One morning last week, putting on a coat in the half light ready to go out and buy the papers, I saw what I thought was a stain on the front right edge. It wasn’t a stain (hooray) but the edge was worn right through.
The brothers who run the invisible mending shop estimated repair as being more than I paid for the coat second hand. I had fallen into the trap of thinking it would last forever and nothing does. I get very fond of clothes and the material of this garment is very pleasing.
This has been the year of things wearing out and I am only talking about clothes ! (cue shrieks of laughter from my friends – I keep things for years). This week, for the first time in ages, a fashion editor wrote about buying better quality things and fewer of them. I know this is not an option open to everybody. If you want to shop every week, you’ll buy cheaper. You may be limited by budget. And you cannot be guided by price alone. A double dyed fortune on the price tag does not guarantee that a garment wears well while something that cost moderately or was what is now (how twee!) called “pre-loved” goes on and on and on. In 2000, I bought a coat for £30 from a chain long since gone to glory, took off the back belt, changed the buttons and there’s life in the old girl yet.
Whenever I contemplate threadbare, I think of my mother in two ways. One derives from a thoughtful article which noted how many clothes we used to have, say around the 1950s/60s, with how many we now sought to buy, contrasting realistically 2 skirts, three blouses, a pair of slacks, a cardigan and a coat with the overstuffed wardrobes we add to almost unthinkingly, under the cultural heading of “there’s always room for more.” A bit like Oliver Twist in tailoring. In contrast mother wore things till they disintegrated (money was always tight) and laughed at herself for it.
And secondly, I think of dusters. In my mother’s house, there were no dusters. There were clapped out towels of various kinds and worn and discoloured clothing, torn into rough pieces and washed after use. I remember the pretty neat dusters in Walt Disney’s Cinderella or Snow White, thinking clearly “we don’t have those.” Often a slave to inspirational buying (“get one of these, it will change your life !” and hope springs eternal), I bought dusters as I bought kitchen gadgets and knickknacks and dust collectors. In the hope that this possession would make my house twinkle, my hearth warm and my husband happy. Oh heavens, the seduction of selling, the entrapments of rampant consumerism. It was of course a crock. You got dust ? You gotta shift it. And what you shift it with is your problem. Only recently I noticed that, as I wear things out, they are recycled from wearing to wiping. I think Ma would be proud of me. I am proud of myself – there are five dusters in the housemaid’s box together with copious quantities of clean rags. Whisper it softly, I think I may have learnt something.
The other day I told two friends a story about meeting a man with a splendid dog and in describing him I said that I presumed from his dentition (one tooth visible in the upper jaw and terrific discolouration) and his clothes (lumpy, shapeless and worn) that he either had been or was on the street and I fought the desire to slap them when they pulled faces and sniggered. One person’s worn out is another person’s “it’ll do a turn.” Your threadbare is my warm layer. While at the other end of the spectrum march The Emperor’s New Clothes: a shortage of coats this year because it’s big sweaters, and jackets and car to bar gone mad, the prettiest of which is a French coat of many colours in heavenly wide gauge tweed but unlined and fraying before you buy it (at a mere £650). It’s no longer what clothes do that count, it’s what they mean. Or don’t mean if you can’t wear them.