There’s No Accounting for Taste

A few of the comments from “Design Inspiration: Quirky, Casual 40’s Dresses” proved rather thought-provoking because design inspiration always touches on questions of taste.  I like being challenged, especially when I am challenged by sewists for whom I have a great deal of respect.  Sometimes I feel like the sewing blogosphere is almost too opinion-free.  It’s ok to respectfully disagree!

Yep, I'd wear that.

Leimomi said “I think you have a fatal attraction to mullet skirts.”  She’s right.  I do. Yet I’m as unworried by her scorn of mullet skirts as she is by my dislike of the gilded fabrics which are so close to her heart, which is kind of awesome.

I posted this dress because I thought “This is interesting and fits the theme, but I wouldn’t wear it.  Let’s see what happens.”

Lauren (and several others) would- “I actually really love the first dress with the double collar and inset. I would totally wear it :)”  And you know, I think it would work for her.  I can see it.

The beret in one of the illustrations also caused a slight controversy.

Everyone has their own preferences and styles- their own particular taste.  Some tastes must be slowly acquired, some tastes appeal to millions.  What makes the difference?  If someone has different taste to your own, does that mean they have bad taste?

I don’t think so.  Leimomi and Lauren both have their own individual styles which reflect who they are as people and as sewists.  I respect that.  Further, I respect their work- the actual physical effort that goes into creation.  I think that is very important to remember when you work with your hands- respect for the work.

I still favor rigidly geometric, two color designs but no longer think it's the "only" way to quilt.

When I first started working at the quilt shop, I had a narrow idea of what made a “good” quilt.  I believed anything else was rubbish and a waste of time.  Such arrogance.  To me, a “good” quilt was made of scraps or a single fabric paired with white.  It should be made of rigid, self-contained little blocks to create a geometric repeat.  The blocks could be machine pieced, but machine quilting was scoffable- barely acceptable.

I was such a narrow-minded quilt snob, I sometimes turned up my prissy nose when seasoned quilters and my quilting mentors put fabrics together that didn’t fit what I thought a quilt “should” be.  However, I learned to set aside my own personal “taste” in order to perform my job well.  I learned to help people put together fabrics and colors that reflected the vision in their minds or the picture in the magazine rather than what *I* would do, and had fun with it.

Quilters often came back to see us when they completed a project.  That’s how I learned to open up my ideas about what a quilt could be.   Every time I see a completed quilt I am blown away by the skill, imagination and number of work-hours necessary to complete it- even if I wouldn’t necessarily use the fabrics or techniques the maker employed.

Beautiful example of bargello work

I ceased to be judgmental about machine quilting as I admired the smooth, evenly curved stitching of a skilled free-motion quilter and practiced every day for months to try to replicate her stitching.  I still can’t.  From the first bargello quilt I saw, I realized how wrong I was about small, perfectly geometric blocks being the only way to go.  And who can say whether or not lime green and violent purple sparkles belong together on a quilt if it makes someone’s eyes light up with glee?

It’s certainly not my call.  If someone chooses to make something that’s outside the bounds of what I would, it’s not because they have “bad” taste.   I began to understand that accepting others can have their own tastes doesn’t mean mine is any less good or valid.  Taste is unquantifiable, it’s merely an opinion.

Most accomplished quilters and sewists I know in real life don’t give a monkey’s left lychee whether you like what they do because they’re sewing to please themselves.  I like that attitude; sometimes I wonder if it has to do with the age of the sewists and quilters I know.  Is it one of those wonderful attitudes that comes with life experience?  I try to cultivate that kind of sewing confidence in my beginners and intermediates- it’s so much simpler than trying to create things to please everyone else.

So that brings me back to the question of truly bad taste.  Even though “different” doesn’t mean “bad” to me, there’s some lines that should remain uncrossed (at least in my book)-

  • Effort-  I really, truly admire hard work of any kind.  Not necessarily perfect work, but the neatest work possible.  I doubt I will ever be impressed by smugly slapdash sewing efforts.  Go figure, I teach sewing.
  • Underwear- I fantasize about launching a 1 woman campaign for freeing the public space of visible underwear.  Maybe I’ll make some posters, have a parade or something.  Today, I saw a very large older man wearing something like this and puked a little bit in the back of my throat: (in his defense, he was all muscle)

  • Slogans or outfits that are racist, mock dead people or religions, glorify violence, etc.

