Tuesday, April 16, 2013 4:36 PM
When Katie Haegele finds a 1970s Ideabook at a yard sale, it unveils a world of meaning behind her own fashion choices and those of women in the past.
clothing is a Post-Modern genre, "a highly visible way of acknowledging that
its wearer’s identity has been shaped by decades of representational activity,
and that no cultural project can ever 'start from zero.'"—Kaja
Silverman, 'Fragments of a Fashionable Discourse'
One time at a
yard sale I found this weird book called Ideabook. A child of
the 1970s, I was drawn to this outrageous-looking thing like a moth to a lava
lamp. On the cover was a photo of a smiling woman in full seventies regalia:
long shining hair and big, round, yellow-tinted sunglasses, her head tilted
glamorously to one side. She’s raking that healthy hair back from her face with
one hand and smiling with all her teeth. In the background is her little brood,
a rugged lumberjack-poet dude with a kid on his shoulders. The family is
standing in a grassy field, but the photo’s color wash is so weirdly golden it
looks like the Serengeti. I find this scene hideous and appealing to almost
exactly the same degree, and if I could climb inside the book and inhabit it I
would. Since I couldn’t do that I bought it, as I have bought so many old
things that can no longer be used for their intended purpose.
purpose was as a catalog, from which you could order S&H Green Stamps items.
I didn’t know what Green Stamps were so I asked my mom. She told me that in the
seventies (and for forty years or so before that) you could get these stamps
when you bought certain foods at the grocery store. You then pasted the stamps
into a booklet, and when you’d collected enough of them you could redeem them
for household items and clothing. When she got married, my mom told me, her new
mother-in-law gave her a stamp book with some of the stamps already in it, to
put toward a vacuum cleaner.
My Ideabook, published in 1971, has tons of great-looking photos in it,
all of them full to the brim with goofy “vintage” charm. There’s a picture of a
few young guys playing guitars under a tree; you could order the guitars as
well as any of the clothes the guys were wearing. There are pictures of little
girls in knee socks, women lounging catlike on the floor to talk on phones, and
the family from the cover walking toward a picnic lunch on the Serengeti, which
was being served in clear Thermalene casserole dishes. You could order
space-age table lamps, shaggy rugs, stereos and refrigerators, all of them
pictured in super ugly rooms done in beige, orange, and avocado green. To my
mother, though, the things in Ideabook do not look
ugly or funny; she got a little misty, looking at them. To her I think they
still represent a lush lifestyle that she and my dad could not afford in 1971,
the year they got married.
So why do I love this stuff so much? And how about you, reader of a
blog post about old catalogs and ladies’ fashion from the seventies? What do
old things mean to you? I can tell you that I first learned to dress myself as
a young teenager at the Salvation Army, where the few bucks I had in my pocket
could buy me a whole outfit. It really opens up your imagination, looking at
clothing from so many different decades. The thrift store was where I first
learned to envision myself as one of many possible things: a tough girl in a
leather jacket, a summertime hippie in a long skirt, a party girl in party
dresses. Back then, in the nineties, my friends and I mostly came across
polyester tops and bell bottoms from the seventies, but we sometimes found
older things too, like the bead-encrusted cardigans from the fifties that had
held up beautifully, even if the yellowed lining under the buttons showed the
garment’s age. These were gorgeous, but they were funny too. We weren’t fifties
ladies! We listened to Hole and gave people the finger! Sometimes we even found
(and bought and wore) secondhand men’s clothes, like the gas station
attendants’ jackets you used to be able to find with the employee’s name
embroidered in cursive on the breast. Does anyone still wear those? Gosh they
Not too long ago I was reading an old
issue of WORN, an indie
fashion magazine from Toronto, Canada. WORN looks at
clothing from a feminist perspective, and in one especially insightful essay
author Emily Raine wonders if feminism can be practiced through fashion.
Sometimes, she writes, and quotes scholar Kaja Silverman, who has argued that
wearing vintage clothing is a positive feminist practice because wearing
clothing that another woman once wore “plays up commonalities between women of
That idea lit me up like a light bulb.
What a good way to think of it! Some of the smart feminists I know have called
out the nostalgists among us, reminding us that the good old days weren’t
always good, that imagining a simpler time is reductive and inaccurate, and
it’s unwise to romanticize the times when, for instance, Jim Crow laws were
still in place and abortions were illegal and dangerous. They are right about
that. But the clothing, oh, the clothing. There’s something electrifying about
channeling the past by dressing up like it; by mimicking the women I have
looked at in photos all my life, I get to be them for a minute. And why not? If
it weren’t for fate or luck or whatever, I would have had a life like theirs,
like anyone’s. The cat eye glasses of old family photos, a Donna Summer-looking
sequined top, the punky, printed heels that put me to mind of a musical and
cultural moment I dearly wish I’d lived through: filling my closet with
clothing from different eras has allowed me to piece myself together into some
version of today’s woman, which is a person who surely couldn’t exist without
the women who went before her and is in some sense a pastiche of them all. If I
thought I could pull off the Ideabook lady’s get-up
I would wear those fugly sunglasses in a minute.
once read a good zine with a funny name—I
Love Vintage (but I wouldn’t want to live there)—by a writer named Holli
Mintzer. In it Mintzer gives instructions on how to make a circle skirt from an
old bedsheet, and she does a fabulous little deconstruction of the social
meaning behind the clothing worn by a white female civil rights protestor in
the mugshot that was taken after she was arrested for participating in a
Mississippi Freedom Ride in 1961. But the things Mintzer wrote that had the
biggest impact on me had to do with how she reconciled her aesthetics with her
politics. On a checklist titled “Why Vintage?,” the bullet point “Because women
should dress to suit their shape, not change their shape to suit the dictates
of fashion” appears just before “Because I want to reclaim vintage styles
without their racist, sexist, homophobic, patriarchal bullshit baggage.” How do
you separate the old styles from their historical baggage? By mixing them up
and wearing them knowingly, with a little wink (or “quotations marks,” as
Silverman would have it) for whoever’s looking.
