Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Make It Your Own, Part Three (Updated)

Let's focus on clothing today. And since I've been quoting Charlotte Mason, what did she have to say about that?

Quite a bit, really. Since she lived from the 1840's to the 1920's, her experience of clothes and shopping went from the era of "I just go to Mrs. O'Grady and tell her what I want" through most of the changes in the Mr. Selfridge era, such as the introduction of ready-to-wear. But her advice, written from the 1880's through her old age, remained much the same:  Dress more-or-less appropriately for your lifestyle, in a way that you can afford (if you're wealthy, support the local shoemaker by buying higher-end shoes). Shop with specific needs in mind. Don't run around too much looking for bargains. And don't be anybody's nightmare customer.

We might also mention some of the principles from Part One.

* promoting community and relationships between people, including a local economy and traditions such as skills and handicrafts
* living orderly lives with integrity, or what Charlotte Mason called "straight living and serviceableness"
* living with contentment, trusting God for our needs
* not being like the Bible's "fat cows of Bashan," rich people who were impervious to the suffering of others
* working for both justice and mercy
* valuing creativity (however we might define that)
* caring for creation (Did you know this is World Water Day?)
* caring for weak and marginalized people ("no matter how small"), since they are individuals created in God's image


So I read all this as: we don't want our clothes to be a disorganized mess. Selfishness is bad. Using our brains is good. We don't want to promote bad agricultural practices, and we definitely don't want to support business practices that treat people badly, especially because if we believe in "a liberal education for all," that includes people who work in factories in other countries. We do want to support small businesses that add to a local economy. We don't want to get anxious about having nothing to wear, since we were told to consider the lilies of the field. Agreed so far?

To be blunt, if we say we believe in all or most of those things, we have no business buying cheap jewelry likely assembled by children (not to mention the ecological impact of the materials used). We may also have no business buying expensive jewelry made with stones that were mined at the cost of people's lives or health. If we say we live by such and such a principle, then we need to do it. We especially need to model those choices for those (such as our children) who are watching to see how much what we do mirrors what we say.

But  those principles certainly do cut down our "choices." 

And sometimes one value runs up against others. I recently ordered a skirt, something I had thought about for quite awhile from a company that specializes in sustainable, high-quality products. All good, except that when I tried the skirt on, it clung in all the wrong places. A tall twenty-something model can get away with more than a height-challenged, married-and-modest middle-ager. (Never say I'm not absolutely transparent here.) The skirt went back, lesson learned. 

My default shopping arena, as Treehouse readers know, is our local Mennonite Central Committee thrift store. When I shop there, I'm supporting MCC's worldwide projects. I'm giving clothes a second chance. I'm stretching our somewhat tight household budget. I'm practicing creative thinking when I look at how something could be shortened, or changed a bit.

The challenge with thrifting is the principle of shopping based on specific needs. Charlotte Mason may have visited her dressmaker with "one dress, black silk" firmly in mind, but in the here-today, gone-tomorrow world of thrift stores, the three P's are patience, persistence, and Providence. Making thrift stores a part of saner shopping isn't about looking for a J. Crew haul. It's still important to shop with a basic plan, an awareness of your clothing needs (or your children's), even if you head right for the dollar rack. On one trip, you might look mostly for neutral basics, and you will probably find lots of them: dark pants, white shirts, whatever. Next time, you could look for the absolutely individual, thriftshoppy, fun stuff to mix with the neutrals. (The Vivienne Files website has been doing a series of posts about how a plain, basic wardrobe becomes much more individual with the addition of colours and accessories. Or even with more neutrals, if that's your thing, but still saved from boredom.)

You may have to bridge some colour or function gaps for awhile, and that's okay. I still haven't found a plain skirt I like to replace the one that went back; but I do have some dresses, so it's all good.

I am posting this as is, slightly unfinished, because (strangely enough) we are headed to the thrift store. I will let you know later if I find anything interesting.

UPDATE: Well, that turned out to be slightly more "interesting" than we anticipated.

While I was looking at the dollar-rack clothes, Mr. Fixit was doing his usual scan for electronics and whatnot. A man was looking at an eight-dollar cassette deck, the sort of thing my husband likes. He put it back on the shelf and walked away, so Mr. Fixit picked it up and started heading for the front. The man came back and started yelling that he was just going to get a cassette to try in the machine, and that M.F. was stealing his cassette deck, all in some not-very-nice language. M.F. was a bit startled by this, but he just said to the man, "Okay, it's not worth having a heart attack over a cassette deck, take it if you want it." Which he did. One of the managers heard what happened, and she apologized to Mr. Fixit for the other customer's rudeness. But, just...people are really strange when it comes to "stuff," aren't they? (Maybe we should call that one "Take It Your Own.")

As for my own shopping: I tried on a blue sweater from a Nice American Catalogue Company (I don't see those often), but it was hopelessly big; and a jacket which was labelled my size but was somehow too tight around the arms. There were no shoes that fit, except for a pair of short boots that I liked but that showed too much wear on the heels (although the uppers looked fine). No skirts even worth trying on. I did bring home one lightweight acrylic sweater, good for spring, half price for $2.50. It's green, not blue (my camera is somewhat colourblind). I didn't go in looking for a green sweater, but it's a colour and style I like, and it will go with other things I have. 
Including my favourite thrifted scarf.
So there you go.

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