Garment Stories: Caravan Standard Boots

I have had these Japanese – made in Vietnam, though – boots since July, and I’m still figuring them out. The have got only 7 wears since then but already have a rich garment story.

Chapter I: The Acquisition. My dad is a bus driver. Of big buses full of tourists. One of those people who dares – and enjoys – carrying a full 50-person bus up and down an Alpine serpentine or Norwegian fjords. Most often those buses are full of people trying to squeeze as many countries and experiences as possible into a tight schedule of ‘seeing Europe’, tours where they get 20 countries in 20 days and such. And, although this is not the kind of travel that Eastern Europeans used to do to see Europe in the 1990s where one would literally spend several days living in the bus, even people who sleep at hotels and make their major distances on plane leave a lot of stuff behind in the bus. My dad also cleans his bus, so we are quite used to random foodstuffs (with unreadable labels) appearing at home because somebody just left it behind. But it’s small stuff typically: cookies, candy, snacks, napkins… something you would truly stash in the seat pocket and forget.

Hence when I saw a pair of heavy duty boots just sitting in the middle of our living room (yeah, that’s where he unpacks) in Rīga in July, I just though that my dad had bought himself a pair. Only later it was informed that it was – obviously – not his size at all and that this pair of boots was left behind by a client who first realized that she needed a pair of serious duty boots for exploring Norway in summer and then decided that she was not really happy with them after all. And the while she took for thinking it over clearly wasn’t a long one, as the boots had no trace of having ever touched ground. So, no, she wasn’t practicing the ‘trial period’ tactics I recommend for your garments.

My dad collects all the useful stuff people leave behind, so the boots were coming home. And they turned out to be exactly my size!

How else you can model a pair of heavy duty boots in July?

Chapter II: The research. Now I wanted to know more! By a coincidence, I handled a pair of Giulia’s boots for the Percentil experiment in August. A pair of Vibram boots. The only two words that looked brand-like on these new boots was Caravan and Vibram. But searches for Vibram only brought up the disgusting five-toe footwear… I apologize if you’re a fan but I just cannot see that thing. Weird, I know, as I have nothing against seeing actual feet.

At the end it looked like Caravan was the brand and Vibram was the supplier of soles. So it was a journey down the internet rabbit holes trying to discover what had I encountered there… ending up on the Japanese internets. I wasn’t able to find the boots on the Caravan homepage, although there are some similar ones for between 150 and 500€. Then, according to this blog – thank you Google Translate! – I finally found a photo of my boots and understood that they are are reboot of a Caravan Standard model very similar to what the author / his father had had, now retailing at below 150€.

And that blog linked to the full heritage story – with photos – of the Caravan boots, finally! Some Google Translate excerpts for your curiosity:

‘On May 9, 1956, the Japanese Mountaineering Corps succeeded in the first ascent of the Himalayan giant, Manasuru (8156m above sea level, 8th in the world). This is the first time a Japanese has climbed the 8000m class Kyoho. […]  In 1952 (Showa 27), when the next year’s first Manaslu expedition was decided, equipment was also required accordingly. Most mountaineering equipment was custom-made, but there were still problems with the shoes. From the base camp to the top of the mountain, we will continue to use heavy climbing shoes with durable leather in the upper and metal in the sole. The problem was the approach shoes used on the long way to the base camp. At the time, there were still people who climbed the mountain in the underground tabi, and Japan did not have the “light climbing shoes” itself. The harsh Himalayan approach cannot be walked with underground socks or athletic shoes. I absolutely needed shoes that were “light and easy to wear, didn’t slip on the rocks, and didn’t rub”.’

‘In 1954, Sato established Yamaharusha Co., Ltd. in Ginza (later renamed Caravan) and started selling caravan shoes. The production is of course Fujikura Rubber Industry. The first product was almost the same as the one made for the Manaslu Expedition. The upper ankle was proudly affixed with a mark engraved as “Recommended by the Japanese Mountaineering Society”. […] Compared to full-fledged heavy climbing shoes, it is much cheaper and its superior performance was proven by the Manaslu Expedition. Caravan shoes attracted the attention of general mountaineers and gradually became known.’

‘In 1959, the caravan shoes were remodeled to become “Caravan Standard”. There have been minor changes since its launch, but this year’s changes have never been so big. First, the upper cotton canvas is changed to rubberized nylon. This greatly improved waterproofness. The arch part of the sole is equipped with an iron spike called “tricone”. The anti-slip effect on wet rocky places has been further improved. However, these changes resulted in a slight increase in weight. There are two kinds of colors, navy and red.’

