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#overdressed4life

The tactile feeling of a lush, hand-knit sweater or an embroidered top provides a bit of comfort in an increasingly unpredictable and progressively digital world, where even socializing takes place onscreen. Sitting down with a pair of knitting needles and fluffy merino yarn sparks a deeper connection than mindless scrolling ever could.

Kristen Bateman – Contributing editor at Harper’s Bazaar.

Knitting, sewing, quilting, you name it we’re doing it. Even before Pandemic 2020, crafting was on the rise as interest in commercially manufactured goods declined. People are realizing that creating their own clothing and accessories is much more fun and easier on the environment.

On weekends I stay away from my laptop and spend time working on sewing projects, knitting, embroidery or whatever inspires me. It’s a treat to create with my hands and shift my mind from working words to working yarn or fabric. (And much more satisfying than scrolling social media looking at what other people are doing.)

Recycled plastic folded and formed into a wearable garment. Issey Miyake, 2010.

What I have been trying to do, and what I have probably done, is to make clothes that seem to have existed for a long, long time. In reality they never existed. I am not a designer who creates fashionable aesthetics. I make style out of life, not style out of style.

Issey Miyake – Japanese fashion designer.

May we all find inspiration for style from everyday life.

In 2004 I attended the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. This big deal event for both published and pre-published children’s writers is held every summer in Los Angeles and attracts several hundred attendees.

Henry Winkler signing books while sporting his fabulous sport jacket. I know this is a lousy photo, but it’s the one I took that day and isn’t it great that he’s wearing a tie!

On the morning of the fourth and final day of the conference, I was standing in the middle of a long line to get a book signed when Henry Winkler walked in. Standing right in front of us, he took a look at the line, raised his arms slightly with palms out, a la The Fonz, and said, “Wow, this must be for someone important. I never get lines like this. Who is it?” He laughed and we laughed and everyone was a bit star struck by the charming Mr. Winkler. But I was also quite struck by something else – the jacket he was wearing. Not The Fonz leather jacket, actually that hangs in the Smithsonian, but a beautifully tailored sport jacket made of the finest quality fabric I’d ever seen.

I’d call the color oatmeal and it looked to be tailormade of a wool/silk blend. You know when you’re looking at quality garments. They hang right, they fit right, they speak quality. Between Mr. Winker’s humorous charm and his lovely jacket, that encounter is vivid in my mind to this day.

Did you know that Mr. Winkler writes books for kids?

He writes the Hank Zipzer series with co-author, Lin Oliver, who also is the co-founder and director of SCBWI. Hank is a little kid who has some trouble learning, but he’s funny and nice and resourceful and the books have been very successful. In fact, the BBC created a Hank Zipzer television show.

(Speaking of children’s literature, FYI May 3-9 is Children’s Book Week, when we celebrate all things related to children reading and books for kids!)

I appreciate a man who pays attention to his words and his wardrobe. Over the years I’ve seen Mr. Winkler interviewed and spotted his photo in magazines, and he has an array of beautiful sport jackets, which he likes to pair with button down shirts and sometimes a crewneck sweater.

Writing, books, and fashion – three of my favorites.

I have many of my late mother’s dresses from the 70s. Some are unraveling, but I feel close to her when I wear them around my house. There’s a red floral one that reminds me of summers in Oklahoma.

Sherri McMullen – boutique owner.

Originally from Oklahoma, Ms. McMullen owns the fashion boutique McMullen, located in downtown Oakland. Offering luxury clothing by designers from around the world, McMullen has been named among the top American boutiques by Vogue and Women’s Wear Daily.

I also own much of my mother’s clothing from the 50s to the 70s and I can relate to what Ms. McMullen is saying. These vintage pieces of fashion are woven with memories and images that connect us to our past. I think that’s of great value.

Sunday, May 9th is Mother’s Day. ODFL wishes all the moms out there a very happy day!

I have mentioned before on ODFL that in fall 2018 I ventured to Seoul, South Korea on a textiles tour. Our busy two week schedule included several workshops in traditional Korean crafts.

One such workshop was Korean embroidery, taught by a young and very talented embroiderer in her studio. I had never done any embroidery before but, on a sunny Saturday afternoon five of us sat around a small table and got to work. First we drew a flower design onto a swatch of red silk fabric. Then we stretched the fabric not on a round embroidery hoop, but instead a square wood frame. Stretch tight and keep in place with thumbtacks – that was sort of tricky.

We had two hours to finish and that wasn’t enough time for me; I am quite slow when learning something new and by the end of the workshop my eyes were sore and I was ready to call it a day. I stuffed the fabric into my bag, thinking that probably that was the end of embroidery for me. However, the next year I took an embroidery class at San Francisco School of Needlework & Design, which helped to ease my feelings of inadequacy when it comes to needlework.

Fast forward to Pandemic 2020 and one day while sorting through my fabric stash I came across the unfinished embroidery piece. I spontaneously decided to finish what I had started and in no time, I was done. I made a button out of it and added a pinback, which turned it into a brooch. I wear it on a coat I had made and the red nicely picks up the coat’s red accent stitching.

What a surprise to create something out of what I had (mistakenly) dismissed.

Beverly Cleary, circa 1935.

… I unpacked my meager wardrobe: two woolen dresses, one brown serge and the other navy blue, the fabric cut from bolts of cloth that had lain for years on shelves in my grandfather’s general merchandise store … A skirt from a remnant, another that I had made from a pair of my father’s old gray pants. I had cut them off at the pockets, ripped the seams, washed and turned the fabric, which was perfectly good on the wrong side, and made myself a four-gored skirt to wear with a pink sweater I had knitted. A couple of cotton dresses; a bathing suit; a badly made skirt and jacket left over from high school; my precious bias-cut cream-colored satin formal, which made me feel like I was slinking around like Jean Harlow in the movies …

Beverly Cleary (1916-1921), American children’s literature author.

