In Honestly

buy before you try – thoughts on sewing what you like when you don’t know what you like

In my quest to sew a great pair of pants, many of you suggested trying to find a sewing pattern based on my favorite Ready-To-Wear pair. Well the problem with that was I didn’t have a favorite pair! The reason why I was trying to sew my own “ideal” pair of pants was because I had never found a decent pair in stores that met all my comfort/style demands and were still in my price range. Further more, I was hesitant to let myself buy a pair because I knew I could just make them myself. That kind of thing can be a big catch 22 when you’re a garment sewer.


Well I finally broke down during my trip to California and decided I was NOT leaving the Livermore Premium Outlets until I found a fantastic pair of RTW pants that I could buy, take home, and then replicate myself. Long story short, after trying on 10+ pairs at several different stores, I found myself in the Tommy Hilfiger outlet holding yet another pair of stretch woven cigarette pants. As soon as I pulled them on I knew there was hope! The fit wasn’t bad at all, in fact they felt pretty frackin’ awesome compared to the ones I’d been trying on before that. They were so comfortable but looked very classic and polished, and they were machine washable AND 50% off!  I bought two pairs.


Immediately I started thinking about how the last two pairs of pants I tried sewing have so much more potential now that I could see what the end of the ‘great, wearable pants’ road actually looked like. I love the cut of these because they look great worn with loafers, but are just as easily tucked into boots, which will be a necessity here in Western NY soon. I love the inseam length and the rise feels pretty good… very close to ideal for me I think. The fabric is a 4-way stretch woven cotton which gives me all the shaping I want, plus some serious all day comfort, without sacrificing any style. I wore leggings on the plane ride to California, and these new pants all the way home and I swear I couldn’t feel a difference between them. They’re pretty much a pants miracle.


I also walked out with a fantastic toggle button sweater with the singular purpose of comparing the size and shape to the Newcastle Cardigan by Thread Theory, when I finally get around to actually sewing it.


Outfit Details:
Shirt – Wrangler brand via a thrift shop
Glasses – El Ria c/0 Victory Optical
Wig – Kekeshop on Etsy (custom)
Loafers – another thrift shop find
Pants– Tommy Hilfiger Outlet
(can’t find an exact link but these are similar)
Cardigan – Tommy Hilfiger Outlet
Boots – Timberland
Belt – Wal*Mart

photos by William Waldon


So here I am in a completely non-me-made outfit, feeling slightly guilty that I didn’t make any of it myself, but feeling super ready to start sewing my own completely me-made versions!


In my case I had to buy the perfect outfit before I could try to sew my own really wearable replica. I guess that makes sense though seeing as how you can’t really sew what you like until you know what you like! And if you’re a long time reader of my blog, you know I very seldom know what I like! Haha!

Have you ever struggled with this?


  • Ami Lowden

    I have struggled with this with trousers myself! I want stretch in my trousers becuase I am short and need them as slim fitting as possible to be even remotely flattering but am all about the comfort. I made some clover jeans which I loved and then actually cut up a pair of Topshop jeans that were ideal in every way and made a denim pair of those that I wore til they died but then the next versions i made using the same pattern were awful because the fabric just didn’t stretch in the same way despite containing the same lycra content. It kind of left me feeling very apprehensive about ever making my own again as they went straight off to the charity shop. I guess the key is to really test the stretch of a fabric before purchasing which I was too blonde to do! …oops! Those trouser (and the whole outfit) look fantastic on you!

  • What’s awesome is that you know your own style so well that your RTW outfit LOOKS like something you would make, because it’s exactly the kind of thing you would choose to spend your precious time on – now that is very cool! 🙂 I really love that toggle jacket – I kept trying to look at your pants and being distracted by its awesomeness – great find!!! ^__^

    It’s taken me what feels like an embarrassingly long time to figure out what works for me and what doesn’t, maybe partly because RTW never fit me well anyway so I spent the first three years of my sewing career just TRYING stuff, most of which was a total flop LOL. I think that’s ok to some degree, but it’s frustrating right? At least now you have a benchmark to go by, and a bit of a clearer path to follow – looking forward to seeing where your pants adventure takes you next! ^_^

  • Congrats on finding RTW pants that fit you! I have never been able to do that. It doesn’t help that I simply can NOT be comfortable in the low rider pants that are the standard now days. I was lucky, after much searching to finally find a pants pattern (McCalls 6173) that fits me with relatively few changes. A bit of a surprise. Based on the picture on the envelope I expected to have to do a lot more alteration.

