Why it's time to make do and mend when it comes to clothes and fashion - Christa Ackroyd
This week I went green and didn’t even know it. What’s more, no motorways were brought to a standstill as a result.
Firstly, my second-hand waterproof filming jacket arrived from Ebay (other selling websites are available). Worn once and less than a third of the price, it was a bargain.
Secondly, I sewed a missing button on a cardigan. All sorted after finding the perfect match rummaging in my mother’s old button tin. She’d be so proud.
Thirdly, I collected my money from the posh preloved (new parlance for used) clothing shop in Ilkley, where I arrived with an armful of clothes which either didn’t fit or I had no purpose for.
After all, the days of dinners and black-tie celebrations are almost a thing of the past. And I am not sure they will ever return. Let’s hope not, as I would have nothing to wear.
Flushed with a fever brought on by a purse full of cash I didn’t have to draw out, I then proceeded to sort out the rest of my wardrobe. As a self-confessed hoarder, I have far too many clothes. What should have taken an hour took two days. I could hear my mother saying in my ear, “What are you getting rid of that for? It’s got plenty of wear left in it.” And some items had.
But I was on a recycling roll and those that should have been thrown out years ago (there are only so many painting and gardening clothes a woman needs) ended up in the recycling bin.
What I didn’t once consider was what, for me, was a simple cathartic decluttering exercise, was also good for the planet, according to the chief executive of the British Fashion Council, Caroline Rush. Her message to fashion retailers at London Fashion Week was that their reliance on selling new clothes was unsustainable.
Instead designers should aim to cut clothing consumption by half, meaning offering clothes rentals and even repair and upcycling services, which she believes within a decade will lead to the average wardrobe consisting of 50 per cent new, 25 per cent second hand, 10 per cent rented and the rest made up of “virtual clothing” used for social media and gaming avatars.
As regards the latter, I have absolutely no idea what she is talking about, unless it’s the online equivalent of those cut-out-and-dress paper dolls we used to love. It’s probably not something I will be trying soon for fear that I would end up on Zoom half naked when my technology skills fail. But the rest I am all up for.
In a nutshell, the fashion industry is telling us to do exactly what we were brought up to do. Make do and mend. We had school uniforms, best clothes (one set) and playing-out clothes which were darned, patched and let down as the process of larking about and growing demanded.
I saw no shame in wearing my cousin Judy’s cast-offs. Quite the reverse. She had style, did my cousin Judy. What’s more she shopped at Chelsea Girl and Biba, establishments I could only dream of as Mum was, like so many of her generation, a sewing person.
“Oh, you don’t want that,” she used to say when I saw something in a friend’s Grattan catalogue. “Let’s go and get a pattern, some material from the fabric shop and I will run you one up.” And she did.
My gran also joined in. She was in charge of crocheting ponchos and patchwork waistcoats. Though her daisy-embroidered, hand-knitted winter balaclava was not a thing of beauty and was taken off the second she wasn’t looking. It might have kept me warm, Gran, but I looked like a cross between a biker and a Bavarian goatherd.
Of course when I was growing up there were the must-haves. Oh, how I remember begging my mum for a pair of shrink-to-fit Levi 501s. She was horrified at the price (£5 if I remember) and even more horrified when she found me sitting in the avocado- coloured bath, the water looking like sludge from the Humber and me shivering with the cold.
“Ridiculous,’’ she said when I confessed the indigo dye would not come off my legs. Though even she admitted they had been a good buy, as I wore them for almost 20 years.
But we do buy too many clothes, on average 60 items a year. And what is worse, we buy too many that won’t last. And that, according to scientists, is down to us as well. We wash them too often. Only underwear needs washing every day, the rest only when it gets stained and smelly. Yuck. A jumper apparently should last a month if it is worn over something and jeans can be refreshed by being turned inside out and put in the freezer.
As far as I remember we only ever had a freezer big enough to take a block of ice cream and a packet of fish fingers but such was the rigmarole of washday, having to pull out and set up the old twin tub, that Mum often took things back out of the wash basket because they weren’t “dirty enough”.
Whereas I throw in everything I have worn that day which, according to this week’s reports, is both wasteful in terms of water consumption and dangerous for marine life after studies have found too many plastic and artificial clothing fibres in the oceans.
There is, however, one recent suggestion that I draw the line at and that is we don’t need to wash, or at least bathe, as often in order to save the planet. Apparently once a week is adequate. Nope, sorry. It’s not.
And whatever our eco-warrior mums said they were usually in agreement that cleanliness is next to godliness so I will continue with my daily bath. And plan next week’s column… how I water plants with my used bathwater. You think I jest?