Sunday, 25 March 2012

New clothes

I have been thinking about old clothes, new clothes and smart clothes.

I was born in 1957.  At that time, mass production had not really got underway.  I mean, there were sewing machines and factories – but the market was not at that time flooded with cheap items.

My mother had clothes hanging in the wardrobe and shoes laid out on the floor underneath, and a chest of drawers with clothes in too.  And that was enough.  Her hanging clothes were not shoved in or bunched together, there remained plenty of room in between.

As a teenager I had two summer school uniform dresses, two winter school blouses, a school blazer and a school mac. For weekends and holidays I had a few garments fitting easily onto the hanging rail and three shelves of a single wardrobe.

We had Sunday best clothes, and expected to wear them every Sunday until they wore out or we outgrew them.

Shoes were polished carefully, coats brushed and hung up.  Many garments were not washable, and dry-cleaning we thought an extravagant luxury.  So items like my tweed trouser suit were never cleaned at all.  Coats were never cleaned.  We kept them clean, but that was all. 

I suppose everyone looked shabbier, but nobody really noticed because we were all the same.

Something I notice in present day life is that “smart” (UK – meaning tidy or elegant, not US meaning intelligent) clothes implies new clothes.

Waiting in line at the Post Office, looking idly at the other customers in the queue I am struck by the newness of their clothes.  They are often not very nice clothes – poor quality fabric, hurriedly made, in the garish colours of chemical dyes and synthetic fabric.  Being well-cut, well-made, elegant in design, made of good tweeds and fine linen – for this is substituted being new.  Of course you can still get the beautiful clothes, and on the high street too – but they are expensive as they always were.

The girl in front of me in the queue will probably be dressed in new clothes from head to foot – and be carrying a new handbag too.

More new clothes than I can count – and even more second-hand ones – have passed through my life in my adult years; loads and loads of garments.  And I don’t even like new things.  I feel much more at home with something a little worn, a bit faded.

Why do I buy new clothes?  Sometimes because of boredom, often because of dissatisfaction with myself, to bolster confidence, or because I have entered an alien persona of yet another ideological faction that made it clear that unless I looked like them my spirituality was inferior – ie join the tribe or be a loser.  That’s why I get new things – but I don’t keep them.  I hate being cluttered up with stuff, so they only pass through.  I try to dispose of them carefully, to a charity shop or somebody who wants them . . . but it is undeniably wasteful.

I would like very much to make the journey to be a person who is happy with what she has, and doesn’t need new things.  I wonder if I could do that? 


365 366 Day 85 – Sunday March 25th       
  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)     

Oh, fair enough – yes I suppose I have got rid of a huge number of these in the last few months.  And the sequel, The Hour before Dawn, and the new edition of the original trilogy.


Michelle-ozark crafter said...

Jack and I both had a laugh when we moved here. Our bedroom has two closets and we knew we would never even quite fill one. The other has become a place for the ironing board and other items that need storing. I have six dresses and a shirt and skirt for wearing. I always try to keep a couple dresses nice for wearing to church. That is all I need and of course the dresses are homemade.

Pilgrim said...

My mother made many of our clothes, and we got a few from local thrift stores. I remember the three of us girls got matching new dresses one time. As we got older, we often got a piece of new clothing at a birthday.
We didn't worry about keeping in style. Styles didn't change so quickly. Fabrics were changing then, becoming thin, sythetic, non-breathable, less prone to wrinkling.
Women who spent hours every week ironing found this an advance, in some ways, at the time.

Ember said...

Hi ladies! It's always so interesting to compare notes with how other people are doing things!

Michelle, my most space-hungry clothes are the cold weather things. Through the winter months I need a big fleece hoodie on top of a polo-necked fleece sweater, and fleece trousers, as well as thick woollen socks and stout boots to keep out the cold and wet. Also fleece-lined knitted fingerless mittens long enough to cover my wrists well, and a woollen hat. These are very bulky and take up a lot of drawer space. In the UK, the clothes suitable for summer, for winter, and for spring/autumn are all different. We layer of course, and can mix and match. For example, the long-sleeved t-shirts that keep me warm as pyjama tops in the winter are good as day-time tops in the summer - with a vest (UK vest, underwear not waistcoat as in US) underneath in spring and autumn for warmth. If I had just dresses I'd be frrreeeezzing most of the year - even some summer evenings. Likewise I have to have both thick boots (2 pairs because they get so wet) for winter and sandals for summer in my drawer. The idea of a selection of dresses being all one needs is AMAZING in the UK!!

Pilgrim - I have quite a lot of synthetics, because I find micro-fleece so brilliant for cold weather - really warm but without weighing me down, which is important because I have no car and walk a lot. Also fleece washes and wears so well and, even more important, dries quickly (we have no machine to dry our clothes, so in wet weather that can be a problem indoors).
I am not a fan of polyester as a cotton substitute for dresses. I quite like viscose, but the industrial processes to make it are very toxic, I believe.

Asta Lander said...

Hi Penelope, I have just spent a very productive morning going through my wardrobe. I have an overflowing basket of clothes to donate to our church garage sale now (though I am nervous that I might just bring some back with me). I am a little horrified that I still have more than my wardrobe can hold - and I have many, many varieties of black tops that I just can't quite bring myself to give away. I am heading back into my room for round two. Maybe I will be able to rid myself of some of them too.
All year I have been considering how a simple liver might dress. I am still undecided. I do know that I want my clothing to be pre-loved or fair trade, to express something of my personality, and though at times they may be colourful - not to be too showy.
I actually long for some linen mix and matches - but so far I can't find anything small enough.
Thank you for sharing this post. It was just the right timing for me and has spurred me on in my quest for 'simple' dressing.
Asta x
(from -

Ember said...

Hi Asta :0)
I have learned a lot from the discussions we have on the Innermost House Facebook page. One of the principles I have learned, which is helping me get clothes shopping right, is the 'innermost' principle - that is to say, starting from the core and working out.
Where I have gone wrong often is trying to do it the other way - starting from the outside and working in. For example, I looked at the Amish and thought "Well, they live simply and live faithfully, I should do what they do."
Or I have listened to Trinny an Susannah and thought, "Well, they know what they're talking about, I should follow their rules."
This has been very very beneficial to our local charity shops and very damaging to my bank balance. I am slowly learning to buy what you might call "innermost clothes" - ones that are really me and really work for my real life, my real context and my real personality and - this is important - for my real body. I am a very willowy, slouchy, bendy animal, and the more tailored clothes are the less I will wear them - even if they looked really good when I stood in from of the changing room mirror in the shop. I have to have stretchy fabrics for my bendy body to feel comfy. And I had my colours done, which helped - but the truth is that blue and grey are "innermost colours" to my soul - they are the colours of the sky; so I still feel at home in them even though the colour analysis said "don't go there".
Sorry to go on at such length - it's just I wanted to explain how the "innermost principle is helping me make fewer mistakes and get my wardrobe down to a dinkier size.

keitha said...

Hey there!

Just wanted to say that I LOVE your US/UK translations. They make me giggle everytime. Funny how so much can be lost in translation.

Happy Spring to you!

Ember said...


Linda said...

And here I am feeling like a loser that I haven't got my buying new clothes habit any more. I miss living near K-mart and going there because I need new clothes. I did get an outfit for a reunion 2 years ago, and have a dilema now as the same people are gathering for a second reunion in July. I don't mind, just wondering if I can achieve it. Probably worried for nothing and it will get done eventually.

Ember said...