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The Wardrobe Architect Week 1: Making style more personal


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The Wardrobe Architect is a popular series that ran in early 2014. It’s currently being expanded (with help and feedback from you) into a comprehensive toolkit. You can read all the posts here. If you want to give feedback and get first access when the toolkit is finished, enter your email:

We live in a world saturated with trends.

You may argue that this is not a new phenomenon. Trends in fashion have been with us for centuries, reflecting the values and context of the world we live in. They bring novelty and innovation and orient us in a specific place and time.

But it’s easy to see that the speed at which we churn through trends has steadily increased. Today, in addition to the ever-rotating whims of fast fashion, we are constantly being exposed to trends through sites like Pinterest, or through blogs.

I won’t argue that this wealth of visual inspiration is a bad thing, necessarily. But how do we keep it from diluting our own unique aesthetics and tastes? How do we prevent becoming part of a homogenized, singular “style” rather than expressing who we truly are through our clothing or our homes?

You are not what you look at

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the endless bounty of prettiness on the internet? I know I do. There are so many different styles, each one lovelier than the next. Sometimes you might wonder, how do I combine all of these disparate things that I like into something that actually feels like me?

But just because you like something, that does not mean it fits you. Enjoying looking at something doesn’t mean it has a deep connection to who you are, necessarily. Some things are just nice to look at and appreciate on their own.

What is individuality?

I believe that one of the main functions of fashion is to tell a story about yourself to the world.

The vocabulary of that story is not unique in itself. The language of clothing is limited, and you’re usually constrained by the styles of the time and the meanings that are affixed to clothing by others. Often we use clothing to signal that we’re a part of some group. Maybe that group is “rich people,” or “bookish intellectuals” or “geeks who don’t care about fashion.”

That is the superficial level of the story, and it doesn’t take much thought to tell it. In fact, everyone speaks about themselves through their clothing, no matter what. There is always a story to be read.

But you can also use clothing to tell a more nuanced and specific story about who you are. You are the only person living your life in your own body, and you can use that unique lens to filter the world around you.

Think about all the ways you are different, and how that can be reflected in your identity:

  • History: Your personal history and life events.
  • Philosophy: Your religion, spirituality, or general philosophy.
  • Culture: Your cultural background and the aesthetic values you grew up with.
  • Community: Your friends and the people around you.
  • Activities: Your interests, activities, and hobbies.
  • Location: Where you live.
  • Body: How you feel about your body.

So why bother trying to tell that story?

For one thing, it can help buffer you against the onslaught of trends that we talked about above. Knowing who you are and what works for you lets you filter out a lot of those consumerist messages pretty easily. It feels good to be able to appreciate something without needing to own it.

Second, it gives you a stronger and more meaningful connection to the things you choose to have in your life.

Exercises and Discussion

  1. Download this week’s worksheet to get your brain going on the factors I mentioned. This editable PDF can be filled out on your computer or printed.
  2. Choose one of the 7 areas above and tell us in the comments how that particular aspect of your identity influences the way you dress (or how you’d like it to).
  3. BONUS: I thought these would also make good photography prompts, so each day I’ll be Instagramming a photo and giving my answers. Today I’ll post a photo and talk about how my personal history has affected my style. Tomorrow, I’ll do Philosophy. Saturday is Culture, Sunday is Community, Monday is Activities, Tuesday is Location, and Wednesday is Body.

Feel free to follow along with me and post your answers too! You could also post them on Facebook, your blog, or just keep them to yourself. If you do post them, use the #WardrobeArchitect hashtag so everyone can follow along with each other!

But for now, just choose one of the 7 topics above and tell us in the comments how it affects your style. I can’t wait to hear your answers!

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

Comments 181


I’ve had a love of vintage clothing for as long as I could remember but when you’re over six feet tall and a solid size twelve vintage clothing is practically nonexistent. I’ve been sewing repro patterns for the past six months as a way to do vintage on my own terms.
I find that as a black woman people tend to be shocked about my decision to wear vintage. My friends feel as if I’m romanticizing a terrible time for black women.


