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?
(if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)