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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.” 

About The Author

Open to learning how to do practically everything, Claudia teaches, writes, knits, and makes art in Hamilton, Ontario. Her textbook, Fashion Writing: A Primer, was published by Routledge in November 2022.


  • I love the strength of these choices and how wonderful the hair is. Very radical

  • Fascinating-I wish I had Claudia’s courage. I wear more and more hand knits to work, but not enough.

    • Just LOVED Claudia’s story and the insight while in her youth she didn’t see in herself the “Most Radical” her classmates saw… how inspirational! Thank you for sharing your beautiful story!

    • Pulling my cowboy boots back out! Love your strength and being secure in who you are and what you like!❤

    • Fantastic! Thank you Claudia

  • Wow! I love the comfort and style! I wish Claudia could “fix” my wardrobe choices.

  • Claudia! I love your style! I love your colors! “Women of a certain age” have always been applauded by me when it comes to finally being able to wear what we love to express our personalities! I’ve always thought of them (us) more as artists…Especially now in slow fashion, I am considering the possibilities of combining pieces of other garments to create one of a kind pieces. Thank you for the inspiration.

  • Wonderful letter, given my history of obedience to conservative dressing practices…ie. see the knee and sent home to redress!
    The 60s began to loosen me up. Now 5 decades later, I now plot and have begun making disobedient clothing!
    Claudia, thank you for this precious letter!!!

  • This is a tremendous (re)affirmation for those of us in the “other” category!
    Love the writing, the style, the clothes, and especially, the great story! Thank you Claudia, for sharing your joyful, practical, and playful approach to dressing and making.

    • What a wonderful story. We have a young woman in Pittsburgh who started Cut and Sew Studio over 10 years ago. I met her around the time I retired when I returned to sewing after a hiatus. While she has many adult classes, I love that she has classes year round and camps in the summer for young children to learn to sew. You should see the beautiful things these young sewists create!! Just wonderful skills for them to learn and maybe one day one of them will be voted “radical”! (Check out her Instagram page if you want to see pics)

  • Love your style even though it wouldn’t suit me at all (I’m half your height and about twice your width). People like you are what make our city great.

    • I also have European roots and learned from my mother… about style, making your own clothes, knitting, fabric care and generally putting things together… I use these snippet lessons to this day.
      Finding or making new items that will be perfect together with something “old” I have in my closet already, since who knows how long. And yes, the sensible shoes. Thank you, Claudia – a kindred soul!

  • You are a great addition to the MDK community! I can’t wait to see more. I have a 5 year old granddaughter who loves to put together her own outfits. And they are always unique. She had her school picture taken in a Spider-Man jumpsuit, with pink sparkly boots. One day she wore a silk robe to school with leggings and a t-shirt. Always unique and always thought through. Now if her mom could get her to put away her discards. Maybe she will be your protege!

    • Claudia, I love your sense of style and courage! You are the woman I aspire to be. I have recently taken up sewing my own clothes and love the more radical patterns, but a little voice in my head keeps telling me to act and dress my (senior) age. I also have 3 pairs of Fluevogs, 2 of which I have not yet had the courage to wear. Your article may just have tipped me over the edge – Thank You! Oh, and I’m from Hamilton too. I hope to meet you one day in one of our fabric or yarn shops.

      • Kerstin – I really think we need a crafty meet-up in Hamilton! It would be great to connect with other makers in the area.

  • I really appreciate your writing and look forward to more!

  • This essay landed at a pivotal time in my life. As a retired science teacher/administrator and former “clotheshorse”, I amassed many, many articles of clothing during my professional life. Recent press has focused on the impact of “fast fashion” on our environment. My goal is to shed myself of much of this stuff and create any new clothing by knitting and sewing following the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra. Thanks for showing us all how stylish and timeless clothing can be.

  • Love Claudia’s style and mix of handknits! Soulful!

  • Excellent

  • If I had a dollar for every time I received a compliment on my outfit, followed by, “I wish I had the nerve to wear that”…

  • Claudia, thank you for this interesting post! It gave me food for thought. It also woke me up and and brought me back to those long ago days when I really gave thought to what I was wearing and was excited to explore and express my own style.

  • Very enjoyable and inspiring article. Thank you!

  • Wonderful article and celebration of finding oneself!

  • Marvelous. Inspiring as I increasingly make my own wardrobe and discover my style

  • Rock on Claudia!
    Rock on, all of us!
    Follow your spirit!
    Some people will poo-poo, but we don’t need them anyway. Those who are intrigued will be nudged to loosen up a bit, those who are with you will smile and feel their strength. We don’t have that long left — better get with it!

    • Bravo, well said!!

  • Maybe sewing is on the horizon for me

  • Love this style approach! I still feel a bit ‘all over the map’ when it comes to style but my strongest draw is vintage (the shoes in the pictured outfits!) Since 2019, I have almost exclusively worked from home, and the main thing I miss from working in an office around others is putting together outfits. In addition, both a foot and a back injury make footwear beyond sneakers almost impossible. 🙁 However, I’ll be traveling to Europe and southeast Asia this summer, so I’ve got to get my game back and put some outfits together – with some cool sneakers, perhaps?

  • What an inspiring post!

  • Wow! So glad you’ve joined the MDK family so I can be exposed to the styles I aspire to when I see it on others but never seem to be able to do for myself

  • Thrilled to see that Cheap Chic is back in print. It was my high school bible and how fun to know it’s still a source of inspiration. Thanks, Claudia!