Philosophy: Within the last few years my buy habits have changed to be more intentional. I was not happy with the mass produced culture, so I started sewing. I trend toward used clothing now, or try to find eco-conscious brands. Before this shift, my buying was shaped by looking for deals to save money not necessarily looking for outfits (something else I got from my mom). But I still tend to get swayed by interesting fabrics or fabric deals…and forget to see the wardrobe as as a whole.

Amy N

PHILOSOPHY: I subscribe to the “less is more” mentality. I strive to be mindful of excess and opt for quality over quantity in all aspects of life (i.e. relationships, conversation, activities, objects, food, etc.). This is a far cry from the impulsive, reactive, and “sale-obsessed” mentality (deal>utility) I was raised on.

I struggle with reconciling my tastes to what suits me which, sadly, does not include tent dresses. “Wardrobe Architect” is a godsend!

Kirsten D

I know I’m a little late to the show. :) But for me it’s two things , we were a military family for 12 years, so location and community they kind of go hand in hand for me. I always notice my style changes with every move. We have a permanent home now and I work from home, and occasionally have to dress up for work. I have very casual t-shirts , jeans and not a lot of dressy options. It’s also hard because of where I live there is little for me here for shopping that is not a teen store (I have a hard time shopping in a store that my son shops at ). So it’s cheap and usually it fits just okay.

Amber Smith

•History: Your personal history and life events.: I live in the same city i grew up in after leaving it for four years. So i came back more laid back style.
•Philosophy: Your religion, spirituality, or general philosophy.: Be comfortable or don’t do it. I love classic styles with clean lines and not a ton of prints.
•Culture: Your cultural background and the aesthetic values you grew up with.: Jewish and proud.
•Community: Your friends and the people around you.: my in laws are always there for me and my hubby to help with the Baby.
•Activities: Your interests, activities, and hobbies.: Sewing and crafting as well as working out and going to the park with my son, even though he doesn’t know how much he’ll love the park in a few years.
•Location: Where you live.: Sacramento, Ca. Hot hot summers and cold but not freezing winters. I like a wardrobe that can be layered for winter.
•Body: How you feel about your body.: I am plus sized but an hourglass shape I have big boobs and big thighs. the boobs i love the thighs i don’t so much (can’t find nice shorts). But I am working on my fitness and if that means a few pounds go bye-bye I will not mind one bit. I look great in classic styles but have a weakness for high fashion even though it never looks right and i always go back to the classics


I started working at the phone company in downtown Los Angeles in the early 80’s and we had to wear nice attire: slacks with jackets, skirts or dresses. When I transferred to other departments within the company, the dress code became more relaxed over the years. I still liked to wear skirts and blouses or dresses with heals and all the matching accessories but with time my style of clothing changed. The last 10 years of working there, I wore more fitted jeans, capri’s with nice tops and low pumps. I retired just less than 5 years ago and have gotten into the more casual stage like t-shirts, sneakers or sandals and t-shirts. I still want to wear capri’s and nice blouses but now with low pumps or flats or slip on sandals with a small pump. My style of clothing changed but I still long to wear nice jackets with nice blouses. I just started sewing for myself and have sewn yoga pants and nice tops because I like to dress comfortably but not too dressed up. I’ve fallen in love with the vintage/retro look that doesn’t make me look old. I love changing up my wardrobe and it’s fun to sew with all the current fabrics but still buy the fabrics with the polka dots or the colors that were worn back in the 50’s.


Location: I could speak to any of the other categories, but where I live has the biggest pull right now. After a rough few years, I’ve separated from my partner and moved from the city to an island. For once I want to drive change rather than feel like I’m just catching up to it. My new home is rural, beautiful, and a bit wild with lots of cold wind and water. It’s a good place for artists, writers, and farmers. In what way do the ways that I feel about and interact with this place influence the way I perceive myself and dress? When I moved here about two months ago, I was a mess and my wardrobe reflected that. Worn down, barely functional, and ill-fitting–much like myself. I’m moving forward, so this project is write on target. Thanks so much!


