Hello everyone, if you’re not familiar with me, I’m Heather from the blog Handmade by Heather B. For the last 4 years I’ve been working on my reputation as the local eccentric by going out dressed in vintage patterns and the most dramatic hats that can be found.
But I wasn’t always this way. When I returned to sewing in 2012, my style was that of a normal mom living in the suburbs. At the time I was sewing just to have clothing that fit, being weirdly in-between the regular and plus size ranges after my pregnancy. Most of my pattern choices were made based on the question, “Can I run after a 2 year old in this?” Granted my memory of that time is hazy now, but I don’t think I was building a personal style at the time. There’s only so much planning you can do while sleep deprived.
So, how exactly did I get from a mom in jeans and tunics to one completely decked out in 40’s era garb? Well if I’m honest the seeds were planted long ago. My parents raised me on 50’s musicals and epic dramas, and all those impeccably dressed women must have imprinted on me. When I was a teenager I collected vintage hats, not to wear, just to look at. They were put around my room like art objects to admire. In college, I fully embraced the return of bell bottoms, renamed flares, and paired them with vintage polyester disco shirts found at thrift shops. At that time I didn’t think of that as vintage dressing. Everyone was wearing flared pants and a lot of my friends had quirky style. Wearing 70’s polyester turned zero heads on my college campus. But by the time I entered the workforce, all the polyester was returned to the thrift shops and my style became basic “young professional.” It stayed that way until I started sewing for myself again.
The first time I participated in Me Made May was in 2013. My goal was to do silly photos to amuse my new sewing friends. Most of my everyday garments were fitted pants and tunics.
There were some hints of what was to come. All the “fancy” clothing worn during Me Made May had a vintage flavor to them.
I remember blogging at the time that wearing all vintage was “too costumey” on me. The reality was that I couldn’t imagine wearing something that would make you that conspicuous to the general public. I’d spent all of my teenage years and 20’s unsuccessfully trying to “fit in” clothing-wise. Maybe it was because of that old movie trope that the perfect makeover would suddenly make you attractive to the opposite sex, and friends with all the popular girls. Intellectively, I knew this was bogus. The fact that my clothing was always a little off didn’t really make a difference. However, there was always a part of me who thought, “If I get this right, then I won’t be a weirdo on the fringes of society anymore.” And boy did I try hard to get it right!
Around 2013, I had gotten it right. Looking around I was wearing the same styles everyone else was wearing at the grocery store. My clothes were the the local approved colors of black, gray, or denim, and were paired with the same semi-boring accessories that all the moms had. Walking to the car one day I suddenly had a personal epiphany. I looked like everyone else and it didn’t make a damn difference. No one was watching me waiting to see if I’d finally gotten social dress cues right to let me into the “cool club.” Literally, no one cared. All that happened is that I’d became invisible. A nondescript person whose sole purpose was to shepard around an adorable toddler that people wanted to talk to. And then I thought, “If I’m invisible, is this what I want to be wearing?” The answer to that question was “No.” Nothing about what I was wearing excited me or made me feel like a million bucks.
In 2014, I didn’t officially do Me Made May. That year I’d actually made good on my New Year’s resolution to start exercising regularly and eat healthier. The end result is that I lost a fair amount of weight and had to start sewing a new wardrobe all over again. But what to sew? Despite my epiphany of 2013, I wrestled with this question. In May I posted two garments on the opposite spectrums. The first was a knock off of a Madewell tee shirt in gray.
The second was, and still is, one of my favorite makes of all time. The “tiki goddess” Anna dress.
Both of these garments looked good on me, but I only felt great in the Anna dress. I loved this audacious dress so much that it got worn out to the grocery store and people went crazy for it. I’d expected at least one person to ask, “Why the hell are you wearing this to buy snack crackers?” Instead people who chose to speak to me had nothing but nice things to say.
