Experiments

Bucking the trend in ill-fitting corduroy

The first place I’m taking my glam-queen-turned-crackaddict look is the local thrift store. It’s day one of my month-long rebellion against a culture of disposable fashion. For the next four weeks, I’ll exchange that new-outfit-glow for someone else’s castoffs; used clothing only. My revolt against the de rigueur was unlikely to dethrone Tommy Hilfiger, but I hoped to prove that peace, love and self-affirmation aren’t born in an offshore sweatshop.

I sift through my wardrobe, tossing aside everything I’ve bought, been given, or acquired warehouse-to-wardrobe direct. I’m purging my closet of everything but hand-medowns and thrift store purchases. What remains is a pitifully small heap from which I pull a hooded sweater, a slightly longer purple shirt and my favourite – in fact, my only – second-hand pants: well-worn jeans that recently succumbed to a six-inch tear at the hip. No problem. I can cover that with a hand-me-down dress coat.

The first place I’m taking my glam-queen-turned-crackaddict look is the local thrift store. It’s day one of my month-long rebellion against a culture of disposable fashion. For the next four weeks, I’ll exchange that new-outfit-glow for someone else’s castoffs; used clothing only. My revolt against the de rigueur was unlikely to dethrone Tommy Hilfiger, but I hoped to prove that peace, love and self-affirmation aren’t born in an offshore sweatshop.

Jerry Seinfeld famously noted that sweatpants tell the world, “I give up. I can’t compete in normal society. I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.” We create identity through dress. Our style communicates who we are, how we’re feeling and whether we’re headed to the tennis court or to federal court. Yet regularly we allow our style to be dictated by a mannequin in the Gap.

Thrift stores, on the other hand, challenge us to create our own look, to build identity from the rubble of someone else’s wardrobe. This often requires a sewing machine, a little creativity and the hope that, somewhere between the shaker-knit sweaters and acid-washed jeans, you will find some semblance of style, if not a little retail therapy.

I feel myself deflate as the first rack greets me with a brown velour pantsuit. A half hour later, I leave with red fleece pajamas, long-sleeved T-shirts, wool sweaters and pants. Beige cords, in fact. Second-hand shops are a sinkhole for beige cords.

The following evening, I’m invited to a friend’s house. I call her back. “Uh, is it OK if I wear my pajamas?” It is, but as the holiday season looms, I begin to worry. The first event is a 1970s ski sweater party. Easy. I coast through Christmas in a baggy pair of – you guessed it – beige cords and a tossed off red turtleneck. As New Year’s Eve approaches, I survey my pile of ill-fitting duds and shudder. All I wanted for Christmas was pants that fit.

I ransack the local Salvation Army, the ladies’ auxiliary thrift store and the consignment shop. Finally, the jeans ease around my hips and button nicely at the waist. I discover a white turtleneck sweater that, when yanked slightly off the shoulder, could almost be considered stylish, and pull it down over a blue satin halter given to me by an old roommate.

I survive New Year’s in a fashion void.

The holidays behind me, clothing diversity becomes a distant memory. I move into a rhythmic three-pant-rotation. So, it’s unplanned the morning my trend deprivation abruptly ends. I look down at my red fleece pants, the ones I’ve slept in and relaxed in for 29 days. With one zip of the lululemon hoody I got for Christmas, it’s all over.

I sit for a moment, contemplating the sweater’s downy interior, its ample sleeve length, the Made in China label tickling my neck. I feel, well, not much of anything, except overwhelmed at the prospect of deciding what to wear today. I pick up my new old jeans – the ones that fit – and pull them on. Because once you’ve walked a month in a stranger’s pants, it can be hard to go back.

Amanda Follett lives in Smithers, British Columbia.

Issue 13

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 13, Spring 2009, Experiments with Truth.

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