Finding the Ideabook made me feel closer to my mom,
for sure. It gave her a reason to tell me about Green Stamps, which as far as I
know she hadn’t thought about in years. I enjoy thinking about her setting up
house and home with my dad —they also had a tiny pet turtle named Ted, and an
injured blue jay they rescued and nursed back to health, called BJ— and even
though I’m not married with kids like she was at my age, I care about vacuuming
my place and keeping it nice, just like she did. She probably didn’t feel the
need to dress up in costume to do it, but she wasn’t postmodern like me.
Katie Haegele is the author of
White Elephants: On Yard Sales, Relationships, & Finding What Was Missing
. Read more of her
blog posts here
Image: "Parade Pattern Ad" from ionascloset, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, February 25, 2013 10:33 AM
By giving old clothes a new life, Katie Haegele keeps up with fashion's whims while avoiding its excesses. Here, she reflects on the why and how behind her sew-it-yourself ethos.
really don’t have to be a political radical or a homesteader with trendy chickens to make and mend your own clothing, but depending on your demographics it can
certainly feel that way. People under 40 (that’s still me, woo hoo!), those who
grew up in an urban environment or another area with no 4H club (also me), and
those who went to a school with no resources for a home ec. program (me again)
may never have received a lesson in the basic human skill of threading a needle
and making or repairing useful things out of fabric. Even if you like to sew,
you have to concede that we live a lot differently than the way people always
have. It is now entirely possible to buy, rather than make, all the clothes you
will ever wear, then chuck them out when they get worn or ripped, even if you
aren’t rolling in dough. In one or two generations, sewing skills have become
an extra rather than a necessity.
Examples of sewing keep springing up in
the popular culture, though. It’s magic to watch the artists on Project Runway
dream up clothing designs, then pin and sew their ideas into reality, one bead
at a time. On RuPaul’s Drag Race, a kind of lower-rent but more imaginative
Project Runway, the contestants make their own costumes. This is interesting to
watch because some of them have a strong dressmaking background while others
don’t. To make the things they want to wear the less experienced performers
have to rely on their sense of invention (and also a hot glue gun). It’s
inspiring to watch them work, a reminder that when you make something for
yourself it does not have to be perfect. It can look like whatever you want.
Speaking of self-invention, I recently
read a memoir called The Beauty Experiment, in
which author Phoebe Baker Hyde gives up make-up and hair stuff for a year. She
also scales way back on her clothes shopping and fashion choices, which creates
a space for her to think about what her desire for beautiful clothing might
mean, down-deep. At one point she tells a story about her grandmother, who grew
up in rural Washington
and, keen to escape her “farm-girl past,” married “southern breeding” and moved
to a fancy suburb on the east coast. This woman, Sugar, could study an
expensive piece of clothing on its rack in the department store and then go
home and recreate it precisely, sometimes even adding a fake label to complete
the illusion. Whatever you think about ideas like boot-strapping and
label-loving, you’ve got to credit a person like that with ingenuity and
creativity. She wanted to be something so she dressed like that thing, then
became it. Those are my favorite kinds of stories.
After all this bloviating I don’t have a
serious sewing tutorial to share with you, just this big honkin’ thrift store
skirt that I bought a few weeks ago and have been wanting to take up. It’s a
voluminous Talbot’s “petite collection” skirt made of heavy cotton, and I stood
on a stool so you can see the whole unstylishly long thing. (I’m about 5’6” so
I can only imagine how overwhelming this style would be on a bona fide petite,
but I guess that was the ’90s for you. Or the ’80s. Who can tell, it’s
I bought it at a thrift store near Allentown, PA,
for $6.99, which is a little more than I usually like to pay for secondhand
clothes, but the skirt is well made and I thought I could find a way to wear
it. I have some basic sewing skills that I learned from my mother as a kid and
in a sewing class I took at a local fabric store as a young adult. I also own a
sewing machine, which my mom gave me as a birthday gift several years ago. I’ve
used it to make and alter many pieces of clothing and other useful things, such
as a patch quilt for a cat, but almost every time I get it out again I need to
watch this video by a lovely guy named Chris,
in which he demonstrates how to thread a Brother sewing machine like the one I
have. Chris has a gentle manner and he takes his time explaining what he’s
doing, and the camera close-ups clearly show what his hands are doing with the
fussy little parts of the machine. I love watching sewing tutorials on Youtube.
For one thing, I find it much easier to learn how to do things with my hands
when I can see them being done, as opposed to following written instructions in
a book. Beyond that, the videos are a nice reminder that sewing is a skill that
has been been passed on by example for all of human history. I find it really
touching that on Youtube you can find what appears to be every single area of
human endeavor depicted in an instructional fashion. It’s beautiful the way we
want to teach each other how to do things, not for money, just because.
