Will it last? The good of well-crafted clothing

In a society where everything is disposable, and even in this uncertain economy, I would like to speak in fashion's defence.

January 9 th 2009

The word fashion likely conjures images of "heroin chic", glossy magazine covers and towering runway models. We live in an over-consuming culture. Much of the fashion industry exists at the pinnacle of frivolity in this culture.

But I would like to speak in fashion's defence. Fashion can be about stewardship—the choice to care about quality clothing.

It is understandably difficult to care about well-tailored slacks in a society where everything is disposable, but I believe in this uncertain economy, it serves us well to ask a simple question: "Will it last?"

It's a lesson my mother taught me at the spry age of fourteen on our semi-annual mom-and-daughter shopping trip. Late in the afternoon, we began our search for our final item: a camisole. In my mind's eye, six nice tank tops for the price of one would be the ultimate find. Sensible Mom, however, a woman who'd spent decades crafting homespun garments and selling fabric to the best of Vancouver's couturiers, was looking for just one long-lasting piece.

As we wove through the hordes of mall-goers, my eyes would jump from one sale to the next, not unlike a college student on a shoestring budget: a pair of jeans for $30, five T-shirts for $15, and so on. The key to any shopping trip is to maximize your dollar, and to my teenage self, more was best. When my mother tired of my picking through brightly coloured bins of cotton tops, she announced: "Enough! You're coming with me."

I followed her out of the store, and we walked back through the mall until we stood in a doorway I had never yet dared enter: the gateway to Canada's haughty home of haute couture, Holt Renfrew. As I gingerly stepped inside, the scent of Chanel and Givenchy perfume overwhelmed me. Handbags dazzled and sales associates scurried about as we climbed the escalator to our final destination: hosiery.

I stood bewildered as my mother spoke to a saleswoman, who disappeared for a few minutes before reappearing with a handful of items. She laid out several tank tops in respectable colours to try on—cream, and white, and the one on which I settled, a midnight black.

I glimpsed the price tag in the changing room. This single camisole would cost the same amount as a dozen of the ones through which I'd browsed earlier, together. I mentioned this to Mom, who responded in a tone to be heeded, "You will have this camisole for ten times longer than any other. When you pay for quality, that's what you're going to get."

Mom was right. Every brightly-colored tank met its end the following summer, but the black camisole my mom bought me over ten years ago remains a staple piece in my closet looking as new as ever. A reminder that, indeed, what you pay for, you get.

Topics: Culture
 

Christina Crook's book, The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World, has made her leading voice on technology and human flourishing. Through her writing and speaking she reveals how key shifts in our thinking can enable us to draw closer to one another, taking up the good burdens of local work and responsibilities. She writes about the value of focus, making space to create, and the meaning we find in more limited connections. She challenges the Western values of power, control, and success, revealing how wonder, trust, and discipline are central to the experience of being human and the keys to our joy.

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