Book Review: Trappings: Stories of Women, Power, and Clothing

by Erin on January 16, 2008


book cover: Trappings

I've been meaning to write about Trappings for a while now, and then of course I "tidied" my office and an enormous number of things got put in one of those dread piles (from which only now are the bravest and most stalwart to-dos escaping).

But I'm glad this book struggled back to the top, because I thoroughly enjoyed it. The authors, Tiffany Ludwig and Renee Piechocki (who call themselves Two Girls Working) did something very simple, and very worthwhile: they traveled around and interviewed women about what they wore that made them feel powerful, and why.

The clothing (and makeup, and hair, and tattoos, and so forth) that the women interviewed talk about are all over the place: purple capes, red lipstick, cowboy hats, black bras, bellydancing costumes, and tribal dress. Ludwig and Piechocki seem to have done their best to get a good mix of ages, geographic distributions, socioeconomic classes, races, and (admirably) included transpeople, as well.

My only disappointment with the book is not the authors' fault — it was that so few women interviewed had MADE their "powerful items." (I think the only people wearing things that they had made themselves were two women who were Eastern Shoshone and Crow, in traditional dress.) I think making something yourself adds an extra dimension to clothing — I've gotten to the point now where I hardly ever wear a dress or skirt that I didn't make, just because I feel so much better, more competent, and more all-around alive when I'm wearing something I did make.

That said, Trappings is a wonderful read. Check it out!

What do YOU wear that makes you feel powerful? Feel free to tell me in the comments …

{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

QuiteLight January 16, 2008 at 7:59 am

My motorcycle boots. Zip-up Docs (!), on & off in a flash.Learning to ride my motorcycle is one of the most challenging, frightening & exhilerating things I’ve done in a long, long time, and I feel like a conqueror when I put on my boots.I’m kind of surprised to realize this is my current “power suit”, but that’s what popped into my head!

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Sue January 16, 2008 at 8:11 am

I actually feel really powerful wearing the skirts I had made, and the jewelry that was made by local African women that I bought at the market when I traveled to both Ghana and Kenya. It makes me feel like I’m wearing the strength of two women, and it really makes me feel alive when people’s reactions similarly show signs of life given the break from routine, and two is better than one :oP

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Anonymous January 16, 2008 at 8:21 am

I know it’s common, but My “interview suit”(navy pinstripe pants suit from ann taylor loft) makes me feel very powerful. It’s femme enough that I can still turn heads, but manly enough (and it covers my enormous rack) that I’m still taken seriously in the male dominated IT world. match that with some great shoes and I can take over the world. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve aced every interview I’ve worn it to which resulted in getting the job I wanted. I wish I could say I feel powerful and confident in the clothes I make, but I’m always a little worried that they aren’t as good as they could be, or that someone will tell me I did a bad job on the hem or the buttons aren’t even or something.

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Anonymous January 16, 2008 at 8:22 am

My clothes sewing is not highly accomplished so I would never feel “powerful” or fabulous wearing it. I seem to be able to make little girls’ dresses really well, though.Part of my problem for my own clothing is that I pick designs that I am sure will look great on me only to find they don’t suit me at all. I’ve tried to prescreen by trying on clothing (in shops) that has a similar style. Doesn’t seem to translate well though.

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The J January 16, 2008 at 8:31 am

My black wool winter coat – the only coat I’ve ever made, and it’s made to my specifications: black, princess seam, swirly, ankle length, closed at the neck, extra-warm windproof lining… and lucky for me Vogue 1266 view B was pretty darned close already! I’m still impressed that I could MAKE a coat. Don’t want to maneuver 4 metres of wool coating through my machine again any times soon, but I’m highly glad I did that time!!For the last commenter, I suggest creating a croquis (the Threads magazine website has instructions!) – I’ve saved myself from many style mismatches since I’ve started drawing them on my own body first.Jenna.

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Rebecca January 16, 2008 at 8:40 am

I feel powerful in vintage wool suits with boots. I feel competent and independent in my cotton housedresses made from vintage patterns – particularly Butterick 7040, circa 1954. I feel brilliant and long-suffering when I see my son in jeans with beautifully patched knees.