  • stgilbert

    Oh, I’ve struggled with this over the last year (turning 40 was a big turning point) and am finally settling into knowing what I want to sew and wear.

    I have to say that I LOVE this entire outfit on you! The warm orange, cream, and olive look so gorgeous on you and the fit of your snappy new trousers are great! Sometimes, RTW can be helpful!

    • This post makes so much sense, really!
      I’m still struggling to find my own style; only yesterday I tried on a dress which I made about two years ago and somehow, it was all wrong…. even though the dress is quite lovely in itself, and the color spot-on, it was just too frilly. And then we’re not even talking about fit… Oy.
      I applaud you, Rochelle, for embarking on this ‘discover your style’ journey so much earlier on, and you posting regularly on this topic is really interesting and eye-opening!

  • I think there’s a class by Kenneth King on Craftsy that shows you how to clone your favorite RTW pants. I haven’t checked it out because I’m working on designer vintage makes, but he’s a great teacher.

  • I have this problem with jeans. I have never found a pair that fit perfectly so it’s hard to know EXACTLY how I want them to feel on.

  • Its so hard as a garment sewer because when you first enter this world there are SO MANY OPTIONS, you really have to think hard about what you like and what works for you. I’ve been noticing stripes, polka dots, solids, and novelty prints with lots of blues and navy look great on me but it has taken me two years of trial and error to get to this point. And yeah, I look at RTW and feel huge pangs of guilt because, duh, I could make this, why would I buy it. But, every now and then you gotta think that, yeah, you could, but as long as I know that I will wear it out and not just toss it 3 months from now, then that’s okay to buy clothing every now and then! Very cute outfit, love the pants 🙂

  • HennaMackoin

    Sometimes it’s really difficult to find fitting trousers, especially if you are not inside the average size range :/ But once you find one perfect trousers, you can copy them easily and do similar once by yourself! 😀 Luckily I learned to do patterns for trousers during my studies so I can just take few measurements and do a pattern but I am way more lazy than you so I am just crossing my fingers and hoping to find some fitting trousers from somewhere with fitting prize :_D

  • Those trousers look great on you! Good luck with the replicas 🙂 (Cute cats too!)

  • OOOh, a 4 way cotton twill?! I need some 🙂 I have had a stretch twill before, but by the end of the day, everything is saggy and baggy. I’d love to try the 4 way!
    If I’m honest, I don’t think I have had the perfect pair of trousers/jeans in YEARS. Probably since I had my 2nd kid 10 years back LOL I blame her 😉

    • I know! My mind was blown when I tried these on and was like… they’re 4 way stretch …but it’s not a knit… WHAT IS THIS?! lol! I must find some similar fabric now. I must!

      The whole reason why people have kids is to blame them for things, right? I bet that’s what my mom would say haha! 😉

      • Yes, it’s to blame them for putting on weight and stuff 😉 Alternatively you could try and blame cats or dogs… but I’m not sure that it’d ring quite so true… 😉

  • Great outfit! And great pants! I love that they have all the trouser details (front fly, slash pockets, waistband and belt loops) but are still in a comfy knit! I think this is a great idea. And although I totally know what you mean, you should in NO WAY feel guilty about buying RTW!

    • Thanks! They’re actually a 4-way cotton twill, which I didn’t even know they made, but now I’m on the hunt to find similar fabric! I don’t like sewing with knits but I sure like the comfort of them lol. I don’t feel soooooo guilty about these pants because I do love them an awful lot 😉

  • Oh yes, I definitely have trouble with the guilt of buying clothes I could make (if only I could find the right pattern; if only I had the time; etc.). Sometimes you just have to buy clothes, either to discover what you like or to have something to wear to work! Good luck with the pants project!

    • I agree, finding the right pattern and the time to make it can be so hard! Especially when you want to sew new clothes right NOW lol

  • I’ve been doing the same thing all year! Too much travel meant not a lot of sewing time but the need for new clothes. And since I’m a petite size without having an old lady shape yet, that was hard! But now I have clothes that I can just pattern from instead of trying to use patterns that are way off from my fit.