For the rest of 2014, my makes tended to be in brighter colors and with a more vintage feel. I started to feel excited about choosing out my outfits in the morning. I’d spent most of my 20’s in gray and black, but now all I wanted was some bright red separates. And since bright red looks great with my skin tone, I’d get compliments every time. But no, I wasn’t dressing vintage. Just wearing brighter colors and maybe dressing a little fancier……that is until I had my second personal epiphany. I’d turned 35 that year, and realized that the only person keeping me from dressing the way I wanted was…..myself. Was I going to let my inner critic run my life? No, no I wasn’t going to listen to that voice anymore. That Christmas I bought myself a vintage pattern, and a petticoat for my Christmas dress, and started calling myself a vintage dresser.
You can call yourself a vintage dresser but it doesn’t really happen overnight unless you’re fabulously wealthy. Even then, it’s probably going to take some time to either source true vintage that fits or make your own garments from vintage patterns. I might have made the mental shift, but the MMMay photos from 2015 read more as “Dressy with fun accessories.”
I was going for a semi 50’s look that year since it’s a relatively easy decade to start with. All you need is a couple of full skirts, some pencil skirts, and a couple of close fitting tops. Thing is, once I got comfortable with my semi 50’s look it didn’t seem “vintage enough.” The color scheme was right, but the style aesthetic wasn’t quite what made me comfortable. I wanted to be more true vintage than vintage inspired. That year I grew my hair out, learned out to do a pin-curl set and started buying and making more vintage patterns.
At the beginning of 2016, I was inspired by the TV show “Agent Carter” to start wearing 40’s fashions. This had always been my favorite decade but I’d thought the silhouette wouldn’t be flattering on me. Once again I had to take my inner critic to task and say, “Hey why not try it and then decide if it’s the right look for you.”
I tried it and loved it, finally I’d found the real “me.” The 40’s styles made me feel confident and classy. In my gut I knew this was right. My worries about sticking out in a crowd were no longer an issue. This is how I wanted to look, I didn’t give a damn what anybody else thought. Bring on the tailored suits, big shoulder lines, and peplums. I want all the tucks, pleats and and darted shoulder heads you’ve got. I started sewing and wearing those 40’s styles as often as possible. Here’s a selection of the makes from 2016, not all them from May. (One downside of sewing vintage is that it’s not quick process most of the time.)
As is the case with so many things in life, since I dressed with confidence, very few people questioned it. Instead, I often have the lovely experience of a stranger approaching me to say, “I just had to tell you that I love your style.” Even without positive feedback from strangers this would still be my personal style. I get excited about putting these clothes on. They make me feel happy, they make me feel comfortable, they express the person I want to be.
For me, turning to vintage styles was a freeing experience. I’d always been a square peg in a round hole who thought I could fit in that hole if I tried hard enough. Once I stopped trying to fit in, and embraced a style aesthetic that made me different, things fell into place. I’ll always be a “weirdo on the fringes of society,” but now I’m a happy one in a fantastic hat.
Beautiful and fabulous!
Thanks so much. I’ve been lucky in finding a lot of 40’s styles that suit. 🙂
Wow! I’m excited you figured out your style now, so early in your life! I’m 61 (sheepish smile) and-I-just-figured-it-out!!! agh! I guess I’ve been really busy. ;o)
Thank You for sharing your story! I could relate to your struggle to find your style. And I could relate to the period you grew up, because my oldest daughter (she passed away at 28) would be 42 now and I hated that flannel stage- it was here in MN too. Where did it come from?? TV?? She wore the boxers too then- ugh! I also hated when she wanted to re-wear styles I wore in the early 70’s!! LOL!
You look amazing! (((HUG)))
Thanks Eliz. It’s great that you’re figuring out your personal style now. I think it just takes longer for some of us to figure out what we want. 🙂
P.S. What was the deal with that flannel stage? It was the worst.
I love that you’ve embraced and honed your style. Having insight into WHY that’s your style – where it comes from – how it suits your personality and facilitates these engaging and friendly interactions with other people! Brilliant and inspiring.