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Lydia January 16, 2008 at 8:44 am

My wonderful Double-H Jump boots. I love them like no other shoe I’ve ever owned. They walked me all over New York, New Orleans, and San Diego with not a single blister. I wear them to work with skirts and out on errands with jeans. I have three back-up pairs waiting patiently in boxes for when the current pair wears out since Double-H discontinued the style last year. Best combination of sexy and practical I’ve ever owned.–Lydia

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Bitterbetty January 16, 2008 at 8:51 am

The dresses I make myself. Especially the vintage patterns. I like knowing that if push comes to shove I can dress myself.I also felt extra powerful wearing vintage thrift to my buyers meetings at A Large Upscale Department Store.I felt like a fashion rebel undercover.

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Cassie January 16, 2008 at 8:51 am

High, but sturdy, heals do it for me I’m afraid. I’m a shade over 5ft tall and I never fail to be amazed at how small the world appears (and how in control of it I feel!) when I’m wearing heals.Alas, my sewing skills don’t quite match up to my sewing ambitions. Wearing things I’ve made and aren’t 100% happy with tends to make me feel more vulnerable.

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libby January 16, 2008 at 8:56 am

Right on Quitelight! As I was reading Erin’s post I was thinking about all of the clothes that I wear that make me feel good, unique, energized, etc. But when it came to powerful, there was no question that it was the full leathers that I wear when I ride my Harley: boots, chaps, and a black leather jacket that fits like a glove. I feel sexy and invincible. And it’s not about having power over anything but myself and the choices I get to make in my life. The looks I get are pretty empowering, too!

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Marjie January 16, 2008 at 8:59 am

I wear a cloak in the wicked, cold, windy winters. I made it from microsuede with a faux fur lining to wear to Renaissance Faire a couple of years back, and loved the fact that everyone gasps when they see it. I had a teenage girl chase me through Rite Aid to find out where she could get one, and the wife of my mechanic asked to borrow the pattern so she could have her sister make them each one. The power to turn heads and be remembered is great, indeed.I also love love love to make suits either out of classic fabrics with feminine details (such as waist lenght jackets) or using feminine looking fabrics and the classic, double breasted pattern (which is the only style that I can make fit properly – another “enormous rack” here). People pay attention when a feminine suit walks into a restaurant, and the more respectful treatment itself gives you a feeling of great power.

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sixties sewer January 16, 2008 at 9:01 am

Right now it’s the trenchcoat I made in raincoat fabric. It’s charcoal grey, very stylish. The power comes in striding down the street, belt loosely and carelessly tied, hair bouncing or blowing depending on the weather. The power factor goes up with the black boots.Anything I make and like makes me feel powerful.

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Summerset January 16, 2008 at 9:08 am

A red dress that I made myself! Actually, I have 3 red dresses that I’ve made. I wear them to teach or to meetings where I need to feel powerful. The red trench I made last fall makes me feel the same way!

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rboston January 16, 2008 at 9:14 am

Unfortunately, I haven’t made many clothes. My sewing ambition has not resulted in actual time to sew yet.I feel powerful in a couple of vintage 40′s dresses that fit perfectly as well as a 50′s shirtwait in a shiny tiny black and white check.I also feel powerful in well fitting jeans and my worn in cowboy boots.

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Katie Alender January 16, 2008 at 9:40 am

I always feel powerful in a crisp white button-down shirt–sometimes with a skirt and sometimes with jeans–preferably with sleeves rolled up.

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Anonymous January 16, 2008 at 10:04 am

My Prada shoes. Perfect for Paris or the Wednesday morning staff meeting.

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Jill B January 16, 2008 at 10:25 am

comfortable white shirt and blue jeans that fit nicely. Simple and comfortable in my own skin. Also, new red wool trench – it says I’m pulled together and it’s a great color.

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libby January 16, 2008 at 10:55 am

Speaking of “powerful,” I guess somebody is pretty serious about that World Domination after all (see Erin’s Jan 10 entry). Has anyone else been watching this eBay auction?

