I’ve been going down a historical clothing and costuming rabbit hole lately. Not for a book; I’m merely interested in the subject, and as I find myself wanting to make things- does anyone else occasionally wake up with the urge to build something, doesn’t much matter what it is?- I’m thinking about making some clothes.
This isn’t a new rabbit hole, and it won’t be the last time I fall down it. Fortunately, it mostly consists of watching videos on the subject and making sketches, so while it’s time consuming, this particular whim doesn’t put a huge hole in the budget until I start actually making the items I want. And even that can be done on the cheap. I recently had a lightbulb moment when I discovered the wonders of thrift store bedsheets for making patterns and mock-ups. All that fabric for $3-4, a tenth of what it would cost new. And who cares if it’s the wrong color?- it’s for testing a pattern, not anything I’m going to wear.
Saving money gives me the warm fuzzies, but seems to cause a lot of consternation in some parts of the fashion/historical dress community. I’ve endured an astonishing number of rants and snarky asides about the evils of mass-manufactured clothing lately.
The logic appears to be that consumers buy mostly inexpensive, mass-manufactured clothing that is cheaply made, and treat it as disposable, thereby encouraging clothing designers and manufacturers to churn out even more cheaply made, flimsy clothes. This is unsustainable and Very Bad, and people who are aware of it should try to swap out their mass-manufactured clothing for better-quality bespoke items, and encourage other people to do the same.
They’re not completely wrong. Modern clothing is cheap, doesn’t fit most people very well, and doesn’t last as long as older garments. On the other hand, it exists, and is available to even poor people.
(Let the record show, I tried to summarize the argument in neutral terms. You may judge how well I succeeded)
If I have a choice between spending my fixed clothing budget on 2-3 complete outfits per decade and adding variety through small items like trimmings and accessories, or spending that same money on a few dozen outfits at any given time, you can bet your butt I’d choose the latter. I engage in a massive range of hobbies and activities, and having the right clothes for the job makes life so much easier. It’s possible to ride, garden, and mow the lawn in a wool skirt and linen shirt, like women of the past obviously did, but it’s significantly more cumbersome. I like being able to choose that cheap t-shirt; then I can take the money I saved and buy a good pair of canvas work pants that are well-suited for heavy labor and can be washed afterward. When my body changes size and shape, I can accommodate that shift without breaking the bank.
And let’s face it, does anyone simply throw out an item of clothing once it’s no longer suited for its original purpose? Maybe I belong to a smaller subset of the population than I realized, but I can’t imagine throwing wearable clothes in the trash, even if it’s been in use for a decade or more, as have some of my things. I’m currently wearing a sweatshirt my mother bought me, which means it’s at least twelve years old. Thrift stores will take almost anything that’s intact, and pieces of old garments make great dust rags (the eventual fate of all socks in my house). Holey jeans and stained shirts are great for jobs around the house and yard, where no one cares what you look like. I even cut up t-shirts to use as packing material for my last couple of moves, and my poor long-suffering husband has lost some of his holey undershirts to my need for pattern and mock-up fabric. That’s not even getting into taking apart and repurposing old garments, which, it must be said, takes a certain amount of sewing skill.
As with many things, it’s all about choice, and figuring out what works for you and your situation. Time, money, availability of materials, and skill level all factor into whether you can or want to wear bespoke or mass-manufactured clothes. Or a combination suited to your way of living. What a novel idea!
Okay, I’ll stop being sarcastic.
If I must.
Go forth and experiment!