Thanks so much! Writing this blog post was a real eye opener for me. I hadn’t really thought too much about why I’d decided to make the change before this.
I love your style and you have such fine “makes” to go along with it!
Thank you Linda, you’re a doll. 🙂
You look fabulous and happy. Thank you for sharing your story. It is the loveliest thing I’ve read lately.
Thanks so much. I’m very touched that you enjoyed it. 🙂
I so love reading about your fashion journey!!
Thank you Tanya, my closet buddy forever. 🙂
This post was fantastic! I think one of the best parts of photographing your daily outfits during MMM is that is allows you to really see what is in your closet, what you actually wore, and what you really like to wear. Keep working on that village eccentric reputation!
Thanks Abbey, I totally agree with you about the advantages of taking those daily outfit photos. They helped me figure out what colors I really like to wear. Now I don’t buy fabric in colors that don’t appeal to me.
Lovely story i love eccentricity
Thank you. It took me a lot of years to realize that eccentricity was OK. But now I’m happy to embrace it. 🙂
Great post. Thanks for sharing your journey! I’m just starting down the road of figuring out how to look on the outside the way I think I look on the inside. It’s a process!
Thanks Janine! Sending you some good vibes for your style journey. You’re right that it’s a process, but you’ll get there. 🙂
You should just wear green every single day 🙂
Very fun post. Love so many of your looks!!
Thanks! I am trying to pad the green portion of my wardrobe. 🙂 Darn fabric stores are so skimpy with their kelly green fabric offerings.
I love it to read about someones style development.
Found it quite interesting that we turned towards vintage style arround the same. Even though I’m tending more towards late fifties with modern flair.
You look feels like it is absolutely you and I would have never thought you are only dressing this way sine 2016. And your hair all the time 😍
Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoyed reading this. It just struck me yesterday that now I don’t even remember that my clothing is not “normal.” Was out with my mother in her town and was surprised every time some stranger was like, “Wait a minute, I need to know why you’re wearing that.” LOL.
Love, love this post. You look fabulous.
Oops, clicked too soon. And you look like you feel fabulous.
Thanks so much Lyndle. I do feel fabulous! Glad I got old enough to stop listening to that inner critic. 🙂
You’re my inspiration, Heather! Only recently have I been embracing the vintage esthetic I have long loved. I’m currently sewing more with a retro flair as I ease into more vintage styles. I have been thrilled with the encouragement I receive from friends, coworkers, and even complete strangers out in town. Especially since I tend to stand out in a town filled with North Face and Patagonia.
Thank you Jacqui! I’m so glad you’re taking the steps to dress how you want to dress and getting good feedback from the people around you. Best of luck with your style journey. 🙂
Most days, I work outdoors like a borrowed mule, so I wouldn’t have need of such beautiful clothing except for church and occasional outings. Lately, I’ve been drawn to Lagenlook, Tina Givens style. You’ve inspired me to try a bit and see how I feel. In my favor is that I’ve never given two dead flies what ANYBODY thinks about me/how I look.
Oh, and you are simply drop dead gorgeous. I love your blog. Not an Instagramer. 🙃
Thank you for your lovely comment. I say yes, give that Lagenlook style a try! If it doesn’t work out then no harm done. But you might find something you really love instead. 🙂
Such an inspiring story and you look absolutely fabulous in those clothes!
Thank you so much. Now I kind of laugh at my past self thinking I’d look hideous in 40’s clothing. Glad I didn’t listen to her forever. 😉
I agree with the others, lovely post! Wow! the 1940s style really suits you. Fabulous!
Thanks Linda, I do feel lucky to have finally found what style suits me best. 🙂
Love this post Heather (and your one about turning 40). There’s just something so fantastic about accepting you’ll always be a little bit weird so you may as well enjoy yourself!
