Messy Tuesdays, and Thrifting a Holiday Wardrobe

*WARNING: contains Some Ranting*

Mark actually pointed out that this ought to be my Messy Tuesdays post image for today. My wardrobe often gets into this kind of state. I find this reflective of my sense of overwhelm and distress surrounding clothes. Questions concerning how I should dress myself in relation to the larger issues of economics, clothes, feminism, consumerism and identity totally drown me and my wardrobe on a day to day basis, which is how this kind of mess accrues. My normal approach to clothing myself is to chuck on whichever jeans and t-shirt are on top of the pile (usually yesterday’s garments) and just wear them repeatedly until they have to be washed because they smell. Whilst I enjoy some of the personal freeedoms associated with this behaviour, I feel I am missing out on some of the positive aspects of developing an individual style and some of the joys that other people undoubtedly experience whilst engaging – in a positive way – with how they dress.

Fashion overload.

To break my problem with clothes down, let’s begin with economics. I am utterly confused about what clothes are actually worth or how much I ought to expect to spend on clothes and shoes from year to year. I don’t understand what a ‘cheap’ item of clothing means. I don’t understand what ‘good value’ is anymore. I can no longer meaningfully discern the relationship between the garment and the price tag attached to it when I look at things to buy. I always leave clothes shopping feeling panicked and sick at the dizzy excesses of shop after shop full of things I am meant to buy now and throw away in six weeks time. Perhaps I ought to sit down and calculate a clothes budget for myself, work out exactly what I have to spend on clothes per year and then plan a personal style around that. Perhaps I ought to coordinate my sewing, knitting and clothes budgets into one, well-organised, systemic approach that answers and cares for many of my difficulties with clothes… What do others do to cope with the eye-boggling array of clothes thrust upon us from The High Street? Please advise.

Having been unemployed or a student for the past four years, I have not had huge amounts of dispensable income and so have gravitated towards shopping in cheap places like Primark or George at ASDA for my clothes. I feel extremely guilty about this as there are so many things I don’t agree with about how such clothes are made, but I am genuinely short on alternative strategies for dressing myself. While money does play a part in shaping my decisions, I think that terror and denial are much greater factors in determining that I will inevitably end up in Primark when I am desparate for new clothes (I do need to be desperate to go clothes shopping.) And since everything on The High Street appears to have been made in sweatshops, I don’t really understand why it is fundamentally worse to buy from Primark than, say, GAP.

As well as feeling morally conflicted around the whole issue of where I buy my clothes from, I also appear to be utterly out of step with the way that I feel about my cheap clothes. I value all my clothes deeply; how much I paid for them doesn’t really enter into that. I still have (and wear) a dress that I got in Croydon for my 15th Birthday Party. I don’t care that it cost me £10 and is, by all conventional standards, a cheap, throw-away garment; it is mine and has become a part of my life in a way that makes it hard for me to toss it aside.

Here is the pile of clothes I am hoping to bring on holiday with me this year, rescued fom my wardrobe overspill:

From left to right we have:

*Jigsaw skirt, ruined by a couple of bleach stains and donated to me by someone who was throwing it away
*blue print skirt from New Look bought new in 2004, one of my most treasured items of clothing in spite of a brown paint stain
*black, flowery print top, also donated to me by a friend who it no longer fitted
*polka dot bag from Primark in 2003, it cost like £2 and is wonderful from its durable canvas strapping to its unfussy and perfectly functioning zipper
*Green and brown *beautiful* skirt with large polka dots, bought for me as a gift by Mark in celebration of my enormous weight losses last year
*Pink silk scarf bought in a charity shop basket in Ireland sometime in 2001 and treasured ever since
*blue smock thing from Primark either last year or the year before, when I put on loads of weight and suddenly found I had nothing to wear

