Abstaining From Crappy Clothes (Let's Not Say "Diet" More Than Absolutely Necessary)


There’s a terrific post today on the NYPL’s blog, inspired by a 1941 college girl’s “wardrobe survey” and the contrast with today’s collegians (and I’m not even talking Pi Phi) couldn’t be greater:

As Jessica Pigza observes, this vintage document dovetails nicely with current intitiatives like the Uniform Project and the Great American Apparel Diet – projects designed to crib consumption and make us realize how much more we, as a culture, buy than we need.

Design for Living: The Magazine for Young Moderns was launched in September 1941 and offered its readership of college women features on fashion, careers, food, etiquette and dating, wartime work, and campus life. The Campus Poll pictured here appeared in the magazine’s very first issue, and it caught my eye both for its graphic presentation and for the details it reveals about what the “Miss Average College Girl” owns and wears. Revealing that the average young woman spent $240.33 a year on clothes in September 1941, it further reports that “the sweater is still old faithful, and that a college girl spends 75% of her waking hours in the sweater skirt ensemble.” There is no differentiation between handmade clothing and purchased items in this survey, but I suspect that some of these women’s wardrobes included items that they made themselves (and there are articles elsewhere in Design for Living about sewing for oneself).

By coincidence, there’s an interview today on Time‘s website with a number of participants in the Great American Apparel Diet, which, as one of the women characterizes it, seeks to prevent “shopping without need or intention.” While I can think of companies more emblematic of the fast-impulse phenom than AA (mostly because I tend to shop there for basics when I’m not on the outs with the founders), in some ways it’s a perfect choice. Because, here’s the thing, and it’s a thing I considered a lot as I did a particularly shaming closet-clear this weekend: each time we buy clothing we don’t need – particularly if it’s the stuff we never wear – it’s not the garment we’re buying; it’s the fantasy of momentary reinvention. In that second you think, I could be an aloof, sexy hipster/wacky faux fur-sporter/someone who shows cleavage/trend-setter/Fosse-style-dancer/6 inches taller. And that’s really the issue: for me, it’s not just, why do we crave so much stuff, but why do we crave the different personas? Don’t get me wrong, I love costumes and getups, hell, I even love wigs. But the confidence that allows for that sort of sartorial expression is very different from the momentary identity crisis that compels these sort of always-regretted purchases. It’s not hard to see where it comes from, in a world where, far from the “uniform” of 1941, we’re given “reinvention” and “improvement” as a standard. And while there’s a lot to be said for striving, discontent is something else entirely. And while we’re at it, let’s bring “spoiled for choice” back into the lexicon.

Clothing Choices, 1941 And Today
Q&A: The Year Of No Clothing Purchases [Time]

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