Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Overdressed: Some Thoughts on Consumption, Beauty, and Sewing

So I finally ready read Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline, which I first saw over at The Slapdash Sewist.

It's a pretty good book that got me thinking about a few things.  (Like it has been for a lot of sewing bloggers since it came out.)  I am almost always disappointed when I buy clothes in the stores, and this book made me stop and evaluate what I buy vs what I sew, why I sew, and how I feel about beauty.

What I buy vs. what I sew:

I buy the following items: shoes, socks, coats, jeans, under garments, sweaters, and knit tops.  (I still hate sewing with knits, but I am working on it.)  When I buy things, I expect them to last for ever, or at least as long as the stuff I make for myself.  The things I buy tend to be utilitarian and practical, and I buy the same things over and over again to replace things that have worn out.  (I have certain brands and styles that I think work with my wardrobe and last a decent amount of time.) I don't have a ton of clothes, so things tend to get worn a lot and have a limited life-span.  Things that wear out quickly won't be purchased again.  I am most disappointed with knit tops, because even the more spendy ones seem to be cheaply made.

I sew blouses, dresses, skirts, night wear, and trousers (not as often as I should on that last one.)  While my purchased items tend to be practical and somewhat plain, I go for lots of color and pattern in my sewn items.  And I expect them to last for awhile.  I will repair something until it starts to look dingy, at which point it goes into the "work clothes" drawer.  (These are the clothes I wear while throwing pots, painting, or screen printing.)  After that, they become rags.  Clothing that I make or purchase that doesn't work out for me, goes into the secondhand market via Saint Vincent de Paul.  I try to make things that will get a lot of use, but sometimes things just don't turn out.  (Sometimes I think I must be buying patterns while drunk.  What the hell was I thinking?)

Why I sew:

I was taught to sew by my grandmother at an early age and went to junior high at a time when everybody was still expected to take a sewing class.  (We also had to take cooking and a shop class on electricity.)  My stepmother also helped me with garment sewing in high school.  As a punk rocker in mid 80s Southern Oregon, I made my own clothes and modified my thrift store finds.  (And did so for my friends.  That's how I earned my spending money in high school.)  As an adult, I may not look like a punk rocker anymore, but the idea that "anyone can do it" has stuck with me, and I would feel adrift if I could not have at least some involvement in clothing myself.  I am also completely uninterested in wearing the same styles as 100,000 other people.  A bazillion other folks wear the same style of jeans that I do.  But nobody else is going to pair them with a sea foam Colette Patterns shirt with a modified collar and sleeves.  It's not about refusing to look like anyone else, it's about getting to wear exactly what I want.


But what causes me to want to wear the clothes I do?  I recently had a bit of revelation where I decided that I was no longer going to care a rat's ass about beauty.  I'd so much rather spend my time focussing on enjoying my family, being smart and funny, being a good mentor to my Boys and Girls Club teens, and learning how to make cool things.  That's who I want to be.  I am not beautiful.  Don't care.  When I am told that everyone is beautiful: I  DO NOT CARE.  I have other things to worry about.  If my looks were never commented on again, I would be happy as a clam.  I want to spend my energy on things that actually matter.  I don't think my husband has ever spent a day of his life thinking about how he looks other than making sure everything was clean.  I want that too.

But how do I justify that view with my continued desire to sew and make fun, well-fitting clothing?  Well, if clothing were just about beauty than I would be sunk.  But it's not.  Clothing is also about expression, feeling comfortable and enjoyment.  I like wearing loud colors with crazy patterns because it makes me feel good.  I want to feel good, and in the end - for me anyway - it doesn't have much to do with feeling pretty.  It has to do with creating something that serves a purpose and appeals to my sense of aesthetics. 


Faye Lewis said...

Very smart post!

Sheila said...

Thanks for a thought provoking post. Once it's all sewn & pressed, all that matters is that you like it & it's comfortable.

Jean said...

Very thoughtful post. I agree that sewing clothing is about self-expression and feeling good/empowered, rather than about beauty. I read this book as well and found it to be an interesting read. It reinforced much of what I already knew or suspected about garment production, and I've become more thoughtful about what I buy vs. what I choose to make.

Andrea said...

Great post. I've added this book to my list of must reads. I agree with what you said and feel that sewing is definitely a way of showing one's self expression.