    • Yeah I’m with you there, it’s going to be great to have a good RTW reference when sewing from patterns now! Why didn’t I try doing this earlier? lol

  • Having been to those outlets, that must have been a LONG day of trying on pants. Congrats on finding something that FITS 🙂

    • Haha! Yeah it was a bit of an adventure (especially for someone like me who genuinely does not enjoy shopping unless it’s for fabric lol) but I made it out with some awesome pants so it was so worth it! …though I pretty much left immediately after buying the pants lol.

  • I wrote a blog post about the same thing only two weeks ago. My wardrobe was in major need of an update but I didn’t have enough time to sew what I wanted, I felt guilty buying RTW ever since I learned how to sew but I finally decided that enough was enough and I just bought clothes I liked and felt good in. Now I’ve actually got a better sense of what I like and I can just sew extra garments which fit seamlessly into the rest of my wardrobe. So never feel guilty for buying something, nobody is supposed to sew everything themselves 🙂

    • Oh really? I’m going to look for your post, I’d like to hear about your experience with this whole concept. You’re right, it seems pretty silly to withhold good pants from myself thinking I could just make them. …well with my last two fitting experiences who knows how long that could take haha!

  • Never feel guilty about where your inspiration comes from, dear gal. It’s the spark that lights the flame of your own amazing originality.

    ♥ Jessica

  • I struggle a lot with what I like and what looks good on me. And as my body isn’t exactly the shape most RTW companies make clothes for, I can’t really try on things I like and see how I feel in them because for example dresses, the waist line is in wrong places, if they fit me around the breasts, they are too big around my waist/hips and make me feel like a tent. I’ve found a brand that makes jeans that fit me but other than that..Unless I want to buy basic t-shirts I’m into whole lot of frustration, self loathing and taste of tears and defeat.

    This is why sewing is so great. We see that our bodies aren’t wrong, they are just different and that’s OK.

    • I can empathize with you there. The whole reason why I wanted to sew my own pants is because I have so much trouble finding ones that fit me. Shopping really can feel like defeat sometimes! I would much rather sew my own clothes and work through my own body differences at home, but when you DO finally find a RTW garment that doesn’t make you feel defeated, you gotta snatch it up 😉

      • Ah yes, finding that holy grail of RTW that actually fits is unbelievably satisfying and if I do find that piece that fits me and I like it then I will buy it and I will have no guilt attached to it. I mean we can’t possibly make EVERY single piece we see and like out there, sometimes we have to cut corners and later we can copy them and take all the credit for our clothes, teehee.

  • Some time you need to go “the other way aroind” to figure things out. I never found rtw pants i could wear, ever. And it took me 5-8 versions of sewing before the fit was spot on – The others a wearable but not perfect though…

    • This is the first time is almost a decade that I found a pair of slim fit RTW pants that had a decent fit! Now I feel much more confident about approaching the 5-8 versions of me-made pants that I’ll no doubt have to work through before I can replicate these 😉 It’s a process, I know. Here’s to great fitting handmade pants at home!

  • HOLY CRAP. I live in Livermore! Super weird that a blogger I’ve been reading for a couple of years was in my hood, haha. Hoped you enjoyed the heat! JK, hella hot, I know!

    • Wow really? Small world! I was in the San Fransisco area for my friends wedding and decided to do some shopping before the rehearsal dinner. It was SUPER hot compared to New York weather! The outlets were really nice though, and surprising, not overwhelming during the time we were there lol

  • Great post! So true! I want to do the Colette wardrobe architect project, but I’m just not sure that I know what I like!

    • Yeah it’s been hard for me to try to hone in on what I like since I’m very much a ‘comfort over fashion’ kind of person, and just when I feel like I’m starting to figure it out, the seasons change on me haha! Luckily you’re not alone. Sooooooo many of us struggle with not knowing what we actually like lol

  • That outfit is great! Love those pants! Agree with you that it is SO hard to find the perfect pair. I’ve given up for now and gone all the way over to jeggings and treggings. Good luck sewing your perfect pair – looking forward to seeing them!

    • Thank you! I love dressing for fall weather better than any other season, and you’re right, it IS hard to find good pants! I feel like that’s unfair lol. I mean, everyone wears pants! Why is it so hard?! haha!

