Saturday, September 8, 2012

Life cycle of clothes

I've seen clothes from five different stages of the consumer life cycle this past week.

Clothes Scene 1:  The Store.
On Tuesday, I went to an Outlet Mall.  To a national chain store named after a chasm or an abyss.  This is (for me) highly unusual, of course, and in my defense, I'll claim it was my friend's idea.  (Ever since Adam and Eve invented blame, we pin our sins on other people, so I'll blame my finger pointing on the two of them).

My friend suffers from a yucky degenerative disease and is confined to a motorized wheel chair, so I admit that yard sales are just not easy for her.  The whole getting-the-wheelchair-in-and-out-of-the-trunk routine took a lot of strength and time, and so even going to the mall was an adventure in ways that I hadn't appreciated until Tuesday.

But being in the Chasm Store was a wild experience for me.  Row upon row of nearly identical clothing . . . wow.  Price tags way, way, way above what I've paid for clothes in the last decade, even though Everything-but-Everything was marked "40% Off!!!" with big red signs.   The Friend, shopping for birthday gifts for her grandson, would hold up a pair of pants and ask, "What do you think of this? Is it worth the price?"

We ended up purchasing three small outfits that, folded up together, took up less space than a football.  The Friend paid about as much as I spend all year for all our clothing combined.  Her grandson is 3 years old.  This, I do understand, is normal.  I know that.  But it still depresses me.

Clothes Scene 2: The Yard Sale
As mentioned, this past week's yard saling brought in a bodacious haul.   The haul includes fresh air shopping (whether we want that hot, humid, fresh air or not).  Piles o' clothes for cheap.  A distressing lack of predictability in the hunt, for good or ill.  But likewise, darned reasonable prices, and the virtuous feeling of keeping clothing from heading into landfills, at least for a little while longer.

Clothes Scene 3.  The Rescue
I made some highly satisfying patches in my husband's bicycle shorts -- complete score, because new bike shorts cost an arm plus the leg that would have gone in the shorts.  I also fixed my son's backpack (technically not clothes, but I used my sewing machine, so I'll count it anyway).

Clothes Scene 4:  The Release.
K-daughter piled up a bunch of her soon-to-be-former clothes in a box of goods we have bound for Haiti. But I pulled them back out of the box and re-directed them to local charities.  My own trip to Haiti last December was a clothing eye-opener; despite the giant piles of rubble and trash that seemed to be everywhere, people wore incredibly new-looking and surprisingly clean clothes.  I'm not so sure they want our gently worn cast-offs.  We'll send toiletries instead.

But, as another friend K pointed out to me, local charities don't really pass all your clothes along to people who want to wear your clothes.   As Elizabeth Cline, in this Slate Magazine article describes, "Most Americans are thoroughly convinced there is another person in their direct vicinity who truly needs and wants our unwanted clothes. This couldn’t be further from the truth."

Our clothes become rags; they travel overseas; they're sold by the pound; they go back into the earth to molder.  A far, far cry from the glossy, sanitized, regimented rows of the giant outlet mall, of course.

Clothes Scene 5:  On the body
I wore my clothes this week.  This is hardly a revelation.  But I just wanted to remind myself that our belongings aren't supposed to own us; we're supposed to own them.  So in this complicated mish-mash of shopping and buying and mending and releasing, it was a real pleasure to put on some of my favorite dresses, to feel like the clothes made me look good, to feel comfortable or professional or dressy as the situation demanded.  To use what I own, and use it well.

And really, that's the point.


  1. that's an interesting note about donating clothes. I know when I go through thrift stores I reject 99.9% of what's there, and I can't believe anyone would wear most of it. I'm donating clothes I don't want - why would someone else want them? And yet I donate them anyway...

    I like your point about remembering that we own clothes for a purpose.

    1. Yeah, when we've got so many clothes that we can hardly pack them (into the closet or into the moving truck), it gets to the point that the clothes own us instead of the other way around. -MM