It is 1970, and I am working at my first waitressing job at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. I am wearing the classic black maid’s dress, complete with white apron and frilly white cap. It is the first time I have ever worn a uniform for a job, and I like it. During the day I wear my faded bell-bottoms and one of a number of colorful shirts, and on the job I have my uniform. Bliss. So blissful am I that I find myself making lists on my 3 by 5 inch notepad. They look like packing lists for a trip, but they are really a plan for my ideal wardrobe – one that is ENOUGH but never TOO MUCH. I don’t have the lists today, but remember the basics:
The only ominous thing about this fixation with the minimalist wardrobe is that I was, at the time, a fashion design major.
Fast-forward to my life as a retired professor in 2019. Most days, I wear comfortable casual clothes, usually jeans and one of several turtlenecks or tees I own in different colors. I have six linear feet of hanging clothing (half for cold weather, half for warmer months), 12 pairs of shoes, one winter coat and one bathrobe. Am I in possession of enough, or still in its pursuit?
Stay tuned for more.
Getting dressed has been an easy routine for years. I pick my shoes first, based on the weather and how much walking is involved in my day. If I am working at home, it's bare feet or slippers. Then I pick my jeans or capris (again, it depends on the weather and if it's a campus day or a home day). A solid color T-shirt. Sometimes the shirt is sleeveless, and the neckline varies. If I am going away from home, I might add a scarf. I always wear earrings. I rarely wear a skirt or dress once the temperature falls below 60 degrees, and I never wear jeans once the mercury is above 80.
I will admit to not being much of a fashionista. I would rather spend my time and energy (and money, which I earn with my time and energy) on a few things I can wear 90% of the time than on many items I seldom wear. The 10% items in my wardrobe are special, and I enjoy the rare occasions when I pull them out.
When I travel, I pack light. For a week at my favorite retreat, Star Island, I take a pair of capris, a multicolored skirt, seven T-shirts, and a sweater for chilly mornings and evening. Here's my wardrobe, which doubles as a calendar as I move through the week. I got there on a Saturday. Can you tell what day I took this photo?
This is an update of a blog post from 2012.
It's the inconvenient truth of the rag trade: an abundance of cheap, trendy clothes -- also known as "fast fashion" -- carries a hidden cost of human misery. For the American consumer, it is easy to ignore the problem of sweatshop labor because, like the migrant workers who harvest our food, the people who make our clothing are mostly invisible. "Sweatshop" once referred to a system of production, where garment producers contracted with middlemen to handle unskilled tasks on a piecework basis. Because of the fierce competition among these subcontractors, this "sweating" system tended to not only depress wages, but place tremendous pressure on the middlemen to do just about anything to increase productivity, resulting in long workdays, crowded workplaces and grinding working conditions. After the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911, labor laws and unionization helped improve conditions, propelled by consumer demand for sweat-free products.
Since the 1970s, the gains of the Progressive Era began to be eroded, first by relocating of garment production to parts of the US with fewer unions, and then to countries with less worker protection. Out of sight, out of mind. But it isn't just a problem of outsourcing. Every once in awhile, we are reminded that sweatshops still exist within our borders, despite the legal protections available.
I plan more posts on this subject. For those who want consume more ethically, check out Sweatfree Communities and the National Consumers League. Finally, I highly recommend the documentary film The True Cost, available on Netflix and other streaming services.