That’s about it for me.  Those are my “good taste/bad taste” deal breakers.  What about you?  What’s your opinion on good and bad taste?  Do you worry whether people will like the things you make and wear, or have you passed the point of giving a monkey’s lychee?

(I’d like to make a few more pattern alteration posts.  What would you like to see?)


  1. Steph I think you have gone through the learning curve that everyone who makes for, teaches or sells to lots of other people goes through. You really do give up the idea that your taste is “right”. Having sewn for hundreds of women, I see what suits them, not what I would like to wear. Just as well! :)
    I am a great believer in self expression, and seeing people who are wearing things that aren’t them, especially when they know it isn’t, or making quilts that they think they should or generally trying to be something they aren’t drives me nuts! If something is a true self expression of who someone is then it will always, always work, that’s what I believe :)

    • On this, as so many things, I believe we see eye to eye. It bugs me to see people wearing things that aren’t “them,” too. I find myself people watching and mentally “fixing” people’s clothes for them (though I don’t tend to do that with people I know).

      It’s funny, because I do see that kind of mindset (I have my own taste, you have your own taste) as “professional.”

  2. Brilliant post. I think this dovetails really well with some of the ideas we have been tossing back and forth about what is ‘flattering’.

    I don’t think I scorn mullet skirts as much as they simply don’t push the “want-must-have-now” button for me. Like, I like some irregular hemmed skirts, but I don’t look at a pattern with a lower-in back hem and instantly go “oooooh”, but I do look at pretty much everything made from a gilded ecru fabric and go “ooooh”.

    I love figuring out people’s instant “ooohs”. I certainly have a lot: I’m a sucker for paisley and laurel designs and gilded fabric and just about any white. And bird prints. And when I like someone as much as I like you, and know them as well as I know you, it’s fun to tease each other about our little foibles ;-)

    • And you will be pleased to know I was in a fabric store last week an there was gilded ecru cotton at only $5 a metre and I managed to resist buying it! I did walk round the shop with the bolt for 15 minutes before being a very good girl and putting it back!

    • Oh yes it is. I rather enjoy it.

      You know, I was out today and saw some printed voile… The colors, the print and all made me think of you. It was paisleys and laurels and etc in gentle warm colors on an ecru background. But then again, you might look at it and say “No way, Steph….” ;)

  3. Very interesting. I like your philosophising posts as they give me lots to think about. Personally I don’t care what anyone thinks about what I sew because I am doing it for me. As for others’ sewing, like you I appreciate the effort that’s gone into making it even if I don’t like it. I’ve always had a soft spot for slightly tacky animal prints and faux fur. Fortunately these things are fashionable at the moment so I look trendy instead of tacky and bogan. I find I am way more understanding of the taste of other people as I grow older. When I was younger I used to look at some people and wonder how they could wear what they were wearing. Now I understand that they probably like it.

    • You know, the longer I live here, the less I understand what is “bogan..”

      I’m kind of the same. When I see someone wearing something REALLY weird out in public, I know they probably really love what they’re wearing.

  4. I haven’t ever tried to spell out what I think constitutes taste. I suspect that for me it is about having self respect and acceptance. I don’t think a self respecting person would let a fold of flab hang out over their jeans. In accepting the fact of being 55, I recognise that some clothing features and accessories could put me at risk of passing for Baby Jane. Whatever I put on to go out, my query to the mirror is not about looking pretty or fashionable, but whether I look like I respect myself. Stuffy as that sounds, it doesn’t preclude a bit of fun.

  5. Yes, it’s interesting – I am far more tolerant of quirks, like say the wide variances of personal style, than I am of things like visible underwear, or my very least favourite thing in the universe – reading people’s boobs or backsides. (Really? If it’s that juicy, you might wanna keep that information under wraps …)
    For me, poor taste would be assuming other people care and WANT to see my body & wardrobe, instead of dressing in a way that honours my own body and sense of style. Have influence, but don’t inflict.

  6. That’s what I enjoy about sewing blogs in general. That people all over the world can get together and appreciate the work that goes in to making something. I can appreciate an item someone has made because I know how long it took and how much effort went in to it, regardless if it is something I would personally wear.

    The only “bad taste” item I can think of is pants so low you see butt crack. Even kids pants nowadays are way too low! You should see the hallways at school when we have a tornado drill.

    • UUuuuugh. I don’t know why people are still wearing low-rise pants. It’s a bit rich coming from someone who wears 80-year old fashions but honestly, low-rise pants are so 2001…. Why would kids still be wearing them?