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banzailibrarian January 16, 2008 at 10:56 am

Something about cowboy boots always makes me feel competent enought to take over the world or just walk a mile after a hard day’s work. But suits I make myself — smartly tailored jackets with something unique about them, paired with my favorite absolutely plain straight knee-length, no waistband skirt pattern — really do it. Especially when I can wear a smashing pin on the lapel, like the brassy rhinestone one I bought when I got tenure. Yep, that’s empowering!

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Toby Wollin January 16, 2008 at 11:03 am

Feeling “powerful” (and I’m going to interpret that in my own way) requires not necessarily any particular item of clothing(though some work more powerfully than others), but what it does require is shoulder pads. Yes, I realize I am harkening back to the Joan Collins 80s, but I’m short, rather round, and seemingly easily missed. When I put a set of shoulder pads in, no matter what else I’m wearing, I feel bigger, taller, more powerful, more noticeable, and more formally dressed. Even with a sweater – the shoulder pad trick works. If the jacket I’m wearing already has shoulder pads in it, I don’t add any more(don’t need the dreaded “shoulder pad build up”), but if it does not, I add them every time. As a short middle-aged lady, shoulder pads are my friend.

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Anonymous January 16, 2008 at 11:38 am

I make the majority of what I wearand in the past made a lot of dresses and skirts but now in mymiddle age I prefer and feel mostpowerful in smart trousers and jackets complemented with great shoes.Love your blog!

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La_BellaDonna January 16, 2008 at 11:41 am

(La BellaDonna, who cannot figure out how to use the new “Any Open ID” sign-in)My beloved Butero boots make me feel powerful; so does most of what I wear, which, coincidentally, is usually either vintage or something I’ve made – and chances are, if I made it, I made the pattern as well. I have a hooded wool cloak that’s trimmed and lined in faux fur which sneers at zero degree weather, with wind; I have several costumes (which are also work clothing), which make me feel powerful; and the Coat from H-ll, which stops people in their tracks, and garners compliments after close to 20 years of wear in the worst weather (and continual repair!). The feeling of power increases exponentially when I’m asked if I take orders for custom sewing (which I seldom do these days), or when store buyers have tried to buy the jewelry I’ve made straight off my back.

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a cat of impossible colour January 16, 2008 at 11:43 am

I love wearing statement coats – I have a bright red winter coat that fills me with energy on cold, grey days and a long vintage green velvet coat with faux-fur cuffs and collar. I like the feeling of power as I clip-clop down the street wearing these coats and high heels – and nothing else! Just kidding. I do wear clothes underneath, of course, and that’s another part of what makes me feel powerful – getting indoors and peeling off the coat to reveal a (hopefully) fabulous outfit that was hidden underneath. I wish I could feel confident in clothes I have made but, like previous posters, I can feel a bit vulnerable wearing them in case I got something wrong (it’s like having a big ‘Kick Me’ sign on your back!).Andrea

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Kristen January 16, 2008 at 12:17 pm

wow. Gorgeous wool coat now on “need” list instead of “want” list!Marjie, I’m ACHING for a picture of that cape!!

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M. January 16, 2008 at 1:23 pm

Unfortunately, I don’t sew (yet). I really should learn, as I’m very tall and oddly proportioned, so finding things that fit just right is a struggle. Still, a nicely tailored black suit makes me feel powerful if the occasion is right. It’s kind of stereotypical, but there is something so simple (yet awesome) about looking so put-together. And boots that fit always do the trick too. (Odd sizes again, so more difficult than it sounds, but when I get it right, I’ve end up with a spring in my step. :D)

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M. January 16, 2008 at 1:28 pm

Add to my comment (to make it more appropriate for Dressaday): I have a terrific sleeveless linen shirt dress with an abstractly semi-floral black/white/tan print. I didn’t make it (bought it at H&M actually… what can I say? Sometimes they hit the nail right on the head), but it fits me as though I did. Perfectly appropriate for so many occasions and it’s got a swirl-y skirt!

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Laura V January 16, 2008 at 1:49 pm

I’m often trying to corral people who have a lot more power and influence than I do, and it helps if I can think to myself “Oh yeah? Well, I’m wearing awesome shoes” when they get stroppy. I don’t know why it helps, but it does. So I try to keep all my shoes on the “awesome shoe” side of the Force.

