Today we are delighted to extend a hearty welcome to MDK to Claudia B. Manley. We don’t remember when we first came across Claudia’s Instagram account, @proper_tension, but we’re longtime admirers. Claudia’s outfits of the day, which combine her handsewn and handknit makes with vintage finds, Fluevog shoes, and innate flair, are a constant source of inspiration and wardrobe courage. When Claudia wore a Kiki Mariko rug-in-progress as a tube dress, we put aside all bashfulness and invited her to write for MDK. We hope her story inspires you as much as it inspires us.
—Ann and Kay
When I was in the eighth grade, I was voted “Most Radical.” There were other categories like “Funniest” and “Smartest.” “Most Radical” didn’t have anything to do with politics; it was kind of an “Other” category. I remember being incensed by my classmates’ lack of understanding about what “radical” meant and also disappointed because I had really hoped to be named “Best Dressed.” However, my sartorial choices were not in line with the aesthetics of my classmates.
Confetti by Veera Välimäki
Thinking about my style and its genesis has been an interesting exercise. I’m currently at a time when I can see the various threads of my life coming together in one integrated cord, and as I thought about this piece, I noticed how this is also true of the way I approach dressing.
My upbringing has had an impact on my style. As an Army brat, I moved a lot, and my father’s assignments brought us to Okinawa, Japan just as Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto were attracting attention. My mother, who is German, introduced me to these and other designers. She’s been stylish and fashionable since before I was born. She wore a Pierre Cardin suit rather than a wedding dress when my parents were married and decades later was featured in The Washington Post as one of the most fashionable women in Washington, DC.
My mother sewed while I was growing up, and I learned to sew around the age of 12 at the Singer Sewing Center in a strip mall in Salina, Kansas. My first outfit was a seersucker drawstring skirt and a matching t-shirt. Despite this auspicious start, I didn’t keep up with it and only really returned to sewing decades later.
When I was in high school, my mother gave me the book Cheap Chic. I cannot overstate the impact that this book has had on the way I approach dressing. It got me interested in vintage clothing and thrift shops as well as combining disparate elements (workwear with vintage and a classic trench coat, anyone?), and it remains one of my essential books. An outlier in my style choices already by middle school, the aesthetics I was developing through my reading and rereading of Cheap Chic ended up feeling right in line, politically and aesthetically, when I was part of the hardcore punk scene of mid-’80s Washington, DC.
Sunday Sweater by PetiteKnit
I taught myself to knit when I was pregnant. I still have the first sweater I made for my son; unfortunately, I let go of the first sweater I knit for myself, which included cables and intarsia! I continued to knit on and off for a few years, but it wasn’t until my stint on Wall Street that my knitting got a second wind. I met someone there who was an avid knitter, and I returned to the craft. She fanned the flames of what has turned out to be a passion for me.
Metamorphic by Andrea Mowry
The desire to sew my own clothes and my interest in slow fashion coincided with my introduction to Alabama Chanin. Many years ago, I saw a Project Alabama dress at a department store and marveled not only at the price, but the skill and time involved in making it. While totally outside of my budget, I found the Alabama Chanin books and realized I could make something just as wondrous myself. I was lucky enough to take a workshop in Florence, Alabama years later, and through that and Natalie Chanin’s books encountered an approach to clothing that was about more than just style or looks. It had politics and social values as well.
For a few years, I made things because bloggers I followed made them but that didn’t suit me. Now I no longer make things simply because people I admire make them because I have a better sense of who I am and what I enjoy wearing.
Understated by Joji Locatelli
The more I thoughtfully make, the more integrated my wardrobe becomes. My latest levelling up is around choosing colors and designs that work with what I already have in my closet or that fill in blanks in my wardrobe. I’ve paired a Joji Locatelli sweater with a Yohji Yamamoto skirt (yes, Joji and Yohji!), and I find myself more and more often wearing to work things I’ve made, something I used to be a little self-conscious about, but since I’ve found pattern designers whose aesthetic is close to mine, there’s been less of a (perceived) disconnect.
Reflecting on it now, I see how “Most Radical” actually fits my way of dressing, not necessarily because of the styles I’m attracted to but because of how I approach my wardrobe and making. Had I known that “the personal is political” when I was in the eighth grade, I would’ve celebrated my classmates’ ability to really see me, and the me I would become, when they voted me “Most Radical.”