Saturday, April 18, 2015

plain dress

At WGYF 2005 there was a special interest group about plain dress and it's place in modern Quakerism. Had I been a participant rather than the somewhat preoccupied administrator I would've gone to it. I did manage to get a few interesting conversations with those who had been though and it has since been a topic that rumbles around in the background for me and occasionally prompts further change in how I approach the issue.

Whilst there are still some Friends who wear traditional 'plain dress' mostly in the USA (think Amish style clothing and that is close enough, oh and 'dress' means how one dresses rather than just an item one wears!), there are many more who have adapted what it means for them and typical of modern Quakerism, they've made it their own. So for some it might mean only wearing certain colours such as green, or black & white; for others just buying secondhand clothing; or having a small wardrobe of garments that all go with each other; or just buying a few good quality items and making sure they last; only buying fair trade/handmade/tailor made/made in their home country items etc.

Going through Thailand to Burma with my uncle Jack in 2004 to visit refugee camps full Burmese refugees coupled with the fact that for three months I'd lived out of a rucksack made me totally re-evaluate my possessions when I got home, and how much I actually needed to get by. One village headman of a community of displaced people we met only had the clothes he stood up in, and Jack was pretty sure it was the same t-shirt he'd been wearing three years earlier when he'd last been there. It made the amount of clothing I had back in the UK seem obscene.

Several clearouts and eighteen months later I emigrated. There's nothing like drastically relocating to effectively change your shopping habits! There's also nothing quite like having a fixed amount of money to last an indefinite amount of time to make me more prudent with it either. Want didn't have a hope, need took precedence.

For the first few years I treated myself to one good quality merino top each year from the sales bought with my birthday/christmas money. Over the years that broadened to include other things I needed to replace, such as finally buying some new jeans that actually fit well rather than just working my way through various pairs of 'near enough' ones from op/charity shops, each time getting a good lasting item - it had to be fairly plain from a certain range of colours so it would go with more things I already had, of a cut that I'd be prepared to wear for years, physically durable and preferably something that could be mended easily, or re-soled when it came to footwear.

For many years, dating back long before I went went travelling in 2004, I'd had a 'something comes in, something goes out' policy when it came to clothes, and often took more to the charity shop than I'd brought home (and only once came close to buying back something I'd donated!). That policy has continued, and once I stopped needing a set of 'play clothes' for wearing to kindergarten I've cut back my wardrobe even more. I end up wearing more different clothes these days as now as I can see what is there far more easily!

As I was in the process of consigning several former kindergarten tops to the recycling pile (to be repurposed through crafting etc) and thinking about clothes, I spotted a challenge on a local 'green issues' Facebook page I get notifications from - someone was challenging herself to buy only secondhand clothes this year with the exception of underwear, did anyone want to join her? By now I'd heard a couple of friends say that this was what they did already so I figured that given I had a clean slate on that score so far this year (having only bought underwear new) why not, I'd give it a go.

In many ways this is an easy year for me to do this. In relatively recent years I've replaced my winter coat, winter boots, several tops, and most pairs of trousers/jeans with ones that will hopefully last me for years. I've been making quite a few of my clothes for some years now and especially over the last two years I've generally tried to use what cloth I already have rather than go out to buy new. I've yet to decide where making things fits in the current scheme - remodelling things I have and using cloth I already have or buy from op shops I think is safely within the scope of the challenge as it is based on not consuming new stuff. It does mean though the roll neck merino tunic I'd been planning to make became a dilemma as I hadn't yet bought the fabric! Darn it... ah well, chances are I wouldn't have gotten around to it until next year anyway... I'll just put the pattern to one side, do the challenge as it stands this year and then set my own guidelines for the future.

Aside from a testament to simplicity and environmental reasons I came across another good reason for reducing one's wardrobe - decision fatigue. The more things you have to chose from the bigger a decision it becomes and when your head has enough else to deal with thank you why add needless pressure. Given the way my head has been for the last 16 months I'm all for giving it any extra breaks I can.