So I’ve got on my hands a classic Japanese mountaineering boot.  Completely unintentionally.

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Chapter III: Wearing. On the empirical side, I experimented briefly with them in September. They are heavy. Surprisingly heavy for my feet so used to sneakers. And the upper was rubbing against my leg and leaving it sore for days. I suspect that is the type of footwear that you have to break in *a lot* to find supercomfy afterwards. So I left them in Rīga waiting for winter, with my fingers crossed that this could finally be a good replacement for the Muroexe boots that I was so longing to get rid of. They would make more sense in Barcelona for the occasional rain and slippery tiles instead of Rīga rain and winter… for that you might want a taller boot.

Now, after a couple more wears, I have a bit more information on how these beauties wear:

– The heaviness and chunkiness is real but not overwhelming.

– The height, though, is new, as all that superperformance sole ends up making it, well, a platform boot.

– I clearly walk wrong because the dark rubber parts are already staining the light brown canvas on the opposite boot.

– I had an unpleasant boot experience I still can’t properly disentangle. My old sprained ankle started hurting and went on like that for a week after one day in these boots and then next day walking a lot in my old Crocs boots. That made me to cool off with these and reconsider if I ever want to wear them again. But then I did – to Opera, no less – an I was fine afterwards.

– As for wearing hiking boots to Opera, yep, these felt cool enough for me to pull that off. In those old Crocs boots I felt like a peasant. Obviously, it’s Eastern Europe and many people change shoes in Opera or have a pair of pretty boots for such occasions… but we are minimalists around here and do not drag extra shoes to places where we’ll be spending only 3h.

An opera-going outfit according to Luisitas.

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So the adventure is still on and only time will tell how this relationship will go. But the story is already a good one… Do you have any similar stories of having needed a lot of time to understand if a garment is working for you? How did that go? And what was the final verdict?

The oldest garments of my wardrobe

These are among the actually oldest things that I own, but that’s another story.

This post from Rebecca from A Clothes Horse peaked my curiosity… First of all, great, I am always for bloggers with such big platforms showcasing that they re-wear things. That said, I got that typical post-2000 thought of ‘but 2011 was yesterday, what’s the big deal?’ until my rational mind kicked in half-second later pointing out that 2011 was 8 years ago. Dude, actually 9 years in a couple of weeks…

Hence I recognize that 8 years is a long time for a dress, especially if you have worn it a lot. (Because we all know the meanest paradox about old garments that looks like new: chances are that they haven’t been worn that much.) And I proceeded to explore my own archive.

To make it more real – and restrictive – I’m looking only at actual garments, not accessories and adornments because that gets into family vintage too easily and where is the research value of that. And only the pre-2010 pieces are included to put a limit somewhere. So everything below will be at least 10 years old in 2020. Yeah, most of it overlaps with #100wears but indulge me…

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Since 2003: The Bik Bok parka (the #100wears post)

The warmest garment I’ve owned in the last few decades. It gets few wears nowadays, because this parka lives in Rīga and gets worn only when it’s below 0ºC. The fluffy inside layer can be taken out in order to turn the parka into a trench-like thing. The garment as such is a bulky one, and not really flattering… but who cares when it’s -17ºC?

This parka has been fixed a couple of times (buttons, closures, worn-out finishings, etc.) but there is no reason to give it away and look for another one with my current lifestyle. This garment has never lived out of Latvia and I’m not planning to take it with me. I need it back there where real winter does occasionally happen.

January 2004 vs. January 2019:

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Since 2005: The green patterned secondhand top

This no-brand pure-plastic top came to me in a Humana shop during my first visit to Barcelona in 2005. And we’ve been together ever since. So much so that the dye has been worn off from the elbows… it has received minor fixes at the seams, but nevertheless lives to prove that plastic is forever. Also, the shape and the pattern are great.

April 2006 vs. December 2019:

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Since 2005: The Street One jacket (the #100wears post and the refashioning post)

I’ve talked so much about this jacket already, see the links above, but it just keeps being a key garment of my wardrobe… my most worn layer in 2019, btw.

