Friday, September 28, 2012

On abundance

Today I had a house inspection, so last night I had to tidy my bedroom. This made me feel about 15 years old, and let me tell you it hasn't got any more pleasant in the intervening years.

Because I've been frantically working towards my draft manuscript deadline (MONDAY!!!!) I have not been prioritising such minor things as housework, and it took me basically an hour just to put my clothes back on hangers rather than leaving them in a giant pile on the floor of my wardrobe.

Once I did, the scope of my sick addiction to clothes became clear.

Forgive me, Carson, for I have sinned. It has been two years since my last wardrobe cull. Since then, my clothes collection has metastasised to the point where I now own a second chest of drawers, solely for my singlets and T-shirts.

There's a lot of talk about how wasteful cheap clothes are because they 'fall apart' and are 'thrown away after just a few wears'. We are encouraged to spend big bucks on 'investment pieces' from well-known or designer brands. Fuck that. I get excellent value for money from my really, really cheap clothes. I get them from several places:

– Discount department stores such as Target, Kmart and Big W
– Cheap fast-fashion stores such as Femme Connection, Valley Girl, Cocolatte and Cotton On
– Op-shops, garage sales, school fetes and open-air markets

Honestly, I struggle to think of the last time I bought clothes at any other kind of store. Today I'm wearing an American eagle print T-shirt I bought at a $2 shop, a faux-Chanel houndstooth cardigan I got at Savers, a pair of Target pants and Dunlop canvas ballet flats bought from Big W. My earrings are from Valley Girl.

And I wear this shit. The black cardigan I bought in 2007 at Femme Connection for $30 is still a wardrobe staple; I wore it just yesterday. The shoes I'm wearing today date from perhaps 2004. The usual rule – discard anything you haven't worn for a year – simply doesn't work for me, because I cycle between almost all my clothes. And perhaps that's why they are relatively lightly worn.

Last night I decided to be ruthless and donate anything that no longer fits, things I try on but never seem to actually end up wearing out of the house, damaged stuff I've planned to fix but never have, and even the things I've been hoarding 'to sell on eBay'. (The process of selling clothes on eBay – photographing, measuring, writing detailed descriptions, packing and posting – is so labour-intensive it's pretty much not worth it.)

In the past I might have hesitated to donate stained or torn clothing, but my research into the arse-end of the second-hand rag trade has shown me that it's better to put this stuff into the food chain than put it straight into landfill. (There's a blog post in that.)

Five bags of clothes and shoes later, I was aghast at how many things I still had. The sheer abundance of it seemed really disgusting… but on the other hand, I couldn't justify throwing away things I actually like and wear.

It occurred to me that my shopping is about building a collection. I shop with the idea of adding to a repertoire of only very subtly different garments. Often I will become obsessed with a particular style, and decide to collect it in various colours. For instance, I own five flannies in different plaids, four long-sleeved pussy-bow blouses, and seven high-waisted, knee-length full skirts.

Sometimes it can get even more insane: for instance, I own ten striped T-shirts of various stripe widths, sleeve lengths, collar shapes, body lengths and tightnesses… but the colours are only black/red, black/white, red/white and navy/white. I've also mentioned my weakness for cardigans before. Well, in 2010 I had 16 cardigans. Today I have 20… and that's after donating three.

This abundance gives me more to work with when getting dressed each day. It's like composing for an orchestra rather than a quartet. But importantly, it also structures my shopping and makes it seem logical and analytical rather than irrational and emotional. It's about engaging with 'the collection' rather than engaging with 'the body'.

This excellent article about fashion journalism made the point that the Ivy Style phenomenon – currently the subject of a fabulous-looking exhibition at FIT – is about introducing blokey nerd-outs and cultural-capital dick-swinging into the feminised sphere of clothing. Do you know how to fold a pocket square? Do you know how much cuff should peep from your jacket sleeve?

I've been trying to think more critically about gendered ideas of intellectual worth, and more creatively about the extent to which I should buy into them. For instance, I've noticed that I tend to 'masculinise' my thinking about clothes and fashion as a way to combat the widespread perception that fashion is a devalued, 'feminised' sphere. This extends to the detached, intellectual writing style I tend to default to, anticipating a hostile reader ready to criticise me for superficiality or self-indulgence.

But perhaps it's a more radical move to embrace my feelpinions about clothes, to inhabit my writing in recognition of the way that culture is lived and embodied. I'm hoping that perhaps one way around this is to intellectualise my writing on a formal level – on the level of structure and the juxtaposition of ideas – rather than on a content level – the level of writerly tone.

So I can be 'feminine' in admitting the pleasure that my abundant wardrobe brings, but not get bogged down in self-indulgent anecdotes about how I bought all my clothes. Let me assure you, I could totally wallow in that! But it wouldn't be very interesting for the reader.


Lippy On said...

Wardrobe cleansing is indeed scary stuff Mel. Did you find anything new, still with its swing tags, tucked away waiting to be worn? I know I have several items in this category, waiting for that elusive 'right' occasion. So why do we hoard clothes (food, books, cars, anything really)? Is it some deep-seated angst about a possible future state of poverty? Are we uncomfortable with a 'new' image or perception of ourselves? Looking forward very much to your book. Some subjectivity is unavoidable and often allows the reader to engage with the topic. Perhaps your editor has an eye on sales more than journalistic style.

Nic Crilly-Hargrave said...

Great article - I have exactly the same problem and no matter how many times I tell myself that I don't need another Tee - It invariably gets its position at the top of a large pile.

bender said...

mmm, love this, you have to be ruthless, how else do we get through the day, but I have an old coat I've repaired so many times I look like a street person in it, I darn socks,,,, la via est la bella,,