This quote is from Ms. Cleary’s memoir, My Own Two Feet (Morrow Junior Books, 1995).

I truly enjoy sartorial detail like this in a memoir.

At the height of the Depression, 1934, Ms. Cleary moved from her small hometown in Oregon to Ontario, CA to attend Chaffey Junior College. In those days, most people didn’t have big wardrobes. Nor did they toss away clothing like it was a used Starbucks cup. Clothing was kept and mended, altered, and refashioned. My great grandmother, who was a whiz at the sewing machine, made all of her daughters’ clothing, and anticipating future alterations, she always allowed for generous seams and hems.

Ms. Cleary’s sewing talents and thrift would be much appreciated today as we struggle to fight climate change while trying to find a path to sustainable fashion. I think one place to start is with this old goodie: Make do and mend!

Helen Uffner Vintage Clothing. Photo: Richard Aiello.

Helen Uffner is well-known around NYC and Hollywood for having the best old duds. She runs her own business renting period clothing and accessories for theater productions, films, television, magazine editorials, and book covers. 

I met Helen over hats in 2013 at the reception opening for the Milliner’s Guild exhibition. When I mentioned that I write about fashion and have a fondness for vintage, she generously invited my partner and me to her warehouse.

We stayed in touch and I remember that in 2018 Helen had to move her collection of fabulous vintage/antique clothing to a new space. That was no easy feat! Now she faces another eviction as her warehouse is getting knocked down for a residential high-rise. Still, she presses on.

Read more about Helen and how important she is to costumers from coast to coast:

https://nypost.com/2021/04/12/helen-uffners-private-vintage-collection-outfits-hollywood/

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com

We had this vast archive of fabrics from the past decade, and we really tapped into that – and in a strange way it forced us to be more creative.

Lazaro Hernandez, American fashion designer and co-founder of the womenswear brand Proenza Schouler.

Pandemic Year 2020 was challenging for fashion designers as they faced disruptions in the industry’s supply chain – mills were shut, materials were moving slowly or not at all, and manufacturing of just about everything across the globe was at a standstill. So for new collections, designers got creative and sorted through stacks of unused fabrics from past years.

According to a 2017 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation less than one percent of the fabric produced by the fashion industry was recycled into new garments. But in 2020, out of necessity, there was a shift. Fingers crossed this shift will stick.

Milliner Behida Dolic once told me that she was grateful for having to be thrifty because it made her more creative and resourceful. Spoons became tools and every bit of fabric was put to use, including extra bits of leftover felt which she used as decoration on her fabulous one-of-a-kind hats.

What’s in your fabric collection? Make it your next project.

Here’s the whole outfit: a pair of thick, black tights, with the feet cut off and rolled up to the middle of my calf. The footie part of the sock was hidden inside my shoes – a pair of black dress shoes Mom had bought from a bargain bin for two dollars, not realizing they were boys’. My father’s cadet blue cashmere sweater, too small for his latest girth, but long enough to hit me just above the knees, then hiked up a little thanks to a wide, black belt that gave the illusion that my waist was at least two inches smaller.

Elyse Nebbitt, fictional character in the YA novel, Pudge & Prejudice by A. K. Pittman (Wander Publishers).

As a budding children’s literature writer myself, I read picture books, middle grade novels (that’s what I write), and occasionally young adult novels. This one intrigued me because it’s another spin on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, reset in 1984. Interesting, because I have heard that currently publishers are turning down anything set in that decade. I suppose what saved this manuscript from the “no thanks” pile is the Jane Austen element. Plus the author has written a couple of other novels, so she already has a platform.

This passage reminded me that in the 1980s I also sported my father’s cashmere navy blue sweater. But I didn’t use it as a dress. I paired it with a longish skirt, wide belt, and boots. Oversized was a definite look in those days. I still wear that sweater!

The 1980s was when everyone really experimented with their style – mixing vintage with new, clashing colors and prints, using accessories in unusual ways. Such fun!

Spandau Ballet, circa 1980s.

I’m disappointed at the homogenization of looks. You don’t see young kids coming up with many ideas of their own. They can create their identity on their Facebook page or their Instagram site. They don’t need to create it on the street. They don’t need to find their tribe by going out in a uniform and going to a club. They can do that on the Internet.

Gary Kemp – founding member of the 1980s British pop music band Spandau Ballet.

This quote is from an article in WWD, May 2015 – the same year a documentary on Spandau Ballet, Soul Boys of the Western World, was released.

Turns out that the fellas of Spandau Ballet were quite the fashion trendsetters. Gary Kemp in particular enjoyed exploring sartorial expression. Inspired by his father who was a teddy boy, Mr. Kemp followed underground fashions of the day, his favorite being Glam Rock a la David Bowie. Later, on the 1983 True Tour, he and the band revived the teddy boy look with long jackets and western ties.

Along with Mr. Kemp, I am disappointed that modern teenagers are complete blank pages when it comes to style. Just like their parents, it’s sweats, t-shirts, shorts, t-shirts and oh yeah, sweats. Since the pandemic, not even jeans make the cut. When I was in high school I was experimenting with all kinds of silhouettes, colors, layering. I was adding vintage to new and sporting jewelry galore. It’s the time for exploration. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on that.

A few years ago I interviewed a teen girl on her style and what she was describing was pretty dull. She explained that she didn’t want to stand out. I’ve heard adults say that too. Just by wearing a dress, or a blazer, or a hat (anything other than sweats and a t-shirt) I stand out every time I leave my house. To be honest sometimes I wish I didn’t, but what I wear is what I wear and if it stands out in the mass of athleisure, then so be it.