I would like this space to be even more material, more focused on the everyday uses of textiles. And what better way than putting the focus on specific garments? Not necessarily in garments of high historical value from the point of view of museum curators. And they don’t need to be very special to their owners, either.
No. I’m interested in the everyday clothes that survive. Following Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s argument in Antifragile (2012) and many others before him, if a thing – or idea, or practice – has been in use for a long time, it must be that it has certain properties that distinguish it of others and, hence, that the probability of its continued survival is quite high. Of course, those properties can be objective, such as higher quality, or subjective, such as sentimental attachment.
But the task of exploring the histories of our garments beyond identifying how long they have been in your closet is usually quite complicated. Here’s an example using this bag that has been in my family for a few decades to demonstrate exactly how uncertain and elusive this knowledge is.
It is a velvet bag with little plastic beads glued to it. The velvet may be cotton and not synthetic both because of the lack of an excessive shine and feel to the touch, and because of the time – my grandmother bought it in East Germany in the 1970s. She does not remember exactly what year it was and there are no precisely dated photos. In fact, for years I have been thinking of how nice it would be if all clothes had the production year on the label, like the print year of the books. For now that is only found on some vintage and haute couture pieces.
This, of course, brings me to the subject of labels… I know. They are horrible. Huge. Useless. Itchy. And we routinely cut them off, leaving the garments with even less information. I am, however, observing at least a timid movement towards printing the relevant information on the inside of the garments, which has the benefits of not having that uncomfortable attachment and not mixing materials in one garment as long as the dyes are carefully chosen.
But this bag does not carry any label or brand indication. Maybe it had one in the seam of its lining originally, but we changed the original lining about ten years ago for it had holes. It also comes from a time and country that did not have the same notion of branding as we have now.
Even so, I tend to believe that it is of industrial production as (a) the beads are plastic, (b) they have been fixed with glue, and (c) it seems clear that the fabric has been finished before being sewn but with this exact bag design in mind.
In addition, we know that it is not a unique artisan object since my grandmother bought three very similar bags then, a big one for her and two smaller ones, each one of a differing color, for her two little daughters. Here you have me in 1991 playing with the bag that belonged to my mother:
The shape is very simple, they are rectangles without partitions or pockets. The original form of closure was a sheathed cord, forming a little sack once closed. Just like the simplicity of the shape, the size of the “adult” bag is very curious, closer to a tote bag of today and not a proper ladies’ bag. The absence of partitions or pockets and the dark color of the lining make it an excellent example of capacious bags where stuff gets forever lost.
It was clearly not made to be an everyday bag: it is insecure to pickpockets, the velvet wears out, and the pearls fall off even in the absence of eager little hands to pick on them. But it is big and not very chic either, it is not a special occasion purse. Maybe a fun vacation-at-a-seaside-resort accessory? A bag for the first socialist hippies but produced by the regime?
And this is where I wanted to arrive, to this lack of knowledge. Even knowing the person who bought this item new, neither she nor I know where exactly it is made, by whom, of what materials and with what functionality in mind.
On a less philosophical note, now the handles are so worn out that continuing to use it is not a good idea, and I’m not sure what would be the best way to fix with this bag to give it a few more decades of life.
Take the oldest clothes you have and explore them. If people who bought or made them are still around, ask questions. Look for photos. Put a date on it. And give them a lot of love via care and repairs.
Salvemos a las abejas + the best novel to understand what a future without bees could be on a visceral level like is Generation A (2009) by Douglas Coupland
After mentioning the Jumpsuit project last week, now I need a think a bit on the topic of “rejecting choice”: “Although it may seem as if we have endless choices of what to wear, as if our ability to choose is part of what makes us free, we really only have the choices that the market makes available to us […] we must buy new things, and we must buy more” + to provide context to that confessional writing which is so much NOT about the jumpsuit, The Millennial Vernacular of Fatphobia)
“As we prepare to stagger out, blinking and confused, into hot vax summer, we need to agree that we’re all going to lean into compassion. For each other, but especially for ourselves. We’re re-learning normal. We’ve survived a collective trauma. It’s going to get easier but it’s not particularly easy right now, even though there is so much joy and relief. And if you’re someone who turns to body checking (or body shaming, restriction, and so on) when things are not easy, this is a high trigger time. So if you can, check in with the friends you’re going to see before you see them.” + some amazing plus size fashion ladies of IG: Why Is Getting Dressed So Hard (Part 1) + Why Is Getting Dressed So Hard (Part 2)
The everyday reusable functionality we should all be looking for: DIY Reusable Swiffer Duster from an old T-Shirt + On functional design, properly done: Girl Crush: On designing our women’s climbing pants
+ Laziness Does Not Exist: “If a person’s behavior doesn’t make sense to you, it is because you are missing a part of their context.”
And that’s it for this week! I hope that you enjoyed reading and would be very happy to hear from you, regarding garment history tracing or anything else… in the comments below, via Facebook or Instagram, or via e-mail at luize.ratniece [a] gmail .com
Guardarrr is a weekly bilingual newsletter dedicated to sustainability and mindfulness in fashion. It is written by Luīze Ratniece, a sociologist and textile activist based in Barcelona. Guardarrr is both a tool for reflection and a crowdfunding channel for the wardrobe tracking app that Luīze is building. If you read this newsletter and value it, please consider going to the paid version to fund this project for a monthly equivalent of a coffee + pastry. Each subscription warms my heart immensely and helps going on, thank you so much for being here with me!