"Everybody eats!” is a rallying cry of food and environmental activists eager to grow a broad-based movement. With the exception of the Philly Naked Bike Ride, everybody wears clothes, too. Can our daily routine of tucking in and buttoning up lead us to a sustainable future?
My relationship with clothing has always been tentative, and a little problematic. At the age of 10, I received a pair of blue and yellow hand-me-down sneakers from my cousin. I hated them. I stashed the offending shoes in a closet, and put all my energy into making my feet grow. No sooner had they obliged than a funny thing happened: the sneakers had a swoosh, and that particualr brand began to crescendo in popularity. Apparently my cousin was a little hipper than me. Now, I wanted my feet to shrink—a task that proved slightly more difficult. How could my 10-year-old self have been so cruelly misled by my own taste? Of course, now I can see mass marketing’s clever spell, and its hunger for youthful insecurities.
While I remember some dubious early forays into attention-grabbing fashion—checkerboard shoes, shirt and hat, a dizzying sea of black and white worn all at the same time, with a pair of parachute pants—for the most part I wore clothes that discouraged notice. I dreaded shopping, and when I did make the annual or semi-annual trip to the mall, I bought clothes like a drunken oil sheik. I’d find a shirt I liked, and then buy five or six variations on the same theme. Band tees and flannel shirts defined my 20s, polo and oxford shirts have been the uniform of my 30s.
Several years ago when my grandmother died, the hodgepodge of pants and jackets I’d assembled to fulfill social obligations seemed inadequate. I needed a good suit. I was amazed at how it made me feel. Loved ones told me I looked nice. I bought another for my wedding last year. I’ve worn both of those suits several times now, and every time I do, my wife is sure to hear me say, “I should dress like this every day!” (The sharp dressers on my current obsession, Mad Men, might be compounding that urge.)
Those suits were my first experience of feeling connected to what I was wearing, but, as with most garments made so far away, it can be difficult to feel engaged with our wardrobes. One thing certainly helps: dressing locally. True, not buying anything is choice number one for the sustainably-minded, and choice number two is to buy used, but if you decide to buy something new, shopping carefully is key. Most fashion-minded folks will tell you that you don’t need a big closet, just well-selected articles of clothing that you really like.
Putting this issue together was a real eye-opener—there are so many talented and creative people making clothing right here in our backyard. A special thanks to Jamila Payne of the National Association of Sustainable Fashion Designers and Sarah Van Aken of SA VA for giving us good direction. And further thanks to Sarah for the great tie I’m wearing in this picture.