So. At a thrift store several years ago I
found a plastic bag filled with wooden spools of thread for use on an
industrial machine. I bought them because they’re old and pretty, and I keep
them in a ceramic bowl on my bookcase.
But over the years they have sometimes
come in useful, like today, when I found that one of them matches the color of
my skirt almost exactly. I chopped close to seven inches off the skirt’s
bottom, folded another half-inch under for a hem, pinned it in place with
straight pins, and sewed it up. I didn’t bother ironing the hem before I sewed
it because I’m lazy. (Actually it’s because I don’t own an iron, which is
because I’m lazy.)
You do not need a machine to sew, and you
certainly don’t need one to make simple alterations like this. If I’d felt like
spending a few extra minutes on this project or if I hadn’t wanted the seam to
show, I could have sewn it by hand and done a “blind” hem by only stitching
through to the front every few inches. But my machine hem works just fine for
this skirt. Its heavy fabric is almost like denim so it doesn’t need to look
delicate. And anyway, it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to look the
way I want it to look. I’m pleased with how it turned out. What do you think?
For a really solid foundation on sewing,
you might think about getting a copy of Raleigh Briggs’ pretty little
zine-book, Fix Your Clothes, for $5. I ordered one and
I have found it very useful even though I already know a lot of the basics. For
instance, Briggs talks about when to use shank buttons as opposed to flat ones,
which was a revelation to me, and how to remove and repair a zipper. I wanted
to try that last one on a busted but nice-quality leather handbag I bought for
a buck fifty, but I got intimidated by the thought of working with leather.
Maybe next time.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013 10:48 AM
Photo by Hillary Boles, licensed under Creative Commons
Hey gang. It’s Katie, the thrift store lady who wrote a few weeks ago about unsustainable clothing production, among other things. In that post I talked about the rise of “fast fashion” and how being able to buy cheap, trendy clothing by the truckload may seem like fun but is ultimately depressing. Well actually, I don’t think I said that exact thing, but I should have. It’s depressing to have too much. Anxiety-producing, too. It’s creepy to have no idea how the things we wear were made, or what they’re made of, even if you grew up—as I did—in a world where that was the norm.
Writing about what’s wrong with the way clothing is produced for us and consumed by us is difficult because there’s so much wrong with it. You can can see that in the lonely atmosphere of a chain store, with its eerie lights shining on an empty parking lot all through the night. You’re reminded of it every time you drive past the factory that used to employ most of your town or neighborhood and now sits empty and scary-looking (or just sad). You feel it every time you’re disgusted with a new piece of clothing that looked nice when you brought it home but fell apart in the wash a few weeks or months later. Or maybe you can feel it, if you dig a little deeper, in your lack of disgust, your inability to care that the shirt fell apart because it was so cheap to begin with. Knowing you can afford to just throw it away and buy another one doesn’t make the creeping sense of wrongness go away.
Certainly, one of the biggest problems with the way most new clothing is produced (using petroleum products, and in disturbingly huge volumes) is that it’s poisoning our air, soil, and water supplies, and could well be helping to cause climate change. When The Nation’s Mark Hertsgaard wrote an open letter to President Obama urging him to address climate change, he referred to “corporate and consumer practices that need to change if our children are to inherit a livable planet”; so-called fast fashion was one of the things he meant.
But the cultural-spiritual component of clothing—dare I say fashion—is important too. We can dismiss clothes as mere nakedness-covering, and dismiss an interest in them as vain or silly, but I wouldn’t bother doing that. There’s no shame in caring about what you wear. It’s like, primal. Furthermore, it can be fun. Why should huge, greedy retail chains get to decide how we should look? They need us, but we don’t have to need them.
So here you have it: This is the next installment in what will be an ongoing blog about clothes. Recycled and repurposed and sustainably-made clothes, yes, but also: our relationship with what we wear. What it might mean to put on this and not that. How it feels to repair something you love and give it a longer life, or to make something for yourself or someone else to wear. How taking back some control over this aspect of our lives is good for us and for the Earth, not to mention hugely entertaining and satisfying.
Photo by Jane Haegele
I’ll kick the conversation off with something light-hearted. This photo is an homage to The Burning House, which collects pictures of people’s most prized possessions (i.e., the things they’d save in a fire). I hadn’t seen the blog before a few weeks ago but its creator, Foster Huntington, produced an anthology of entries as a book, which I got as a Christmas gift. I’ve had fun looking at the pictures of people’s pretty belongings and trying to decide what I would save. Which things do I care about the most? The photograph of myself, at three, holding my baby sister? My laptop full of partly-finished writing, which I would sincerely hate to have to start all over again? Yes, but those answers seemed literal and boring. And since I never, ever get tired of thinking about clothes, I thought instead I’d show you a handful of my favorite secondhand pieces.
- These boots. Man. A few years ago they looked hipper than they do now, but I still wear ‘em. I found them in a tiny, impeccable shop in the West Village run by a porcelain-skinned punk woman who told me she used to live in a barn. For a while this pair of boots was one of those terrible purchases that you can barely look at because you know you paid too much for it. I kept them stuffed in the back of my closet for at least a year. (Honestly, they weren’t that expensive, but the price was ridiculous for something that was used but not antique. I only opened up my wallet because I felt like such a bumpkin in that store that I was too embarrassed to admit the price, quoted to me at the register by a beautiful young man, shocked me. I’ll confess it to you: I paid around 90 bucks.) Happily, I rediscovered the boots and have since gotten my money’s worth out of them: I estimate I’ve worn them around three hundred times. For a while there I was like Katie Holmes’ character in the Wonder Boys movie. Remember how she always wore the same pair of red cowboy boots? These boots are just as cute as hers, and I happen to think they’re more versatile.