I am sure Gok’s Fashion show would make mincemeat of this precious and personal collection of items. I am sure that my 4-year old pairs of knickers would expose me – in fashion terms – as some kind of self-loathing failure. But if I ironed all these clothes, carefully photographed them and re-presented them in the format of a fashion-page feature, wouldn’t they then seem transformed? And this is where the confusion happens to me with clothes. When does something that looks beautiful on its hanger in a store suddenly become ‘that old thing’? In the hopes of transforming the eclectic heap of clothes in my wardrobe into some kind of meaningful and coherent personal ‘range,’ and by way of feeling better about my clothes and how they are made, I have begun to revamp things I already own, and to try and learn how to sew things myself. But in terms of economics, this is an extremely confusing (and expensive) process. The pattern I have bought in order to make a beach-top, (which cost £6.50) has sat in its terrifying packet on my desk, unused, since I bought it. The salvaged sarong and costly Alexander Henry Fabric (around £8.00) that I got on ebay many months ago has also sat, unsewn. I spent an additional £5 on fabric dye to get the saved sarong to be the correct shade of blue and I have also spent money on threads and bias binding. In some ways this does all add up to something closer to what I imagine an actual garment to be *worth,* but so far these costly composites are nowhere near being available to wear. For I am terrified of ruining the materials, of making a mistake and of screwing it up and so have not been able to face sewing it. I pin and baste and do my best, but everything goes to crap. Like this destroyed yellow butterfly dress which I got for my BA graduation which looked wonderful when I was a size 18 but which now hangs off me like a little chiffon cloud, I tend to butcher anything I try to repair or modify.

Edward Scissorhands and the butterfly dress.

I would love to be able to sew not least because it would give me the means to adjust and modify my treasured items of clothing when my weight goes up and down. I don’t know how other women stay at a constant size but I am like a yoyo. Observe 2 dresses – one I bought in a sale about 5 years ago for a wedding and one that was donated to me by a friend – from the past few years. One dress is a size 10 and the other is around an 18. This represents the insanity of my wardrobe and explains a lot of the shapeless or stretchy items that I possess. Both of these are going for sale on ebay when I get back from Naples, as I have no idea how to make them wearable and fear a reprise of the destroyed butterly dress fiasco.

Having listed the dresses I can’t wear, the one I have destroyed and the clothes that are coming on holiday with me, I have nearly sorted the entire Messy Tuesdays mess. Let us now observe the mending pile.

Thankfully I am not so incompetant with a needle and thread that I cannot put buttons on these things and take out the cardboard lining in the beach-bag that prevents me from washing it. The question is: will I have time to do it before going away on Thursday?

And finally, the hand-knits pile. The hand-knitting is my fashion boon. It is the one place in my wardrobe and clothing that I feel happy and safe, and where I am not plagued with self-doubt, recrimination and confusion. Whilst the array of yarn-shops is dazzling and I can definitely overspend, I am much more confident, once I have knit something myself, that I understand its true economic value to me and that I understand the relationship between what it has cost me to produce it and how much i love it.

I have to plan my knitting carefully because it is costly and time-consuming, but I am getting better at managing, acquiring and using up the stash. I can directly support businesses with ethical policies that I agree with when I buy yarn, and I can be happy with the way it is turned into clothes, because I do that part myself. On the other hand, there isn’t time to make all the clothes I need in time for everything I need clothes for and I am aware that what I have said about yarn here completely bypasses some of the confusing aspects of yarn-acquisition and consumerism that other bloggers have more carefully covered in their posts.

…and I am aware that the issues surrounding sweat-shop production, how we buy clothes, how we deal with weight gain and weight loss, how we value the contents of our wardrobes etc. and the role that clothes play in terms of shaping and affirming identity, are very complex and that I haven’t really covered the half of it here. But I wanted to put some of my confused, messy thoughts up here and ask if others have experienced any of the same confusions I have, when it comes to clothes and the overall management of the wardrobe.

What resources have you found, that were helpful? What strategies employed? For those of you who sew, HOW? And for those of you who have found peace with your wardrobes, what did it take?

I have some goals around clothes, with indeterminate dates but precise ideals:

  • To learn to make and adjust my own trousers. To find one style of trouser I really like and to perfect it, in a signature ‘style’
  • To have fewer clothes, but to value, mend, repair and cherish all the things I *do* wear
  • To watch even fewer fashion programmes reducing my current ‘once in a blue moon’ to ‘never’
  • To maintain a fairly constant size and weight, so I don’t have to forever deal with being different dress-sizes
  • To budget clothes, yarn and sewing materials as one thing
  • To understand clothes better

13 Responses to Messy Tuesdays, and Thrifting a Holiday Wardrobe

  1. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Blog Archive » Vegspiration

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