  • I had never thought to approach sewing this way, but it makes a lot of sense to me. It’s always easier to tackle a project when you have a firmer idea of what the end product should look like! I’m interested to see how you tackle pants now. 🙂

    • I know! It’s all starting to make sense to me now. Why did it take me this long to figure it out? lol I guess I always learn things the unconventional way…

  • Rochelle, I love the fit of these pants on you! It’s hard finding RTW pants, mainly because I give up. I can’t wait to see your version of it. I’m sure it will be spectacular! Now, you’re giving me the idea that I need to make myself pants too. ha!

    Oh, I like the idea of making the Newcastle cardigan for yourself. I think I might just steal the idea because it looks pretty awesome!

    • Thank you! I routinely gave up on buying pants after trying the same types of stores over and over and never finding anything, which is why I branched out and headed to the Outlets and into stores I’ve never shopped in before. I guess I really like Tommy Hilfiger stuff, who knew!

      p.s. you should totally make a Newcastle Cardigan for yourself! I’m really into old man sweaters so as soon as I saw that pattern come out I knew I would one day make it for me and not an old man 😉 …though my grandpa would probably love it if I made him one.

  • devon

    i love the pants AND the sweater! i never totally know what i want, and i’m most influenced by other people, which makes me think i don’t have a firm grasp on what i really like. but i also think that’s ok.

    also, will you please take me with you to this magical forest grove where the ground is covered in cats??

    • Thank you! I think most of us have no clue what we REALLY want/like because of so many influences and contrasting tastes. I really like vintage and I also really love snowboarding… that makes it difficult to dress myself in the winter months lol. But you’re right. That’s okay!

      p.s. that magical forest grove covered with cats is my back yard and you’re welcome to visit any time lol. Well, it’s my back yard and part of the neighbor’s but my cats would argue it’s all theirs 😉

  • Julia F.

    This outfit is spectacular! The colors are perfect for fall! And that sweater is to die for! Still haven’t stopped obsessing over your hair… I think it suits you beautifully, especially with the glasses! It’s a shame those penny loafers are thrifted, I’d by a pair like those in a heart beat.

    • Aww thank you! I have to admit, having luscious synthetic locks really makes it less necessary to wear a scarf when it’s cold out and I like that lol. The loafers are Earth Spirit brand if that’s any help. Maybe they still make a similar pair? They’re awfully comfortable!

  • I’m a big fan of rub offs. My favorite pants I’ve ever made are a copy of my very worn gap jeans. I have a couple of dresses and tops in my closet that I have been meaning to trace off. If you can find affordable RTW clothes that truly fit, it’s a great way to reverse engineer a great wearable pattern! Love this topic! Those pants look awesome on you.

    • That’s a great idea! I’ll have to try that with these since I really love the fit, maybe a small tweak or two needed, and then I’d REALLY have a perfect pair of pants!

  • Very cute! As for me, I find my sewing adventures help me to know what I like and don’t like. I use ThredUp a lot to help me when I need RTW garments that I don’t yet have the skill set or time for, and I’ve learned a lot about perusing garments quickly to determine what I like and what looks good on me. I’m amazed that I got this far in life without really understanding what I was looking at when I looked at clothing. Sewing has given me that, at least, and now I am able to make better choices, not only when I pick sewing projects, but when I buy RTW also. Win-win.

    I hope your great pants project turns out well! (Unrelated: after seeing the sneak peeks of your Art Gallery+denim yoked shirt, when Grey’s Fabric put the Art Gallery print on sale, I had to have some! I’m planning to make a 40s pattern 3/4 length sleeve collarless button down with it, I think. Or maybe the Simplicity 3688 blouse, because I don’t really care for collared shirts on myself, even though I really like how they look on others!) Thanks for the sewing inspiration (and shopping enabling…)

    • I’ve shopped on ThredUp before for jackets and sweaters (love that site!) but can’t do it with pants since sizing and fit is so weird between brands. I agree, sewing has really helped me identify quality RTW garments and how to spot when things are off grain or just poorly constructed. It definitely helps me make better choices!

      p.s. I can’t wait to see what you make with that Arizona fabric! Aren’t Art Gallery cottons amazing? They feel more like a poplin than a quilting cotton! I love it.