  7. As I’ve gotten older my reaction to other people’s opinions about me and what I do or wear or say has changed. In by gone days I was destroyed by any negative comment and suspicious of anything positive. Now I accept positive affirmations as praise but I don’t let it go to my head. They may just being polite after all.

    With negative comments I run it by the “consider the source” criteria. If I respect the person in general and believe they are knowledgable on the subject they are commenting on I process the opinion. I decide if they have a valid point and if I can and should adopt their thinking. If you tell me I’m doing something wrong in my sewing I’d consider it.

    If I don’t respect the person in general (I’m rolling my eyes everytime they speak) why would I take anything they say about ME and what I’m doing as gopel truth? If I respect the person in general but I know they know nothing about the thing they are commenting on I’d take their opinion with a grain of salt. I’d consider it only on the off chance they may have had divine inspiration or fools luck and have hit on a truth.

    As to taste…what ever floats your boat and makes you feel happy. The limits are…visible underwear. You should wear UNDERWEAR under your clothes not above or at the same level as your clothes. Clothes that make people walk or move funny. Examples of this are clothes that are to tight or pants worn so loose and/or low that you have to walk with your legs spread to keep them from falling off. These people will have joint problems when they are older. Clothes that are so tight or so loose you have to keep tugging at them to keep them in place. Trends that are only flattering to certain figure types being worn by people who do not have that figure type. I’ve seen far to many pretty women who have made themselves look fatter than they are by trying to wear something that is suited to someone with a different shape. Those hipster pants are so unflattering to any girl who isn’t a 0% body fat! I mean really. If you are 2% body fat you are beautiful by today’s standards. But, in hipsters that 2% is squishing out over the tops and you have a muffin top. Why would you do that to yourself? If you have an hour glass shape at any size…why would you hide it under a boxy t-shirt?

    • Yes. To all. I tend to “consider the source” as well, and it means I’m much more confident in myself than I used to be. It’s too easy to let other people’s opinions influence your opinion of yourself, even when they shouldn’t.

      To answer your last question- I sometimes dress my hourglass under a boxy t-shirt purely because I can. It’s like an invisibility cloak, quite handy and very comfortable. :)

      • I agree it is comfortable and I do wear them when I’m hanging at home. With a corset I have and hour glass shape and I find that it gets lost in a boxy shirt. The 20 pounds I “loose” when I put on a corset gets put back on when I hang a box over it. I have some residule body issues so I’m a bit hung up on those “20 pounds”.

        Judging by the photos you post here, you dress your hour glass very well by the way…

  8. I agree with you on the underwear. Please wear it, but I don’t want to see it. I’m also not a fan of pjs worn outside of the house. And I’m in college, so both of these faux pas are rampant!

  9. I’ve found that my sense of style has been much helped by working with an online bulletin board. I was heading in the direction of clothes that I *thought* looked good on me and suited my station in life, but they weren’t really me and then I didn’t wear them as often. Now I’ve got a better idea of what I truly love and can sew more appropriately.

    I used to go shopping with my friends and tell them what to buy/wear. I’m pretty good at that… but since I’ve had kids most of my officey friends have wandered off and I’m out of practice. :)

    As for underwear as outerwear, can we make an exception for beautiful camisoles and petticoats? :)

    • YAY for style self-awareness. :) It’s nicer to know what you’ll wear and what looks good than to have a closet full of unworn clothes.

      I used to rather enjoy the “Thrill of the hunt” while shopping, and the time spent with girlfriends… Then I moved here and had neither girlfriends nor the knowledge of the shops so I haven’t gone “shopping” like that for a while. Sometimes its fun to go out even if you don’t buy a thing…

      Yes, I think beautiful camis and petticoats are ok, as long as it looks like clothes. Says me, the self-appointed arbiter of taste. ;) What do I know?