May 2005 vs. November 2019:

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Since 2005: The purple Cecil top

This top is pure magic in confirming that great quality, lasting cotton jersey is possible. My mom wore this one at the beginning, then I took over and have been wearing since 2005. Yes, not very intensively as it has always stayed in Rīga, but not having even had an unraveled thread is an amazing achievement in this world of crap fast fashion jersey. People, it is possible to make quality jersey stuff if you do it well!

November 2005 vs. February 2018:

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Since 2006: The fluffy Seppälä coat

This coat has had a slightly turbulent history but it has come around since then. Originally, it was almost knee-length, straight-cut, and bought by my then-boyfriend. We had identical fluffy coats. Yes, his-and-her towels. Sometime during my undergrad, around 2010/2012, I had the splendid idea to ask our trusted seamstress in Rīga to reshape it: make it shorter, make a hood out of the cut-off bits, make a proper zipper closure (the original had only a couple of buttons). She did an amazing job, and it has been working pretty well as my not-that-cold-winter coat since then.

March 2006 vs. March 2019:

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Since 2008: The HnM sweetheart dress

This dress was one of those classic feel-good impulse buys. At HnM, no less. But I was lonely and depressed in Brussels, so I had my reasons. And it was a general fail… I’ve done my best throughout the years, but this dress hasn’t become a favorite (it has seen many operas, though). I’ve been resisting my rational impulses to finally get rid of it and have implemented several adjustments: fixing the unreliable neckline with added straps, wearing layer above it not to worry about pieces of my body being too much for this classic cut… Well, now, finally, it is undergoing a radical change trying to preserve the part that I like and ditch the bothersome one. I hope to be able to show it in its new incarnation very soon…

December 2008 vs. February 2018:

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Since 2009: The Hummel Madelaine jacket (the #100wears post)

This jacket is legendary! It is supposedly a comfy (zipper pockets!) exercise piece, for running and such. But for me it has been an *everything* jacket for solid 10 years. Again, the quality of the finishings is astonishing, the shape is great… what else can a girl want from a jacket?

October 2009 vs. October 2019:

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So, are there any solid conclusion regarding the pieces that have stayed with me for years? Well, there are no bottoms among them. They are often fixed and transformed pieces. And some of them are those with a  very definite purpose that happens so rarely that looking for a more optimal garment would not really be worth the while…

What are your oldest garments still in rotation? Are those the beloved, fixed for the n-th time pieces or those ‘it looks new because I never really wore it’ garments? Do you have any real family vintage that you actually wear?

Garment Stories: Floral Dress

This is a new category born out of my burning wish to tell this one thing… It’s not #100wears just yet for this one, and it is long way from being beyond repair, but it’s a lovely gem of a garment and the story behind it makes it even lovelier. In this case, because I made it!

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If you have followed this blog for a while – or met me in person more than once – you should have gathered by now that I am a dress person. For me those are the most comfortable and versatile garments, and I pity Western men for having stopped using them. On the other hand, in the era of skinnies and t-shirts, there is an air of something special around a dress, just because of their scarcity. Here, have a blogger quote about all that amazingness:

I wore only dresses for three months in 2017 just to make a point about their versatility (1, 2), and now I have finally made one myself. Aplaudiment! But it started with another dress and my desire to refashion… I picked a dark blue summer dress from my mom’s wardrobe during the same purge that the gingham dress. But this one is not made from jersey and is way too big for me as it is, so fixing it is not that straightforward. I brought it to Carmen at Opció Taller (the best place ever in Barcelona to get your sewing or shoemaking classes, for real) and she, finally tired of me winging it, suggested I finally do a pattern-making course because then I’d have my ‘base pattern’ to fix garments against.

So I joined one of her joyful mini-classes (sharing the professor with only two other fun ladies) in February, and went through the motions of measurements and pattern construction once a week. Just to calm my productivity anxiety, I was sewing the second yoga mat bag meanwhile.

What normal people do for the base-pattern class is to buy cotonet – the rustic 100% cotton used mostly for 3D pattern making – or to use some other no good fabric (old sheets, etc.) to do he second stage of pattern making, actually stitching it all together and trying it on a body. With no malicious intention but with my waste reducing subconsciousness clearly alert, I just ignored the idea and showed up without such material. Carmen proceeded to get out of her chambers of deadstock magic a loud floral fabric for me to practice on… and I fell in love. It even has a second-order story: it comes from a textile plant that Carmen’s family still owns, and they have made mostly bed linen out of it. Carmen took a bunch to Spain to cover her sofa, but Cristián protested it and to the cupboard that fabric went

Sooo… the practice went on and it just made perfect sense to actually make it into a garment instead of tossing it all out, mistakes and all. My 3D pattern got a skirt, and hand-basted all together, this is what I had:

Then on to the machine it went for some proper sewing:

Many firsts happened on this dress. Not only my first bust pattern, first darts, first sleeves, first pockets, but also my first neckline facing

…and three invisible zippers, because I really wanted trustworthy pockets (and no purses)!

