As I’ve been reading Anne of Green Gables, I have been thinking a lot about clothing, our modern fashion industry, and the industry of by-gone eras. I’ve noticed several references to Marilla sewing Anne’s dresses, and, of course, the famous “puffed sleeves” dress sewn by Rachel Lynde. (For those more familiar with the mini-series, where Matthew buys the dress, in the book Matthew gets Rachel Lynde to buy the fabric and sew the dress. After that, Marilla determines to sew more fashionable dresses for Anne, saying there’s no need for Mrs. Lynde to sew clothes for a child under her roof.) Anne later seems to get some of her dresses made by others, but she definitely does all of the sewing for Davy and Dora, the twins Marilla adopts in Anne of Avonlea.
Having just spent some time sewing a dress for myself and a dress for our god-daughter, with a sewing machine of course, I feel I have a deeper understanding of what goes into making a garment. But it boggles my mind to think about sewing my entire wardrobe, or my child’s entire wardrobe, by hand no less, as just another daily task of living. I knit and sew on an almost entirely hobby basis – with a small dash of practicality thrown in – but I wonder how much joy would be lost if I had to do it out of necessity. (I suppose I cook out of necessity, and still find that I enjoy it, although there are the days we get pizza or fry up frozen perogies! What is the hand-sewing equivalent of frozen perogies, I wonder.)
I find I am often rethinking my relationship to clothing – to fashion, I suppose. I struggle with how to best navigate the many tiny choices of buying, choosing, wearing, taking care of my clothes, especially in light of working conditions for garment makers, and the disposable culture of fast fashion. For some reason, I am always attracted to extreme actions in response to these tensions; the extremes seem more clear, more satisfying than small changes. In university, I once took a 6×30 challenge – that is, wearing only 6 pieces of clothing for 30 days. A big part of that experience was realizing that nobody noticed, or at least commented on the monotony of my wardrobe, unless I told them what I was up to. I have also sworn off buying clothing, new or used, for a year in university, and then again this year. The problem with those dramatic gestures, though, is that I don’t find them to be sustainable in the long term. So as I near the end of my second no-buy clothing year, I have to take stock of what I really gained, and how I am going to go forward into next year.
One of my “rules” for this no-buy year was that I could spend money on fabric, and make my clothing myself. While I am fairly certain that the fabric I find at Fabricland is as unjustly sourced as the fabric used by the average women’s fast fashion retailer, I thought that this way I would at least gain a better appreciation for the true value of what it takes to make my clothing. I confess, I did allow my mom to buy me a pair of new maternity jeans, and I did buy wool socks just last month, as I wasn’t knitting fast enough to supply myself. But I have experienced some lovely moments of provision as well, like the week I began to despair of making it to the end of this pregnancy with just the collection of maternity clothes I had from my previous (summer) baby, when a friend brought me three giant shopping bags of maternity hand-me-downs to look through. I think I turned buying clothing for the Bean into a bit of an outlet for my pent-up shopping desires, however, which lessens the integrity of my commitment somewhat.
So what might this new year look like, post-buying fast? Probably a little of this, and a little of that. Now that I’ve finally cracked sewing with knits, I am eager to sew more for myself, and sew exactly what I want to wear, not whatever is available given the trends of the moment. I am still committed to buying second-hand as much as possible, while trying to keep my purchases to a minimum. (The hardest part of secondhand shopping for me is that it’s easy to buy frivolously when the clothing is cheap, and too easy to say goodbye to six months later after discovering it wasn’t quite what I wanted in the first place.) I also hope, with the money “saved” from those decisions, to start investing in more ethical sources of fashion. To buy less, to buy better, to buy fairer, essentially.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to write such an essay on this when I sat down! This is as much for my processing as it is for anyone else to read. I don’t mean to paint my actions in a pure light, either – I want to honestly express the tensions I experience in trying to do the “right thing” when it comes to clothing, and the lack of clarity I often have about what that “right thing” is. Hopefully some of it resonated with you just a little bit.
My growing fatigue before the weekend and the Bean’s grumpiness were all suddenly explained on Saturday with the arrival of a cold. I’ve been grateful for the freezer meals my mum and I prepared while she was here, as well as a weekend with no evening commitments, and no call shifts for Christopher. I am glad for the reason and opportunity to rest today, and to decrease my expectations of myself for short while.