I have bought very very few ready to wear clothes since I started sewing over 7 years ago and most of them are jeans, coats or underwear. And this is not because I was trying to be mindful but more because I’ve never had a great relationship with clothes and not buying clothes was the simplest, most liberating thing to do. Clothing never felt like an extension or reflection of my personality, it just made me feel inadequate.
I started sewing because I didn’t particularly like or knew how to shop for maternity clothes and having read a few blogs, refashioning seemed interesting and satisfying. I meticulously followed online tutorials and made empire waist babydoll tops, elastic and shirred waist blouses and tops with shoulder straps turning my husband’s shirts into maternity clothes for me. They were not perfect but they brought the kind of rush and joy that makers and artists rave about. It was enough to make me want to pursue this hobby for longer than just maternity clothes. I went on to refashion my son’s onesies for my daughter by adding skirts and ruffles to them; and then made little tops and dresses for her from online tutorials and free patterns. Eventually, I started buying patterns and learnt how to sew properly and learnt that linings, facings and interfacings were all different things. Pattern testing taught me more about sewing, and fabric, and fitting. I will forever be grateful for the wealth of knowledge I’ve acquired from testing patterns. While I never followed fashion trends, I mean I don’t know the first thing about fashion, I fell hard for sewing trends. New pattern, new fabric, new sleeve shape, new sewing technique, new designer, new anything and everything in the sewing world. I don’t honestly regret one single thing about it because it gave me the chance to explore clothing. What most people do growing up, experimenting with clothes, colors and styles before they grow into their own style, I feel like that was me in my first few years of sewing so I don’t regret the pattern testing and sewing frenzy I was wrapped up in. Add to that the sense of finally belonging to a community it gave to a stay at home mom like me.
It’s so strange how often I’ve come across terms like being your authentic self and it didn’t make sense at the time. I mean I’m sewing clothes for myself and taking pictures of myself so of course I’m being myself so I don’t know what else being true to myself means. But looking back now, I did know and now I can clearly pin point things I made that felt like me, when I knew I loved something before I even looked at myself because what I looked like mattered less than what I felt like. And I felt right in those makes like when things that are meant to be click into place and you know it’s right because you can feel it. Just like when I look back at my childhood and can pinpoint when I was myself versus when I was under the sphere of some standard, some trend or society’s influence. When I was little, I wore clothes that my mom made for me or bought for me. She made adorable little dresses and pinafores with smocking or hand painted or hand embroidered details. Any time I asked her to make something for me, she’d do her best to make that dream come to life. One time I wanted a dress out of an old cotton saree of hers, it was white with big turquoise flowers. She made a cap sleeved midi dress with an elastic waist and how I loved that dress! I remember those times fondly when I was unabashedly me, when my choices, dreams and desires didn’t seem too silly or childish to admit.
As I got older, I became painfully aware of my short stature and flat chest and everything to do with clothing made me feel inadequate – too short, too flat, too dark-skinned! Anything to do with clothing was just unhappy business, I didn’t feel like clothing defined me, so I let my role as a Ph.D student define me. I was so happy, so proud of everything I was doing with polymers. It felt like I had so much purpose doing important work and publishing papers in the field of drug delivery in cancer studies, I thrived in my lab synthesizing polymers, conducting studies, publishing papers, presenting my work at conferences, everything filled me with confidence. And during that time I slowly started to pick and wear clothes that I loved: cotton eyelet skirts, wrap skirts, slit skirts, gauchos and I wore them all with confidence. I felt brave and free to be myself.
But the roles that we play don’t have to define us because when life and destiny change course, and you cease to be those things, that loss of purpose can spiral us downwards into despair. I’ll leave the story of my battle with depression and anxiety for another day because today is about clothes; and how clothes in their own strange way led me to my true self. When I realized that I still like the same things I liked years ago, the same colors, feel strongly about the same kind of things, and hold the same dreams and desires for my heart, I feel like now have the courage to embrace all the things that make me ‘me’. Even if they’re plain or silly or boring or old fashioned or unflattering, that’s all still me.
Making choices, making mistakes, making clothes, falling, failing and growing up, I realized that there is beauty and happiness in being my true self. That beauty is not vanity, it is not defined by outward physical attributes or from definitions, standards and trends set by society. Beauty is me being my true self, being who I was before I let insecurities dictate my choices and the roles that I played dictate my personality. And that, beauty is being my authentic self!
This month of May, while so many of us in the sewing community will be wearing and sharing their handmade garments, I too want to wear my hand mades and explore which clothes make me feel happy, make me feel like myself and feel like an extension of who I am.
Thank you for stopping by!
Happy May and Happy Sewing!
8 thoughts on “The clothes that define me”
First thing, this fabric is AMAZING and you look equally AMAZING in this dress.
Next thing, this is a great post! And the best part of sewing your own clothes truly does seem to be the journey to finding what garments/ colours/ styles/ prints/ shapes etc make you feel good wearing them. I truly believe once you look good to you, you feel good and you feel confident and better about your day ahead or just your outlook on life sometimes.
Abbey, Thank you so much! You’ve always been so encouraging and kind. Thank you for your friendship!
I agree, giving importance to what we wear or how we look is so often perceived as being superficial but it is amazing how much it in fact reflects who we are, and like you said extends to our outlook towards life. Thank you for sharing your thoughts 😘
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What a beautiful post – I can relate to so much of it! Thanks for your honesty and for sharing your gorgeous makes so regularly.
Thank you! I am so glad to hear that you appreciate my post and my makes ❤️
I can relate to a lot of that… Bad body image(short, dark and large busted – at a place where all 3 were shamed!), your work taking over as your main identity and when life changed course and there was no professional work to do, then the loss of identity, self worth leading to depression & anxiety.. I’ve been through that…. and I think I’m going through a round 2 of that, 10 yrs later.. I am so glad sewing gave you that sense of self expression , belonging and community… It gives me hope as I’m working my way through it and rediscovering my love for sewing.
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Hi Kay, I apologize for my delayed response. I am so glad to hear that this post resonates so much with you. And I am sorry that you’re in that phase that is hurting your mental health again. Wishing you well and hoping that we learn to value ourselves based on who we are rather than what we accomplish ❤️please don’t hesitate to reach out if you ever need to talk❤️
Thank you for writing that honest and enlightening post.
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Thank you, Cheryl! I am happy you appreciate it❤️