Tops can be the glue that holds a wardrobe of separates together: what you wear under a jacket, a cardigan sweater, or shirt. A top might match your skirt, turning it into a two-piece dress, or a cardigan, transforming it into a twin set. A top can be a bias silk charmeuse tank, a jersey T-shirt, or a linen shell. A top can be in the background, unadorned and minimal, or be a focus piece encrusted with embellishment. What separates a top from a blouse lies in the details. Blouses have more construction: cuffs, complex collars, sleve plackets, front bands. Tops tend toward simplicity with bound or faced edges and easy-to-sew sleeves.
I love to make tops because they can be quick and easy or act like a blank canvas for surface design or detail. Patterns don't change much, so once you have a favorite pattern or two, it is easy to lengthen or shorten it, revamp the neckline, cut it on the bias, or add buttons, piping, and stenciling or stamping. Simple designs look best when they fit so they flow on the body, and are so comfortable that you can forget you are wearing them. A top like a cap-sleeved shell or tank-type camisole is indispensable all year. Even if you are a woman who says, "I never reveal my bare upper arms," you'll come to think of tops as an integral part of the outer layer.
Each spring and fall, I make a grouping of tank tops and long- or short-sleeved tunics with matching/blending pants or skirts, and wear all the pieces separately and together. There is something slimming, flattering, and very comfortable about wearing one color from head to toe. Another approach is to keep your bottoms in basic neutrals like black, brown, and natural so you can switch your tops. After a few seasons, you'll have colors, shapes, and textures to layer together. I use silk, rayon, or linen year-round, adapting the color to the season, so I can layer a fall silk camisole under a holiday velvet tunic. I go into the stores and examine and try on the finest-quality tops, making notes of construction details and proportion. The tops that designers like Giorgio Armani and Donna Karan show with their jackets appear simple at first glance, but have careful attention to cut, proportion, fabrication, and detail. When I shop for fabrics, I search out wovens and knits in flattering colors and neutrals, and look for special edgings, pipings, ribbons, and stripes to use at the neck. When buying fabric for a jacket, pants, or shirt, I get enough extra to make a top. You'll find this small investment pays off in many ways.
I was living in San Francisco, sewing three or four suits a year in my tailoring classes, when I began assembling my own wardrobe of tops. I tried shirts and blouses, but found that a clean neckline and simple shape looked better than tucked-in garments with collars or bow ties. I live in the country now and don't wear as many suits as I once did, but tops remain an essential element in my wardrobe. They can be layered, and move with ease from city chic to understated casual.
This book will show you the fitting tips, patternwork, and sewing techniques I use in my own wardrobe and in the classes I teach. In my mother's day, when a woman wanted some inspiration in her life, she would get a new hat. I love nothing better than to go into my studio and create a new top!