- I love this polyester-wool-blend skirt because it’s teal, which adds color to my dark winter outfits, and because it’s too big for me, which I like in a skirt. I kind of let it hang on my hips and as long as the top I’m wearing holds it in place nothing too scandalous happens. It’s Liz Claiborne, from the 80s most likely, and made in Hong Kong. I got it at a large thrift store in a strip mall that I found by accident on a pilgrimage to Joann’s Fabrics; it turned out to be a gold mine of women’s clothing. I don’t remember the price now, only that it was under $5 because that’s what I took out of my pocket to pay for it, a five-dollar bill.
- Are these sunglasses sweet or what? I love their shape and wear them despite the fact that I need a prescription that these don’t have (don’t worry, I don’t drive). Their frames are made of metal, which makes them sit better on my face than their plastic pretenders tend to. I found them in a cluttered little consignment shop in New Jersey called the Purple Kangaroo. The woman charged me $12 and I remember feeling it as I forked over that much money at a thrift store. But I enjoy pretending that I look like a Molly Ringwald character every time I wear them, and that, my friends, is not something you can put a price on.
- Even if my building were on fire I don’t see why I wouldn’t have time to scoop up my beloved retro earrings, most of which I got at a church rummage sale by picking through what looked to have been one woman’s gigantic collection. I paid 50 cents for each pair and I love the dangling, light blue ones the best. When I wore them recently my neighbor Dave yelled out, “I know Katie’s lookin’ for trouble ‘cause she’s got her earrings on!”
- I have a hard time picking favorites. My favorite book tends to be whichever one I’m currently reading, and likewise, I usually pin all my hopes for future beauty and fashion success to my most recent thrift store purchase. I’m talking here about the silk purple Eileen Fisher sweater I got last week for six bucks. It’s comfortable, it drapes beautifully, and its color looks rich and luscious when I wear it with my darkest blue jeans.
- This dress is from a lovely consignment shop in my neighborhood in suburban Philadelphia, which I like because it’s curated like a boutique, but the prices are low. Plus, the owner will tell you everything she knows about the clothes. This piece is by Joni Blair, and like so many things we buy now it was made of polyester in China. Still, getting it secondhand has got to be an improvement over buying it new. The fabric is stretchy and very soft and it has pockets. Pockets!
Which of your clothes would you save in a fire? I would sincerely like to know.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012 4:30 PM
Photo by slightly everything, licensed under Creative Commons.
afternoon, to reward myself for a morning of hard writing work and because I
couldn’t stand using my brain for one minute more, I went looking online for a
new winter coat. Online shopping is fun where real-life shopping is stressful:
I don’t have to get all sweaty and frustrated in a fitting room, and I don’t
feel driven to buy something to justify the time I’ve spent negotiating crowded
stores. I can just look.
on this occasion, actually, I wanted to buy. I had seen an ad on some fashion
blog for these gorgeous cloaks made by designer Lindsey Thornburg. That’s what I want!, I thought.
Not a dorky old coat like I’ve worn every year, all fastened into it like a
Stay-Puft straight-jacket. I want to swoosh around in soft fabrics that sort of
wrap around and hang off me, all cool and chic. Visions of Denise Huxtable
danced in my head. But talk about getting sweaty: The cloaks cost between $600
and $1200, and as beautiful as they are I couldn’t justify spending that much
money on one piece of clothing.
other people make nice cloaks / capes / cape-coats, I thought. I toggled the
terms and did some Google searching and to my surprise etsy shops kept popping
up. I like etsy, which is an online craft marketplace where makers of all kinds
of things can sell them. I’ve had my own etsy shop for quite a few years now; I
use it to sell my zines and other paper crafts. But to my total dismay I soon
understood that many of the stores that were offering the—trendy, cute, and
inexpensive—coats I liked were being sold by overseas clothing manufacturers
posing as craftspeople. The vast majority of these were located in China. The
same thing has happened on ebay, if you’ve noticed, though this doesn’t have
quite the same meaning since that site has no requirement that the things sold
there be “handmade.”
and for the last twenty years or so now, most of the clothes we Americans buy
have not been made in the U.S., but in poorer countries where the legal hourly
wage is much lower. I know that you know this. But did you know that Americans
now buy an average of 64 pieces of new clothing a year? That one reason we’re
able to get clothing as cheaply as we now can is that huge “fast fashion”
retailers like H&M and Target can order clothes in previously unheard-of quantities,
a production rate that is devastating for the environment? Or that more than 40
percent of the clothing now produced worldwide is made of plastic in the form of polyester and other
didn’t, not really, until I read Overdressed:
The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth Cline. Cline, a
journalist and first-time author, talks about sweatshop labor in the tradition
of books like The Travels of a
T-Shirt in the Global Economy. But she goes beyond this and looks at something else: Our
hunger for excessively cheap clothes and trends that cycle in and out every
week or two, and the massive machine that keeps it all moving.
