I was at work the other day and couldn’t get over how gross my new jeans smelled (bought at one of those ubiquitous cheap disposable fashion mega emporiums). It was a potent combination of cat pee and chemicals. When I mentioned it to my co-worker she complained of the same problem with her new cheap, disposable denims.
So I googled “stinky jeans”. What should have led to a youtube video of farting slash barfing babies led to a truly staggering new-to-me realization: that smell – that gaggy, chemical, did I pee my pants and forget about it smell – was formaldehyde. And a host of other creepy chemicals our wise clothing manufacturers use to preserve the colour and shape of our crisp new unwrinkled sweatshop jeans. Formaldehyde – a carcinogenic compound used to preserve dead bodies was sitting on my skin, all up in my baby making parts. Nothing could have been more catalyzing at that moment. Because for months, nay years, I have been fighting the nagging conclusion that my obsession with clothes, and my barely controlled shopaholic tendancies were only feeding this consumerist BUY ME THROW ME AWAY plague that may end up being our undoing. This same realization has been had by legions of people. It’s not a new idea, but sometimes you need to buy a pair of stinky jeans before you realize something has to change.
I love clothes. Love. My mother was as elegant as is possible in the shoulder pad 80’s and I worshiped her and her chic little suits when she marched off to work at the family jewelry store. I loved clothes in the early 90’s when I adopted grunge like an armour and spent my allowance at Value Village on old man pants and Adidas track jackets that made me feel above the shiny, girly neon trappings of my school mates. I loved clothes when I got my first real job (working the line of a minivan factory no less) which let me spend a youthful waste of money on pretty, sexy clothes that helped me shed the factory at the end of every shift. I loved clothes when I moved to Montreal and realized that in a big city I cold wear whatever the hell I wanted and get admiring glances rather than the bemused and groaning jokes of my small town peers. I loved clothes when I got $25,000 in debt buying what I shouldn’t, and I loved clothes when I had $5 to my name and scored the perfect vintage handbag at a church bazaar. I loved clothes when I finally got my dream job as an interior designer and could finally put together the same kind of chic outfits my mother wore to work, the kind I used to imagine wearing when I would flip through Marie Claire and envision strands of pearls and pumps and blazers that would make me look and feel like the young professional I was becoming.
Most of all, I love clothes when I look different. The desire to blend in has never been something I’ve subscribed to. Call it vanity, call it individuality, call it what you will, but the ability to convey your unique singularity as a human being with something as simple as a vintage dress is powerful and addictive as hell.
Clothes are armour, comfort, canvas. Being able to dress every morning in a way that reflects how I feel or what I’m thinking seems a gift and honour, a pleasure that feels almost sinful in its self-indulgence. But doing that at the expense of my paycheck, the third world, the environment, local labour and handiwork is beginning to feel oppressive and Catholic guilt inducing. I know that the days I feel best are the days when almost everything I’m wearing has been scored from a thrift store, a flea market or a clothing swap. Even better than those days are when I am wearing something I have sewn myself. Vogue would have us believe that empowerment comes from saving up for an “it” bag but as much as I love my monthly dose of Vogue longing I also know it’s a fantasy. A fantasy of wealth and having that is not only impossible for me to ever achieve but comes at the cost of so many.
So. Starting today, no more new clothes. I could clothe a gypsy caravan for generations with what I currently have in my closet. I am blessed by the thrift saint and have an old sewing machine as reliable as time. From this day forward (maybe I can make an exception for tights, underwear and shoes for my size 9 boats?) it is make it, thrift it or put it back. This blog will be a record of this personal step forward.