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« Bless | Main | Looking for hope »

Long, slow fashion

When my mum died, 21 years ago, I inherited a jacket I had always loved. It was a glowing peacock greeny blue, and she bought it when she and my dad lived in Dublin in the 1980s.  Inside it is a cloth label depicting a dinky little cottage nestled under a mountain. Two leafless winter trees, blue sky and wispy clouds are included in the picture, and underneath the cosy scene are these words:

‘Donegal Handwoven

This tweed was handwoven from pure new wool in my small cottage in County Donegal, Ireland. Like my forefathers, I have put something of my own character into this cloth: ruggedness to wear well, softness for comfort, colours from our countryside. Joy and health to you who wear this.’ Underneath is a proud flourish of a signature – W. McNelis.

There have been some profoundly disturbing articles in the media over the past year or so, and some confronting statistics. Such as the fact that 6000 kilograms of clothing are dumped in landfill by Australians every ten minutes. And that the average Australian buys 27 kilograms of new clothing and textiles each year. Our addiction to fast fashion, it would seem, is one of many practices contributing to environmental disaster.

Mum was all class; not conventionally beautiful but always elegant. She was never terribly well off, so she bought very little, but what she did buy lasted.

Like mum, I’ve never had a lot of disposable income. I’m an op shop fanatic, but have also been guilty, on occasion, of a department store shopping spree, bringing home a five-dollar T-shirt or three, something I can’t imagine mum ever doing.

Her jacket has survived serval moves and endless numbers of culls as I have attempted to accumulate less, travel lighter, declutter my wardrobe and my life. Although the lining is slightly torn, the coat is still toasty warm, and every time I wear it, I get appreciative comments. As W. McNelis wished, it does bring me joy. They don’t make garments like that anymore.

I have many of mum’s things still: the dinner set that was a wedding present in 1954, an antique wall hanging and a very old wooden and brass chest, both of which she bought in India. Like her jacket, they are treasured, and will, I hope, be passed on to my own offspring one day, along with the conviction that having fewer possessions and looking after them might go a small way towards saving the planet.

This was published in The Melbourne Age on 25 August 2019

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