is a serious problem. Unfortunately—very unfortunately—it’s a problem that’s
hard to feel. Cheap
clothes are everywhere, looking bright and cheerful, and few of us Americans
have actually seen, firsthand, the environmental desolation caused by all the
unsustainable factory production in other parts of the world. (Cline writes
that after visiting China's Guangdong Province, where polyester plants and
electronics factories are clustered, her throat ached, her eyes burned, and she
got a sinus infection that lingered for months.) It’s not the 90s anymore, and
people who talk about conspicuous consumption and petroleum products don’t get
invited back to parties. Furthermore, our economy sucks right now—ironically,
in large part because we’ve outsourced almost all of our factory work to other
countries—and a lot of us are out of work or working jobs where we can’t get
enough hours, enough pay, or any health insurance. If things aren’t really
cheap we might not be able to buy them at all. We’ve come to expect cute
clothing—and electronics, and other entertainment and luxury goods—to be about
as inexpensive as we want it to be, and where there’s a demand, there will
always, always be a supply, even when the toll is human lives.
found Cline’s book fascinating and distressing. It would have moved me to make
some serious life changes if I’d read it ten years ago, when I was a frequent
lunchtime H&M shopper. But I don’t go into malls or other stores that sell
new clothing very often anymore. This isn’t because I’m not vain about how I
look (!!! trust me), or because I’m so morally superior that I always make the
unselfish choice. It’s because at this point I buy almost all the things I need
and want secondhand, and I do so because it’s frugal, interesting, and fun. I
know this isn’t terribly unusual of me, and also that it is not revolutionary.
Except that it is, in a small way—a way I can feel.
have a million thrift shop victory stories. Let me tell you one. A few weeks
ago I discovered a junk store in an outer suburb of Philadelphia, a sweet and
down-to-earth town with a thriving main street filled with small local
businesses and a commuter train that goes right through its center. And this
store, it’s incredible. It’s dank in there—they said something about the front
half of the store being heated with electricity and the back with oil, and they
were still waiting for the month’s oil delivery, yeesh—and its darkness and
clutter would probably repel a more casual shopper. This is how I knew it would
be good. This place has more records than some small record stores I’ve been to
and, pinned to big bolts of fabric hanging on the walls over the crates of
records, some woman’s enormous collection of band buttons from the ‘70s-’90s.
(The place sells on consignment, and the owner told me about the person who
brought those in.) I found a Fad Gadget button and a Human League one, and ones
with Bobby Brown with a hi-top fade! I also found a stack of papers in the
magazine section that were some kind of survey about nuclear energy taken by
college students in the 1940s. Point is, all the clothing, including shoes,
cost $1.50 apiece. I bought a beautiful light blue sweater that’s embellished
with beads and ribbon and has gathered sleeves and shoulder pads, a pair of
black ankle boots, and a terrible teal pants suit (which I wanted for the pants
only) that I don’t think I’ll be able to keep because, oh gosh, it really looks
bad. I plan to wear the sweater on New Year’s Eve, though I may have to have it
laundered first. It was such a fun way to spend a blank Saturday afternoon.
writes that one of the ways we have tended to give ourselves permission to buy
trendy clothing that we don’t need is the idea that there is always a “poor
African” who will be grateful for our donation when we’re through with it. She
says this is pretty much a fantasy at this point, and this dangerous
thinking—besides being arrogant and insidiously racist—is instead helping to
fill landfills with fabrics that won’t break down for like a hundred years, and
leak poisons into our soil and water supply as they do. But if you buy the
stuff used in the first place, it’s got to be an improvement, right? When I’m
tired of a piece of clothing or it no longer fits me, I give it away to a
thrift store again, sometimes the same one I bought it from.
bought mostly secondhand things for several years now has changed my attitude
toward objects and ownership in an interesting way. I do have things I’d hate
to lose, but for the most part it feels like I have an apartment full of
knick-knacks and books and shoes on loan, like I’m lucky to get to look at and
wear all these neat things and it’s extra special and sort of poignant too
because I know they’re not really mine. This is a more light-hearted and also
more emotionally engaged attitude than the shackled sense of fretful
responsibility I have felt toward things I paid a lot of money for. Like, go
ahead and steal it, it was practically free. Knowing that something once
belonged to someone else—coupled with the fact that I paid only a dollar or
maybe ten for it—makes my ownership of that thing feel less real, temporary,
like the universe is my big sister and I’m borrowing stuff from her closet.
I’ll give it back soon, I promise.
happens that Cline’s book came out the same month as my first book, White
Elephants, a small memoir which is, in a nutshell, about going to yard sales
with my mom. It ends up also being about my relationship with her and my
deceased father, and whatnot, but it really is honestly also a book about stuff. About the piggy banks, teacups,
clip-on earrings, picture frames, typewriters, paperbacks and, yes, heaps of
clothing I’ve bought for next to nothing in church basements and on people’s
front lawns, and about the pleasure I get from imagining these objects’ history
or even meeting the people who own them and want to tell me about them.
her book, Cline addresses the problem of true “vintage” clothing (anything
older than 20 years) being picked over by resellers and given a high price tag
at hip boutiques, and she talks in a doomy way about how everything at the
Salvation Army these days is just some tired-looking thing from Target or Old
Navy. (Indeed, because to the rapid production of “fast fashion” clothes, even
thrift stores can’t keep up with all the donations they receive. They end up
having to throw many of these new clothes away.) But this was the one part of
the book I couldn’t fully relate to. I go to a thrift store or yard sale once a
week on average, and I’m always able to find legit old clothing that is weird
and wonderful and much better made than most things you find new these days.
