3.09.2013

clothes-play

Portland camellias, March 2012

Spring has sprung here in Portland, with camellias, crocus, and daffodils abloom. And these transitional, thirty-degree temperature spikes and drops in a single day always make me reconsider, cull, and seek to fill gaps in my wardrobe. What works for December weather doesn't in April, let alone August. It takes time and effort to dress well, for the season, and for daily temperature shifts, and I don't often succeed at all three. I'm usually running late in the early morning, for one. My leather boots need a good shine. I'm in jeans most days because of working at an elementary school where fashion meets the practical requirements of running after kids with grubby hands. And when commuting on public transportation instead of driving, it's even hard to wear heels anymore, those pretty, pedestrian torture devices. Then home, I'm usually in some ghastly version of comfies: men's pajama pants, long-sleeved cotton shirt (hand-me-downs from former outside wear), thick socks, and an old sweater—because old houses are cold and the Northwest is damp. Comfort vies with style—whatever to wear when appearances mean so much?


handknit (by me) wool cardigan; thrifted Banana Republic pinstriped wool pants;
BCBG leopard heels (Nordstrom Rack)

With a weekend to myself at home and the sun shining, today I pulled out the camera and started playing with some of my clothes, which have been on my mind more than usual this week because of finishing Elizabeth Cline's Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, which surveys the devolution within the last 40 years from American-union-made clothing into made-in-China "fast fashion." According to Cline, most U.S. closets now, unlike those in the past, a) have expanded along with house size like so many obese, fast-food-fed waists, and b) overflow with uninspired basics and low-quality trends. And one can only escape some of this cultural shift to masses of cheaply made t-shirts and knock-off fads by shopping in the secondhand market since most of the used supply now comes from those same cheap cast-offs. The thrift stores are packed with poly, rayon, and acrylic and very little wool, silk, and linen. Even cotton is becoming more precious. And developing countries are becoming stronger consumers themselves, wanting more of Earth's finite resource pie. It's all yet another indicator of American economic and cultural demise and the increasing environmental costs of globalizing the virus of over-consumption.


thrifted: St. John dress ($20), vintage mohair cardigan ($2)

For the last three and a half years, I've shopped for clothing exclusively at thrift stores, mostly Goodwill. And so I dress better than before, mostly because I can afford enough clothes for mixing and layering, key to it all, plus being able to switch out pieces that don't work and find better. I could never afford to do so before when shopping sale retail (J.Crew and Macy's) or at discount (T.J.Maxx and Marshalls), and now my clothes don't all look like they've come from the same place—because they haven't. I buy mostly wool, silk, and linen in better quality brands like Ralph Lauren as well as boutique and vintage labels when I can find them, which is rare. But the digging and results are worth the effort.


handknit (by me) wool/silk/bamboo scarf; thrifted Helen Hsu NY dress ($4)

Last weekend at the Powell Goodwill, I found three new-to-me layering pieces, potentially versatile for Portland's spring and summer into early fall, but hadn't had time to check how they'd work with my existing wardrobe. I brought home a like-new, olive-green CP Shades (made in Sausalito, California) boxy linen jacket ($8); a new-with-Anthropologie-tags, lightweight-linen Hero & Leander by Velvet cardigan in a bronzed brown ($7); and an Old Navy, cap-sleeved polyester dress in a black-and-white animal print ($7). Though the first two were obvious keepers, I normally avoid both Old Navy and polyester, but this dress seemed worth consideration, mainly for the print. I'm still not convinced it's worth keeping, though, and it's a bit too large.


thrifted: CP Shades linen jacket, Old Navy print dress; blue silk scarf


thrifted: Hero & Leander linen sweater, Old Navy dress, blue silk scarf

Normally, I have no problem paying a good tailor for alterations on quality materials and construction, but $30 in alterations for a cheap Old Navy poly dress that probably didn't even cost $20 new? It's not worth it. Should I keep it to wear with layers—make it work—or return it for store credit? Time to review my main rules for buying secondhand clothes. Aside from being well constructed of natural materials in good condition, any piece must 1) fit my body well (or be worth altering), 2) make me feel attractive, and 3) be a gut-level "yes" rather than a "maybe." So this cheap Old Navy print dress—duplicated in thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions?—is a "no" on all counts. Back it goes.


thrifted: Hero & Leander sweater, TLH by Hype dress


thrifted: CP Shades linen jacket ($8), Helen Hsu NY sweater dress ($4)

Too bad I don't sew. I hate to sew. I wish I could sew. For then I could make my own clothes in chosen fabrics with finely finished seams and dressmaker details. In retrospect, it was a huge mistake to have donated (!) to Goodwill in California my great-aunt's black metal Singer sewing machine from the 1950s that she'd barely ever used, all because sewing machines are nerve-wracking to me, and I didn't give myself time for the learning curve. Once in a while, I admit I am overzealous when culling for space and get rid of something I shouldn't. But being somewhat of a perfectionist, I can't stand wavy seams. On the other hand, maybe I should be paying a local person, tailor or designer, for this to-me-unpleasant and difficult task, to have even fewer but more interesting and better quality clothes. This was Cline's argument in Overdressed. Then everybody wins.

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