I've been stuck on a few basic conundrums of late:
- My closet has been shrinking as I narrow my choices down to items and combinations that I love and in which I feel completely myself, as if the person I am and the clothes I wear are seamlessly one. And yet I love to sew, love to make clothes, and have a wall of fabric that is calling my name. How do I reconcile the "more" of sewing with my steady move to "less but more loved"?
- Several garments I've knitted in the past few years have been epic fails -- fun to knit, lovely to look at, but completely wrong when I am wearing them. I don't regret making them, mistakes are part of life, but I also need some successes, and that is difficult unless I can figure out where I am going wrong.
- How do I reconcile the me that loves beautiful fabrics and beautiful objects and dressing up sometimes with the me that would be perfectly happy with wash and wear hair and an old shirt, ratty jeans, and sneakers?
- If I am going to sew and knit, and write about sewing and knitting garments, how do I go back go posting photographs of myself wearing said garments given my own discomfort with self-photography and the fact that I have fairly successfully (I hope) avoided this very issue for some time now?
I haven't come up with answers to all those questions yet. I suspect it is a lifelong project. But I did make a huge leap forward in my understanding. Oddly enough, this new revelation is something I have known about a long time, and used, but which for some reason, just really clicked in a deeper way in the past couple of weeks.
What am I talking about? The Golden Ratio of course.
It isn't new. I've been aware of the golden ratio for a long time, as well as its many applications. Aside from its prevalence in the natural world and its applications in architecture, the golden ratio is also often used when discussing proportion and style in fashion. Sometimes it is simplified into the 3:5 rule or the 5:8 rule. Some people play fast and loose and just use "the rule of thirds" which isn't actually as effective, at least not for me. But I digress.
What is different now? Well, truthfully I hadn't thought about the golden ratio in a while, at least not in terms of how it relates to my own appearance and clothing. In fact, there was a period where I could have gone out in a paper bag and not cared, but that was the world of grief and depression and confusion. Thankfully I am past that. When I was young I was also so blinded by what I didn't like about myself and my self-perceived flaws, that I couldn't see what was good. I used the golden rule, but I used it as a tool of manipulation and shadows. I never really understood how it could work for me. Age has a way of bringing wisdom, at least if we are willing to open the door.
And so it happened that one evening, when I was tired but not yet ready for bed, I was simultaneously flipping through a design book and half-watching TV when something about the golden-ratio clicked. Not only did I make the connection between the golden ratio and the outfits I loved (and why I loved them) but it was suddenly clear why a few favorite pieces just weren't working.
I ended up spending that evening in measuring and calculating and then rearranging my closet and testing my theories, all with great success. I am sure I could not have been more elated if I had found the holy grail. I learned a few things about myself, including the ways insecurities blind us and cloud our judgment. But I also found greater a greater appreciation of my own preferences and peccadilloes. I don't believe that any one of us has to define ourselves, our sense of beauty, or our comfort levels, by some outside perception "ideal" or "rule" of how we should look, and once I accepted my own sensibilities, I could see that there is a pattern here as well, a pattern of where proportion matters dearly, and where I am more than willing to play fast and loose.
For reference I am using this photo from my sewing blog circa August 2010. It is a great example of the proportions of the golden rule (why didn't I know this?) The colored rectangles were added now, and I ask your forgiveness for my ineptitude in PhotoShop. Nothing is exact. Mea Culpa.
This is what I learned:
The Golden Ratio is 1.618
I am 68 inches tall. The distance from my waist to the floor is 42 inches. If I divide my total height by 1.618 I get 42 inches. (see green bar on the left side of the photo. The length of the skirt, at 26 inches is the total distance from my waist to the floor divided by 1.618. The same is true for the top. The distance from the top of my head to my shoulder line, and the distance from shoulder to waist works out to the golden ratio.
If you look at the purple bars on the right of the photo, my preferred dress length is 1.618 of my total height. The distribution between skirt and t-shirt also breaks down to the golden ratio. This is so much fun!
But this outfit is from 5 years ago. Even though I was 20 pounds heavier then, my waist was proportionately smaller. I don't know that I will be wearing a similar outfit again, but I've also learned never to say never. The prospect of dresses and skirts is looking more and more enticing.
This summer I've been wearing pants and soft shirts. Both of the two photos showing me in pants fit the golden ratio scenario as described above. I know this is a gross simplification, just as I know the turquoise tunic plays a bit fast and loose with those rules. And perceptions of proportion vary depending on whether one is wearing pants or a dress, vary with width and shape as well as length. But having a few simple guidelines is helpful: one can follow the guidelines or chose not to follow them, but it is the structure itself that allows for intentionality.
I'm not sewing yet, aside from some simple machine testing. But I have wildly unrealistic plans of sewing a dress before an upcoming trip. Considering that my plans are far more complicated than can likely be accomplished in the available time, it is unlikely that the dress will be finished on time. If anything that is a relief as I have both incentive, but also freedom from the stress of a deadline. I have freedom to play.