On an impulse this winter (very unlike me), I purchased a cheap sweater. I wanted to see what I’ve been missing with a well-known popular brand here in Spain. Turns out, I wasn’t missing much. The sweater is mostly acrylic and started pilling almost immediately. I kept after it with my sweater comb and wore it during Christmas holiday because it was warm, comfortable, and cozy around the house, despite looking ratty (due to the instant pilling).
This is what I mean about quality fabrics and fibers. On the opposite end of the quality spectrum, last year I finally retired a hand-me-down cashmere sweater my aunt gave me in 1985 and which I have worn frequently for more than 30 years. (S begged me for it and now wears it, although it really is on its last legs.) That’s a lot of wearings for one sweater! You get a lot more mileage with good quality. And that sweater never pilled.
Anyway, feeling pretty annoyed with myself for making a dumb purchase that isn’t going to last more than a year (I hate the thought of sending something to a landfill!), I decided I’d better make the most of it and at least do something interesting with the experience. So I forced myself to wear it every day for one more week and turned it into a style challenge. How many different ways could I wear a single oversized sweater?
Here’s the rundown of all the different ways I wore it, all from my Instagram account (and taken with my very old phone, thus the not-so-great quality of the photos, sorry). I also posted the photos to the Liesl + Co. Friends Facebook group just for the fun of it. I’ve given an explanation of each outfit below, if you’re interested.
Day 1, Saturday: Rainy and cold on Three Kings Day here in Central Madrid, when absolutely no one was out. (The first time in six weeks that the sidewalks have been absent the masses of tourists who descend on Central Madrid during the holidays.) I paired the sweater with my white Liesl + Co. Gallery Tunic (I thought I had blogged this one but can’t find it) and my faux leather Lisette for Butterick B6295 leggings (from this post), both of which get loads of wear. As I commented to someone regarding the leather leggings, it’s much easier and less intimidating to wear leather or faux leather if you downplay the rocker aspect and style them a little preppy: thus the collared shirt and crew-neck sweater.
Day 2, Sunday: I wore the sweater with my Lisette for Butterick B6493 pencil skirt (from this post) and my super-warm Lisette B6423 coat (from this post). S calls this my Cookie Monster coat, although I keep telling her Cookie Monster is much, much blue-er than I am. I piled on a couple of really big necklaces to distract from the sweater pills and wore this to church.
Day 3, Monday: First day of intensive Spanish school for me, and first day of a class ski trip in Andorra for S. It was too dark to take photos before S got on the bus, so I resorted to a selfie after school. Worn with my chambray Recital Shirt (from this post) and slim black wool trousers with my favorite brogues. Lots of layers (tights under the trousers, T-shirt under the Recital Shirt) because we had to stand outside in the cold and dark for about 45 minutes to wait for the bus, and mornings here in Spain are harsh!
Day 4, Tuesday: Cold again, and I just wanted to be comfortable after a late night of studying and because I needed to run errands after class. Old, faded and ripped jeans and that white Gallery Tunic again. I like to mix the ripped old jeans with the dressy Italian herringbone fabric of the Gallery Tunic: a little high-low action.
Day 5, Wednesday: I bought this vintage kilt skirt on eBay many years ago and it always gets compliments, but I think it requires clever styling to save it from looking too traditional/dowdy. So I wore it with my chambray Classic Shirt and tied the sweater around my waist. I think the booties help to update the kilt, too.
Day 6, Thursday: On the opposite end of the fashion spectrum, I paired the oversized sweater with a sexy back-zip Alexander McQueen pencil skirt I purchased a couple of years ago at deep discount from a second-hand store. I like the contrast between the oversized sweater and the super-fitted sleek skirt, so I went for “librarian chic” with my glasses and booties. For a little color, my Lisette for Butterick B6423 yellow coat which I took off to show you that cool back zipper.
Day 7, Friday: I went all dance-inspired for this one. Leggings, legwarmers, and a little wrap dance skirt I made for my ballet classes a few years ago, along with tall boots and my Lisette Cookie Monster coat again. Being quite tall, one trick I’ve found for wearing a short skirt is to cover up more of my legs below the skirt. The boots and legwarmers balance out the silhouette. This one was very comfortable and cozy and is a new favorite for me!
Day 8, Saturday: I wore a pair of very old wool trousers for my last day. I bought these MiuMiu trousers when I was designing for Tommy Hilfiger more than 13 years ago, before S was born, and they still look and feel great. Giant scarf to combat the cold, and I wore this with my Lisette for Butterick B6244 coat (from this post), which didn’t get photographed.