Additionally as I read more and more articles about tiny houses, and have more discussions about making living in shared accommodation and/or an intentional community (possibly in my own tiny house) a long term plan, the more incentive there is to downsize my stuff even further. My current aim is to get all my belongings in one place, although getting the rest of my books here from Edinburgh is a tad more challenging than the rest of my boxes etc from Pukepoto which is a mere 8km up the road! My aim is to fit everything except kitchen stuff in my current bedroom, if I can do that I'll be doing well. So there's another reason to ensure I only keep the clothes I need to if I want to be able to keep even half of what is still currently in storage!

I don't think there is the same issue here as in Western Europe of donated clothing inundating the market in African countries making it nigh impossible for local production to thrive, we don't have the same quantities of donated goods plus higher costs to ship them anywhere. But it still bears thinking about when deciding what to do with surplus items. However pretty much anything is better than them becoming landfill. Our local op shops sell sacks of rags made up from donated clothing etc not fit for sale as received, mechanics seem to be the main users of these plus they get used for animal bedding etc. I'm trying to use up as much of my own cloth 'waste' but it's good to know that I have another option if supply outstrips my ability to use it up!

So as with most things trying to implement a testimony to simplicity of clothing is a complex issue, with many things to consider. No doubt my journey will continue to meander along with varying issues taking their turn as the predominant one. But for now I'll continue to refine my wardrobe down to a smaller collection of things that can easily be interchanged, but without buying anything that is new for the remainder of 2015. I'll let you know how I manage at the end of the year!


Anonymous said...

I decided that this year I will log what I buy clothes wise - so far it's all been wedding related:
2 new bras (they come in packs of 2)
1 dress
1 cardigan to go with it
1 pair of sandals (")
1 handbag (")

One of my problems is that my weight can fluctuate wildly depending on what drugs I've had to take so I have quite a lot of clothes, just not always in the size I need that day! Teeshirts aren't too bad as I like them baggy, it's just that sometimes they're fitted but trousers are more of a problem.

Anna Dunford said...

It is quite eye opening to keep track of what you buy in a year isn't it! I've found that out from keeping rather detailed accounts in order to manage on a low income and figure out where I can cut costs down.

I'm lucky that apart from a rather swollen stomach for several months last year my size is relatively constant. I think were I in your position I'd focus on having as many of my clothes as possible all go with each other to maximize combination options and make the decision making easier (ie what is clean/fit for the weather/purpose rather than worrying about 'does it go with...?'). But I'm guessing there's a fair amount of colour co-ordination still in your wardrobe anyway =)

dawn said...

I was thinking about this again the other day as I had to buy some new "presentablish" tops. I discovered that as I've been slowly moving them to the "will make a rag rug one day pile" I was left with 3 that had only minor mended holes in and 2 that were really good. I do have a good selection of band/festival and possibly even a Quaker teeshirt or two, but they're really not suitable for going out for lunch with mum!
But I resisted temptation (the shock of finding I'd lost over a stone of steroid weight and actually finding things I liked meant I could easily have bought half a dozen) and got the 4 that I really need to allow for washing machine schedule.

Mum did buy me a new outfit for Anna & Jason's wedding partly because the original outfit didn't fit too well (see weight loss) and partly because I've got 4 posh dos this year.

So thankyou! xx

Anna Dunford said...

Four posh dos in a year?! Wow, that's impressive, I haven't had to look presentable in years! I do have smart clothes suitable for special occasions but if I got a job where I had to look presentable/no jeans day in day out that would require a major rethink! Mind you the chances of me applying for such a job are fairly slim =)

dawn said...

Matty and Beth wedding
Matty and Beth wedding part 2 (original date complete with ceilidh and lots of people)
Anna and Jason's wedding
Jo and Bernard's silver wedding

All of which were/are not really that posh, but posher than my usual crappy trouser and teeshirt look!