thursdays. Be sure to tune in again next week for another thrilling episode of… Makeover Monday!