  10. Amen! Thanks for this post!
    I love that there’s so many different tastes and types out there, and finding what works for us individually and our figures is such a journey. We all make the occasional sewing faux paux (and generally I know when I’m doing it and fighting it all the way, only to finish and think “I should have listened to myself”), but I think generally as we grown and learn and the longer we do things the more we find out what we like and how it works for us- regardless of what others say about our style. I LOVE seeing what others do and seeing it work for them, even if it’s not something I would necessarily do for myself. I respect the creativity that comes from a person pulling together their look and learning to sew objects that works for them individually. It would be so boring if we all did the same thing!
    I admit openly that I have an affinity for the obnoxious. Big hats. Weird details like double collars. They’re just SILLY. Would I wear them all the time? No. But for dress up they’re mighty fun ;)

    • You’re so sweet and such a professional. ;)

      I like obnoxious clothing and accessories, too. Like my very large, round glasses. Or certain colors and cuts I’m fond of. Heck, even the big fluffy dresses so near to my heart can be rather obnoxious, but it’s so fun I don’t care. ;)

  11. This is so interesting- I love the idea of what taste is. Mostly I’d be happier if everyone knoew what fit them and wore it that way. Be the porridge that Goldilocks ate- not too small, not too big!

    • Bahaha! I love it. “Be the porridge Goldilocks ate- not too small, not too big!” Is that a quote from someone, or are you very very clever?

  12. I figure I’m as big a candidate as anyone for “What Not To Wear”, but, while I watch it as a guilty pleasure, I don’t always agree with it. My taste runs to two extremes: Nineties grunge holdover and 1940’s housedresses, preferably made of strong-colored calico. I’m currently working on one in parsley-green chicken print with red rick-rack trim. Even my mother, who adores my sewing, saw it and said, “Oh, my God–you will wear anything!”

    I don’t understand most of the current trends (skinny jeans? I don’t even have skinny legs!), and, sure, there are a lot of things that I don’t like, but with some fairly universal exceptions like the ones cited above (racist, obscene, underwear-in-public), I think that good taste goes only as far as my own closet. A lot of things that would look ridiculous on me look fine on somebody else whose personality they match, and I look right at home in 1930’s and 1940’s styles that look like costumes on some women.

    Learning to sew has fixed my relationship with clothes and, to some extent, my body image. I’m not kidding. That I can now make stuff that fits me correctly in styles I could only have admired from afar before means that I’m automatically more comfortable in my own clothes, more confident that they fit and cover what I want them to cover, are a good color for me, etc. I never had really bad body image issues but I’m definitely happier now that I’m not a slave to commercial clothing that will never fit or look right on me.

    • “Learning to sew has fixed my relationship with clothes and, to some extent, my body image.” Yes! Me too, and I know it’s the same for countless women. I’ll have to quote you later, hope you don’t mind.

      I don’t get “trends” either, by the time they show up here they’re a few years old anyway. I mean this in the nicest way possible, but Brisbane is where trends and fashion come to die. Which is cool, I’d probably have never started sewing my own wardrobe if I lived somewhere like Barcelona or Tokyo or London or New York.

  13. Very interesting post! I once dated a Jewish German psychiatrist – so you can imagine culturally speaking there were some historical issues that were hard for him. Even hate slogans on tee shirts were OK by him. His philosophy “well they think it anyway, so better out than in.” His belief in freedom of speech and expression was absolute. There were no caveats. It’s an interesting point of view.

    I enjoy the fact that you have a point of view and share it and are open to opposing points of view. The problem is, that sometimes people are not respectful about having a different point of view. You are right, they are wrong. You say something is right for you, and they tell you it shouldn’t be. In other words, too much judgement, not enough curiousity about difference.

    • Well, we can have our nice respectful conversations and not talk to people like that! But I know what you mean.

      He sounds very interesting… Better out than in.. Hmm.. I can see that, and I can see how it would be a useful way to look at the world. I tend to be rather startled by people who are bigoted. I just don’t understand it, I always think to myself “They can’t really mean what they’re saying, I’m sure of it.”

  14. I think you have a valid point here, that with maturity comes the self-confidence not to be so influenced by the opinions of others. I know that I am much less concerned with what other people think of me and the way I choose to live and dress now, than I used to be. I take a lot of my style inspiration from vintage clothing, but this doesn’t prevent me wearing modern clothing if it makes me feel good about myself. Personally I would like people to keep to clothes that fit and cover their embarassment!!! With regard to expressing my personal taste on how others choose to dress, my guide is Disneys Thumper “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say nothing at all” An excellent, thought provoking post. X

    • Thanks. :)

      Yes, that’s good advice of Thumper’s, words to live by 99% of the time. I wonder what Thumper would do if he found himself in a situation where he actually *couldn’t* think of anything nice to say, and was being pressed for his opinion?

