Good evening, chaps. I’m back on The Little Quince for week two of Slow Fashion October, and so far I seem to be doing a pretty good job of sticking to my weekly schedule of… er, a week behind schedule. It’s technically almost the end of week three now, but it’s been a heavy few days and I haven’t had the mental energy for much beyond going to work and achieving the basics of being a functional human being
This week’s Slow Fashion October theme is great, though: ‘Long worn’. Here are my three definitions of ‘long worn’, and how they apply to my own understanding of slow fashion.
Clothes that have been given a life’s wear
I’m a compulsive charity shop browser. It’s a habit that has been with me as long as I can remember – I have vivid memories of trawling the charity shops in my hometown as a young teenager for items which would complement my decidedly homespun wannabe-goth wardrobe.
It’s interesting how much charity shops vary from place to place, and how strongly their contents can reflect the socioeconomic demographics of their locations. When I lived in Sheffield, I could never find things I wanted in the city’s charity shops, and I very much got the sense that the people of South Yorkshire who were donating their second-hand goods to charitable causes didn’t have much cash to spare in the first place.
At the opposite end of the region, York is a completely different story. Its status as a tourist-heavy city with affluent residents is strongly reflected in the contents of its second-hand shops, and I’ve had some great successes – a pristine coral cashmere cardigan from Jigsaw and a beautiful smart black wool dress from Warehouse are just two of my more recent acquisitions.
My favourite charity shop find ever, though, is this:
A pure wool sweater in stunning Fair Isle colourwork, found two years ago in my local branch of Mind for the princely sum of £6. It isn’t a handknit, but it’s clearly a seriously premium piece of machine knitting from a past era: the pieces are meticulously pattern-matched along all the seams, and it has the rough, sticky texture of pure Shetland wool.
It isn’t a smart item of clothing, that’s for sure (well, I suppose it could be if I were a strapping young 1950s gent, but, sad to say, I don’t fit that bill), but it’s a sweater I derive an inordinate amount of joy from. It’s incredibly warm and windproof: the sleeves come right down over my hands and give me a real feeling of cosiness. It’s also incredibly well-worn: when I liberated it from its hanger in the charity shop, it was full of holes and rips (more on that later), and there’s something very poignant about giving a new lease of life to a piece of clothing which has clearly worked very hard for a long time. I love to wear this sweater, and I love to own it, too.
Clothes that have been in my wardrobe for a long time
Whether it’s special-occasion clothes that I return to when the right opportunity presents itself, or time-honoured staples I intend to wear until they fray from my bones, I think this one is a given.
Perhaps curiously for someone who is such a strong advocate of giving clothes their life’s wear, I don’t actually have that many items of clothing I’ve owned for years. There’s a clingy purple striped sweater from H&M that I’ve had since I was sixteen which makes it out of the wardrobe at least a couple of times each winter, and a great side-effect of my being a long-term fan of Dr Martens is that I’m in possession of two pairs which I’ve now owned for literally half my life. They must be pretty much indestructible – I daren’t even think about what I’ve put them through over the years, yet besides their superficial appearance they’re still pretty much as good as new.
I think part of the reason why I don’t have many long-term wardrobe staples is that, even at 26, I still don’t really know what I like to wear. My sense of style has never been particularly consistent, and I’m prone to crises of confidence with my appearance – my wardrobe has a very quick turnaround on items which I suddenly panic don’t suit me. I don’t know if this insecurity is something I’ll get over any time soon, but I’m slowly working on developing a stronger style identity and trying to feel more confident in my clothing choices.
However, on the subject of clouds and silver linings, this is where being a knitter has shown itself to be a great benefit: when faced with garments I knitted years ago and rarely wear, I waste no time in unravelling them and using the yarn for new, more ‘me’ projects instead.
Repurposing like a boss? Don’t mind if I do.
Clothes I have mended and continued to wear
This is one I’m seriously keen to get better at. I’ve known how to darn since I was very small – in fact, I have an odd memory from when I was about six of sitting in my grandparents’ kitchen, inexpertly darning my grandad’s socks under his somewhat alarmed supervision – but I’ve never really had to do it. Socks are cheap and disposable; if I wear out an elbow then I can easily replace the top; and if clothes are well-made then there’s no reason why they should need mending in the first place, right?
Wrong, I think. Learning to make my own clothes has taught me the value of mending, albeit partly as a response to that misguided sense of self-righteous irritation which appears when something I’ve spent time creating needs to be fixed. A pair of socks can take a good while to knit, so I’d be pretty narked if a small hole spelled the end of them.
Here’s the first pair of socks I ever knitted, back in 2011:
And, er, here they are now:
They’ve… well, they’ve looked better, haven’t they? But they’re incredibly comfy, and the yarn is spectacular: it’s Noro’s Kureyon Sock, full of subtle colour changes and texture. I’ll keep mending them for as long as they last. Just check out that sweet heel darn:
Oh yes, and the holes in my beautiful Fair Isle sweater? I really went to town on those – some of them visible…
…and some of them invisible.
Hurrah for ‘long worn’. See you next week for Slow Fashion October, week 3: ‘Handmade’.
Didn’t catch my post for Week 1? Catch it here.