Years ago I went shoe shopping with my stepfather. As the shop door tinkled our arrival, an assistant approached from the wall of shoe boxes.
“I want these in a size nine.” Nobby announced, gesticulating downwards at his old Chelsea boots.
A box was brought, the lid partially raised to reveal its contents and the transaction completed with one of those slidey credit card machines that your nan can tell you about.
“Aren’t you going to try them on?” I spluttered.
“Nah, Toots,” Nobby said, “I always has these. When they wear out, I buy a new pair. They’ll fit fine.”
At that moment I realised how different men and women’s shopping habits are. As a sweeping generalisation, women can browse almost indefinitely; hunting and gathering their way around a fashion bazaar such as Newport’s TK Maxx. A chap will go straight to Fields Menswear and buy a practical garment, or a replacement hat of the style he’s worn for years.
Back when I was a space punk (possibly the only one), I had to make my own attire as I couldn’t find what I wanted in the shops. I searched out shiny fabrics and created my own outfits. With my dressmaking skills I understand the effort that goes into making, say, a silver bolero jacket. But how many of us truly think about where our pre-made clothes come from?
You’ll have heard of fast fashion; cheap clothing produced in sometimes dubious conditions on the other side of the world, for us to wear one day and chuck away the next. We buy clothes without a care; literally tons of usable garments are sent to landfill, although they could be reused, recycled – or even repurposed in the home. Can I be the only person who dusts with a pair of exhausted knickers?
It’s great that finally people are ‘woke’ to the fact that they are dressed to kill. The earth is quivering from agrochemicals used in cotton manufacture; people have died working in dangerous conditions in sweatshops; and sometimes the death is that of your own dignity – what *were* you thinking of when you donned those harem pants with a mustard roll-neck?
New York society heiress Nicky Hilton-Rothschild recently tweeted a photograph of herself in a dress she had first worn in 2001. This won her a lot of social media love but for me, as the grandchild of folks who were imbued with a Second World War ‘make do and mend’ ethos, it’s not so remarkable. Among many vintage items, my black and white fish shirt has been a staple of my wardrobe since the mid-1980s, and even then it wasn’t new – I bought it in a jumble sale.
So perhaps we should heed Nobby’s voice and only shop for clothes when they need replacing, rather than out of boredom. Like me, you’ve probably got enough in your wardrobe to keep you stylish for years and, with a little creative customisation, we can relove existing clobber for a brighter future.