This weekend I went to a vintage fair to meet a man who sells blue and white fabrics from all over the world, especially the Middle and Far East (I didn’t buy enough the first time round and we found a left over thank heaven – reference below) and while I was there I met an old friend. Meet is probably the wrong word. Recognised would perhaps be better. There, hanging on a rail, was a dress in a material I recognised from thirty years ago. It was not the same dress I had, but it was the same material and the stallholder said she thought it was an early Issey Miyake, though it had no label. It was another 15 years before I owned a piece of accredited Miyake in the form of a geranium raincoat I wore till it too fell apart.
There are those people to whom clothes do not matter and then others to whom they are all. As in so much, I am stuck in the middle in this. In wardrobe terms, there are things of little importance (at least superficially) but then there are things that mattered then, matter now and probably always will – either because of association of ideas,emotional context or sheer loveliness. What is fashionably attractive changes. We have all looked at old photographs and winced. Then, we were the last word, now we look odd, even ugly, certainly un-become with floating masses of material, square shoulders, lumpy haircuts and bricked up shoes. Art historian Anne Hollander wrote about how fashion impacts on life, up to and including formal art, almost without our knowing it. But then there are colours or shapes or entities – things – that are just special and that’s that.
My mother kept a small roll of remnants, because of what they represented – material from a smock she made when she was pregnant with my sister, bits of lace from two dance dresses, a piece of leather. I used to ask to look at this when I was a little girl and, given permission, wonder. She gave me the explanation I have given you, nothing more. And well I recall after her death and her funeral, screwing up my courage to go and clear out one particular cupboard where I knew she stored things, only to find it just about empty. The spiritual says– “just got on my travelling shoes” …. I do hope they were comfortable, she had difficult feet.
And how we loved shops and markets and sales and looking for these things, whether just the material or something already made up, a piece too small to use but still strongly appealing, garments old and new – especially in the big stores, which we couldn’t possibly afford but I was taught to use for inspiration.
A recent edition of The Economist describes how US retail is shrinking, that we have shopped ourselves into dropping, to rationalise clothing into buying on line cheaply so that we can spend more money on holidays and eating out. Though what I know about US buying is nil, I can’t help feeling that, on the European side of the pond, the way to survive is to not just to be cheap but to offer something special, that online can’t do. At the moment we are drowning in the capitalist version of the Mao suit. When women from 18 to 80 tell you how they long for something “different”, I wonder why the manufacturer isn’t listening. And then I know he is. And his decision is to stay committed to the repetition of multiples of lines in the hope that we will give in to the sheer pressure of numbers, search through them and find something and he can remainder the rest – and we’re back to waste again.
A recent TV item described how recycling is impeded by packaging made of more than one substance – apparently the worst offender is the Pringles container. And in clothes, although cotton is a killer crop, it’s easier to recycle than synthetics, which take more time and more of various kinds of energy. And then you know why so many of us love animals: they have their own coats.
Anne Hollander “Seeing Through Clothes”
Economist “Sorry we’re closed” (May 13/19 2017)