Category Archives: Viewpoint

Patagonia’s Worn Wear Project

Yesterday the Patagonia Worn Wear rig made a stop at Warren Wilson College, which is located in nearby Swannanoa, NC, and I was able to drop in to see it in action.  The rig, seen above, is actually a mobile clothing repair shop, which is currently touring the country with stops at selected college campuses.  Tiny Warren Wilson was lucky to be chosen, as most of the schools on the tour are large universities.

The purpose of the tour is to raise awareness of how clothing repair is an important part of making the production of clothing more sustainable.  It seems like an oxymoron for a company like Patagonia, which is in the business of making and selling clothes, to advocate for people keeping their clothing longer.  But Patagonia is not the average clothing company.

Patagonia is a producer of outdoor clothing and supplies, and is not a “fashion” company.  But all clothing reflects to some degree what is in fashion, either through color, or the length of shorts, or the fit of a tee shirt.  As a maker of fleece jackets and down jackets, Patagonia does not rely so much on changing styles in order to sell their products.  Instead, they sell garments that are actually needed.  Even so, they are working toward educating people that need can be reduced through repairs.

I’ve written about Patagonia before as an example of a company that makes it easy for the consumer to know where and how its products are made.  If you go to their website, on the sales page of each product it shows the factories where the product was made, along with a description of the responsible practices of each.  It’s about as transparent as it gets in the clothing industry.

The Worn Wear team did on the spot repairs, but even more importantly, they wanted to talk with students (and even non-students like me) about the importance of taking care of one’s clothing to make it last longer.  They encouraged visitors to learn the skills necessary to make repairs to damaged clothes to extend their life.  And of course, behind the message is the starting point of buying good stuff to start with.

The rig itself is really interesting.  It’s made of completely recycled materials and it runs on biodiesel.  It’s beautifully constructed, and I imagine they get lots of attention on the highway.

This is Rudy, who guards the thread and keeps the staff on track.

There was even free swag.  Besides the organic fruit bar and a small guide to making repairs, there was a shelf of free books, all titles pertaining to environmental and human rights issues.  I picked up a copy of Patagonia’s latest report on these initiatives, and spent much of the evening reading about the many things that Patagonia is working toward.

Most interestingly, the book did not back away from the mistakes they have made in the past few years, and gave honest reports on two controversies, the use of down from force-fed geese, and the use of wool from a farm which PETA exposed as being inhumane.  In both cases Patagonia did their own investigations, and found they were in the wrong, and then took the necessary steps to correct the abuses.

It’s really refreshing when a group just owns its mistakes.   I can’t help but think that this would be a great policy for all.

Currently, a big issue is the discovery that microfibres that get into the water by way of laundry has become a major source of pollution in our oceans.  In order to better understand what effect Patagonia fleeces and other products have on this problem, the company conducted a research project in which all their projects were tested for microfibre shedding.  They are also funding continuing research in the area.

Cute dog mascots are always a plus!

The issue of sustainability is a tricky one.  Most of the programs by clothing companies I have read about are just green-washing, meant to look to be more environmentally friendly than they truly are.  Most, like turning in old clothes for a store credit, are just ways of getting one to shop more.  And as pointed out in an excellent article at Vestoj,  even the way sustainability issues are presented by the fashion press usually misses the point.

Thanks to Patagonia for hosting this tour of the traveling repair workshop.  If it happens to roll into a college near you, go and check it out.

 

 

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Bad History Is Now #fakehistory

I first posted this photo in August, 2015, but since then it, along with the erroneous caption, is once again making the rounds of “history” Twitter and Instagram accounts, I felt a bit of updating was in order.  You can click to the original post to read about all that is wrong with the caption.

I’m using the same photo as an example because of an experience I had on Twitter last week.  As the photo appeared in my feed yet again, I’d had enough, and posted to the effect that this was #fakehistory which should not be retweeted, and pointed out the errors.  Two people, both historians I respect, replied that it was all in the spirit of fun, and then one turned the tables to tell me I should not use the term suffragette, that the correct term is suffragist.  That hand-slapping came despite the fact I was quoting the original.

In a time when anything one does not agree becomes “fake news,” people who care about the truth need to be aware that not all that is fake is news.  Much of it is decades and centuries in the past.  Whereas two and a half years ago I was hesitant to correct fake history for fear of ruffling feathers, I’m afraid we have come to the place in time where making such corrections is necessary in order to keep false narratives from overtaking the truth.