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inexorablyloved January 16, 2008 at 2:34 pm

I feel powerful whenever I wear heels. Especially my pair of black shiny peep-toes and my brown pumps. I love the feeling it gives me and the way my legs look.

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angldst January 16, 2008 at 3:23 pm

I feel like I could take over the world when I wear my zoot suits with either the trousers or the zoot skirts (seriously pegged pencil skirts with front pleats and back trouser pockets, the latest redraft of the pattern also has side seam trouser-style pockets). When I wear the skirt, I pair it with backseam stockings and two-tone slingback heels. Seriously slick. Might wear just this getup if I go for drinks with my girlfriends tonight! (I’ve made 4 zoot suits thus far, 1.0 is dark pinstripe with black velvet lapels & pocketflaps, 2.0 is black wool crepe, 3.0 is grey/sage-green& white pinstripe and 4.0 is pepto-bismol pink with black satin lapels & pocketflaps).-d

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Joni January 16, 2008 at 4:11 pm

Probably not what the authors had in mind, but I feel the most empowered when I’m wearing an apron I’ve sewn myself. Because it not only says, “I am an awesome cook,” it also mentions “I finally learned how to sew.”Even better is when my daughter wears her matching apron for mother-daughter cooking time: it adds “I’ve given birth to multiple cute children” to the unspoken statement!

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Anonymous January 16, 2008 at 5:12 pm

When I was in the Army, I was glad for an opportunity to wear my Class ‘A’ uniform (the forest green “suit” with medals and such). It was like a suit with matching hat, gloves, shoes, purse, even raincoat or overcoat. Of course I didn’t make it myself, but I earned the right to wear it. (And I did sew on all the little embroidered bits myself.)The fatigues, not so much. The women’s fatigues didn’t fit so well. I have skinny heels and the boots swam on my feet, and the women’s jacket wasn’t very warm. I liked wearing fatigues much better when I got a set of men’s. Also I liked wearing them with the helmet and with the M-16. Talk about feeling powerful!These days I feel the best when I wear something I’ve made myself, even if it’s just some hand-knitted socks or a crocheted hat.My favorite is the denim jacket I embellished with buttons and an embroidered patch.

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deanne January 16, 2008 at 5:19 pm

I sew a lot of my own clothes, but the #1 thing that makes me feel powerful is my glasses. i feel naked without them! They’re purple square frames with little beige flowers in the corners, by Jean LaFont. i love them!

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andreahg January 16, 2008 at 5:44 pm

having lost almost 60lbs this past year, I don’t have many power outfits to choose from, but the one that makes me feel like a million bucks is a seriously pegged pencil skirt, made from a vintage pattern and a button down striped stretch blouse that fits like a glove. It was my first purchase in a regular sized petite store in 15 years. I always wear my peeptoe pumps and FF seamed stockings with this outfit. It shows off all the work that I’ve done on myself.

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dawnrenee January 16, 2008 at 6:09 pm

I feel powerful whenever I wear anything in my signature shade of purple, especially if I’m also wearing my favorite deep plum-colored lipstick. Also, like cassie, I am vertically challenged, so I love wearing a great pair of (comfortable!) high heels – usually about 4 inches. It’s amazing how much more you can see when you’re taller – lol! During this cold weather season, my favorite is a pair of high heeled, side zip, knee-length black boots. Put those with my favorite lavender sweater and my favorite multi-purpled eyelash yarn scarf trailing down my back, and I feel like I can take on the world.

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Theresa January 16, 2008 at 6:59 pm

Fishnets. Seriously. And high heeled shoes. Also the clothes I make…wonky seams and all.I also feel pretty powerful in my Queen Bee Halloween costume I designed and made myself topped with towering jet black beehive wig.

