I bought this cardigan in the sales. It’s Orla Keily for People Tree, prices £84, reduced from £140 (It’s now down to £70, but that’s my own stupid fault for not waiting). I had to do some major agonising over whether I should get it of not – if you follow me on Twitter you may have been party to some of this. While I completely understand why that cardigan costs what it costs (It’s the usual fair-trade and organic, but most of all handknit. I knit and it would take me literally months to make a jumper), and I appreciate that that price is within many people’s normal spending limits, it is expensive for me. I wouldn’t usually spend that much on one item, let alone a cardie. But I did in the end. I had been eyeing it up for ages when it was full price and there was some pretty hardcore enabling going on from Dave as well as the ladies of the internet.
But what I thought was quite interesting was that lots of people said to me: ‘get it if you really like it, you’ll wear it lots’ or even just ‘You’ll wear it lots’. To which my truthful response was, well, maybe I’ll wear it lots, maybe I won’t. I can’t completely know that until I actually have it.
This got me thinking more widely about why we value particular clothes. Kate Fletcher, an academic who writes about sustainability in fashion argues that this is the way out of the fast fashion mess we’re in – clothes must mean something to people and we have to value them and have an emotional investment in them. And I like that idea.
In Lucy Siegle’s To Die For (I promise that is the last post I will talk about a book that no one except me has read) she goes on about buying a very expensive item of clothing – I can’t quite remember what it was, but it was several hundred pounds, and it was wool, maybe it was a cardigan too – but it was fine because she would value it and wear it for years and decades and care for it. And actually it was sort of implied that she’ll value it more because it’s expensive. But as ever, I think it’s a bit more complex than that.
Here’s a list of things why you might value an item of clothing:
- It was expensive. If you had to think about it for a long time and/or save up to buy it, you must have known you really liked it
- It was cheap. There’s a pride in getting something dirt cheap and making it shine
- You bought it at a particular time in your life and it reminds you of that time
- It was inherited and reminds you of the previous owner
- It goes with everything and is ‘classic’
- It’s really out there and noticeable and represents your personality
- It’s really good quality
- You made it
- It’s handmade
And loads of other reasons, probably!
For me, it changes. There’s really cheap stuff I love, there’s expensive stuff I love, there’s old, there’s new, with history and without. Some things I’ve made I really value, but in other cases the fact that I’ve made them makes me almost value them less because I can always make another one easily. Overall, I’d probably say that whether I value something depends more on how the thing looks now than anything to do with where it came from, but there are always exceptions.
Thinking about what actual items I value most, I came up with these two, very different dresses:
1950s day dress
I bought this in 2009 in an Edinburgh vintage shop. I recall the label said 50s day dress, which made me wonder if people really wore this kind of thing to do the hoovering. I remember it being quite expensive at the time (£50, which seems reasonable now). I love it because it fits so well, because of the quality of both the fabric and the finishing and because it’s dressy without being too fancy (it’s cotton). I don’t wear it much, mainly I’ve worn it to weddings and special nights out, but it immediately sprang to mind when I thought of my most valued clothes.
This is from H&M, I bought it probably around 2002 for maybe 20 Euros while home in Luxembourg. I remember my sister saying that it was the kind of thing many Turkish girls in her college class would wear, but with trousers underneath. The reason I value it is because it’s easy to care for and very versatile. I wear it to work a lot. Every two months or I run training courses for work, and I’ll often wear this dress. It feels formal enough (shirt collar, tame colour), but still quite accessible and not too dressed up. It fits in anywhere and makes me feel just a little bit more confident.