But how does one read a photograph?  There was a great article on Quartz last week that gave some valuable hints for looking at photographs critically.  You might want to read the full article, but the author gave four main points.  Here I’ve applied each to the photo above.

  1. Consider the source – In this case the source was Twitter.  Anything posted to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, or any number of other social sites, should be viewed with a bit of skepticism.
  2. Pay attention to aesthetics – If the point of the photo was to show women annoying men, then why was the photo taken at such an angle that no men can be seen?
  3. Ask “What is the narrative of the photo”? – The narrative can come from a caption.  Does the content of the photo match that of the caption?  Again, where are the annoyed men?  Why are there groups of women spectators who are wearing bathing suits but are not eating?  And why is there food all over the faces of some of the eaters?
  4. Cross-check information – The facts presented in the caption are easily checked.  If the photo was made in the US, then women already had the right to vote.  If it came from the UK, all women did not get the right to vote until 1928, after a fight that had been going on for over seventy years.  At any rate, women in 1921 would not have been “early suffragettes.”  You can also cross-check a photo by right-clicking on it, and then clicking “Search Google for image.”  The first item in the list of links goes to Snopes.com, a fact-checking site.

On Sunday I posted something that is rarely seen here at The Vintage Traveler- a quotation.  The internet is full of quotes of all kinds, meant to uplift or to tear down, to justify or to destroy.  One thing is for sure, an internet “quote” often has nothing to do with the person who supposedly said or wrote it it.  The best kind of quote is one that makes us think, or that removes us a bit from our comfort zone.

But like the quote I chose to use this week, most of us use them to back up what we already believe.  Having a president’s opinion, even one from 125 years ago that most people can’t tell you a single fact about, might possibly carry more weight than ordinary Lizzie.  Or in the case of modern presidents, it might carry no weight at all, depending on which part of the political spectrum one falls.

What was incredibly easy about posting the President Harrison quote was how simple the internet made it to verify its authenticity.  There are now quote-checking websites that give detailed information about quotes and who did – and did not – say them.  Which makes me wonder why, given that it is so easy, that instead of double-checking their facts, the quote-spreaders continue to put words into the mouths of historical figures.

All this boils down to one thing:  In order to know the truth, one must look for it.  One of the skills I tried to teach my fifth graders was how to read critically, considering the source and the words carefully.  I can tell you that even a fifth grader can determine the reliability of a written passage when given the time and skills necessary for careful reading.

 

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Desert Island Vintage Feature at Denisebrain Vintage Fashion

I was recently asked a simple question by Maggie at Denisebrain Vintage Clothing.  If you could have just eight vintage fashion items, what would they be?  The question turned out not to be as simple as I’d at first thought.  It took an entire week for me to finally decide on which eight items I’d most want to have.

If you want to know my answers, head over to Maggie’s blog.  And if you have not already done so, you need to add Denisebrain to your list of blog favorites.

Thanks so much, Maggie!

 

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Vintage Miscellany – January 29, 2017

The study of how people dress is a serious discipline.  I’m saying this because the people who are professional dress historians and educators have, for the past thirty years or so, struggled to let that fact be known.  Pick up almost any book written about fashion studies in the twentieth century, and the introduction will stress how fashion IS a serious area of study.

Go to a conference for dress historian, and chances are good that you will stumble on this conversation. Even museum professionals continue to make this point. In The First Monday in May, Andrew Bolton spent much of his airtime lamenting his lack of respect within the Met.

What we wear, and how we wear it ARE important parts of our culture.  A garment can be a powerful symbol, as the Phrygian cap was during the French Revolution.  Even today, over 225 years later, that cap is strongly associated with the Revolution.

Garments can reflect a person’s station in life and their political views.  Black has long been a symbol of mourning in Western cultures, and even today, many people will wear black to a funeral or wake.  In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Suffragettes wore purple, white, and green, and in the USA, gold.  Today, many working for equal rights have rediscovered these symbolic colors and are using them to help make a point.

World events have gone at a crazy fast clip in the past two weeks, and it might seem that talking about fashion is a bit frivolous.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

* Will the pussy cat hat endure as a symbol of the recent women’s marches?  Museums are adding examples to their collections.

*  Hillary Clinton’s choice to wear a white pantsuit to the Inauguration was no accident.

