I've been thinking a lot about attentiveness recently.
At Kate Fletcher's excellent Craft of Use event earlier this month, she spoke about the practices of tending and caring for our clothes. In a group discussion, I mentioned how, in my re-knitting workshops, I had observed participants making discoveries about their garments by examining them carefully.
This pink crêpe top - a favourite from my wardrobe, which has been painstakingly patched and repaired - reveals more to me with every examination.
Each time I put it on, I seem to discover yet another secret repair.
I find myself wondering: Who did this? And when? As I look closer, I see that some of the patches are made from the garment fabric itself. I presume it is homemade, and these patches are leftover scraps - but no! Labels indicate that it was bought - so where were these patches harvested from? How might it have been originally?
As I wonder, I feel more and more emotionally attached to my top, and increasingly committed to keep up the good (repair) work.
And the discovery of these secrets has an impact beyond this particular garment: the inventive methods of patching showcased here will undoubtedly inspire me to be bolder when repairing other pieces in my wardrobe in the future.
Attentiveness can really pay off.
In my last post, I finally shared the results of my wardrobe inventory.
I’ve been having another type of wardrobe clear-out recently: launching a Keep & Share sale, to help me clear the cupboards of my ready to wear collection as I shift to becoming a commission-only label, remaking styles from my archive.
But - returning to my own wardrobe - new clothing-related questions are now popping into my head. The question I’d like to focus on this time is: just how long do we keep our clothes? As I've mentioned in my previous wardrobe project posts, there isn’t a whole lot of research on the contents of our wardrobes - and information about the length of time we keep things is particularly scant.
While I have a lot of clothes, I don’t add to my wardrobe very often these days. This is partly because I love many of the things I already have - I know that any new item would have stiff competition. It’s also based on a conscious decision to adopt a slow approach to fashion - informed by my own design philosophy and linked quite specifically to an article I read whilst studying for my MA over ten years ago.
The article was in View on Colour, a trend prediction journal, and argued for a move towards slowness and satisfaction. Here are some excerpts that I found particularly inspiring at the time:
Pollution, over-production, and the possible scarcity of raw materials became a general concern some twenty years ago. The main answer has been recycling … but recycling still demands energy and produces waste. The more definitive solution is to keep.
We want to invest. Buying for now and for the future, designing our own sustainable style as years go by.
Putting together a wardrobe and a home will become a life-long process and something of a quest.
You will not be searching for the perfect object but the perfect object for you. Putting together this alphabet of basic and loyal items will spell out who you are.
These words - particularly the line about a life-long quest - have stayed with me, more than any other book or article about sustainable fashion. I do feel like I have been searching for the perfect ‘Amy pieces’ - and when I find them, I want to hang on to them and keep wearing them for a long, long time.
Flicking through my wardrobe this morning, I tried to figure out the average length of time I’ve owned the contents. It’s hard, because of course, the answer varies - there are recently-acquired items sitting alongside pieces I’ve had for many years. And while I’ve got lots of second-hand/vintage clothes, which might be decades old, I’m interested (right now) in how long they’ve been in my wardrobe, rather than how long it is since they were made.
I reckon I’ve acquired the majority of pieces in the last ten years, and I’d estimate the average at 5-6 years - though this is by no means accurate.
As I browsed the rails, a few older items stood out and so I took them out into the garden for an impromptu washing-line-based photo shoot…
>> The longest-standing pieces are a number of shirts and Indian tops that I’ve had since I was in my early teens (think grunge era). I wore them a lot then, and then didn’t wear them for a long time… but they’ve recently come out of hibernation and feel both emotionally significant and totally right for now, so I’m very glad I kept them.
>> Then there are a few pieces - t-shirts and a sweatshirt - that were handed down to me by family and friends, and so have a longer ‘known life’ (if we include the time worn by the previous owner). The stand-out item here is a well-worn Bob Marley tour t-shirt bought by my parents in 1976. I love to wear it, but keep it for special occasions as it is so delicate, beautifully disintegrating into a constellation of holes.
>> I had a quick look at my shoes, and realised that the older pairs tend to be ‘posh’ heels - I wear them so seldom that they don’t have chance to wear out! The oldest ones still knocking about are a pair of Red or Dead patterned slingbacks - which I loved so much, I bought two pairs. Man, I love those shoes - though I’m not sure I’m ready for that 90s heel again, quite yet.
>> And finally - here I am, wearing what I think is the longest-standing item I have worn continuously, without a break, since acquiring it over fifteen years ago (a Belle & Sebastian band t-shirt), with what I think is the actual oldest item in my wardrobe (a lovely handmade black jacket) - and my most frequently worn garment, my black Old Town trousers.
This post is part X of my ongoing wardrobe project.
You can find an introduction to the project, and links to the first five posts on the Refashioner blog, here. To read parts VI to X on ReFashioner, follow these links:
Part VI - an inventory of my hefty mending pile
Part VII - counting my clothes whilst packing to move house
Part VIII - thinking about the idea of rotating clothes for the changing seasons
Part IX - revealing the grand total of the wardrobe inventory
Part X - about how long I keep my clothes
After a break from blogging - due to being busy relocating from Hereford to Leeds (read more) - I'm back with another childhood making-related gem!
This time, it's my doll Betty (notable for her problem hair) and bear Beary (notable for his imaginative name) - and their awesome garter stitch knitwear. Betty's jumpsuit was definitely made by my mum... and the provenance of Beary's jumper is lost in the mists of time, though I, for one, would rather like to recreate its graphic simplicity in adult size.
In other news: PhD amendments approved, so I am all done! I've put the thesis abstract and some excerpts from the conclusion - including my key insights - on the website, here. If you'd like to read the full document, please contact me for a download link!