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June 12, 2008


I'm right with you, Beth! I'm hard to fit so consignment hasn't worked for me. One reason I don't sew more, besides time, is that it's harder to find fabric stores and good selections. I hate shopping so I guess that makes me 'green', heh, but yes, low-budget or stingy, that's me.

$25 is my upper limit for everything but footwear. I'll go as high as $100 for a new pair of boots.

I once paid $200 for a wool overcoat. That was in 1983, and it's still by far the most expensive item of clothing I've ever bought. I loved that coat. Wore it till it fell to pieces.

But I've been extremely fortunate in not having to dress for work. It's been jeans and polo shirts for twenty-some years now. I've been wondering what I'll wear to the funeral if somebody dies, though. I don't think my wedding suit will fit any more.

In Glasgow it is commonplace to see people wearing football colours, not simply when people attend matches but as a part of their day-to-day attire (green for Celtic, blue for Rangers). This is more prevalent amongst the poorer strata of the community where many are either long-term unemployed or earning basic wage. What I object to is the fact that these clubs (and of course others throughout the country) now make it a practice to change their strips ever so slightly every season compelling their fans to go out and spend money they don't have to ensure they're in fashion. And it's the price they charge for these items! I checked the price for a Celtic Away Shirt - £40 and the weekly unemployment benefit is less that £60. Of course, they don't have to buy them but when all their mates have them what's a guy supposed to do?

Me? I've been unfashionable for years and couldn't care less. I bought a pair of casual trousers yesterday for £5 and they'll last me for years. I don't think I've ever paid more than £20 for dress trousers. You simply have to be willing to shop around.

When I read that article I remembered an Emilio Pucci dress I bought in Boston in 1968 for $25 which was then about two days' pay. It was silk twill the colour of many butterflies, one of his hallmark prints, and each panel was interlined with gauzy but very solid silk organza. it was *engineered*. I wore it to the movie premiere of "Funny Girl" which the little pr firm I was working for had helped organize as a charity benefit. Later on it didn't fit and I passed it on to a friend's daughter who was in college. I hope it's still somewhere. I don't even have a photo of it. But the touch and feel of that dress (even the little snag that pulled some of the colours out of their place in the weave) and my wonder at how it was made are more vivid in my mind this morning than many artworks I have seen in great museums.

I equip myself with clothes that last and try to watch the cost of them, but I was raised with the conviction that it's false economy to try to save money on my feet or my stomach. (Tho in each case the price at the high end is not necessary what's best for you, either!).

Most of my clothes are second-hand: charity shops or 'dress agencies'. It's considered a triumph in the UK to find good stuff cheaply - and more admired than new shop bought stuff. When I lived in the US I found it was considered 'poor' behaviour to buy second-hand. Different cultural mores.

Where I live (Oregon) second-hand clothing shopping is almost an artform...I've dressed for years (for both "work" and home) from our annual Presbyterian Church rummage sale....the ladies all have excellent taste and many sizes and I spend the majority of my yearly clothes budget in the 3 days it runs. Most I've ever spent for an outfit is $7.50 and I get all of my casual wear (t-shirts, pants and sweats) on the last days $1/bag sale.
I do, of course, accessorize with my own jewelry...;)

Damn, hit something amiss and just lost a great long comment!

I used to sew, learned at my mother's knee, quite literally, but though I still love a fabric shop, it's not really worth it, the fabric costs more than the cheap overseas made clothes which I'm happy with, and is probably made in the same place anyway. I miss charity shops in the UK, all there is here is Emmaus, founded by the late great Abbe Pierre, like a big out of town charity department store. I loved picking up bargains and good clothes second hand, but it always made Tom uncomfortable, as he grew up poor when 2nd hand clothes were a necessity and a stigma, so he's quite glad I had to break the habit!

I spent 75 euros on linen trousers and 3 cotton tops, more than I normally would at once, but I've two wedding this summer and haven't bought anything new for ages, and rather a lot more on shoes, but they were Mephisto sandals which I've always wanted, no more stabbing pains in my feet from summer footwear. I like to think I'm immune to the whole label culture and depise it, but obviously not totally. Paying huge amounts more than necessary on anything has always been alien to me, though we sometimes spend a bit more with artists and craftspeople on things we love,and I've never regretted it, even if the thing is unnecessary, because I respect and feel good about encouraging the person who's made it.