*  The clothes we wear to work affect how others perceive the job we are doing.  Sean Spicer’s recent fashion transformation is a great example of using image to try to build credibility.

*  Kellyanne Conway defended the made in Italy Gucci coat she wore to the Inauguration by saying she was the “face of Donald Trump’s movement.”  She went on to apologize.  She was “sorry to offend the black-stretch-pants women of America with a little color.”

* After all the speculation, Melania Trump wore a Ralph Lauren coat and dress to the Inauguration.  She was stunning.

*  Not all the fashion and art news is from Washington.  First up, a lesson why you should never loan your prized possessions to friends.

I’ve been writing about the human rights and environmental issues in the garment and textile industries for almost fifteen years.  In my mind, the solution comes down to one big truth:  In order to solve the problems, people are going to have to see the benefit in paying more for their clothing. The time of spending lots of money on lots of cheap clothing needs to be replaced with spending the needed amount of money on ethically produced, well made and designed clothing.

*   An article from the UK continues to bust the myth that “garment factories exploiting workers is a problem restricted to low-wage Asian nations.”  An undercover investigation discovered that workers in UK garment factories were making as little as  £3 an hour, while the minimum wage is  £7.20.

*  A USA producer breaks down the cost of making higher quality garments.  thanks Jen for the link

*  Those campaign promises of good manufacturing jobs for the unskilled?  Easier said than done.

*  “The minimum wage in Bangladesh is 32 cents an hour.”  Those protesting for more are arrested.

*  And just to prove that I’m not completely overwhelmed with the negative, here is a nice feature on the resurgence of home sewing.

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Project: Cashmere Hoodie with Patches

I haven’t showed off a project recently, partly because I have been working on this one for almost two months.  Yes, I am slow.

All the materials came from my local Goodwill bins – cashmere hoodie, embroidery thread, background fabric, and even the embroidery hoop.  Everything except the needle.  The hoodie was missing the label, but there is no doubt that it is cashmere, and good quality at that.  So, why was it in the bins?  There were four holes.

Holes in cashmere don’t bother me, especially if it is a product this hefty.  Repairing it is quite easy, and I’ve repaired enough cashmere to be able to do a neat and almost undetectable mend.  That is what I’d planned, but the holes were pretty large, so I started thinking about alternatives.

I came up with embroidered patches, and because I was anxious about recent world events, I pictured a scream.  Actually, I pictured The Scream, by Edvard Munch.  I can tell you that embroidering this detail from the work was therapeutic.

I began by finding details of four paintings that I love.  I had the great product above, which is a fabric with a paper backing to run through a printer.  I isolated the sections I wanted to embroider and printed them onto the fabric.

I used a combination of wool thread and cotton embroidery floss, depending on the type of texture I wanted.  I pretty much stuck to a plain straight stitch throughout.  Sometimes I mixed two different color strands on the needle.

Van Gogh’s Wheatfields with Crows

Monet’s Water Lilies

And this one is a bit harder to recognize because I pulled the detail from the background.  Any art lovers want to attempt a guess?

My poor camera just does not capture the richness of the color and texture of this sweater.  It’s soft and warm and reminds me of beautiful things.

Over the past few years I’ve really cut retail shopping, and this year I hope to buy nothing new to wear.  I have so much fabric, and the Goodwill is such a great source of raw material, that I’m hoping I can make anything I need to fill in gaps in my wardrobe.

Every week it seems there is another article warning of the unsustainability of the shopping habits of people in developed countries.  Besides the human cost, the clothing and textiles industries are two of the most polluting on earth.  I think is is time (past it actually) that we all reevaluate the way we shop for clothing and other textile products.  When it gets to the point that people  don’t have access to clean water because of the dyes and other pollutants used in the manufacturing process, it’s time to take action.

Stepping off the soapbox now…

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The Vintage Traveler Annual Giveaway

It’s Christmas Eve and the first day of Hanukkah, and I wish all my readers a peaceful holiday season.  To celebrate, I’ve got two books to giveaway, Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire Shaeffer, and Modern Fashion in Detail, by Claire Wilcox and Valerie Mendes.  Both are duplicates from my library, and both are excellent.

Claire Shaeffer is well-known as a sewing teacher and Chanel expert, but she has also studied other couturiers techniques extensively.  And while the book is aimed at people who sew, anyone interested in couture will love this book.

