Heirlooms in the age of fast fashion: Do they still make any?

I’ll be talking about family stuff, so here you have photos from the time my mom was participating in a sewing contest of Burda Moden; it’s very early 1990s and I’m the small person there. I definitely had the most stylish mom. Look at those earrings!

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Most of my garments won’t last. Many of them are poor quality fast fashion that I still pick up as hand-me-downs and swaps. And, due to my excel-driven wardrobe pruning decisions (i.e. unwillingly worn items have to go), my most loved items are worn to shreds and then some. Yes, my seamstress is used to me bringing in worn out jersey garments and pleading for a fix! Also, I’m not very careful with my stuff in general. Fragile and delicate is not really my cup of tea.

An unintended consequence that emerges from this combination of cheap, mass produced and low quality clothing and me cultivating a “here and now” wardrobe approach is lack of heirlooms. I use the notion of “heirloom” in a rather lax manner here, we don’t have much jewelry to pass. But apparently not much quality vintage either. A change in criteria in family hasn’t helped. Unless somebody is hiding stuff (I suspect that my aunt is!), the most interesting garments were cleaned out from family closets some 15 years ago when it became clear that the Soviet (and Post-soviet) need of saving things for a rainy day is gone forever. I did wear some of my grandma’s half-slips as skirt for a while (hey! it was 2003, teen magazines told me it was OK) but that was pretty much it.

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I’m currently holding on to few items of family vintage, mostly accessories. Those seem to adjust better to the passing of time and wear out less:

Grandpa’s ducky tie and rainbow cufflinks. I stole several grandpa’s ties when I was in my teens (and wore them! before Avrile Lavigne did), this is the only one left due to it’s novelty print. The rest of them were geometrical 70s stuff in dirty colors. I know nothing about the history of these accessories but keep fantasizing about the perfect white shirt and full skirt to wear them with. Some day…

The Justina wristwatch, from the other side of the little family I’ve built with C. Having understood the use of a watch during travel and meetings, in 2012 I wanted a wristwatch. It just happened that C was going though his old stuff in his childhood bedroom and showing me an array of wristwatches he had worn. So I got one to wear and take care of, one that he wore before his first communion, more than 20 years ago. Justina is a bit capricious (loves the touch of a watchmaker!) but feels just right.

Grandma’s winter scarves. Again, I snatched these some 15 years ago and wore as scarves throughout the Latvian winters of my teenage years. Even though I’ve been wearing other highly valued scarves lately (see below), these are back in Riga waiting for their renaissance.

The blue embroidered peasant blouse. I know that a colleague of my grandma made this for my mother and her sister. I don’t know which one of them wore it mostly and when. It’s a puffy and very cute garment, though shows sweat and adds a lot of volume to shoulders. Last week for the first time I started doubting about holding on to it. But then I wore it and this little blouse is one of those garments that feels better than it looks. It stays in the drawer!

The beaded bag. It is a set of three bags, one big and two small ones. As made for a mother with two daughters, my grandma and her two girls. I “inherited” one of the small ones (see the 1991 pic) and my cousin had the other one (I hope she still has it!)… until I somehow got my hands onto the big one. It’s heavily worn, and velvet + glued-on plastic beads are not the most lasting materials. This is the real vintage and is not going anywhere.

My mom’s blue dress. She made it herself. It was a maxi then, moved so magically and smelled of her. This is my first summer with it, and it feels magical to wear it.

Red wooden beads. I played with them as a child, making necklaces and taking them apart again (and letting somebody else to pick up all those that fell on the floor).

Silver Namēja wristband. This is the real heirloom from my mom.

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And then there are things that are not strictly heirlooms yet but I can see the potential:

Two relatively recent additions to my winter scarf collection are these wool wonders, a Pavlovo Posad shawl and a Cien Colores shawl. My favorite trivia question that everybody fails is asking people to guess where the Cien Colores comes from. Nobody suggests Cáceres, ever. Russians have been very successful in co-opting these kind of patterns in the popular imagination of Europeans.

The weirdest earrings capsule: chocolates and post-modern Lenin (see photo above) are creations of Latvian artists and gifts from my aunt. The virgin earrings – somebody told that that’s the typical depiction of Our Lady of Lourdes – are almost as funny as the Lenin earrings. I found them in a run-down mall of Fuerteventura in January 2008. In a normal accessory store, not one specializing in Catholic paraphernalia. I had newly pierced ears, and found the design + circumstances so ironic that I had to have them. A great conversation starter in inland Spain, too. It still puzzles me that somebody would wear such thing seriously.

The other necklace was a gift from my kindergarten friend Jēkabs when we were still in the kindergarten. He also had a very stylish mom and we were below 7, so I assume that I have to thank her for this very cool piece.

Wooden jewelry from Dana Zēberga, the sad bear earrings (above) and the “Russian” set. I love the “Russian” set very much and hope to keep it forever. Unless I lose it, my chances are good. I’ve had it for three or so years now, and no signs of wearing out.

Swedish army field jacket. Bought second-hand in a military/fishing shop in Riga in summer 2003 preparing for a military-themed summer camp (weird, I know! I did two of these at the ripe ages of 15 and 16, go figure). When I brought it home, together with matching pants and army boots, my haul smelled so bad that my grandma ordered a shortcut from doorstep to washing machine. Those pants and boots have long since disappeared from my wardrobe, but this jacket is probably the most robust garment I have.

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Throughout this post I kept thinking about what makes things potential heirlooms. They have to be unique or at least rare. They have to be aesthetically appealing. The have to be somewhat sturdy and time-resistant.

It’s weird, but I don’t think that my most exuberant adornments – my headbands – will survive for long enough. I’m down to three and… they just don’t feel special enough, despite being carefully crafted by ban.do girls (before they switched to whatever bs it is they are doing now) and Kaley from Little Honey Pies (also before the permanent vacation mood).
The wooden beads I used to play with 25 years ago and my grandpa’s ducky tie will last longer. That’s called selection bias.

Luīze

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