Work wardrobe

I work in a pretty casual office, where work-appropriate clothing just means you’re covered, basically. My (female) boss often wears shorts and thongs to work in the summer. I am probably the most formally dressed of the lot of us – I never wear shoes with laces to the office (well except for that one pair of oxfords) and I never wear jeans. But still, my work wardrobe has tended more casual and comfortable, especially over the last two years where I have not felt well (gluten stuff) and not really had the extra energy to think about how I dress for work. For instance for the last few weeks, all I’ve worn to work are my penny pinafores and lady skater dresses – comfy, stretchy knits.

It’s nice to be able to be so casual, but I’d also like to be able to put some thought and care into how I present myself. It makes me feel happy to do so. I’m starting to have the energy to do so more and more – but not the means. Plus sized work clothes are expensive, and scarce. And then you’re faced with the issue, universal to all sizes but really accentuated at the upper end, of whether you really want to pay $70 for a polyester skirt that barely fits.

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Here’s a photo of some clouds to break up the wall of text.

So I’ve been meaning to sew some more work gear for some time, but just not getting to it. But now my job is dwindling, the work the business is getting in has slowed to a trickle, and so I’m really upping my job searching. For which I obviously need, at a minimum, some interview clothes. And ideally enough clothes for a week, so if (when? Please?) I do get a new job I don’t have to worry about getting or making more clothes. I’m only working 2 days a week at the moment, and I’m trying to use one of my free days for job applications, and another day for sewing. It’s nice to have big blocks of time to sew in, especially since I am currently sharing my sewing room with several computers. Uh… did I even mention that S and his son have moved in with me? Well, they have. And now the craft room is the study/craft room. Most of my stash is in boxes in the shed, and my sewing machines are still set up on their own table but I’ve not got as much room to spread out as I used to. They are happy to work around me, or to move to another room, but it’s just more tricky to sew when they’re home.

Anyway, since I have almost nothing in my wardrobe, this is the perfect opportunity to think about what I actually wear and like, and make a capsule type wardrobe. I spent a couple hundred dollars of my tax return on fabric at spotlight during their 40% off sale, and I have a stash of patterns already. So now I have to sew!

Fair warning, I’m going to bang on a fair bit about what I want to sew, because it’s helpful to me to have a plan. And it’ll be interesting to check back and see what changed in the process. Feel free to check out and come back when the actual sewing starts. I already own all the patterns and fabric mentioned, unless otherwise specified, and I want to avoid buying much more until I am working again. I can justify a metre or two, especially if it’s for something specific. But if I already have pattern and fabric for something in that category, I need to make do first. No buying more navy fabric for skirts until I have sewn all the black skirts I need, for example. That way lies empty wallets and too-full craft rooms. I can’t deny that part of this effort is also to use up some of the fabric in my drawers. Then I can bring in more from the shed, maybe!

Excessive talking below the cut.

Colours: Black and white, obvs. I wear a lot of black already, I feel comfortable in it, it is easy to match, and it wears well. I also wear a lot of navy, when I have it in my wardrobe. So main colours of black, white and navy, maybe some grey, with scarlet and yellow as accent colours. High contrast makes me feel the most comfortable and well-dressed. I used to wear a lot of teal but I don’t so much any more. It’s still my favourite colour, but I just don’t reach for those items in my wardrobe. Once I have sewn a good portion of what I need, I will make or buy some bright accessories so I’m not so bland. But the problem I had in the past was that nothing in my wardrobe went with anything else. So I want a good basics wardrobe where everything matches so it’s easy to plan outfits, and then I can jazz them up at will with jewellery and the like.

Style: I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time thinking about what I like to wear, and how I like to present myself. This has always been hard before, when I have shopped from necessity and just basically bought anything I could find and afford, which of course contributed to the ‘nothing matches’ problem. Obviously  style is more limited with office wear, especially if you’re larger, because things that look borderline but fine on a thinner person look more easily unprofessional, but thankfully this actually fits well with my style preferences. I want to dress neatly, and clearly femininely, but not femme, if you appreciate the difference. When I think about my favourite work outfits I’ve had they’ve all been simple dresses with straight skirts and structured tops, and plain white crisp shirts, with black pencil skirts and sturdy high heels. So that’s what I’m focusing on – not the most fun to sew, but at least more simple to work out fit etc. But I’m already trying hard not to let myself get distracted with funner things! I might plan some more fun colours and patterns once I’m done, to stave off the itchy fingers.

Skirts: Separates are good bang for your buck. I want at least three skirts, probably more, at least two in black.

  • Simplicity 1541 in black gaberdine. Possibly more than one. Seems like a real good basic.1541
  • Gertie’s pencil skirt in black (no link because it’s in her book, example by Sew Hopeful here, she’s sewn a few). Maybe drill, maybe linen. Must remember to draft back vent before I cut it out.
  • I wanted a gored skirt in black wool, I was thinking about simplicity 3688 but I’m not sure I love the way it hangs. I might leave that till last and see how I go.
  • A navy straight skirt. Maybe another Kasia – I wore my navy Kasia all the time, but it’s a bit sad and faded now so I don’t wear it much. I don’t have any fabric for this one, although if I made a Simplicity 1541 I might be able to get it out of my disastrous Juniper pants attempt from last craft camp, since the legs are so wide and the 1541 pattern pieces are all small. If I went the Kasia route I would have to make sure not to make it TOO in-your-face nautical, which would go against the grain. There are some really nice  dark-grey Kasia’s on the burdastyle page, so maybe I’ll see if I can find some appropriate fabric for that.

