Slow Fashion October: Long Worn

I have had this phrase, “long worn”, percolating in my head all week. Through lectures on torts and civil procedures, through contracts readings and memo writings, during lunch breaks, and coffee runs, while making dinner, and getting dressed, I have been turning over in the back of my mind what long worn means to me, and how it fits into my life. At this moment, there are two concrete ways I see this concept operating in my world: (1) the clothes that others have worn before me, and (2) the clothes I make to last.

I have been a life-long thrifter. My mother is a public school teacher, and with three kids, thrifting was an easy, and fun way to keep us on budget, and fashionable. As a child, and a teenager, I just thought of second hand clothes as a way to find interesting pieces that were different from what everyone else was wearing. I loved thrifted clothing for what it could do to set me apart. While I still value that particular aspect of buying second hand, I have lately come to realize the value of reuse of clothing. In a world where trash is produced at an alarming rate, and our society’s relationship with the wardrobe has changed so drastically, so quickly, thrifting can be a radical way to remove oneself from the cycle. To wear second hand clothes is to give a garment new life, spare it from the dumpsite, and release oneself from the hectic world of fast fashion.

At this point, I would say close to 80% of my wardrobe is thrifted, and nearly 100% of my hardest working garments come from my second hand selection. Pictured below are two of my most favorite, and longest kept thrifted finds.

The jeans are high-waisted Levi’s, found a few years ago, and they fit like a dream. I have a body that is often hard to fit, with short legs, and wide hips that make correctly fitted pants almost impossible. Those jeans are like the Holy Grail to me, and up until recently were the only pair of jeans I owned. The knees are starting to thin, but these babies are long from retirement. I’m looking forward to the future rips and mends that will continue to tell the story of this incredible pair of pants.

The sweater was a gift, purchased at a thrift store by a friend who saw it and instantly thought of me. It is 100% cashmere, soft, warm, and light as could be. It has served me well as a layering piece through several Northern California winters, and will doubtlessly continue to soldier on through many Portland winters. When this sweater came to me, it had a few small holes in the sleeves, which was doubtless the reason why it had found its way into Goodwill. It took me only 5 minutes to fix the holes up so that no one could ever tell they were there. After I had mended the holes, and was wearing the sweater, I couldn’t help but reflect on the previous owner. Did they know that the holes would have been so easy to fix? If they had known, would they still have donated this sweater? Were they sad to see it go, did they wish they could have kept it, but feared that the holes meant it had outworn its use? As a knitter, I obviously have a bit of an advantage when it comes to repairing knit fabrics, and yet I still feel (perhaps wrongly so?) that learning to mend is not so hard a thing to do. In an effort to truly value our clothing, knowing how to make our garments last, being able to fix them so that they continue to wear, is of the utmost importance. This is the first way that the concept of “long worn” fits into my life – preserving garments deemed useless by someone else, giving them new life, and new purpose.

The second way “long worn” factors into my life, and my wardrobe, is in my handmades. When I first started knitting garments, I, like so many others, was attracted to the soft, gushy yarns that feel incredible against your skin. I wanted super soft merino sweaters to cuddle with all winter long. The only problem with those snuggly, marshmallow yarns, is their lack of longevity. They pill, they shed, they lose their shape, and what began as an impeccable finished object quickly becomes a frustrating chore. I had made these sweaters in the hopes of placing them permanently in my wardrobe, and it was a defeating feeling to realize I wasn’t reaching for them for fear of wrecking them. That’s when I started turning away from merino wools, and looking for fabrics with a bit more tooth to them. Now, when I knit a handmade garment, I give careful thought to whether or not the fabric will stand up over time. Will the wool pill too quickly? Will it keep its shape? Will the color fade? I have come to discover that choosing a soft yarn in a pretty color isn’t enough. When knitting a garment that will remain in a wardrobe for years, thought has to be given to whether or not the material will last. This year, I focused on knitting sweaters out of sturdier yarns, like Brooklyn Tweed, Lettlopi, and Imperial Stock Ranch, and have been delighted with the result (the two pictures at the top of this post are a couple of this year’s successes). I have built sweaters that will last, sweaters that will tell stories, and I simply can’t think of anything better than that.

In all truth, considering this topic of “long worn” this past week, has got me thinking about so much more beyond this blog post. I am thinking about concepts that are hard to pin down (particularly when exam prep is vying for top billing in my brain space), like how the clothes I currently have will last, how the clothes I add to my wardrobe in the future will fit with what I already have, how to determine whether I actually need a particular piece, and so much more. But that’s the beauty of this slow fashion movement, it leaves you questioning what you thought you knew about clothing, fashion, and style, and pushes you to create something new.

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