Monday, December 24, 2018

Tossing Bullion in the Trash

The other day I did a minor culling of clothes, discarding a few pieces with small but unfixable (by my standards) flaws such as "The front of this garment has a grease spot the size of a dime" or "there's a tiny hole in one part of the fabric." So I won't donate these items to a thrift store, and I didn't even add them to the ragbag because that's already full; I threw them all away.

Which is no big deal for a modern American (especially one who pays thrift-store rather than retail prices for clothes), but for most of humanity's time on earth, throwing away that much usable fabric would've been as extravagantly wasteful as a person nowadays saying "Yeah, I found some gold bullion while cleaning house, and threw it away because I have no room for it." Had I the skills, inclination and time I could've reworked those damaged clothes into a couple complete new outfits for myself, or a patchwork quilt or part of a rag rug or some handkerchiefs or curtains or [insert list of useful textile items here]. But with today's textile technology, there's no point in me investing the huge amount of time this would require.

Any given yard of textile today is literal orders of magnitude cheaper than it would've been back when every bit of fabric had to be made my hand -- spinning loose plant or animal fibers into threads, weaving individual threads into cloth -- yet if you compare contemporary western standards of dress with those of past eras, it's strange to think that back in the day, a given outfit (at least for warm-weather conditions) required far more fabric than a given outfit today. Thinking about what I'd need to make myself a single summer dress in the 19th century -- today that same amount of fabric would make me an entire long-sleeved shirt and long-legged pants combo, with enough cloth left for some smaller items. Or, if I went with short sleeves and short pants or skirts (as I'd often wear before moving to Georgia and hiding my skin from the sun), I could get two or three complete summer outfits from the fabric needed to make ONE pioneer-woman dress. Seems odd, that back when cloth was vastly more expensive for people, "respectability" standards required a person to wear far more cloth at any one time than you must wear today.


Blogger Chuck Pergiel said...

Clothes have two purposes. One is to protect you from the weather and dirt. The other is to mark your social status. Watching Ertugrul (13th century Turkish nomads), the women are weavers producing cloth. They wear fancy clothes even when doing chores. Actually, they wear the same outfit all the time. I suspect it is their only outfit. Kind of makes sense if they are nomads. Things haven't changed that much, except maybe we don't need the protection so much, but the social standing part is much more important. Rumor has it that Indian Sari's were developed as a way to cloth a woman without cutting the fabric, which was for some reason forbidden.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

Oh, I know about the importance of clothing as a social signifier (over and above any inherent need for protection from the climate); I just find it odd that, for most things, once technology made a given item far cheaper than before, the average person started owning/consuming far more of that particular items. But textiles -- at least regarding any given specific outfit -- are the opposite. Given how cheap fabric is now compared to how expensive it used to be, you'd think the evolution of style would've worked opposite: back in the day when clothes were super-expensive people wore the minimal amount required for the climate, but only after the Industrial Revolution did you find people start wrapping themselves in yards and yards of cloth. But no -- in Western cultures the opposite was true.

12:16 PM  

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