In my last post, I mentioned how much I enjoyed Zoe’s post on forgiveness in your homemade wardrobe. One quote, in particular, stuck out to me:
Sometimes even, I look at all my handmade clothes (which now form the majority of my wardrobe) hanging up and feel that it's all just shoddy shit and I have no 'real' clothes. But that doesn't last long and I acknowledge that is my social conditioning speaking, not really me.On one level, I (and several of the other commenters) take heart that someone who can clearly sew extremely well, is devoted to the handmade movement and who has inspired many of us, also has these moments of doubt. As someone who’s new to this wonderful-and-frustrating act of sewing apparel, I need to know that my feelings are normal. In some of my recent sewing attempts, I kept muttering to myself, while picking out a seam or looking at myself in a mirror at a project that started out with great promise to end in “meh”: This is why people buy their clothes. Who am I fooling? There are more constructive ways I can spend my time. I have enough clothes, anyway.
Which segues to a question that I've been turning over in my head since I read Zoe's post: What is this obstacle that's "not really me"? And, by extension, does my relationship to buying clothes (where I suspect this not-me lives) affect the way I sew and view the clothes I make? After thinking about it, it all comes down to desire. Whether inherent, and/or piqued by society and the media, it’s always lingering on the horizon.
A childhood friend of mine once told me that I was always someone who wanted things. I was surprised by that, as my life has always been fairly humble (both growing up and by choice in adulthood) and the implication was that I had more desire than others. And besides, I tend toward the pragmatic and can always be swayed by logic. I’ve chosen to live with more time and less money, believe in the potential benefits and quality of homemade versus mass-produced, and the ability for each person to be thinking and creative individuals. I’ve also sworn off perfection a long time ago (to temper my perfectionist tendencies, nothing’s worse than always being dissatisfied no matter how much work I’ve put into something). I know, I know, it’s a mixed bag of New Age optimism and post-modern pessimism.
And still, put me in a mall, in front of a fashion magazine, or tempt me with patterns and pretty fabric and I’m just like the seagulls in Finding Nemo, “Mine, mine, mine, mine!” Whoa! How did that bully of desire steamroll everything I’ve carefully placed in order to block its path?
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not deeply anti-consumerist. I don’t have a problem with buying things that equip us, both practically and aesthetically. If you’ll use it, buy it. What I have a problem with is the invitation to hoard. More precisely, I hate feeling like my life is empty and that there’s something wrong with me and my body and my clothes and it will all simply be rectified if I buy, buy, buy. And I come home with bags and regret.
Anyone who knows me knows this happens very rarely. I likely manage to find something wrong with an item or let myself cool down before I make a purchase. But still, why does self-loathing enter the picture regardless? Why feel like crap if I don’t have X?
X, as home sewers, can mean clothes that look like ready-to-wear, even though the point is that they’re not ready-to-wear, right? Otherwise we would’ve just bought it in the first place. There’s a lot to be said about skill level, industrial tools and quality here, but what I’m going for is the psychology of knowing something is homemade. More precisely, something is different than everyone else. Tasia, in her comment on Zoe's post, mentioned that only recently did she get over pointing out every flaw in her handmade clothes (this coming from the woman who consistently churns out professional-looking clothes) and Jessica and I have been discussing our shyness over admitting we sew and blog about it to people in our “real” lives. Why be hyper-cognizant that we, and the items we wear, are different? Why doesn’t the compulsion that drove us to make them in the first place suffice? They fit, they’re original and we have a personal connection to them. I guess what I’m asking is, could the social stigma be self-imposed?
In addition to how we view our handmade clothes, two fellow sew-alongers had wonderful insights that got me thinking about whether our patterns of behavior in clothes-buying are transferred onto the things we make. Debbie, on her blog, quoted the Ms Harris’ Book of Green Household Management by Caroline Harris:
We’ve somehow got used to purchasing almost a whole new wardrobe each season—and then we're encouraged to de-clutter and get rid of everything we don’t wear, taking the rejects to the charity shop to assuage our guilt. At its worst, it's a kind of binge-purge cycle.Like Debbie, Ms Harris’ suggestions seems a little spare to me (only four skirts?), but I think she’s right on about the binge-purge cycle. That doesn’t seem healthy at all. For me, since I buy little, it’s not a binge-purge cycle but an elation-regret cycle. Elation over the new, fabulous thing, regret over the reality that the thing is just a thing. And desire's at the root of it.
Then Katie admitted she doesn’t wear the clothes she sews (she should, ‘cause they’re fabulous! Check out her capris):
Why don’t I wear the clothes I sew? Because I impulse buy whatever print or color strikes my fancy and I don’t take into consideration what I already own. That and because the stash has completely taken over my sewing room and living room and when I put a print or new weird color in the stash by the time I see it again it is out of style or out of season and I just make something to get it out of the stash.What do you think? Do we transpose our buying impulses into sewing? I realize that sewing can go a long way toward slowing down our store-bought clothing hoarding, but do we make up for it by snatching up loads of fabric and patterns?
I mentioned, in regard to my Japanese top, that it’s the things that I’m initially lukewarm about that I cling to the most long-term and I think this psychology is at work here. The buzz I get over things that inspire the “mine, mine, mine” mentality fades nearly as soon as I gather back my self-control. Yet it’s the things that slowly surface as soldiers in my closest that I end up loving. As a result, I have the opposite problem as Katie: My fabric stash and my sewing plans reflect basics that would never get me hot-and-bothered with desire. But that means no romance and a fairly staid wardrobe.
But then the rabbit hole gets deeper. I began my career studying and covering media law, and I always remember this quote from former Supreme Court justice William Douglas, "At the constitutional level where we work, 90 percent of any decision is emotional. The rational part of us supplies the reasons for supporting our predilections." Ninety percent is emotional? We use our reason to rationalize our desire?
Perhaps this is why I allow myself to buy clothing, fabric and sewing patterns that I can rationalize. Even with this so called reason-mediation, I have more patterns than I could get through even if I sewed every day this year. And my fabric stash is just as hefty as the clothes hanging in my closet. In the end, it seems, we still do what we like. Is there ever enough? And should we care?
So I’m back to where I started: Reimagining my wardrobe, one garment at a time. And I suspect desire, that little devil, will keep peeking his head in. But if style is all about self-knowledge, than perhaps I’ll get better at knowing myself and knowing when something I want is something I could also use practically and aesthetically, and that seems like the best compromise a girl could ask for.
[The photo above comes from the boy's photo "stash," much easier to manage digitally! A blip in developing, the visual depiction of the difference between what you aim for and what you sometimes get.]