Photo by Salt Water New England

Sunday, October 10, 2021

It is Okay to Love Clothes.

Photo by Salt Water New England

This is part of a periodic series of reflections on clothes and society.

It is accepted that some people love food.  And some people love music.  Other people love architecture.  Or technology.  Or sports.  Or watching films.

For each of these, we can read reviews, listen to podcasts, and engage in easy conversations with strangers.  Ranking and other comparisons ("top five films about artificial intelligence",  "ten best Beethoven sonatas) are the staple of cottage industries.

But to love clothes is more often seen as problematic.  One is seen as too vain, or class conscious, or wasteful.  More to the point, perhaps, to love clothes out in the open.  Few myths are as apocryphal as the person who doesn't care about clothes.

Spending a generous birthday chit on a big dinner garners nods of appreciations, but on a sought after coat brings out everyone's inner Spartan.   It might as well be January third and everyone just wants to get back to work. Perhaps the only socially forgivable largesse in clothing expenditures is for something extravagantly "fun" or "for style" and done on a lark.  

Attempting serious conversations about clothes also chills any mood.  Many who are otherwise doing their bit for the environment and supporting living wages often have blind spots when buying clothes made in sweat shops.  To them, Patagonia is a role model, despite their off-shoring and synthetics.  

The cost of this attitude has been high.  Many clothing companies, certainly in the U.S., have enjoyed our social discomfort by relentlessly lowering standards and raising prices.    Few companies here strive for greatness beyond marketing.  

I wonder how much it is a U.S. thing.  It has been said that American actors work from the heart out, while British actors work from the clothes in.  Laurence Olivier once said he understood a role when he could figure out what shoes the character would wear. 

Having said that, I do have hope.  The truth is that it is great to love clothes.  I would rather savor a good tweed than a good bottle of wine.  Every walk, at least now that summer is over, begins with the decision of which wonderful outer garment to wear.  My temperament is such that short bursts of vacation feels unsatisfying, like trying to hold onto sand, while something that endures gives me pleasure in getting it, in wearing it, and finally in passing it on.

And more people are finally catching on to the nasty business that we call fashion.

So perhaps someday more people will, among friends, casually debate top five light jackets, or favorite materials for commuter coats, or best new clothes of a given year.  

Until then, it remains a more quiet love, and perhaps more pure as a result.  

31 comments:

  1. Of course! And THANK YOU!

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  2. "We are speaking of love. A leaf, a handful of seed – begin with these, learn a little what it is to love. First a leaf, a fall of rain, then someone to receive what a leaf has taught you, what a fall of rain has ripened. No easy process, understand; it could take a lifetime, it has mine, and still I’ve never mastered it – I only know how true it is; that love is a chain of love, as nature is a chain of life." -- Truman Capote, The Grass Harp

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  3. Re: tweed v. Wines , I say, both! I did enjoy this food for thought. Thank you.

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  4. Of course it is ok to love clothes, but if you stuff your closets, drawers, and shelves with more than you could ever wear or you change everything out as fashion shifts, what are you actually loving? I have loads of room in my closet and dresser but love each and every item, wear them all regularly, have worn them a good while, and fully hope to keep wearing them for many years. They are aging along with me, gracefully.

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  5. Thanks for writing this, I feel the same way.

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  6. Art is art -- in nature, in design. Food, architecture, fashion, autos, manners, etc.-- the list is endless and a matter of choice. Excess is the only sad exhibition of poor taste.

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  7. What – now we’re supposed to feel guilty about loving clothes because some cancel-loving imbeciles might object? No, no, no. As Steve Martin used to say on Saturday Night Live: “Well, Excccuuuuuuuse me!” These critics should stick to what they’re good at – tearing down statues, rioting, burning and looting – and leave us alone with our beloved clothes.

    Want to turn this into a confession? All right then, I love my clothes, and they give me great pleasure to own and wear. I absolutely love them – both old and new. Nothing problematic here for me. And I’m also hyper selective in what I own and put on - any new garment considered for my wardrobe has about as much chance as an average shortstop does in going into the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame. You know, the many are called, few are chosen kind of thing.

    Sorry, but clothes are important - probably more so today than ever - and obviously serve as an outward manifestation of who we are. Our very identity and history are woven into those threads.

    And as Muffy rightly points out – what has a more long-lasting impact on your daily life - a two-week vacation that becomes a fading memory immediately upon returning, or a treasured garment that will give utility and enjoyment for years?