I live in Seattle, but I grew up in Texas. I definitely feel more like a Texan than a Pacific north westerner. I want to dress up more than people do here. (jeans at the opera? Horrors!) I want to get out of the ubiquitous fleece jackets everyone here wears. There is a visible style here. I call it North West Outdoorsy Girl. It is NOT me, but my outdoorsy husband keeps advocating the practicality it. I wanna be me!

Sherry Oxendine

I am home due to snowpocolypse in Atlanta. These are such good subjects to review. I gre up moving almost every year because my dad was in the Air Force. I don’t feel confined by one specicic style at all. You could describe me as a chameleon of sorts except I usually go against the “trendy” look. I sewed my entire wardrobe from the time I was in elementary school and the made my children’s clothes when they were babies. After years of not sitting at the machine I have gotten interested again. Through the years (many of them) my shape has not changed much, my build is athletic, so I have to alter patterns and wish I was better at it.
My major career has been as a hairstylist, color being my specialty.mi love to sera color and prints, they make me feel happy. Belting tunics over leggings are fun to wear and comfy, but I also wear a lot of jeans so I like fun blouses. I made he sencha? Pattern from Collette last yeAr, easy and fun.
My philosophy is live and let live. I try and do my best and try not to cause harm.
My community varies from my adult kids and their friends to my cycling and running friends to my valued clients who have followed me around for years. Even though I am getting some age on me I still like to dress like I love life and am having fun with it. No sweat pants for me!

Tiffany W

I grew up in the South Carolina were Southern Belle and Southern Hospitality rings supreme. It’s a place where manners and lady like behaviors is applauded. This has led to my desire to be feminine. I am horrified that my company gives me polo shirts to wear. That is men’s attire in my head. I want to look like a lady.


Location. I recently moved to a beach town, and the weather is really hot all year round, so now I have lots of garments that I love but i can’t wear anymore. Perfect timing for me to re-build my wardrobe.


Jumping off from what Abby & laura k had to say about the librarian community and fashion…

I’d say my professional identity is the community aspect that influences my style the most. Currently, I work as an editor in a hybrid academic/creative/tech environment. Days of big meetings, I get dressed up. Days when it’s just me and my computer in the office, I might be in jeans and a hoodie. I’m trained as a librarian and worked as a librarian for one year; there are a lot of aesthetic stereotypes of librarians and I do enjoy playing with them. (For others who enjoy showing off their librarian wardrobe, see In fact, I was actually excited when I found out I needed glasses, because as a librarian without them I felt left out. Before becoming a librarian, I was a teacher, which meant I felt pressured to dress fairly conservatively – high neckline, no skirts above the knee, etc. It also meant I was exhausted, so dressing for work sometimes was just some professional slacks with an Old Navy solid colored tee. A look in which I didn’t actually feel very good.


History – oh my gosh, I didn’t realise before but I have an internal struggle with being myself v’s wanting to fit in and not stand out. It has even snuck into many of the other categories. I’m so going to nip this one in the butt!
I’ll send a donation for the therapy session!


Late to the party here, and trying to answer your interesting questions.

Body: I am the classic pear. Slowly but surely I’m eliminating the wardrobe malfunctions, but as a 40 something still find myself succumbing to trends not suited to my age, body or profession. I am a work in progress :)


Late to the party, but I am desperate and this seems like a great way to figure out my style.

History and Body: As a teen/early twenty-something, I loved standing out and wore loud, funky clothing. I was also in very good shape then, and had a fantastic hourglass figure. Then I had kids. Now I am well on my way back to my (slightly modified) hourglass figure, but I still think of myself as much heavier than I am. I also have a very ample chest to contend with that does not play well with most clothing trends these days. As well, my earlier style does not suit my life now and is not at all practical as a mom of a toddler and preschooler. As well, my younger self’s style was very firmly rooted in an particular decade of style and would look sorely out of date these days. My biggest issue right now is seeing clothing that I love that I KNOW will not work for my body and/or my lifestyle.