The technician in our lab came up to me a few weeks ago and asked, "Pat, why aren't you more fashion forward?"
I let slide my first response, "I've never even heard that phrase before." Instead I responded, "I try to dress in a manner that is physically comfortable and yet respectful to those around me."

I didn't mention how disintersted I was in anything like "dressing for success" or how appalled, APPALLED I am by groups of 20+ prospective medical school students wandering the campus all dressed in identical versions of "the suit." Clearly, the best and brightest can't think for themselves regarding something as simple as putting on their socks.

End of rant and conversation. But, the question has haunted me. And you bring up yet another version.

"Are we want we wear?" Clearly not.
But, how many of us are as clear on "Are we what we do?"
The two questions are actually the one and the same.
So is the answer.

I've paid more than many would for several pieces of my wardrobe because I've bought them from the makers. I have several handwoven tops, hand-knitted sweaters, hand-painted garments, hand-dyed jackets, handmade leather bags. Several, I have used on a regular basis for 25 years now, and the garments in particular get more and more comfortable and have held up much better than things I've bought in stores. On a dollar-per-wear basis, I'd make a solid bet that they were better bargains that I could have gotten anywhere in a shop. They've certainly given me more pleasure.

A flouncy skirt by Per Una (M&S)
In winter furry Finnish boots and a fleece
In summer flip-flops and a T-shirt
It is so easy not having to wear a corporate uniform, and not having the cash to waste on a wardrobe

The two most stylish (by far!) women who I am privileged to know either sew their own clothes or buy them as cast-offs. They are both radiant, playful and inspiring in the way they cloth themselves. They also happen to not be wealthy. I wonder if wealth wouldn't have snubbed this creativity, which blossoms out of frugality.

When I worked outside the home, I tended to spend more on my wardrobe. Even then, though, I don't remember having many pieces that cost more than $100. I tend to be a sale shopper or a consignment shopper. Now that I don't work, I live in simple pieces that don't cost much to begin with, like jeans, tshirts, cropped pants, and simple dresses. I have spent several hundred dollars on two dresses in my life. One was my wedding dress and the other was my daughter's most recent prom dress (which she's already worn twice). My favorite places to shop right now are Kohl's, Old Navy, Dillard's, and JCPenney. We're aren't poor, but we certainly aren't rich and with five of us to clothe, I have to pay attention. I paid $100 recently for two pairs of shoes for my 14 year old son. That and the formals is about as crazy as I get.

I have a large collection of Ben Sherman, Yves St Laurent and Ralph Lauren shirts, all bought for under £5.00 at thrift stores. I have only two suits - a black Azda with glorious crimson lining, bought for our wedding (cheapo cheapo) and a black velvet Kenzo (designer designer, bought years ago in a knock-down Harrods sale.) Emma's mother buys clothes for the kids by the truckload, all thoroughly posh, all from thrift stores in her thoroughly posh part of Surrey.

Label schmabel, but these are all nicely designed, well made, increasingly ethically sourced and (most important) durable clothes. And there is some small, petty pleasure in registering the occasional nod of approval from those for whom not just the quality but the kudos is important.

I'm also a bad fit for consignment stores, alas, although I did once find a beaded wool sweater in one, come to think of it. I don't have the time it takes to browse those places so I've generally headed to the few stores I know carry clothes the fit my build. I used to live not far from an outlet mall for many years, so I bought a lot there. Now I tend to go to Ann Taylor Loft, which is downmarket from their main stores and their clothes fit and are pretty good quality, so it's never a waste of time to go there. Anyway, no, I've never paid huge sums for any of my clothes - when I've ever bothered to look at clothes in magazines or the Sunday paper, I find the prices laughable.

I buy some used, some new. I try for good quality, organic, local stores in different combinations depending on item and availability.