Tops: This one is trickier, because of bust darts and FBAs and such. And because finding shirting fabric is DIFFICULT. But since most boughten tops are too narrow on my shoulders, it has to be attempted at least. I figure I need at least a plain white long sleeved shirt, a plain white short sleeved shirt, and a couple of other shirts/blouses, where I can have wriggle room to be more interesting.

  • I made Kwik Sew 3883 for S a couple of craft camps ago, and it turns out that if you whack a bust dart in it it fits me perfectly across the shoulders. I made a couple for me last craft camp – a flannel one and a light, flimsy one for summer. I could make that again but it’s still pretty blousy and loose in the torso, so I’d want to rub off an existing shirt for fit there.
  • In the mean time, I’m going to muslin Kwik sew 2849. I’d really prefer to have a princess line shirt, if I can get it to work. One short sleeved and one long sleeved. And then maybe a blue one if I can find some nice fabric.
  • K2849K2849I was going to make New Look 6808. But I’ve just realised it only goes up to 18, which is 5 inches off my bust size. I must have bought it intending to do an FBA (the biggest size is my upper bust size). So I guess I’ll muslin that and see if it’s worth continuing with.


  • I also muslined Jasmine a few months ago, and it was a disaster. But now I know more about sleeves, and have a sleeve and a bodice that are close, I might try again. Maybe. I’m a bit traumatised by it, to be honest.
  • The other option is to take the bodice of one of the dresses I am making and just turn that into a shirt. Maybe use the collar/neckline of newlook 6808. It would be nice to have a simple shell/blouse shape, because I have some slightly more interesting fabric – some navy lawn with a bird pattern, and some cream poplin with spots – that would be nice with a simple shape.
  • I also have some black knit fabric and I want to make some more lady skater tops. If I have enough, I would like one plain one, and one with some alabama chanin style embroidery on it. I’ve also seen a few of the Jalie scarf collar tops around. I really like the look, and I think I can reproduce it by making a lady skater and whack a strip of fabric around the collar.

Dresses: Dresses are so nice and easy. You put them on and you have an OUTFIT. Especially if you can be bothered to accessorise. They make you look like you tried, and you didn’t even have to! Downside, they are more obvious when you repeat them than seperates. So I would like a few, if I can get the patterns sorted out. Again, fitting is harder because of boobs and stuff.

  • I previously made a dress from Ottobre 05-2011 (the ‘School Teacher’ one) The biggest size was too small for me, but I ‘graded it up’ by basically just adding to the sides, and it miraculously worked! Except for a gaping neckline, which I darted. I wore that dress a whole lot, especially given that it was sateen which I have sworn off, because it creased like crazy and also was a lint magnet. I had to de-lint it every time I wore it, so it hasn’t been worn in a while. Anyway, now I know about FBAs, so I took the pattern I’d adjusted, measured the neck dart I’d put in, and rotated that to the bust dart. I muslined it and it seemed to work, so we are go. I am halfway through making it up in some black drill I found in my stash, which might not be ideal since it’s pretty stiff. But we’ll see. If that works I’ll make at least one more, the magazine has some alternate sleeves and neck options, and it’s an easy enough shape to adjust as I like, anyway. I FINALLY found some black cotton linen at spotlight, so I have some of that to make this dress up in. I also have some long-hoarded wool that might become one of these dresses. Maybe I will make one sleeveless, to wear under cardis. I know it seems like I’m bingeing on this dress, but… well, I am. It’s simple and nice, and the one I already made was very comfortable. If I can get the pattern right, it means I don’t have to futz with another pattern.
Left, the version I've already made. Right, alternate neck/bodice treatment. Considering making the linen up in that.
Left, the version I’ve already made. Right, alternate neck/bodice treatment. Considering making the linen up in that.
  • I’d like a princess line dress, too. I have Simplicity 1586 so I might give that a try. I have a vogue pattern too, AND another simplicity one, but the amazing fit one has good reviews, and it might mean I have to do less futzing with the princess seams. I don’t know why I keep buying princess-seamed dresses with straight skirts. Well, I guess because I like them, but really, they are the same dress. There’s no need to buy them over again. Actually the vogue one I have (8667) is a separate bodice and skirt, so that’s more versatile I guess. I have a piece of patterned sateen that I bought on clearance and there’s only 1m of it, and I’ve been hoarding it because I love it. (I know. I just said I swore off sateen.) I MIGHT be able to squeeze a dress out of it, but I’m debating making it the front of this dress, and doing the rest in navy. I’ll have to get it out of the shed and see if it will fit, and would look ok. Otherwise I might have to buy some grey fabric for this one. Or maybe red?