That said, I’ll wear the crappy sparkly fast-fashion top, too, if I can get it
secondhand. Is this immoral or hypocritical of me in some way? Or is buying the
thing new what keeps the big bad machine in gear? I’m not sure I know the
answer to that. These are confusing problems, and I love glitter.
writes that the lesson she’d like people to take away from her book is not that
they can never again buy something new, or that they should go off the grid and
start making all their own clothes (though she found, by taking sewing lessons,
that knowing how to make and alter things is deeply satisfying and far from
impossible). She wasn’t interested in making us feel ashamed or guilty. She
placed the blame where it belongs: On the big, greedy companies who have
created a marketplace where, depending on where you live, it can be basically
impossible to buy new clothing that wasn’t produced by people working in
dangerous conditions or in a way, and at a rate, that is ruinous to our
environment. What she wants, she says, is for people to be mindful when they
buy new things. To not let clothing be an impulse purchase, just because it’s
cheap. For us to treat our belongings with respect because they were made by a
human being, and only a spoiled brat throws her nice things all over the floor.
one of the things I like most about secondhand shopping—that thoughtfulness. I
like having to dig for my treasure, to not know what I’ll find, and to fill my
home with things that vibrate with other people’s energy. It’s neat to think
that mine will be the life someone else imagines when I pass my stuff along to
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' hit music video, "Thrift Shop feat. Wanz"
Tuesday, December 13, 2011 5:07 PM
Wouldn’t you be offended if your cultural heritage was immortalized in underwear? This fall, the Navajo Nation sent retailer Urban Outfitters a cease and desist letter, forcing them to rename more than 20 products the tribe found objectionable, including the “Navajo Hipster Panty” and “Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask,” reports Lisa Hix in Collectors Weekly.
The Navajo Nation holds trademarks for the name “Navajo,” preventing it being used to sell things like mass-produced hoodies and knee socks. And, the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 makes it illegal to falsely market a product as Native American–made. Even so, more and more Native American–inspired fashions are gracing metropolitan runways and glossy magazine pages. From hipster cardigans to luxe handbags to leather bracelets, designs cribbed from America’s indigenous people are making the rounds.
Hix spoke with Jessica R. Metcalfe, a Turtle Mountain Chippewa and professor at Arizona State University who blogs at Beyond Buckskin about non–Native Americans producing “native” fashions:
The problem is that they’re putting it out there as “This is the native,” or “This is native-inspired.” So now you have non-native people representing us in mainstream culture. That, of course, gets tiring, because this has been happening since the good old days of the Hollywood Western in the 1930s and ’40s, where they hired non-native actors and dressed them up essentially in redface. The issue now is not only who gets to represent Native Americans, but also who gets to profit.
For some, the biggest offender is Pendleton Woolen Mill, a company founded on producing Indian trade blankets and robes in 1863 and who is famously pro–Native American. Recently the company expanded to produce high-end coats, bags, and other products. While the designs used on Pendleton products are original to the company and not traditional tribal motifs, the fact that they are profiting from sales of $500 sweaters featuring native-inspired designs can feel like a betrayal.
“Seeing hipsters march down the street in Pendleton clothes, seeing these bloggers ooh and ahh over how ‘cute’ these designs are, and seeing non-Native models all wrapped up in Pendleton blankets makes me upset,” Cherokee writer and Ph.D. candidate Adrienne K., who blogs at Native Appropriations, tells Hix.
It’s a complicated feeling, because I feel ownership over these designs as a Native person, but on a rational level I realize that they aren’t necessarily ours to claim. To me, it just feels like one more thing non-Natives can take from us—like our land, our moccasins, our headdresses, our beading, our religions, our names, our cultures weren’t enough? You gotta go and take Pendleton designs, too?
Read the full article “Why the ‘Native’ Fashion Trend Is Pissing Off Real Native Americans” online and see more striking examples of Native Americans’ fashion influence, past and present.
Source: Collectors Weekly
Images: Detail from Pendleton nine-element robe, first introduced as an Indian trade blanket in the 1920s, from Language of the Robe by Rain Parrish (top); Urban Outfitters “Navajo Hipster Panty” (middle); Pendleton Toboggan fashion shot (bottom).
Thursday, September 15, 2011 4:41 PM
It’s the last day of New York Fashion Week, where celebrities and the industry elite flank runways to catch the first glimpses of new lines from high-end designers like Marchesa and Alexander McQueen. For the average U.S. consumer, though, fast fashion—cheap clothing produced quick and dirty—hangs in the closet.
Fast fashion’s formula, known as the “quick-response method,” keeps up with ever-changing trends promoted at events like Fashion Week by speeding up every aspect of the clothing-production process: design, manufacturing, distribution, and marketing. In order to keep the pace lively, workers’ conditions and the environment suffer.
A recent study by Iowa State University professor Elena Karpova and grad student Juyoung (Jill) Lee, however, finds that fast fashion doesn’t fly in certain markets, reports Aaron M. Cohen in The Futurist (Sept.-Oct. 2011), offering hope that we don’t have to stay on the current industry treadmill. Cohen writes:
Japanese consumers are willing to pay more for domestically made products with higher price tags, which has resulted in fewer purchases of less-expensive imports. The Japanese apparel industry’s emphasis on more expensive, higher quality goods distinguishes them from foreign competitors in a positive way. Marketing efforts help drive these trends…. Clothing stores in Japan target older consumers, who are likely to be more interested in long-lasting quality than keeping up with the latest styles, while American advertising targets younger consumers interested in just the opposite.
