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.
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.
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.