My Vintage Coat: Stories Behind our Clothes

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Dad used to say that if the fashion industry depended on him “they would be out of business.”. He couldn’t understand why anyone would buy a new piece of garment when his/her closet was full of clothes in wearable condition. Dad lived by the ideals of the slow fashion movement, although the term had yet to be coined. His clothes had a story to tell and he proudly shared with us the history behind his archeological items. I fondly remember a beige cardigan that he wore in airplane trips “this one I bought when I married your mother 22 years ago” and a warn out and stained polo shirt “from 1979 when the twins were born.”.

I used to look at dad upholding his principle of quality and utility versus style and consumerism and think how unfashionable he was, wearing white business shirts and dark pants day in, day out. For a bit of variety, sometimes the white shirts displayed faint stripes and occasionally he wore a tie. But other than that it was the same look everyday. It took me years to see that his old-fashioned grace expressed in his warn out attire and I’m noticing that the older I get the more similar to dad I become—I’m growing attached to my old rags.

My wardrobe isn’t large enough to accommodate clothing for all seasons so every end of summer and winter I have to rotate my clothes. I have to go through every item and inevitably end up with heavy bags of unwanted pieces for the Salvos. But the last two rotations I hardly had to recycle anything because 1. I’m buying much less clothes and 2. I’ve developed an emotional connection with my clothes.

I’ve got a vintage, blue checked coat that I bought with one of my first paycheques and now when winter comes to an end I look at my coat hanging in the wardrobe and ponder if it’s time for it to go. I probably only wear it a couple of times a year now. But I can still vividly remember the smile on my face when I brought this coat home. Back then I was into fashion and I was brave. I used to wear this coat as a dress and it only covered a quarter of my legs; this coat-dress marked a time of exploration and finding my identity and after so many years it still looks timeless, it keeps passing the test of time.

This vintage coat went with me to a holiday in New York. I remember walking down Times Square wearing my blue ‘dress’, thick blue stockings and a pair of boots that made me look 15cm taller. I remember the necks turning (don’t know if because I looked too hot or too weird!). The coat also followed me to Australia and is now part of winter wardrobe.

When I bought this coat I brought home a fashion label but now the tag has long faded and this piece of garment has become part of my story. I can’t help but look at it with the same fondness and connection I have with a good old book. And it has an added benefit; I can always turn the page and start a new chapter, I just need to wear it again. If this coat lasts until I’m old and frail I’ll pass it on and let it start a new story—this is if I find anyone.

Too many clothes today have an unfortunate story to tell. We rarely buy a timeless item, it’s all about cheap fashion, in today and out tomorrow. In the rare occasions when I go out to shop for clothes, I notice how fast the fashion industry has become. Fashion racks distract us with clothes that haven’t been worn yet but carry a story of exploitation, poverty wages and sweatshops. Drawers, wardrobes and closets all around the world are overflowing with dirty cheap clothes and many still have the store label attached. These items have a dark past and a bleak future—they will pile up landfills, biodegrading for decades.

My siblings donated dad’s clothes to charity but looking back now I wish I had inherited his beige cardigan. Sure it was worn out and wouldn’t fit me but I could use it for those moments when it’s too cold, too fast and too lonely and I just want to wrap myself with his memories. This is the closest I can get to him now.

My first poem: Life contracted

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My children and I are home sick today and I’m feeling yucky but grateful that I’m entitled to sick leave. There are so many casual workers out there in precarious jobs with no access to the entitlements that the rest of us have. I felt like having a go at writing a poem about my reflections on this. I started these verses last year but there is nothing like a day in bed to make me grab a pen… Here it goes:

Life contracted

On the margins of the labour market I sit
and contemplate my life many shifts
I bear all the risks and I weep

As the clock strikes at zero hour
I wake to a journey of uncertainty
Evenings and weekends isolate me from myself

The Guardian of the hours profits from my weakness
Unprotected I soldier on but labour in vain
I don’t have a future, I’m worn with His gain

What’s the value of my honest toil
if I traded my soul for a life of turmoil?
The fruits of my labour in sterile soil

To the Master of the liberal market:
Your servant was once commercially viable
but his portioned task is now unreliable

So in a turbulent market I drown in despair
My life is contracted it needs repair
The source of my joy has been outsourced

Burst of casual work are deflating my soul
and dignity escaping me with every new blow
How I long for the soothing labouring hours

Rosana Wayand 2016 Copyright

Rio Games and Tears for a Better World

Here I am, sobbing over my porridge this morning while I watch Esposito struggling to hold back her tears as she approaches the finish line of the modern pentathlon final. At one point she looks back at the opponents and realises she is taking home the gold medal and her intense facial expression now shows a mix of joy and disbelief.  I had to reach out for another box of tissues.  Call me emotional but whenever I watch athletes in the pursuit of the Olympic dream tears run down my cheeks. It’s impossible not to empathise with the stories of courage, determination, heroism and resilience that is behind each athlete. I think this ability to put ourselves in other people shoes is something that unities us all—I’m sure I’m not the only one moved to tears.

I wipe the final drop clinging to my cheek and turn on my laptop to check the news. Pass me the tissue box again. I come across videos of children being pulled from rubble in the recent bombing in Aleppo, Syria. Suddenly all the joy of the games in Rio seem like a selfish indulgence. In this particular video, a little boy endures the entire process of his rescue without dropping a single tear. Don’t worry little one, me and the world are crying for you. The boy’s in shock and so am I.

The world gives us plenty of reasons to cry and I’m here trying to console myself and pondering if we should celebrate the battle for medals when there are millions of people in the world battling for their dignity and in need of humanitarian support? Shouldn’t we solve the human suffering first before putting our energy on the celebration of the achievements of a lucky few?

There is no simple answer to that, the human suffering is too big of a problem. We help alleviate pockets of suffering here and another one pops up somewhere else. I guess we have to make a difference while we celebrate and encourage the amazing accomplishments of our fellow human beings. We need the collective strength of individual people (both the ordinary and the amazing), civil society and governments to make difference.

The Olympics remind us that it takes courage, self-sacrifice, determination and the support from a team to rise above our limits and achieve what is thought to be impossible. If we can emulate that outside the sport courts and track fields we can bring hope, solidarity and compassion to disasters and wars and create a more humane world.

So don’t be shy to shed a tear during the games, but not just as a reflexive reaction at the sight of the golden glory but as a reflection that each one of us can aspire to be better human beings and as a humanity raise the bar of our moral values. Let’s shed tears of joy and tears of sorrow, always hoping for a brighter day tomorrow.