Responsible clothing options in the states and elsewhere are increasingly easy to find, tracked by blogs like Eco-Chick and Eco Fashion World and spearheaded by green designers such as 2010 UtneVisionary Natalia Allen. And, Cohen says, some in the high-fashion industry are recommitting to artisan craftsmanship, with houses like Hermès beginning to emphasize “slow fashion.”
While we in the Utne Reader office certainly don’t claim to be fashion plates, perhaps we’re ahead of the trends on this one: I’ve had my favorite pair of jeans for nearly a decade and our hipster office manager owns a loon-emblazoned sweatshirt (with red, built-in cuffs and collar) that’s older than he is. Slow fashion, we’re ready for you.
Source: The Futurist(membership required)
Image by Noemi Manalang, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009 4:59 PM
Beautiful young women with fashionable clothing and loose headscarves dominated much of the imagery that emerged from the recent Iranian protests. Writing for Women News Network, Latoya Peterson writes that the focus on fashion and beauty may distract people from the real issues at play in Iran.
“Often times, Western feminists become infatuated with the symbolic nature of veiling,” according to Peterson, “and fail to listen to women discussing what they are actually fighting for.” The photographs of women in modern, Western-style clothing with hair cascading out of their veils fit nicely into people’s preconceived notions of modern pro-democracy forces rebelling against the oppressive regime.
In fact, the disastrous economic conditions in Iran are likely what motivated the protests, rather than the politics of beauty and clothing. Emphasizing beautiful protesters could distract people and oversimplify the message of the protests.
The Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, on the other hand, may have appreciated some of the problematic attention, Alexander Cockburn wrote for the Nation. According to Cockburn, “Unlike those attractive Iranians, Tamils tend to be small and dark and not beautiful in the contour of poor Neda, who got out of her car at the wrong time in the wrong place, died in view of a cellphone and is now reborn on CNN as the Angel of Iran.” Peterson admits, “Sex sells but so does Iranian beauty, compelling even those who are disinterested in politics and current events to pay attention.”
Women News Network
Image by Hamed Saber, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009 2:59 PM
By snapping up rack after rack of cheap, mass-made clothing, we’re making ourselves all look alike, trashing the planet, and mistreating our fellow humans, writes Charty Durrant in “The Tyranny of Trends” in the May-June issue of the British magazine Resurgence. What makes her case especially compelling is that Durrant is not a radical outside observer but a co-creator of the very culture she derides: She is a former fashion editor of the Sunday Times, the Observer, and British Vogue and a lecturer at the London College of Fashion.
“As a fashion editor of twenty years’ standing,” she writes, “I have found it extremely uncomfortable to admit that the seemingly harmless fashion industry is actually driving our demise. It is at the heart of all that ails us; pull at any social or environmental thread, and it will lead you back to the fashion industry.”
Durrants singles out “fast fashion,” which cops leading designers’ styles with cheap sweatshop-made knockoffs, as especially unethical and urges a return to “built to last” thinking in apparel.
While many of Durrant’s brand and store references are British, stateside shoppers inspired by her message can clean up their fashion purchases by seeking out green- and ethical-minded clothing makers like Patagonia, Nau, and Linda Loudermilk and using online resources like the Autonomie Project and Artfire to find fashionable apparel and accessories that don’t leave a big ugly footprint on the other side of the world.
Also, to keep up with the latest in green women’s fashion, check out blogs like Sprig, Eco-Chick and, for a more global perspective, Eco Fashion World.
Sources: Resurgence, Patagonia, Nau, Linda Loudermilk, Autonomie Project, Artfire, Sprig, Eco-Chick, Eco Fashion World
Image of Linda Loudermilk courtesy of Linda Loudermilk.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009 3:58 PM
Amanda Follett rebelled against the culture of disposability in dramatic fashion: She gave up all new clothing. For one month, Follett vowed no more retail therapy, no more fashionable outfits, no more trips to the Gap. Instead, she opted for a rotation of three thrift-store and hand-me-down pairs of pants, and found some comfort in her total lack of glamour. Writing for Geez, Follet explains how she was overwhelmed when returning to the world of new jeans and shirts after a just a month of not worrying about fashion. “Because once you’ve walked a month in a stranger’s pants,” she wrote, “it can be hard to go back.”
Monday, March 02, 2009 4:45 PM
“Like Cheez Whiz and the atom bomb, modern think tanks are a distinctly U.S. invention that has spread all over the world.”
—Jeff Gailus, “Mind Games,” from Alberta Views (not available online)
“The country’s run itself down, drinking too many subprime-mortgage martinis and smoking too many credit-default-swap cigarettes; having ignored clear signs its lifestyle was out of control, the nation’s caught a raging, recessionary cold that just might turn into the dangerous flu-monia of economic depression.”
—John Mecklin, “Work Out Plan,” from Miller-McCune
“Every morning, I throw on one of my many pairs of faded jeans, a shirt bearing the image of a radical band or en electric guitar, and a Superman watch with silver bullets on the wristband. . . . The fact that I’m almost three bucks over 30 and a long-married mother of two kids makes my fashion sense all the more creepy.”
—Hope Gatto, “Rocker Mama,” from Mothering (not available online)
“This would have been a big year for Darwin, if he had been fit enough to survive this long.”