What about the rest of our lives/consumer habits?
Are we what and where we live? How much of our homes are recycled, second hand, sustainable?
Heating & cooling? Transportation? Food? Vacations? Hobbies? Family size? Work?
Where do price/ethics/expectations fit in?
Ah, the list goes on.... lots of food for thought.

I spent more than an hour deciding whether to buy a 15 quid light hooded rain jacket in Liverpool. I finally went for it, but felt guilty afterwards, even if it was reduced from 45 pounds and I really needed it. I have never had a proper jacket for this sort of weather- those nice Goretex jackets are prohibitive, but everyone seems to have them. The North Face is ubiquitous, but its prices are just ridiculous.

The most money I've spent on clothes has been on two new italian wool suits and a new pair of shoes. Anything more expensive than 40 pounds is really impossible for me.

I think the UK is the country that throws away more textiles than any other. And it's easy to see why. Just take a stroll on Oxford Street any given day. It depresses me.

It makes me angry because supposedly people want to be environmentally friendly, buy fair-trade and reduce their carbon footprint, but when it comes to clothing and shopping it's totally insane. London's high street is late capitalism gone wrong, but not many people seem to notice or criticize it.

Thanks for another great post.

I love clothes! Clothes are a creative outlet for me - a way to express myself. I never buy ANYTHING at full price. If bargain shopping was an olympic sport I would be a gold medalist! The secret is buy cheap - but only if you love it and the item is of decent quality.

Ernesto, I bought a Patagonia rain jacket (especially for London weather!) years ago and have never regretted it. Some pieces of clothing are worth paying for, especially when you amortize the wear over the number of years. But I agree, it's hard to make those decisions. Yesterday I heard someone call it "Patagucci" - and in certain circles (like academic outdoorsy types in Vermont - where you can sometimes find it in thrift shops) it really is that. However - when that jacket wore out, after 15 years, I sent it back to the company and received a brand new replacement, absolutely free. Not many companies guarantee their clothes for life - and they also assured me that the original jacket was cut up and recycled. It may be silly and a mere gesture in the face of so much worldwide waste, but I appreciate that they try.

Hi Joyce, how great to find a comment from you this morning. I love clothes too and find them creative; reflecting on this post and these comments has made me realize my relationship to clothes is more complicated than I thought. (You should wear that gold medal sometime as an accessory!)

Hi Beth! Interesting post and comments!

Personal clothes -- cheap and sturdy (t-shirts and sweatpants mostly, extra points if free). Work clothes -- suitable costume for the Press of Commerce without being a fashionista. The upper level spend varies and usually gives me angst.

My added complication? I am hard to fit -- curvy, muscular, zaftig -- so anything that fits without looking ridiculous is goodness. Further added complication? Dressy work shoes need to be comfy, and I have wide sturdy feet. So other than Crocs and running shoes, my dressy shoe spend upper level gives me angst as well.

The consolation on spending? I wear things until they fall apart.
And the last complication? I seem to be hard on clothes (maybe they can tell I don't care much about style) and so wear things out -- even sturdy things -- fast.

I have 5 step-granddaughters and try to help them "deconstruct" how certain clothes are "pushed" at them and how to make sensible decisions while still having youthful fun. We have looked at magazines like Vogue together and they know it appalls me. They know I almost never wear a shoe I can't run a foot race in. (Keens -- always red - not too expensive, but they never wear out.) They know I consider brain, smile, kindness and a loving heart one's most important fashion accessory.

I guess I'm lucky b/c I don't know anyone in my American circles who would do what the article talks about. Some spend more than others, meaning some shop at thrift stores, others at the mall sales, but that's about it. I bet the percentage of people who do more than that is really quite small. Most of us Americans are ordinary folks trying to figure out how the hell to pay for gas and food. We are simple, hard-working people, who live worlds away from the crowd this article is making reference to.

I guess I'm lucky b/c I don't know anyone in my American circles who would do what the article talks about. Some spend more than others, meaning some shop at thrift stores, others at the mall sales, but that's about it. I bet the percentage of people who do more than that is really quite small. Most of us Americans are ordinary folks trying to figure out how the hell to pay for gas and food. We are simple, hard-working people, who live worlds away from the crowd this article is making reference to.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.