  • Courage. That’s what this article is about and that’s why it really speaks to me. Perfect way to start the week. Loved the comment about ‘disobedient clothing’. Perhaps crafters should run the world!

    • … and please … more articles by Claudia!

  • Welcome! You had me at the mention of seersucker! How I adored and remember the seersucker suit my mother made for me in high school. Looking forward to your articles for MDK!

  • What great style! I LOVE the full skirts and the ease/comfort of it all! I haven’t cared about style too much since COVID and a bunch of other not-great life things have happened over the past few years. This has inspired me to shop my wardrobe, do a little purging, and start having a little creative fun and re-building. Thank you!

    PS I have some family roots in Hamilton and it’s still got a special place in my heart.

    • Loved the article. I used to be brave when dressing. Shoes were my passion! At 74 I find jeans/pants to be comfortable along with tees & turtlenecks! Walking shoes or Merrill’s are comfy. Not very fashionable! I pair some knitted items with them when I am going out. I’m going to look for that book! Thank you for the inspiration!

  • Back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, I got to decide what a woman engineer wore, look like and acted. It took some thought, but I was blessed to have the freedom that Austin Tx affords.

  • OMG, I love the blue print & yellow dress in picture #3! Please tell me that there’s a pattern for it?

    I’ve started making dresses to please myself, & I feel extremely empowered when I wear them

    • Hi! That is the Rushcutter dress from The Fold Line. It’s great, and I think I’ll be making another one.

      • Thank you for the Q&A. I was hoping to learn more about that very dress!

  • Thank you for a fabulous introduction. The Joji – Yohji pairing is drop-dead gorgeous. I too read “Cheap Chic” often and compulsively at the time.

  • I’m a fan. I have been following Claudia’s Instagram for some time. She is more than radical. She is iconic.

  • Thank you for the Monday morning inspiration. Though really the reach is far beyond that. It is about embracing and incorporating what you love and enjoy in all aspects of your life.

    I recently reorganized my closet and have been making an effort to incorporate more of my wardrobe into my everyday life. And this inclination to re-do is spilling over into other areas. I reorganized the living room and, finally, found appropriate spots for some of my favorite pieces that were hidden away in storage. The biggest breakthrough was acknowledging that the room is my space. I can follow my own tastes, and it really is OK to have unique and unusual artwork.

    And, in terms of clothing, this journey does not have to be expensive. My thrift store forays have yielded pieces from many of my favorite designers. Recent finds include two YSL Rive Gauche blouses ($6 each) and a full-length Saks Fifth Avenue cashmere coat ($25). My real love is anything handwoven/hand knitted. And, to that end, I have found several pieces that originally came from high end craft shows. What is most interesting about thrift stores is the opportunity to find pieces that speak to you. (And I have found some pretty good artwork as well.)

  • I’d love to know what patterns she used/uses for her sewn garments.. not just the sweaters in the pictures!
    (Some of us are knitters and sewists!)
    Brava! For individual style.

    • Here you go:
      The pants with Confetti are from a Betsey Ross pattern (no longer in business)
      Dress in image 2: Rushcutter from The Fold Line
      3rd image: Roscoe Blouse and Salida skirt, both from True Bias
      Skirt with Metamorphic sweater: Alabama Chanin wrap-around skirt (stencil my own)
      Georgia O’Keefe dress: Vintage Vogue (but can’t find the pattern number)
      Dress in the last image: Cappucino dress from Liesl & Co.

    • Yes! Please and thank you!

    • Ditto!

  • Gosh: Cheap Chic. Missed that one! Will have to ferret it out. Love your story Claudia. I love clothes knitted, sewn, or any other iteration (Audrey Hepburn’s metallic-spangled Paco Rabanne cocktail dress in “Two for the Road”). I am not nearly as radical as you are but loved to sew my own clothes (back in the day) and knit them now. It is SO SATISFYING. We all express ourselves through our clothing whether we realize it or not (if only to say “Clothes are not my bag…I’m a nuclear scientist”.) so taking charge of that expression is, to me, an exercise in confidence-building and assertiveness-training. I would love to meet you one day.

  • So sorry this is so long, I keep meaning to be brief but can’t seem to stop myself. Apparently I love words even more than clothing. Which probably explains why my house is full of books and drawers and closets.

  • The most encouraging thing about this article for me was to learn to be yourself.

  • I first learned about slow fashion about a year ago. I’ve always loved thrifting, now I have another excellent reason to go. I purchased several sari wrap skirts, made from used saris by women in India. I made a sweater that matches a couple of them, and I got several plain shirts (thrifted when I can find them) and I ordered The Geometry of Hand Sewing so I can learn the skills to embroider the plain shirts to match the skirts. I hope to eventually order a couple more of the Alabama Chanin books to upgrade my sewing skills. I love seeing examples of people living their own style instead of blending in with the mass market.

  • This was an empowering read. Thank you!

  • Perfect timing and so inspiring. Great brave hair. Go girl

  • Such fun!!

  • I love this. At 76 I have become more inclined to wear whatever is easiest. Now I am inspired to be more creative in my choices and think a little more about what to put on in the morning. By the way, I still have the first sweater I knit. It was a Christmas present for my mother; and I knit it more than 63 years ago.

  • CHEAP CHIC!! Another person here influenced by that Fab book! Alas, my not so willowly silhouette has recently kept me from the tucked in shirts and belted jeans, but I used it as my Bible 40 years ago!!

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