Your Views on Knees

What’s your take on knees – more specifically, on knee-baring garments?

Personally, I don’t think the knee is one of the more aesthetically pleasing body parts allotted to humankind, but if people want to bare them, feel free.

I do feel a bit sad, though, when I see women of an age to be mature who are still presenting themselves in a ‘look at me I’m young and sexy’ kind of way, minis and all. Continue & Comment

Clothing Budget: Lessons Learned

Having a clothing budget is more useful than I’d realized. It doesn’t just keep your spending in check, it helps you spend more wisely, too. Not solely because your spending is limited, but because keeping records of your incomings and outgoings allows you to look back and see which buys turned out to be the good ones, and which didn’t.

Fresco showing a woman so-called Sappho holding writing implements, from Pompeii, Naples National Archaeological Museum (14842101892) restored
I’ve had a clothing budget for just over three years now – $25 a month ($18 US), which covers pretty much everything but shoes. Each month I keep a record of what I spent, and – most importantly – on what. Brace yourself: things are about to get statistical.

In the three years I looked at, I spent $860 on clothes. (That’s about $625 US.) Which, frankly, seems like a massive amount! I made a list of each item I bought over the three years (divided by year), what I paid for it, whether it was new or second-hand, and whether I still wear the item or not – and if not, why.

I spent $40 on clothes which I am already no longer wearing. Actually, there’s another dress I’ve only worn once, but it’s a special occasion dress, so the verdict is still out on whether I’m avoiding it or just haven’t had many suitable occasions yet. If it turns out I am avoiding it, that’s $60 total I’m not wearing any more.

2015-05-06a Clothes-shopping criteria -- index card #shopping

Most common reasons for not wearing something any more? It doesn’t fit, or it doesn’t suit. That seems reasonable. Then I looked at the breakdown of new versus second-hand. It turns out that fully half of the second-hand items I bought in those three years I no longer wear (five of ten). But I’m still wearing 13 of the 15 new items I bought.

Why? My guess is that I’m a lot less picky when it comes to second-hand clothing, because it’s so much cheaper. But if I’m going to spend good money on something, it better be worth it! The decision-making process increases in length proportional to the price of the item.

In support of this theory, I note that the two new items I’m not wearing any more were a super-cheap t-shirt (this was before I started shopping ethically) and a zip for a second-hand skirt. Total cost, $6.60. In fact, the average price of the garments I’m not wearing any more is less than $7. Shocking.

Macke - Modegeschäft
Where things really got interesting was when I started comparing how many items I bought in each year, and how much I spent on average per item. Remember, it’s just this last year I’ve been making an effort to shop ethically.

In 2015 I bought 11 items at an average of about $28 each. (Buying a swimsuit pushed the average much higher than it would otherwise have been.)
In 2016 I was still in the red from the expenditures of the previous year, so I only bought six items – average about $38.
In 2017 I started shopping ethically, and here’s where you’d expect the prices to skyrocket, right? I bought eight items, for an average of about $40.

Overall, I did spend more in 2017 than in the preceding years, but that was still less than $20 over what I spent in 2015.

To be honest, the real cost to me in shopping more ethically hasn’t been the financial cost. It’s been the cost of planning, the cost of avoiding the easy buy and taking the time to find ethical options.

"Mrs. America buys clothes with care" - NARA - 515034
Side note: if anyone’s interested in encouraging the ethical shopping habits of Australasians, what would be really helpful is a guide to what can be bought where. Don’t just tell me XYZ has an A rating, tell me where’s good for buying pajamas, or socks, or collared shirts…

So those are the lessons my clothing budget has taught me so far: it’s worth taking the time to be sure about an item before buying it – no “close enough is good enough” buys; and shopping ethically isn’t that much more expensive.

Will I keep on with this? You bet! For one thing, in the next few years I’ll be getting some valuable data on how long various garments last. Because no matter how much I expect my clothes to be immune to the ravages of time, nothing lasts forever.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - A Calling (1896)
Especially socks.

Ten Ways to a More Ethical Wardrobe

Most of us would like to have a more ethical wardrobe. Most of us don’t. It’s not a case of active ill will, or even apathy – it’s a matter of not knowing where to start. Or what to do.