Modern Fashion in Detail really should be titled 20th Century Fashion, as it covers the work of designers from Lucille to Christian Lacroix.  It’s a fascinating look at the details.

To enter, just leave a comment telling which book (or even both of them) you would love to own.  I’ll ship worldwide so the drawing is open to all.  I’ll pick the winners on New Years Day.

I want to thank all of you who have supported my research and collecting with your readership and comments.  It is truly delightful having a wonderful group of textile and fashion history lovers who are willing to help me solve my little mysteries and who give encouragement.  I wish you all peace.

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Keep Moving Forward

Last week I took some time to visit a local history museum in a nearby town.  I’d been there before, several years ago, and remembered that at that time there was a no photo policy in effect at the museum.  I was hoping the policy had changed, because there is one artifact in particular that I wanted to photograph.

That artifact is a 1947 wedding dress that was made from German parachutes.  The bride’s brother, knowing that his sister was to be married and that fabric was in short supply, liberated the parachute silk near the end of the war.  He sent it home, where his sister had the dress made for her wedding two years later.  What makes this artifact so interesting is that there are photos of the bride wearing the dress, plus photos taken of the couple quite recently.

It’s a great story, one that I wanted to share here.  So many times we remember wars just through the battles, but it is important to know that every person, whether in combat or not, is affected by war.  This wedding dress is a reminder that history is not just dates and facts, but also people’s lives.

I would tell you more about the bride and groom, but unfortunately, the display was stuck in a far corner, and the print on the display so small that it could not be read.  When I was last in the museum, the dress was in a glass case at the front, prominently displayed.  Last week, it was a seeming afterthought in an unrelated exhibit.  Even if photos had been permitted, I could not have gotten decent shots of the dress.

I don’t like being harsh about local history museums.  They are often staffed solely by volunteers, and the budget is usually tiny.  They have important stories to tell, and as a whole this museum does an admirable job.  But it seems to me that they could do a lot better by this important dress.

Because I still have Amanda Grace Sikarskie’s Textile Collections:  Preservation, Access, Curation, and Interpretation in the Digital Age on my mind, I’ve spent some time thinking about what exactly is needed by small museums.  I’m sure that if I were to ask the lovely docent at this particular museum what was needed most, she would say, “Money.”  In fact she mentioned several times about things that were needed but they do not have the money.

But when I got home and read through my Twitter feed, I found these words from Valerie Steele of the Museum at FIT:

A museum is like a shark, it needs to keep moving forward or else it will die.

Of course I don’t know the context of the quote, as it was taken from a talk she made at a recent conference.  But I do think she pointed out what is a big problem – that people have changed the way we interact with the world, and our museums can either capitalize on these changes, or die.

To start, museums really do need to rethink their photography policies.  Like it or not, people are recording their lives through their smartphones. The smart institution uses this to its advantage.  Every time a visitor tweets or Instagrams, or makes a Facebook post from a museum, that museum gets free advertising.  I can’t tell you how often I see a post on Instagram  by someone  visiting a fashion exhibition that has a friend make a comment  and tag a friend with, “We’ve got to see this.”

Smart institutions make it easy for visitors to share a photo opportunity.  This is my friend Linda, trying on a crinoline and reproduction mid 19th century dress at the Charleston Museum.  They have an entire dress-up area as part of the textile gallery.  Linda does not share my passion for fashion history, but she dressed up in the spirit of fun, and shared the photo.

In the fifteen years that I’ve been actively pursuing fashion exhibitions, I’ve seen a lot of changes.  I started out sketching at these exhibitions because of all the no photos rules.  But now I find that rarely  is an exhibition off limits to photographers.  Yes, there should be rules, like no tripods and such, but most visitors are just wanting a photo or two to share on Instagram.

One of the big arguments against photos in museums is that they counteract the introspective examination of the art or the exhibit.  That may be true, but there is not a lot of private contemplation happening at the Met’s Costume Institute blockbusters, or at the Mona Lisa, or in the Impressionist galleries of any museum.  However, you can overcome this problem by going through an exhibition twice – once just to study the artifacts, and then a second time to take photos.

I’m saying this, not to criticize museums, but to point out that while all over the world museums are in financial trouble, not all problems are going to be solved with money.  Maybe the key to survival is to come up with ways to make visitors feel like they are part of the museum.  Having a good photo policy is just one tiny step in that direction.

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