    And, contrary to what some think, loving clothes does not make an individual one-dimensional – it’s just another aspect of a person’s idea of the good life, and doesn’t preclude all the other enjoyments. It’s not as if you have to think: “Wow, since I just got this new tweed coat, I guess now I have to stop listening to fine music, or stop admiring great architecture, or stop enjoying wonderful food and wine, and stop with my enthusiasm for sports.”

    I still wear the same basic type of clothing today that I’ve worn since childhood when my father took me shopping at the Brooks Brothers’ Boy’s Department (I know, I know, it’s changed a lot, but back then it was respectable). He also told me something I’ve never forgotten: “Robert, there’s no sense in dressing like a second-rate Las Vegas lounge singer when instead you can dress like the Duke of York. It’s all a matter of good taste.”


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    1. Important ? Clothes might be your identity but not mine. I have truckloads of clothes and I enjoy them wholeheartedly. But they are not important to everyone. They are fun that’s it.
      I just got a huge bundle of shirts from Mercer‘s. And another from cording‘s. What great fun!

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    2. I think whether you realize it or not, clothes play more of a role to your identity (and everyone else’s for that matter) than you might imagine, or want to admit.

      To be honest, let’s face it, as human beings we are constantly judging and sizing each other up, and a stranger’s choice of clothing speaks a silent symbolic language of introduction. This is unavoidable. Just dwelling in society makes this scrutiny inescapable - probably only Robinson Crusoe was exempt – until Friday showed up anyway (thankfully, we don’t know how fashion conscious, or judgmental he was?).

      What’s more, your comment that you prefer shirts from two of the best stores out there already speaks volumes about your intelligence, taste, education level, and perhaps even your fiscal situation. (Yes, Goodwill offers used shirts that would serve the same physical purpose, and the fact that you didn’t go shopping there is also telling, isn’t it?). This is the kind of little tip we all pick up on – sometimes we’re wrong, but often times we’re dead right.

      Of course, we are not our clothes – nevertheless, what we choose to go through life wearing is like marching around with front and back walking billboards announcing to others about our identity.

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    3. One gentleman of some importance, locally, who never worried about what he wore around home, remarked, "It doesn't matter what I wear. Everybody knows me." But when he was away from home, he dressed in the same off-hand manner, saying, "It doesn't matter what I wear. Nobody knows me."

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    4. Well said. You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Why not take advantage of each and every opportunity?

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    5. I agree with Mr. Reichardt, it's all a matter of personal (and, hopefully good) taste. I can't speak for others, but I read this blog - in part - because of my interest in certain kinds of apparel, which reflects who I am, and the experiences that have formed me. Not, because I seek to belong to any particular aspect of society. Yes, clothing choices can be "tribal", though given the nature of today' "tribes", I'm fairly certain that that kind of association isn't the motivator that comes to mind when I decide to purchase an item of clothing; preferring to fall back on advice my father gave me - in relation to quality, and my mother's comments concerning taste. In those terms, I've found I've faired well.

      Kind regards from north of the 49th,

      Banacek

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  8. I like clothes where function leads, form follows. Want to appreciate a Barbour jacket? Spend a few hours outside on a farm or field in the rain. ‘Old school’ khakis and oxford cloth garments may wrinkle more than modern no-wrinkle cotton, but they feel better - and look great when they’re ironed. (Ps - say what you want about Patagonia, but their technical layers are outstanding in bad weather, and some of their casual clothes wear like iron).

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  9. New aesthetic I’m working on for myself after recent comments and related articles:

    I’ve got too many clothes, and replacing gets ever more challenging.

    New England thrift, natural fibers more comfortable and better for environment, and also appreciate the repairs and imperfections that come (Japanese wabi sabi/ boro ideals).

    Seems good path forward into my later years.

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    1. Like you, I adhere to that "buy better, wear longer, buy less, wear more" ethos, and am not above replacing a button or darning a sweater or sock.

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    2. I love your bringing up wabi sabi. My mother and father taught me how to repair clothing (turning collars, sewing patches, replacing buttons, darning socks). I still have and use my mother's silver thimble and the wooden darning egg my father had in his old Navy sewing kit. Clothing used enough to earn repairs is probably the most loved. Some repairs are beyond my scope, and I recall with great fondness loafers so old they required a patch and a much loved suit that had a knee rewoven. They may not fit with New England norms, but I have over the years put so many patches on my Levis that they look like Neil Young's on the cover of After the Gold Rush.