      • I was in a situation when my best friend painted her kitchen all by herself (first time decorating) in the most horrendous lemon yellow ever, I’m sure you could see it from space! I ended up saying “it certainly looks much brighter!” as I couldn’t think of anything else to say, and she was just so pleased with herself I was desperate to be positive! X

      • I would just go for something non-offensive in that case, nice colours/combination/fabric/style perhaps, or that would go great with ????? I once described a client as having “a strong sense of personal style” Lol. X

  15. I’m at a point where I’m just starting developing a style. I spent my teens in crazy op shop wins but when I started teaching I felt I had to tone it down and have spent the last almost decade in a haze of bleh cheap separates. I love seeing people propose all these crazy patterns because it gives me a chance in my head to see things I surely wouldn’t have looked at and conceptualise how others may see it work. I’m hoping that my 30s are the start of a growing confidence in wearing what reflects my true style even if I look like a pork chop to others. Oh, and no visible underwear. There’s a line, people!

    • A pork chop? For some reason, I’m thinking of Gaga’s meat dress… heheeh.

      I figure if I’m wearing something I like then all the other opinions are secondary… Which might be a little bit of arrogance or what have you, but I don’t think so. It’s just being comfortable with who you are…

      Maybe? ;)

  16. You know, I thought that exposed underwear was the main ‘bad taste’ item for me, as I was reading your post, but then there was the comment about a German-Jewish psychiatrist, and I remembered the time a bunch of guys covered in swastikas turned up in a pub I was at with some friends, and the cold fear that swept over me. I’m blond(ish), was there with my church group, and have most definitely NOT inherited my father’s nose, but I was still terrified that there must be some sort of invisible Jew-sign radiating off me and they would notice. Anything that strikes fear into others is not in good taste.

    • Wow. Thanks for sharing that. I think that’s a good guideline- no incitement of terror in other people.

      Except -maybe- on halloween. Or zombie walks… But those are a different type of “fear”.

      • A very different kind of fear. Those are a fun fear. Oh how I wish the zombie games they’re doing in the UK were happening here..

      • The zombie walks may happen where you are. I believe they have happened here, but it was ridiculously hot and bright and I just don’t go out much in that kind of weather. Maybe there’ll be one during the civilized-weather time of year.

  17. It’s hard to draw lines in taste. There’s a saying in Czech (you could call it macaroni Czech), “Proti gustu žádný dišputát”, i.e. there’s no argument against taste. Period.
    But still, I agree with your lines for bad taste. I’d add nudity somehwere there, except it’s hard to draw lines with nudity – some of it is art, and great art at that, and some of it is bad taste par excellence.
    Also, I like The Dreamstress’s notion of “instant oohs”. Everyone has their own. I think the best way to broaden your tastes is to look for other people’s instant oohs. That’s what’s been happening to me with sewing and costuming blogs – what other people’s quilts have done for you. I get to see that everyone is triggered by something a bit different, and it gives me a broader idea of beauty.

    • I like that, thanks for the local proverb. :)

      I think you’re right, actually. Those instant “ooohs” often take hold of me, too. :)

  18. It is quite a bit later here on the West Coast of the US but I’ll chime in anyway. For me, bad taste in clothing centers around overtly sexual. Sex is a private occupation and I am uncomfortable with clothing that seems to advertise the sexual body. I have no problem with nudity, or revealing clothing. It is that very specific style of “Let’s f—” that embarrasses me. In the bedroom? Sure! In a club? Maybe. On the street? eek.

    • I can see your point, definitely… I kind of want to take all the best comments from this post and mash them together into a basic definition of good taste… :)

  19. There’s no accounting for taste. :) I like to think that people don’t judge me based on what I’m wearing, even though I know it’s not true. I don’t care, I wear what I like. And 99% of the time I don’t notice what other people are wearing, although I really believe that men shouldn’t wear tank top. It always looks trashy to me. My one peeve. :)

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  21. I’d say that the whole matter of “taste” revolves around courtesy: if what you choose to wear makes most of the people around you uncomfortable, you should change your clothing so as not to offend them. That means different things for different public locations: your usual running crowd may be fine with exposed underclothing and lewd comments printed on tee shirts. Perhaps that sort of attire would not be appropriate to wear while visiting an elementary school, or museum. Just a thot.

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  23. Thanks for a very interesting post! There may be discord on certain styles (i.e. what one adores may what one abhors…). I still have many techniques I want to acquire and master to make me feel and be a competent sewist/sewer/seamstress. Despite our techniques and styles, sewing is the common thread that ties us together.

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