Braving Me-Made at Work

I realized I needed to get a new job when my manager sneered at my Me-Made coat.

This was three winters ago, and my antennae already were frizzing with lots of hostile vibes from her. But her reaction was the strongest signal yet that I needed to find something else. 

I’m Diane from the blog Distaff, and I’d like to share my journey of fitting Me-Made clothing into the working world.

I hadn’t sewn apparel for years, but I decided to try after I could not find a RTW long dress coat that I liked. I painstakingly made the kind of coat I really wanted, Vogue 1276. While the coat has some flaws (that hem is unfortunate and the belt is a bit short) I was proud of my coat and eagerly showed it off. I got lots of compliments. But not from my manager.

 

 

“I see,” she said, looking my coat up and down. “And how do you have time for that?”

“Oh, I squeeze time in here and there,” I said. The coat had taken me four months of nights and weekends to make, but I wasn’t going to tell her that.

I tried to change the subject. “What do you like to do in your spare time?” I asked my manager — a workaholic type who’d send me emails at 2 a.m. on Saturdays.

“Oh,” she said, fingering her ever-present strand of pearls, “I like to read.”

“Oh really? Me too. Do you recommend anything?”

She rattled off the titles of several business books. Oy.

I seldom wore that coat or other me-made things to the office after that. Instead, I went on a Me-Made binge, sewing a half-dozen projects from the Japanese sewing book  “Happy Homemade Sew Chic” by Yoshiko Tsukiori and blogging about it — just for fun — and they were all intentionally casual looks that wouldn’t work for the office anyway.

 

 

These clothes were simple and fun and I could enjoy them, judgement-free. Sewing saved my sanity at a time when I’d cry myself to sleep over my stressful job situation.

I started an excellent new job a few months later, in a much more formal office. My first week coincided with a weekend dressmaking class at Workroom Social in Brooklyn. I was reluctant to tell co-workers about it, for fear I’d get branded a freak, one week on the job. I decided to make a work-appropriate dress, just to see if I could make something that looked RTW. Do you think I succeeded?

McCalls dress

McCalls 6968 in a black linen blend, with a belt made from recycled sari fabric in copper silk, embroidered with little mirrors.

I got compliments on it and wore it to work often, but I didn’t spill my secret. I kept my Me-Made items mostly for telecommuting days and weekends.

Fast-forward a year, and comfortable in the new job, I took the plunge. I had heard about Me-Made May and wanted to participate, but I knew I wouldn’t get far without some work clothes. I sewed up a small capsule wardrobe (pants, skirt, two tops, a jacket, and a cardigan) and hit my goal of wearing Me-Made at least three days per week in May.

 

 

The last day of May, the zipper on the pants broke while I was at work, and I got through the rest of the day with a strategically placed safety pin, but I did it.

What’s more, I owned it. A coworker complimented me on an outfit and asked if I’d been on a shopping spree.

“Nope,” I said, “a sewing spree. I sewed all these clothes.”

“No! Way!”

I held my breath.

Then, an amazing thing happened.

Instead of being ridiculed for my hobby, people sought me out because of it:

  • I fixed a co-worker’s fallen dress hem at my desk, while she waited in a bathroom stall.
  • A co-worker asked for advice on where to find tulle and other decorations for her wedding.
  • I helped a co-worker refashion a cheap dress into something suitable for a black-tie event.
  • A co-worker sought advice on whether a RTW dress could be altered to fit better.
  • A co-worker and I went fabric shopping in India.
  • I tutored a co-worker on how to hem her daughter’s jeans.
  • I helped at an office volunteer event where we sewed “surgi-dolls” for sick children.
  • I gave a speech before my office Toastmasters club on the ills of fast-fashion and how to recognize a quality RTW garment.

What’s more, I connected with some new friends at work — including women who are immigrants or first-generation Americans — who come from places where home sewing is a much more common and valued skill.

This year, I’m going all the way in May, wearing a Me-Made item daily, fearlessly. Here’s a picture in my office bathroom mirror from April — in Me-Made from head to toe!

IMG_20180409_081519

Skirt: Burda 6895, blouse: Camicia 10 from La Mia Boutique magazine, the Drop-Pocket Cardigan from Jalie and my old Vogue 1276 coat

Do you wear your Me-Made garments to work? Do your coworkers know the secret to your style? I’d love to hear your story!