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  10. Yes, clothes are important, not only for creating a micro-climate around us but expressing our values and who we are. The themes consistently dominating my wardrobe across my life are natural fibers, buying quality, and taking care of my clothes.

    At times I've treated insecurity with retail therapy, aspirational buying, and even a bit of trend-chasing. My general look, even during the preppy-yuppie years, was how a college friend described me - "crunchy-granola preppy." In college I wore flared-leg (not big-bell) corduroy and denim Levi's, OCBDs, polos, flannels, my first of several L.L. Bean Norwegian sweaters, a couple of wool and corduroy blazers, Wallabees, Dingos, or hiking boots. Because we were working-class, some of these weren't the status brands and came from JCPenney. I paid attention to cleanliness, grooming, and manners even during those ersatz "freak" days.

    Settling in Colorado and entering the outdoor retail business following a long Navy career, my style shifted to the mainstay specialty outdoor brands - Patagonia, The North Face, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, et al. A couple of lobbying trips back to Washington to advocate for public lands saw me taking a couple of GQ power suits from my days there - and I looked like everyone else. A few others on our trip dressed outdoorsy, but they looked like any generic woodsy hipster from anywhere.

    That was when I decided to adopt the look I call "Western business" or "Western professional" for business and professional situations - colored (khaki, gray, black, dark tan) Levi's, dress Western shirts, dressy Western boots, perhaps a bolo, and a blazer when necessary. It's seen widely across the West amongst business and professional people - not just cowboys and ranchers.

    We sold our business and knowing a (successful) run for county commissioner was coming in three years, I began transitioning to this look. It represents where I'm from and suggests today's late-middle-aged county commissioner was once, long ago, a folk-rock listening granola preppy.

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  11. I like clothes, too, and think about them a lot. Only they probably aren't the same ones most people here wear. I especially like Filson and I have a lifetime supply on hand. Probably too much, given that I'm 75. I also have several Pendleton wool shirts. Cool weather is coming. Most of my everyday clothing is rather non-descript and since I retired (at 71), I rarely wear dress clothes. I do, however, wear better clothes when I go somewhere. My work clothes now came from Bailey's and Madsen's, which are logging supply houses. I was actually a forestry student in college. Never had a competition axe, though.

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  12. If “50% of life is showing up,” why not arrive well kempt? After all “every girl’s crazy about a sharp dressed man.”

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    1. Men have no idea how good they look in black tie. Would "The Thomas Crown Affair" be as good if Steve McQueen had a chinzy wardrobe?

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    2. You don't notice so much what men driving Rolls Royce's or dune buggies happen to be wearing. Or even red Italian sports cars.

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    3. That’s because you’re looking at the car. The dandy, to be noticed, often drives a nondescript, or even beaten up, vehicle. “Hey, look who’s driving that old jalopy!”

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    1. Or uncomfortable ones! I'm super picky about the cuts on things.

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  14. I like the Kennedy's approach: own only high quality clothes and wear them as if you couldn't care less about clothes.

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    1. And Sargent Shriver too!

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    2. Sargent Shriver is not well enough appreciated. He was the first director of the Peace Corps. He founded VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), JOB Corps, and Head Start, the first program to put suburban and inner city kindergarteners in the same class room. He arguably directly reached more Americans and their family members, through personal involvement in these programs, than any other 20th century government official. We need his kind now.

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  15. I have never loved an item of clothing more than I've treasured spending vacations with family and friends. Interesting comparison.

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  16. I'm a clothing fan. It's probably what drew me to this blog. What I'm not is someone who has tons and tons of clothing, some of it hanging in my closet with the tags still on, never to be worn and donated when the "fashion" is no longer fashionable. I'm always kind of appalled when I hear stories like that, or I'm in a store where someone has a stack of clothing at the checkout that would fill half of my closet. I'm more concerned with something looking good, having a good cut, quality fabric and well made as well as being comfortable to wear. Companies I've been a fan of in the past have lost my business when they jump the shark to compete with fast fashion. And there have been companies that I've dismissed years before that have recently gained my business because of their attention to details and quality but still at a reasonable price. Find your style and stick with it. And as I have always said, life is too short to wear uncomfortable clothing. I don't care what the name brand is, if it's poorly cut and feels horrible on, I won't buy it.

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