I spend a lot of my time at home. As a graduate student, my time is largely self-structured, and as a spinster introvert, my favorite company is my own. Lots of the time I wear basics like leggings and hoodies, but I also appreciate things that make me feel like I’m lounging in my manor home in the inter-war period full of queer passion and gin. I’ve been stocking up on silk nightgowns and silk pajamas, and with winter well set in again in Minnesota it seemed long overdue for me to finally make my ultimate dream piece of lounge wear: the perfect luxe dressing gown.
Inspired by the kinds of things you see in adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, all tartan, silk, and velvet, I started amassing my materials at least two years ago, starting with a wool tartan in olive with blue-purple section set off by cream and teal stripes. To this I added a silk in a perfectly matching purple for the lining, a heavy flannel interlining, and one yard of a perfectly matching silk-rayon velvet for trim.
In anticipation of this project, I’ve been picking up and considering patterns for ages, and I finally decided on the vintage Butterick 5189, which is intended to be a double-sided reversible robe in an oversized, unisex fit. I went back and forth more than once on fitting: I fairly detest making muslins, even when I know I should, and I knew as long as this fit around my body I’d be happy with a variety of fits. So I cut an XL and threw caution to the wind and it worked out! It’s comfortably oversized, like wrapping myself up in the most decadent blanket.
I largely followed the directions, cutting two full robes (well, three, including the interlining), but made it a smidge more complicated by adding sections of velvet onto the shawl collar and cuffs of the lining as well as the top of the pockets. I then ended up handstitching some of this down to keep the finish neat.
This is probably the most expensive garment I’ve ever made, even sourcing my fabrics from discount stores. It’ll probably also get more wear than anything else I’ve made, if the daily use in the weeks since I’ve made it indicate anything. It feels decadent to have made, and at once precious and comforting to wear: it is a piece I want to take care of, but it is also a piece I don’t want to be careful with. It reminds me to treat myself the same way, as a body and a mind and a soul to care for but not shield from the messes and scrapes of life. Lounge wear, when it comes down to it, is clothing we wear for ourselves, to cloth our bodies when outside of the public eye, and so often women receive the message that even that act is not ours to own. Plenty of mainstream industries remind us that the wrappings of our bodies even in the privacy of our homes should still appeal to the male gaze, attractive but not too sexy, down-to-earth but not frumpy. Mothers are reminded, by industry, by media, by their peers, that their clothing should exist in service to their acts of parenting, able to withstand all manner of bodily fluids and active movements.
I’ve structured my life to avoid the pressure of these narratives: there are no men in my life, and the only bodily fluid I worry about is my dog’s drool. As a person in society, though, I’m not immune to them altogether, and in crafting an at-home wardrobe that caters, nearly exclusively, to the pleasures, delights, needs, and practicalities of my own body and imagination, I do feel the presence of that specter of selfishness conjured by those narratives. That decadence, in and of itself, is an indulgence in narcissism, the purview of the frivolous. That “treating one’s self” should rightfully be a state of exception rather than regularity (not to mention an activity that should be predominately about consumerism, rather than making).
So, wrapping myself up in these layers of beautiful fabrics feels like care, and defiance, and a way to remind myself of the need for beauty across my life, rather than in secluded moments. It, too, reaffirms for me that this hobby of mine, stitching up all those things I dream in my imagination, is not just about practical outcomes. For the amount of money and time I spent on this project, I could have whipped up half-a-dozen pairs of leggings, a handful of tee shirts, and a good sweatshirt or two, garments that would certainly get wear in my life. There’s such an emphasis on deeply practical, comfortable basics in the online sewing community right now, and it makes complete sense! Yet, that approach to sewing misses out on some of the things I like best about sewing, like the slow working out of new construction approaches, the sustained handling of beautiful fabrics, the joy of bringing about something wholly unique.