—Grant Bartley, “God or Nature?” from Philosophy Now
Sources: Alberta Views, Miller-McCune, Mothering, Philosophy Now
Image by Pixel Drip, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, December 11, 2008 10:15 AM
A lot of intelligent women find themselves torn between dismantling the superficiality of “women's interest” magazines and buying into it. Wendy Felton is one of those women, and she uses her three-year-old Glossed Over blog to rant, rave, and dissect fashion spreads and stories from publications like Cosmopolitan and Glamour.
Felton doesn’t claim to be an expert (she’s a freelance writer and editor), but simply a fan of women’s magazines who is continually disappointed by their contradictory messages and incongruous advice. So why does she bother reading them? It’s a guilty pleasure “that lets me get juiced up on righteous outrage while simultaneously allowing me to ogle lip gloss and shoes.” The right mix of cynicism (one post is titled “Marie Claire editors were the girls I hated in high school”) and acknowledged shallowness makes her commentary, at once funny and incisive, relatable to a broad (if mostly female) audience.
Image courtesy of evans.photo, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, December 01, 2008 12:45 PM
Who says the fashion choices of male politicians never turn heads? Barack Obama’s ensemble caught the attention of Politico 44 today, which notes that the tie he wore to introduce his national security team looked remarkably like the one he wore on election night:
It would seem that particular piece of clothing might qualify for the Smithsonian some day, and so would get the wedding dress treatment — you know, stored away and preserved, tucked into a display case, stashed in Obama’s box of memorabilia, which is probably a little crowded by now.
Then again, maybe the president-elect is thinking practically in these tough economic times, and thought such an auspicious tie deserved an instant replay.
Hillary Clinton’s outfit, however, received no commentary. She was spared, at least for today.
We've now spent a good deal of time (that we can never get back) evaluating the ties and have decided that, though they appear quite similar, they are in fact not the same. Fashion police can now retreat. The evidence is below.
Here's Obama on election night:
And here he is announcing his national security team:
Wednesday, October 08, 2008 12:55 PM
There’s a whole lot of Obama-wear out there, from the streets of New Jersey to the runways of Paris, but the printed Ts and onesies made by Piggyback-Kittycat are especially fetching designs that ought to do well with the baby-mama set. With messages like “Baby Needs a Change” and “My Mama’s for Obama” for the kids and “Go Bama” and “Obama’08” for mothers, they take equal inspiration from children’s wooden blocks and contemporary design. Babies can’t vote, but the persuasive power of cuteness plus progressive advocacy shouldn’t be discounted when undecided grandparents (pdf) come for a visit. Piggyback-Kittycat “head hog” Ruth Weleczki says she custom-designed a shirt for one customer that targets an older demographic: It reads “Audiologists for Obama.”
Image courtesy of Piggyback-Kittycat.
Monday, October 06, 2008 3:37 PM
American politics crept its way into Paris Fashion Week, where models lankier than Obama himself strutted down runways in attire inspired by the presidential contender. Designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac debuted a loud yellow, black, and white dress with a headshot of Obama printed on the front and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words, “I have a dream today,” on the back. The model sporting the dress wore fingerless gloves reading “yes” on one hand and “no” on the other. Obama also captured the creative imaginations of Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind Rodarte, who sent a simple knit dress with “Obama” written boldly across the chest down the runway as part of a tribute show to Sonia Rykiel.
But the Democrat isn’t the only one making a mark on the design and retail worlds. Mother Jones reports the release of the Sarah-Cuda, a pink camouflage crossbow named after Sarah Palin and touted by the retailer as a “tribute to women like Sarah Palin who bear the responsibility of family and work while strengthening the moral fiber of society.”
Monday, March 24, 2008 5:25 PM
Smart, feminist women want to look good too, but stereotypes uphold fashion and intelligence to be mutually exclusive. Fashion guides either display impractical pieces (such as $1,500 leggings) or advise women on how to disguise “flaws,” and in doing so fail to address the tastes and needs of feminist women, argues Jessa Crispin on the Smart Set.
Good fashion writing, says the Bookslut founder, provides advice for sensible women: “Women who have to wait for buses in the middle of winter. Women who like to dance at parties, and do not want to have to sit in the corner because their feet are bleeding.”
As an example of the above, Crispin extols Guardian fashion editor Hadley Freeman’s The Meaning of Sunglasses: And a Guide to Almost All Things Fashionable, written for women who dress for self-expression and not solely to attract the male gaze. “If more fashion writing was done in the tone of smartypants Freeman, we could avoid the fear that caring about our appearance makes us a vain fool or a victim,” Crispin writes.
, licensed under
Sunday, March 16, 2008 1:29 PM
Baby blue cowboy boots with pink hot pants. Plaid shorts worn over patterned pajama bottoms. Jet-black stretch jeans as tight as shrink wrap. John Deere caps and full untrimmed beards. The South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, is as much a fashion show as it is a music-biz gathering, and frankly it would be hard to dress weirdly enough to really turn heads in downtown Austin this weekend. (Perhaps if I donned penny loafers, pleated Dockers chinos, and a pastel polo shirt, I’d at least get some attention for being a dork.)
Walking down the main promenade, Sixth Street, I took out my camera and captured some choice examples of rock and roll style. Not one person I approached refused to have their photo taken; this is a crowd that wants to be seen. Caution: Adopt these looks at your own risk.
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!