This was a fun challenge! Here’s what I learned from it: The first four days were easy because I wear these items frequently, so they felt very natural to me. I had to push myself and get a little more creative starting on Day 5, and I probably wouldn’t have thought to wear Day 7 at all had I not been doing the challenge. I’ll definitely wear that outfit again, so I’m glad I tried it. In the process I also thought of several other ways I’d like to try wearing the sweater, so I’ll try wear them in a week or so–after I’ve had a break from the sweater. Also, I hadn’t worn my kilt or back-zip skirt yet this year, so this was a great way to wear them again. If you’re anything like me you have a few old, favorite items in your closet that you just don’t wear very often. This exercise got me wearing them in ways I wouldn’t have thought, and it broke me out of my most frequent outfit habits.
So I’ll definitely do this again, and I’m looking forward to trying it with other items in my closet, including with more of my hand-made clothing. The Gallery Tunic and Classic Shirt would both be easy to style in a lot of different ways! This challenge is a great way to push yourself to experiment with what you own and discover some new outfits in the process.
Do you want to join me? I’m going to call it #thewaysiwearit to see how many combinations I can come up with for one item of clothing. It might be only three ways, it might be a whole week of combinations. I don’t think I’ll wear them all in a row–it will be fun fun to spread them out a bit. Let’s see what we can do with what we have, shall we?
I’m curious where do you even buy high quality items that last as long as your sweater? Even when I look in department stores I find those sweaters wear and pile after a season.
I agree that it’s getting more and more difficult to find good quality. My go-to has always been J. Crew, Ann Taylor, or Banana Republic, but they’re feeling a lot of pressure from fast fashion and being forced to reduce their quality to compete on price. It’s still possible to find affordable quality, but it’s not easy! My first suggestion would be to purchase natural fibers like wool and cashmere instead of acrylic and poly.
On my list for crappy old sweaters (I’ve been visiting my mom’s attic where she’s has stored all kinds of sweaters that my 4 sisters and I wore in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s)
Fur lined sweater boots!
You could always hand knit a sweater! However pilling doesn’t always mean an item is cheap or poor quality. The amount of pilling has to do with fiber length. Your cashmere sweater is goat fiber and has a longer staple length of fiber and is less prone to piling (or felting) of the fibers. I knit myself a lovely pullover from very high quality wool but it does pill a bit because the blend of wool is softer and likely shorter length of fibers. Your acrylic blend is pilling because of the difference in the types of fiber in the knit (probably the wool separating from the synthetic. Anyhow — it is hard to find a quality sweater these days and some of us have discovered the slow pleasure in creating a high quality garment ourselves.
Someday I’ll have time to knit again–I do love it! And you’re right–pilling doesn’t always mean an item is cheap, since sometimes shorter fibers are chosen to achieve a certain look to a yarn. However, speaking in broad generalities, fast fashion and manufactured fibers aren’t going to last as long as natural fibers. A better cashmere sweater will, generally, be made with longer fibers that have less of a tendency to pill and will last longer. My poor-quality sweater is almost entirely acrylic and won’t survive long at all. It’s already been relegated to cozy indoor-wear (like an old sweatshirt…).
Such a fun idea! You look fantastic, even if your cheap sweater doesn’t! I have a few loved garments in my wardrobe that are decades old (including pre-family wool pants!), I suddenly feel justified for keeping them. 🙂
Thanks! One of these days I should go through my closet and figure out how long I’ve owned everything. I may have a lot of clothes, but most of them are really, really old!
Love this series and idea!
I’ve spent every fall the last few years looking for the perfect black vee neck cashmere tunic length sweater (I’m a plus size so this isn’t easy for me as it might be for someone thinner ) and finally found it this year. I’ve had other place holder sweaters but as you’ve experienced, they don’t last more than a season, as a rule. Cashmere lasts for years and years. It’s worth the wait.
One of the other posters asked a question about where to get higher quality clothing pieces-look in higher end department stores, and go online to those stores websites. They’ll often have somewhat upscale separates that aren’t sold in all their stores, and often if you have them ship it to the store nearest you the shipping is free (ask the cashier or look on the home page for offers for this).
I have one really precious TSE cashmere sweater, an inky blue v-neck, that fit me beautifully 50 pounds ago and somehow still does. Then there’s cashmere sweater I bought from Uniqlo for $35 that was too itchy to wear more than twice, and is currently at the bottom of my closet waiting to be turned into a teddy bear or something.