History – When I was in middle school I wore just jeans, loose Shirts and wide pullovers. I wasn´t the “girly” girl. I became interested in fashion when I discovered the goth subculture in highschool. But I couldn´t effort it or it didn´t came in my size so I started trying to sew for my own.

The first garment was horrorble *laughs*.

I was never the popular one so I could develop my own sense of style and what is cute or not.

Lately I´m in University where you can where whatever you want. So I´m free to find myself again.

I´m still sewing from time to time and have a loooot of fabrics that don´t mix and match or fit my style ( or I bought too less for a specific garment). To avoid spending money useless in the future I´ll plan thinks out now.


I grew up white, lower middle class, protestant, blue collar in rural Pacific Northwest. We recreated outdoors (camping, fishing, boating.) When I want to return home I try to recall the smell of an old canvas wall tent in the forest.

Something I carry with me from childhood is love for the occupational uniform – work clothes, especially aprons, belts, gloves, and hats. They are extensions of the worker: protecting, conferring little advantages that make the job easier like improved grip or easy access to tools, and they are often visually striking. They transform a person. Dad never went to work without his crusty redwing boots, gold watch, can of copenhagen (or a brass zippo), and battered metal thermos, and he kept an old vinyl briefcase in his truck to hold a pen and his mileage logs. I don’t know what it was about these really mundane items but they had their own kind of life, perhaps from being handled so routinely; they were essential. Nothing else was needed.

I also have a general affinity for the outdoorsy types of things, but that may have been reinforced by the whole grunge thing in the 90s.

Lesley Brown

My head refuses to believe I am on the wrong side of 50. Done. Still want to wear tight jeans, skimpy tops, high heels… But my figure says no! Having said that I still do it if I want to. Don’t really care about mutton dressed as lamb and all that tosh. If I like it, I will wear it as I only have a mirror in the bedroom, so once I leave it I am instantly 3 dress sizes slimmer. I also know teen age friends much larger than me who wear short skirts etc so if they don’t care, why should I? I even wear a bikini on the beach and if I get mistaken for a whale at least I’m getting a suntan. I could be sensible and wear what suits me, but then I wouldn’t enjoy it so much.


My biggest influence is definitely history–I grew up in uniforms, then grunge in high school, college was mostly jeans and sweatshirts, then it was back to uniform jobs for a long time. As a result of that, I never learned how to dress myself, and I tend to buy 5 RTW tops in different colors if they look all right. I’ve never really enjoyed carrying handbags; I prefer to put the essentials in pockets. I have also been going through early menopause (at 34) and have the associated weight-gain around the middle. It’s turned my hourglass into an apple, and I’m not sure what to do with it. I’ve gotten so frustrated that I’ve finally turned to sewing my own, and am teaching myself to draft patterns based on my measurements. I’m looking forward to making what really works for me! Flats (minimalist shoes are best for me!), generous pockets, layers (to combat the hot flashes), feminine, and comfortable. It’s not too much to ask, right? Oh, and I want to look fabulous too! My life is changing from a hopeful-mom-to-be into a rockstar water chemist, and I need a wardrobe that can keep up with teaching, research (in the toxic river, sometimes in waders), and consulting.


I’m an anti-consumeristic, eco friendly girl… and I don’t like to play by high maintenance rules, and still look good… I’m a teacher. for the last entire year, I wore mostly dark jeans from a 2nd hand shop called clothes mentor to work with various cheap sweaters and nice shirts. I wore tennis shoes because my feet are an issue for me…

But I’m on this bandwagon because I want to be more professional at my job… yet still with simple and classic flare… but jeans are go to for many there, so I don’t want to overdo it either… and I want to not buy buy buy.. I’m okay with sew sew sewing though…

I am kinda proud that I made my son’s last three pairs of jeans out of worn out pairs of my jeans…


Dear Sarai, dear all,

I am a bit late to join but I just stumbled upon your project and it fits perfectly now for me.
Body: since I was a teenager (maybe still before) I struggled with my weight always being a little fatty. I lost weight, I gained weight again. Now over the last year I lost 14kg (about 31lb) due to major changes in my nutritional and activity habits. As you can imagine my wardrobe doesn’t fit at all by any means. I didn’t only change my food but also try to test my boundaries (right word?). I tried bouldering and climbing, I got a new piercing and a tattoo. All things I always was too timid and too afraid to try.
Now I want to build up a wardrobe that’s not overloaded with stuff and that reflects my new stronger, fiercer and bolder self. My closet used to be filled with clothes “that could be nice” and “maybe some day”.
I’ll try to catch up with you but so far you have been very inspirational for me.