After all, clothes don’t come with labels saying how many toxic chemicals were used in their manufacture, or how many hours of unsafe, underpaid or even forced labour went into their production.

Made in Sweatshop (10139206873)
Which makes it hard to know whether the item you are buying is supporting people who desperately need the work, or taking advantage of their desperation to effectively transform them into your outsourced slaves.
Which is why it was not only informative but invigorating to read Lucy Siegle’s book To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? Because she not only points out the problems, but suggests a few solutions. I’ve collated ten of them here for your consideration.

1: choose your fibres carefully. Production, useful life, disposal. Some man-made fibres are actually less unfriendly to the environment in production than, say, cotton; but on the flip side your grandchildren’s grandchildren will be cold in their graves and the stuff still won’t have rotted down. I recommend Siegle’s book for a more in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of various fibres. Organic cotton and wool are two of the better options.

2: mend. Siegle suggests putting aside 10% of your clothing budget for mending; you get more Little Old Lady points if you do the mending yourself. Personally, I take my shoes to a cobbler for resoling and mends (considerably cheaper than a new pair of good shoes), but I try to do other mending myself – buttons, hems, darning…

Elderly cobbler 2
3: buy second hand. Alas, the nature of fast-fashion means that the quality of second-hand clothing is considerably lower than it once was: if you expect people to move on to something new after two or three wearings, there’s no need to make the item durable. Not to mention that if you’re a sweatshop worker paid by the item, there’s a lot of pressure to construct the garment quickly, not well. Still, good items can be found, they just take a bit more finding than they used to.

4: swap. Either casually, among friends (it helps to have friends of similar taste and/or size) or at an organized swap. As with buying second-hand, it gives the garment a useful second life, rather than consigning it to the dump.

5: make your own. I was delighted to read Siegle’s line, “In many ways knitting is the perfect cornerstone for the burgeoning ethical fashion movement.” I can knit my own socks, hats, gloves and so forth; my next big batch of skills to be acquired is learning how to sew my own clothes. Obviously, this is a long-term, take-it-a-step-at-a-time proposition. Still, the freedom inherent in being able to decide for yourself what cloth, cut and colour you want, instead of being forced to choose from a limited number of options, is very alluring.

Costume workshop at a theatre, Prague - 8581
6: launder carefully. We tend to forget that some of a garment’s eco-impact is neither in its birth nor in its death, but in its life with us. Wash your clothes in cold water, air-dry where possible, and don’t wash your clothes unless they actually need it. (You don’t need to launder a garment just because it’s touched your body. Unless you have some sort of oozing skin disease…) Avoid dry-cleaning too, if you can – the ‘perc‘ which is most commonly used in dry-cleaning is not only carcinogenic but neurotoxic. And in any case, most things marked ‘dry clean only’ do not explode in a ball of flames if you gently hand-wash them.

7: re-use materials. One garment can be refashioned into another. A sheet can become a dress. A pair of jeans can embark on a second life as a skirt. A hideous knitted monstrosity from the op-shop can be unravelled for the wool and reknitted into something much more appealing. (Unless it’s glittery mohair. Not much can be done about that.)

8: buy from ethical brands. This takes a fair bit of digging, as nothing pleases the corporate pocket-book more than marketing to the fair-minded without actually putting their money where their mouth is, but happily there are those who will do some of the digging for you. Baptist World Aid’s Ethical Fashion Guide is compiled for the Australian market, but globalization being what it is, people from all over will find it useful.

Dhaka Savar Building Collapse
9: move slowly. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed into purchases, either by lack of planning (hole in the last good pair of socks!) or by cunning marketing ploys. Do your due diligence. Plan ahead. Savour the pleasures of anticipation. Don’t buy anything unless you’re sure that you’re making a good decision, one that you’ll be happy with tomorrow (and all the years to come).

10: consume less. As Dame Vivienne Westwood says, “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody’s buying far too many clothes.” Wearing the same things over and over again is not a penance when each item is something you love, something which tells the world a bit about who you are, something that is a pleasure to wear.

Lucy Siegle writes at the end of To Die For, “Free of the constraints of endless consumption, you can have a wardrobe that is more sustainable, more valuable, more enduring and more you.”

warm enough?
Doesn’t that sound wonderful? If you’re anything like me, there’s a fair way to go yet, but we can get there – one step at a time.