I hadn’t taken into account that this floaty volume is not backpack friendly: it rides up and exposes my bum… Bah! So no backpack with this dress until I finally make the tulle petticoat I’ve been wanting since forever. Meanwhile, as you can see above, for additional comfort it works fine with trousers underneath. We’ll see how the fabric will feel in the sweaty Barcelona summer and how it will wear, both my stitching and the fabric. Already after the first few wears it seems that it is prone to piling, ugh… This is what happens when you live off random deadstock. Will keep you updated!

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What have you been up to, my talented friends? Have you done any life-giving fixes recently? Made any garments? Or is there something you would like to fix and don’t know how to? A fun fabric you keep looking at and sighing wistfully?

Garment Stories: Hunting Ensemble Beanie

This is a new category born out of my burning wish to tell this one thing… It’s not #100wears just yet for this one, and it is long way from being beyond repair, but it’s a lovely gem of a garment and the story behind it makes it even lovelier.

The cutest thing happened last week. I received the best gift in a long time. And here comes my lesson learnt (as a receiver of such gift) about gift giving: the best material gift is the replacement of something the receiver loved and then lost/wore out/grew out of. Of course, this is not applicable to irreplaceables (pets, people, etc.), so don’t be daft about it, but if you know somebody well enough to know that they have lost a material possession they were fond of, that would make sense to own again and haven’t replaced it yet, here’s your perfect opportunity to show how loving and attentive you are. Boom!

The other way of telling this is ‘my partner gave me a hat that’s very similar to the hat I had until last February and I couldn’t be happier about it’.

So going back a while… I found a red knitted hat among C’s possessions in 2013/2014. I have no idea where it came from, but it was cute and practical, and I started wearing it. As an adult I’ve developed sensitive ears, and year-round swimming (and hating the blow dryers) and bicycle wind don’t help. And I always felt cool when wearing. Few things have that power, so I cherished the little red beanie.

With time it got a patina of meaning and inside jokes, especially about being part of the crew taking after the aesthetics associated with Jacques Cousteau and Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. But during a beer festival in February 2018 I somehow lost it. Yeah, you tell me about the benefits of losing a hat in -17ºC Latvian winter. I looked for it, I wrote the organizers but that beanie was gone… the n-th proof that I am pretty reckless with my things and because of that it probably fell out of my pocket and was shoveled away by a snow/garbage truck. Sad.

I can’t even claim that all I wanted for Xmas was a little red hat, because after a few Pinterest searches I just assumed that the hat I was left with was the gray one I crocheted for C in 2012/2013, so I just wore that one. Yes, very in line with my ‘use up what you’ve got‘ ideology… it’s a fine hat, but it’s a long way from being as visually interesting as the red one. Sorry, gray hat!

I had basically forgotten about the red one when C showed up one day after work with a little package for me. Ta-dah! He had gone beyond a lazy Pinterest search and found Hunting Ensemble Fine Merino Beanie in bright red. 100% merino and made in Germany. This is what I meant before talking about perfect desired presents that bring so much joy…


The new hat also sparked an interest in learning – well, doing a basic google search – about the little red hat. Turns out it has a fun name (‘cap comforter’) and a long history in civil engineering diving that then TV made it Coustou’s trademark. Well, he was wearing it anyways and it looked good on the color TV. Read up: The Incredible Story Beneath Jacques Cousteau’s Famous Red Hat and An incredible Follow-Up to Jacques Cousteau’s Famous Red Hat. Googling ‘standard diving dress‘ you’ll see several historic photos with divers hugging the bonnet under their arm and sporting a knitted cap.

I unpicked the brand tag from my and now I have the perfect anonymous red beanie. It’s so similar to the old one I could have illustrated this with last year’s pictures and nobody would have found a difference… Ha!


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Have you received something very special this festive season? Have you ever had any successful replacements of this type? Do you lose things often?