Hmm interesting,… For me the way I dress is mostly influenced by the way I feel and the place where I live and what I do in life, litteraly. When I was a young student at art college, my wardrobe was quite simple, striped sailor tops, black jeans, and black cardigans. To give my wardrobe a female touch I had a few miniskirts and “mary janes” and a few second hand items. This was a practical and cheap wardrobe, in wich it was easy to work and even go out. My work was more important than my wardrobe.
Later my wardrobe became more feminine, I started earning my own money and was able to buy more and more expensive (designer) clothes. My wardrobe became realy colourfull and I started wearing more skirts and dresses, high heeled shoes. A mix of contemporay and retro style.
Since six years I’m diagnosed with ME/fybromialgia, now I mostly wear comfortable and warm clothes. And although I think they are ugly, I have to wear poloneck sweaters to keep me warm. As I’m not able to work, my clothing budget is rather small. I spend it on well fitting jeans and underwear, warm socks and sweaters, and comfortable shoes. I try to give my wardrobe a “personal” touch by adding colourfull scarves and fun accesories. My body shape has also changed trough the years, I gained lots of weight, miniskirts are out of the question now :-). I’ve allways been a passionate seamstress, but both my illness and bodyshape give me new challenges when it comes to making clothes.
In my city it is allmost impossible to walk on high heeled shoes, it is a mediaval town with wonky pavements. I had to swap to elegant flat shoes like ballerinas, fun trainers, and brogues


ACTIVITIES: I work from home, at the moment, so I don’t need to leave the house and therefore a lot of the time I wear comfy things, so just jeans and whatever top and jumper come to hand. I’d like to dress up more even if no-one is going to see me but hte house gets cold quite quickly so when I do dress up at home, I quickly find I’m wearing a pretty dress with entirely the wrong kind of extra layers – jumpers, cardigans and hoodies. I’m not sure how many of my jumpers are very flattering due to my body shape – I have big thighs but slimmish hips and am definitely a pear with a size or even two different between my top and bottom half (I can’t remember my measurements offhand and obviously different companies work with different sizing). I am putting on weight as I’m not getting much exercise and having too much fun with food having recently moved in with my boyfriend, so the thigh issue is only worsening! So I wear practical clothes which aren’t always flattering. This is also influenced by my LOCATION – in the UK, especially in the North, it could be warmer, so with outfit planning you do have to think about layering to make sure you’re going to be warm enough, and making sure that everything goes with everything else and makes a coherent outfit, but that you can also de-layer if the sun unexpectedly comes out, is a challenge.

Another point about location is the British weather. It is so true that the moment we see the sun we decide its summer and we will take any opportunity to wear our fun summery clothes. If you’re most people, that means you’re slightly cold but enjoying your sandals and floaty dress moments while they last. If you’re like me, you’ll combine hte floaty dress with leggings and ridiculous knitwear and realistically you’d have looked better if you’d stuck with the jeans/hoody/trainers route.

Combining all these thoughts, then, I’d like to sometimes risk being less comfortable to wear more pulled-together outfits. I’d like to sort out my outer layers so that actually I can be warm and stylish simultaneously for those days when I’m working at home, and I’d like to get out of my comfort zone and be prepared to dress up a little bit more for every day, even if it means being slightly cold, wearing contact lenses, risking going out for the day in *gasp* heels, or once in a while maybe wearing the make up I seem to love buying, or actually blow-drying my hair and styling it a bit. We shall see.

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