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Ari January 16, 2008 at 7:30 pm

I’ve been lurking here for a while, looking for an opportunity to comment, and here it is! My “power clothes” are my black vintage ankle boots (2″ heels make my 5′ self feel better :) ) and the secondhand leather trenchcoat my boyfriend gave me for Christmas. They make high school (I’m seventeen) almost bearable, in a way…~AriPS: Angldst: the zoot suits sound so fantastic! Now I want one… ^_^

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Anonymous January 16, 2008 at 9:03 pm

What makes me feel powerful is wearing really beautiful, decadent lingerie, especially under my staid work clothes. I walk taller, speak with more authority and just project more confidence. It’s amazing what a few scraps of lace and silk can do for your self-esteem. :D~ Rachel

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Yorkshire Lass January 17, 2008 at 4:40 am

I am only five feet one inch, so always wear really high shoes, the higher the better, and preferably with a platform sole (which makes a high shoe so much more comfortable as well as adding even more height). I have a lipstick red, vintage style tweed skirt suit. Fitted collarless short jacket with three quarter sleeves and a long straight skirt split at both sides. In this red suit I feel powerful and in control. I would love to say I made it but sadly I didn’t. It was a 90% off bargain sample size and when I have worn it to death, it will be deconstructed for the pattern so I can make more of them.

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Yvonne January 17, 2008 at 5:22 am

I love wearing my 1940s style high-waisted pants with button on suspenders [braces]. Men’s wear, basically, but cut for women by a Melbourne tailor “Anton”. They are gorgeous! I chose the fabric myself a muted chocolatey charcoal fine wool with a discreet mint pinstripe through it. Because they’re high-waisted they make my legs look longer (tick) and they also emphasise my tiny waist of which I’m proud (tick), while the fullness of the cut through the hips and legs is kind to my “thunder thighs” (tick). And because they’re retro they’re neither in nor out of fashion. I always get favourable comments when I wear them. Also have the cutest little fitted waistcoat [vest] in the same fabric that has a peplum at the back with deep inverted pleats that kick out to show the lining fabric. Very nice. Shapely coachman’s coat completes the ensemble in winter. I LOVE this suit in its various combinations and always feel gorgeous and therefore powerful wearing it. But it’s the pants that are its soul! Aussie readers: if you like the sound of all this and you’re in Melbourne or Sydney be sure to visit Anton’s.

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oracle January 17, 2008 at 8:28 am

I feel most powerful wearing colours that I feel reflect the colours I’m feeling inside that day. Then, when I’m walking around out in the world, I feel as though I’m one person projecting some light perhaps a little more clearly than I otherwise might have, and I hope that this will help people to feel better. Judging from the warm reactions I get on the street from all kinds of people, I think that it does.For many years, I’ve wanted to wear all the colours of the rainbow at once. Sometimes, I achieve this by wearing predominantly one colour (often violet), with my rainbow beaded necklace peaking through, or presiding above, the bodice’s neck treatment. Other times, I wear as many colours as I can, possibly mixing prints more or less evenly distributed over my body, as long as the arrangement looks really cool to me in the mirror! When I get it “right”, I get a surge of energy that just thrills me.I’ve made about half my clothes. My old great-fitting Betzina Butterick pants of lime green pyjama flannel with red, blue and yellow dinosaurs printed all over them are a good example. Wearing stuff I’ve made myself lets me put much brighter and more playful colour into my wardrobe than ready-made clothing for mature adults usually risks. And it makes possible so many more style choices than what’s currently “fashionable”. I get the greatest thrill of all when somebody admires my wildly coloured outfit, and I’ve made it myself.Nevertheless, I stay open to whatever items may “call” to me, whether they’re patterns, fabric, ready-made stuff, vintage or second-hand.

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tea January 17, 2008 at 8:42 am

I’ve been pondering on this, trying to figure it out. I’ve got all kinds of clothes that I love, but they don’t necessarily make me feel powerful. I feel like a cotton candy dream, for example, when I wear the dress I designed (the only one ever–I’m eternally devoted to and dependant upon patterns) and sewed up with the sugar pink colorway of the Joel Dewberry Aviary fabric. That dress always makes me feel like I’ve entered wonderland and am immune for the entire day. But really, for me, it’s not so much clothes or shoes (though after ten or more years of wearing them, I still feel like I have better posture in my Dansko clogs). Instead, it’s my hair. I feel like a queen when I wear it up. I hate having my hair hang on my neck. And it’s so thick and heavy, it weighs me down. So simply twisting it around and keeping it in place with a clip makes me stand taller and assures me that I can conquer the daily difficulties in the world. It makes me feel smarter, too. This probably means I’m due for a good, solid haircut pretty soon. Then I can donate all this long red stuff to someone who really needs it. And Deanne, I have Jean LaFont glasses, too! I’m super in love with them as well. They’re a modified, squared cat-eye/horn rim frame in olive green. But they’re just my reading glasses. My regular glasses I also had to have for their sheer perfection–Booth & Bruce in a delightful honey color with blue underneath.

