Monday, March 20, 2017

Cleaning Closets with Polly and Fanny

“Actually I have nothing to wear,” began Fan impressively; “I’ve been too busy to think or care till now, but here it is nearly May and I have hardly a decent rag to my back. Usually, you know, I just go to Mrs. O’Grady and tell her what I want; she makes my spring wardrobe, Papa pays the bill, and there I am. Now I’ve looked into the matter, and I declare to you, Polly, I’m frightened to see how much it costs to dress me.” ~~ An Old-Fashioned Girl, 1869
In Louisa May Alcott's novel An Old-Fashioned Girl, Polly's friend Fanny Shaw runs into serious family financial trouble, and so she asks her frugal friend for some clothes-on-a-zero-budget help.  (Longtime Treehouse readers might remember a similar chapter from Mary at the Farm.) Here is Polly's 1860's advice on using what you have.

1. Upcycling and combining, decades before Pinterest
“Now, to me your’rubbish’ looks very encouraging, because there is good material there, and not much worn-out finery, that’s my detestation, for you can’t do anything with it. Let me see, five bonnets. Put the winter ones away till autumn, rip up the summer ones, and out of three old ones we’ll get a pretty new one, if my eyes don’t deceive me.”
“I’ll rip, and then do let me see you make a bonnet, it must be so interesting,” said Maud, whipping out her scissors and eagerly beginning to reduce a shabby little bonnet to its original elements. 

2. Looking at things upside down and inside out
“Will you have the goodness to look at this?” said Fan, holding up a gray street suit faded past cure.
Polly whisked it wrong side out, and showing the clean, bright fabric, said, with a triumphant wave, “Behold your new suit; fresh trimming and less of it will finish you off as smart as ever.”

3. Taking care of what you have
“There are two; then that piqu, is all right, if you cut the tail off the jacket and change the trimming a bit. The muslins only need mending and doing up to look as well as ever; you ought not to put them away torn and soiled, my child.”

4. Saying goodbye to what can't possibly be fixed
Can’t I do anything with this barege? It’s one of my favorite dresses, and I hate to give it up.”
“You wore that thoroughly out, and it’s only fit for the rag-bag. Yes, it was very pretty and becoming, I remember, but its day is over.” 

5. Selling what you can on consignment, or swapping with friends
“If I had lots of things like Fan, I’d have an auction and get all I could for them. Why don’t you?” asked Maud, beginning on her third bonnet.
“We will,” said Polly, and mounting a chair, she put up, bid in, and knocked down Fan’s entire wardrobe to an imaginary group of friends, with such droll imitations of each one that the room rang with laughter.

6. Stockpiling a few useful things made of good fabric (or that have good parts)
“These white muslins and pretty silks will keep for years, so I should lay them by till they are needed. It will save buying, and you can go to your stock any time and make over what you want. That’s the way Mother does; we’ve always had things sent us from richer friends, and whatever wasn’t proper for us to wear at the time, Mother put away to be used when we needed it.”

The final word:
 Such things are great fun when you get used to them; besides, contriving sharpens your wits, and makes you feel as if you had more hands than most people.”

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