Slow Fashion October, Week 2: Long-Worn

Continuing our discussion of slow fashion during this Slow Fashion October hosted by Karen Templer of Fringe Association, here we are with our takes on the second week’s prompt:

How can we make the most of the clothes already on the planet? — from taking care of and mending and wearing things longer, to thrifting, swapping, heirlooms, hand-me-downs, alterations and refashioning.

Rachel’s Take

I freely admit this is not something I have thought about much.  However, thinking about it now, there are some habits my mom instilled in me when I was little that speak to this topic.  I have two female cousins who are about ten years older than me, so throughout elementary school, I wore mostly their hand me downs.  We had boxes of clothes they had grown out of in a storage closet and, every year as I grew out of the previous year’s clothes, we would dive back into the boxes and try things on, looking for the next year’s worth of clothes that fit.  That’s not to say that I didn’t get new clothes as a kid, but I wore mostly these hand-me-downs.  The new clothes we bought were to fill gaps that the handed-down wardrobe didn’t fill.  Usually, that meant jeans because my legs were longer than my cousins’.  My parents wouldn’t buy me new clothes just because I was bored of my old ones–there had to be a need for them.  Trust me, I asked for new shirts and swore I had nothing to wear with a full closet plenty of times.  Not gonna happen, wear what you have.

When I grew out of clothes, we donated them.  We had bags in the basement of clothes to donate to Good Will or Salvation Army, and we usually dropped them off about once a year.  The only things we wouldn’t donate were stained or torn clothes and underwear, because ew.  The rule was that if the clothes weren’t good enough for me to wear, we didn’t give them to others.

My mom also would mend what she could.  If a shirt was torn on a seam (i.e. an easy place to fix) but it still fit, she would fix it.  If pants had a hem that could be let down or a hole that could be patched, she would do that, too.  I think, for her, that this came from a sense of frugality rather than from environmental or social concerns.

These things have definitely affected the way I live now.  I still only buy clothes as I need them and I try to buy items that go with multiple other pieces in my closet so I can get maximum outfit variation for minimum cost.  Mending is a newer thing for me that I have started wanting to do in the last couple years.  In the past, if something tore, I would just throw it out.  Now, I have a bin in my craft room of clothes that need repairs.  I’ll get to them eventually.  I still have the same rules for donating that my family had growing up, though I am interested to find other ways to dispose of old clothes I can no longer wear since reading this article about what clothing donations have done to some African economies.

Something new that has come into my life recently is the concept of a “clothing swap party.”  A couple of my friends have hosted these parties in the last few years.  The idea is that you bring your old clothes to the party that you don’t want anymore but that someone else might want, everyone else does the same, and you go through each other’s items, try things on, and take what you want.  At the end of the party, whatever remains gets donated.  I actually got one of my favorite winter dresses from one of these parties.

In the comments, I would like to hear if you know of any sustainable alternatives to donating old clothes.

Amanda’s Take

I think the best way to avoid excess clothing waste is to consider carefully what you acquire in the first place. I hate clutter and I hate waste, so my struggle is to be as picky as I possibly can. I also hate shopping. 

I think I have a different experience than most people, as far as buying clothes. I’m far outside the norm in terms of height- my preferred inseam is 35″- so I have never been able to thrift for pants, or even purchase low-cost fast fashion options. The default “long” inseam for most retailers is typically 33-34″, which is still not long enough for me! So my whole life, I have struggled to find pants that fit, skirts that aren’t too scandalous, even tops that are adequate to fit my arms and torso. As a result, my idea of the ideal price of clothes is correspondingly higher. I have always had to buy new things. And since I hate shopping, I don’t want to buy new things very often. It puts me in mind of a passage from one of my favorite books, from one of my favorite authors:

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms: The Play

As I’ve developed my career, I’ve been lucky enough (and childless enough) to develop my wardrobe to include more good boots and less cheap boots. Because I want warm, dry feet, and boots that last for years.

I think all of my interest in slow fashion stems from a hatred of shopping, actually. I recently set aside a jersey cardigan to mend because I couldn’t bear to try and find a replacement! Instead, I’ll shorten the sleeves and continue to wear it, because I like it and I don’t want to take the time to find another. I also wash all my clothes carefully, hang dry a lot of items, and avoid washing sweaters for as long as possible, just to eke a bit more life out of them and forestall the inevitable shopping trip. Have I mentioned that I really hate to shop?

Debbie’s Take

How to make the most of clothes that already exist? I don’t know, and I don’t particularly care? Not that I don’t think it’s an issue that needs to be addressed, just that I really don’t care enough to address it myself. Since this is such a hard topic for me this week, I’m just gonna go at it by each item.

Mending:

I do not mend things that I own. If I’ve worn it enough that the crotch has gone out, or the pits have gotten irrepairably stained, or it’s gotten an inconvenient hole – they’ve gotten so much wear that mending them isn’t a big option. Have you ever tried to wear jeans with a patch on the inner thigh because your chub rub has worn it away? It’s ugly and uncomfortable and not something I’d ever choose to do again (thanks, high school!).

Thrifting:

I also don’t thrift-shop. I donate things to thrift shops, when I’ve outgrown clothes (or they’ve outgrown me). Sometimes just when something has been sitting in my closet unworn long enough that I just don’t want to see it anymore. It’s perfectly good clothing, I just don’t want it. So it goes in a big ol trash bag and gets taken down to Value Village. But when it comes to thrifting for myself, there’s no way. I have patience issues sometimes (*gasp*) and the amount of time that it takes to find something wearable from a normal retail store can border on too long. Now double, triple, quadruple that amount of time at a thrift store that’s organized by COLOR instead of size? Someone stab me in the eye. My time is very valuable to me, I don’t ever seem to have enough of it. I want to spend it in ways that make me happy, that are productive.

Swapping:

I do enjoy participating in clothing swaps, though the amount I give away is always far more than I get back. It’s the pickiness, and often the size differential. So many swaps have sizes 0-4 and 18-22 and nothing in between. Add in having big feet and there go all the shoe options too. But I’ve given away items I really truely loved but no longer fit, and it made me happy to see someone love their new item.

Heirlooms:

Clothing has never really had any sort of sentimental value. My family doesn’t have many heirloom items, I can really only think of things that were knit by my great grandmother, or sewed by some other since-deceased relative. All baby things, as well. Since I don’t have kids, those aren’t in my radar and I am only vaugely able to picture them in my mind.

Hand-me-downs:

I was the first girl in the generation. There are two older male cousins and my older brother. While I’m pretty sure that I did get some hand-me-downs from my brother, I can’t recall anything specific. All the hand-me-downs I had were toys, and those are being handed down again to the next generation. Some toys last FOREVER.

Altering:

This sort of combines the mending and thrifting items: I am picky about clothes I buy in the first place so if something doesn’t fit I don’t buy it. Kinda takes away the need for altering.

Refashioning:

I feel like I have the most to say about this, but I should probably say the least. #vaguebooking? I have a special place in my hatred-heart for most “refashioning”. The term itself just makes me think of the people who take something that is old and fugly to begin with and turn it into something new and uglier. And then ask people to buy it for ridiculous amounts of money. I understand there’s people who aren’t like this, but that’s what comes to mind. My cursory search just now for “refashioned clothing” on etsy just made me die a little bit inside. Don’t get me started on “upcycling”.