July 28, 2011

French Chic, and the essential list

I've been reading The Vivienne Files which are awesome.  Her idea of appropriate fabrics doesn't work with my wash and wear lifestyle, but I love her concepts.  If I was going to distill her words down, they would be these:  choose your best colours and stick to them, buy the best you can afford to take care of, make sure that every piece says something about your essential style, and no fluff.  She does a two things I really agree with: limits the colours to two or three that work together, and mixes the level of 'formal' in the wardrobe so there is more flex for real life planning than a lot of other planning suggestions I have seen. 

Her list of the 15 essential garments was summarized from a book I have never gotten my hands on.  In her words (July 8 blog post, for those interested):


One of the things about the book French Chic (Susan Sommers) which intrigued me was the list of garments which included "The seven essentials no well-dressed Frenchwoman would be without".
That list included:
  1. A black straight skirt
  2. a V-neck or cardigan sweater
  3. a suit
  4. a pair of jeans
  5. a silk shirt
  6. a couple of white tee-shirts
  7. an Hermes scarf
The idea of a list of essential clothing fascinates me; in a world that tries to compel me to over-consume, that finite-ness of a list like this, in which I could have some discipline and some structure, seems heaven-sent. 

She adds more here, and finishes with another list:

But of course, the French wardrobe is not limited to just the above.  French Chic counsels us that there are eight other garments which will round out the wardrobe.  And this still is not the end of a French wardrobe - they do indeed own more than 16 pieces of clothing, but it does make up the core.

"The eight extras in a well-dressed wardrobe":
  1. A white cotton shirt
  2. a pullover sweater
  3. a full or pleated skirt
  4. pleated trousers
  5. a simple sweater dress
  6. a trenchcoat
  7. a black leather blouson
  8. a heavy coat


I think it is a great foundation list.  It reminds me of Tim Gunn's ten essentials list, and a few others I could name, like the Eileen Fisher's style lists. 

I know me, so there are things I definitely would do differently in my own life.   I don't wear pleated pants, for example, so I would include a fuller leg, dressy pant instead.  Sweater dress with my thighs isn't going to happen but I will wear a sheath dress or a classic 50's style dress.   Scarves are out; I don't wear things around my neck because they are a safety hazard.  I love the concept of starting with an inspiration piece, and the scarf with its many colours is a good example of working from inspiration to limit colours.     

If I was going to summarize this list down to some essential pattern basics for someone who truely wanted to sew their wardrobe, it would go like this:

Three really good pants patterns: 
  • a good basic trouser pattern--nice dress pants, or good chinos, depending on your fabric
  • a jeans pattern
  • a pleated pants pattern, or a fuller leg dressy pattern
Two really good skirt patterns:
  • a slim skirt pattern--for me, this is the classic knee length straight skirt, but I think the style depends on your personal preferences
  • a fuller skirt pattern; for me this is a 12 gore skirt, but I could see a pleated skirt here too
One, or two really good dress patterns
  • a good classic dress up or down dress; for me this is a sheath or dress without a waist seam
  • a more casual dress with a waist seam; for me, this is the 50s style dress, with a skirt
Several tops patterns, which can be changed to go up or down in formality, depending on fabrics and styling
  • a twin set pattern, which included a shell and sweater--my preference would be a vneck sweater and sleevelss shell with a scoop neck, but I can see tastes varying for this
  • a really good tshirt
  • a blouse pattern--button down the front, good styling, that can be made from cotton or silk to be formal or casual
  • some form of pullover sweater pattern; for me, this is a  v-neck classic style (although, I would be more likely to knit this than sew this garment
  • a jacket pattern, classic styling for a suit, but with some definite style.  
And, over it all layer patterns
  • a trench coat, rain coat, or all weather coat
  • a leather jacket or dressier all weather coat
  • a decent heavy coat
What she doesn't include in her list at all is gym wear, which in the French tradition is worn strictly in the gym, not for every day wear in the street.  If you are exercising 3 to 5 days a week you need gym clothes.  I would add to her list two more items to her list of essentials: decent gym pants (yoga pants, or capri pants or shorts) and some kind of warm up jacket.

 Looks like a pretty good list of clothing to start with.  Now, off to plan.  

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