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.

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