Thank you Siobhan! You said it best. 🙂 Here’s to all of us odd ducks enjoying ourselves.
You really have found your “fashion voice” and it works so wonderfully for you! I think that the key is finding a style thatvtruly does make you feel comfortable and going with it. I have never been an “au courant” dresser and always feel the best when I wear and make clothes with simple lines and a more ‘classic’ (perhaps that could be read ‘boring’!) styles…though when I was younger I could wear somewhat more close fitting classic styles!
As a long time reader of you blog I am so happy that have been able to find time in your busy life to post a bit more again! Bravo for feeling great in your amazing styles!
ps: I have always been proud to be considered a bit quirky….
Thank you! I think you hit the nail on the head about finding a style that makes you feel comfortable. You can’t help but look good then. 🙂
Right now I’m disappearing into my bedroom to get some blog posts written. So far my husband has been a good sport about it We’ll see if that continues.
Such pretty sews! You should be very proud. It’s wonderful that you embraced your vintage style dreams, and found happiness by being your true self. 🙂
Thank you so much. I am glad that I decided to finally take the plunge into vintage styles. It was a bit nerve wracking at the time but definitely worth it.
The 40’s style is stunning very Casablanca!!!
Thanks! Now I want to rewatch that movie. It’s been too long. 🙂
Your influence might be rubbing off, I have my first 40s style dress in the works! (after quite a few years of going for the 50s look ;o)
It’s all part of my evil plan!!! I’m excited to see what you make.
I love this. I’m a big fan of dressing in what makes you happy, & damn the torpedoes. I hope this inspires people to take some chances with their style!
Thank you Ciara, I hope so too. Dressing the way I wanted did make a big positive change to my life.
I just love the era 1930to 1950 such pretty fashionand I have found some of that fashion resurfacing
I agree! Those eras are so classic.
Brilliant, and spot on. I have to smile that I’ve just posted for the first time and it had an Agent Carter theme. The 40s are such a lovely period for clothes, and I’m going to stick with my goal to be a bit more Peggy where I can. You are a great inspiration to those of us just putting a toe in the water!
Thank you! Isn’t Peggy inspiring? I think we could all use a little more Peggy Carter style in our lives.
Thankyou for sharing. Love that you feel fabulous and i must say you look fabulous too. I recently bought myself some blue hair dye for my 35th birthday. I’ve always wanted to try blue hair and i thought why not! I’m a stay at home mum so I’ve no problems about being workplace appropriate. Anyway hooray for being true to ourselves!
I must say I am a fan of the historic military uniforms.
Wow, I hope I find my style just like you’ve done.
I’m currently where you were in 2014, lost the weight after my third baby and essentially lost my wardrobe again. 😩 I had just restocked!
You look so fabulous!
Wow, I love your story. It’s really similar to my own. I’ve always loved the vintage look, and collected hats that I just loved as art, but now I’m a vintage dresser and I’m so proud of it. I get compliments all the time, too and it feels so nice. I had this great experience of a little girl spotting me buying groceries who looked like she found a Disney princess. That was a great feeling. I’m glad you’re happy being you!
This is such a positive and inspiring post. Clothes are meant to be fun! I’m in that postpartum stage where I wear black stretchy pants and nondescript tee shirts like every other mom. It’s easy but it gets me down and I miss the creativity and self expression of my varied wardrobe before kids. I don’t think I’ll go back to true vintage (or maybe I will, who knows) but I’m hoping to slowly transition back to wardrobe that feels more me. You look gorgeous and comfortable in your own skin. I love it.
WONDERFUL [POST! May I share it with my readers?
Thank you for asking! I’d be happy for you to share a link, but I’d rather you don’t repost the whole post.
Love the antique look – it is really stunning and stylish. Well done!
[…] getting a funny feeling, and realizing THAT is what representation feels like… wow. Heather’s post about going vintage and her own journey to self-love was also a heavy hitter for me. I don’t identify with that […]