Ever since I was a teenager I’ve had an inexplicable fondness for epaulettes. As soon as I had mastered the ability to “bag out” when learning to sew  (well, truthfully, before I had quite mastered it), they were a common decorative detail in many of the garments that I made for myself while I was at fashion school. My final year fashion show, littered with epaulettes and elbow patches (in various shapes and renditions that I would prefer not to talk about), was an early testament to the enduring love that I have for military styling.

As I’ve grown older I have found myself making variations of the same styles of clothing over and over again. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many shirt dresses I have sewn (that are still in circulation in my closet) since my late 20’s. Button up shirts, biker jackets, shift dresses, tailored jackets… these are the garments that I make and wear over and over again. It seems that I have inadvertently developed a uniform of sorts as I’ve grown into adulthood, garments that I’m comfortable in and that I feel suit my body and my temperament.

Fashion and I have a complicated relationship. I once must have believed that I loved it, or I would not have spent 3 years studying Fashion Design.  I have Tonnes of British Vogues (yes I meant tonnes, it is not a thin magazine and I have many years worth), and I can’t even contemplate parting with when I move away. Although I no longer have time for such frivolity, there was a time when you would often find me on Pinterest seeking creative inspiration by ogling my favourite international brands, or wandering the aisles of favoured locally available brands when their new season collections debuted.

So back to epaulettes, and my uniform… When I pinned this shirt dress from one of the Madewell pinterest boards that I (then avidly) followed, I catalogued it in my mind as something that I would like to reference as soon as I found the right fabric.



I wasn’t looking for checked fabric necessarily, but when I found a 100% cotton check in a similar colourway I couldn’t help but think it perfect for the job. The pattern for this dress I drafted myself by adapting one of my well-weathered blouse patterns. Unlike the Madewell dress that inspired it where the bodice and skirt pieces are cut separately, my version is cut in one. Despite being cut in one I wanted my dress to also not button all the way through to the hem, so I inserted a placket which I cut on the bias, as I did the stand collar, cuffs, yoke and bodice pockets. For the hip pockets I did simple patch pockets (if memory serves I think I was anxious to finish the dress quickly at the time), but I matched the checks as well as I could so as to minimise the obviousness of them being patch pockets.

I made this dress about two years ago, shortly before I became pregnant, and I recall it being one of the garments I most hoped I would be able get back into post the bump. Its a little tight in the underarm area now as I’m convinced my ribcage never returned to its pre-pregnancy size (apparently this is unlikely). Perhaps it may just be that I need more room in my clothes now as I’m constantly pushing a very heavy stroller and bending down to pick up babies.



Its certainly no match for the Madewell dress that inspired it, but I’m still super smitten with my dress. I love how it transitions between seasons, that I can casually wear it in warmer weather with sneakers or sandals yet also layer it with stocking, brouges and a jersey in winter. I found it so versatile and such a wardrobe staple that I made myself a denim version too.


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