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Kimberley January 17, 2008 at 9:32 am

Three items: first, my black leather “Countess Olivia” boots from Fluevog. By far the most I’ve ever spent on footwear, by a factor of 3, but a purchase I’ve never regretted: tall heels that are so architecturally splendid that they’re actually comfortable, and the boots are so gorgeous and unusual. There’s something to be said for the feeling that, no matter what the company or event, one is wearing probably the finest footwear in the room. Two, the claret-red panne velvet dress I made myself, my own design- calf-length swirly skirt, pleated hip yoke detail, scoop bodice, drop-circle cuffs. I just feel so me in that dress. Also, the boots look really good with it. And last but not least, the corsets I make to wear out clubbing and the like. It feels like the sexiest armour ever- gives me powerful curves, feels like both protection and presentation. And, dear Erin, as you know, there’s such a feeling of proud satisfaction in being able to say “I made it myself!” when people ask where you found such a beautiful thing.

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Monabel January 17, 2008 at 5:26 pm

Miyake coat, Vogue 1476, sweeping and dramatic. Not sure which one, the dark bluey-green or the polka-dotted grey Italian wool. Both make me feel magic and witty – (and smug about my sewing!)

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m e l i g r o s a January 18, 2008 at 2:48 am

Daniella Rossell’s “Ricas y famosas’ book is one I highly recommend. Just great impact. great job btw. came here reading your tips for my 1st sewin machine now im hooked ;)

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Anonymous January 18, 2008 at 1:53 pm

My 5-yards-of-mohair Miyake coat http://fuzzygalore.biz/images/blog/miyake_mohair.jpgLast winter I lent it to a friend who was pitifully coat-less, and she nicknamed it ‘the coat of power’. She’s right, you just have to sail through life with that thing on, you can’t sneak by anything :-). Made it too. I got the fabric on a very hot july from the back room of the then almost-retired fabric god of New Haven. Bound all the #$#$ edges in ultrasuede, 10 yards of it at least :-(. But it was all worth it! I kind of want to be buried in it, with a tombstone that says ‘she made it herself’..

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Anonymous January 19, 2008 at 4:51 pm

Currently I have a black ankle length knit trumpet skirt that I wear with a black long flared sleeved fitted V neck top. I buckle on a silver and turquoise concho belt around my hips and wear a large necklace of turquoise and coral nuggets around my neck.With a red leather bag and a pair of high heeled western booties, I feel like a million bucks and ready for ANYTHING.

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Anonymous January 21, 2008 at 1:30 am

I feel powerful the moment I “wear” my boyfriends lips on mine in a kiss. I am beautiful, attractive, desirable and loved all at once.

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Jamie January 21, 2008 at 4:51 pm

No constest about it- my leather pants! I never really wore leather that much before I became a rabid Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fan. The girls on both those shows always just seemed so sexy and confident in their leather pants, taking names and kicking ass. After a long search, I found my perfect pair at my favorite thrift shop, Repeat Botique- for $2, no less. They are simply gorgeous, and every time I put them on, I transform from mousy little geek girl to a powerful, sexy girl who can do anything she wants. In my leather pants, I feel like I could destroy some demons and seduce a few hot vampires without breaking a sweat.

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Hana March 3, 2008 at 3:19 pm

Long time ago… how old was I? 12? – I dyed an ugly plain fitted long-sleeved T-shirt into a fabulous wild mix of colours. I was wearing it with my black jeans at the time and that DID make me feel powerful. Unfortunatelly, the jeans are already lost in the trash bin of time and the shirt is now too fitted for me… But I want to enhance it with something eventually and make it wearable again, because I really liked wearing it. That would make it a double reconstruction. :D

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