  • And finally I want to make a By Hand London Anna dress with a straight skirt. Handmade Jane made one, and I’ve seen another around but I can’t remember where. I thought it was Idle Fancy but hers are all gathered skirts. I muslined the bodice for it at craft camp, but it needs some SERIOUS boob room, so I need to work that out. But I’d like to do that because the bust gathers hit exactly in the right spot and it looked AMAZING, except for the fact that the side seam was out of whack, I couldn’t do it up in the back, and my boobs were squooshed. Think how much more amazing it would look if it fit! I want a maxi version of it for summer, and if I can sort out the bust issue it would be a very quick sew. I have some black rayon and some dark-teal rayon that I was going to make maxis out of, I could use one of those colours for the straight skirt version maybe. Except I just said I didn’t wear teal much. Actually it occurs to me that I have quite a bit of teal wool in the stash. Maybe I should make a teal dress, which is what I originally bought it for. But I don’t want to make something I won’t wear, just because I have the fabric. I’ll have to think about it.

Jumpers: I could use some office appropriate cardigans and plain pullovers. But I don’t really want to knit black 5ply pullovers, so I might just buy some from woolovers when I get a new job and have money again.

Jackets: I don’t know that my skill level is at jackets, yet. But it is VERY hard to find ones that fit me, because I have a broad back. I have one dark-grey blazer that fits, but wouldn’t really go with anything I’ve listed here except dresses, and it’s a mottled grey that is hard to match. And I have a check wool men’s jacket that is lovely but not really what I have in mind as office wear.

My checked jacket. S always takes photos from above his head height, so the proportion is weird and I look like an egg on sticks. I don't really look like an egg on sticks. I don't think.
My checked jacket. S always takes photos from above his head height, so the proportion is weird and I look like an egg on sticks. I don’t really look like an egg on sticks. I don’t think.

So I’m going to have a crack at the knit blazer thingo in Ottobre 05-2013, which doesn’t look super complex, as far as jackets go. And it’s knit so I have a bit more margin for error. I know Sue made this at the last craft camp, but kept the darts on the inside. Did you finish it, Sue? Did it turn out ok? Need to buy some black ponte for it. And that will have to do for now. I’d really love a navy blazer but that will have to wait. I have a couple patterns that might do, but I’m just not skilled enough yet, especially as most of them will need fit adjustments.

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Pants: ??? idk. Pants, man. They are hard. I wouldn’t mind having a go at the simplicity 3688 pants, but I’m not even going to officially put that on the list because there would just be too much fitting involved to make it feasible in the short term. I’d also like to figure out what was wrong with my Jasmine pants and give them another go, but again, long term.

I like the shirt too but suspect it would look terrible on me.
I like the shirt too but suspect it would look terrible on me.

Well if you made it this far, give yourself a gold star! Or maybe have a think about your life choices. I feel like I’m being very ambitious/setting myself up for failure. But if I can do fitting and pattern tweaking before I start properly sewing a garment, I can easily sew a garment or two in a day, if I’m concentrating. Or over the evenings of a couple of days. I find that making the muslin/fitting part of the process totally separate is really useful for me. And really, it’s less time and effort than shopping for the clothes, considering the dearth of options I have as a tweenie fat – more than if I were a size 28, sure. But very frustrating to be in a store where the plus size line starts too big for you, and the straight size line ends too small. I’m looking at you, Katies/Autograph. Utterly rage making.

So there we go! I’ll try and report back as we go. And also I have a bunch of un blogged stuff that I made at the last two craft camps that I’d like to record properly here. I just have to take photos.


7 thoughts on “Work wardrobe

  1. I think this is an excellent plan. I vote (because I get to vote on your hobby right?) that you start with doing a few things you feel comfortable with and don’t need to problem solve our buy stuff for. Tick them off and start taking the rewards. I also suggest putting sewing time on the calendar, like an appointment, so you remind yourself to stay on track.

    1. It’s definitely a vote! I just won’t tell you how many rigged votes are already in the ballot boxes…

      That’s basically my plan. I keep getting excited about ALL THE THINGS I COULD DO – usually at about 3pm when I’ve got nothing to do at work. But I’m determined to keep my feet on the ground and sew stuff I know will be successful, that I have everything for. At least for now. I can work my way up, and then if something takes longer or is trickier it’s not a wardrobe-ending disaster!

      I’ve been blocking in half-days to sit and do sewing, but it looks like I might have snagged some temporary work, so I might have to set sewing dates with myself some evenings! Otherwise I definitely faff and put it off. Actually physically (or digitally I guess) putting it in the calendar is an excellent idea.

  2. I made it to the end and I’m absolutely confident about my life choices. I think your plan is completely doable and is going to work awesomely. I watch with interest.

  3. I have that simplicity pattern and another in the series which I used a lot. I think it was proper plus size if I remember. I agree with Kate, some easy wins – it will increase your wardrobe immediately and make you feel good. I made it to the end too. I’ve been trying to sew new pants, renovate old pants because I have been close to pantsless as some of my clothes have gasp, worn out. Will follow with interest.

Whadya reckon?

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