One of the things you start realizing when you read an inordinate number of books about French beauty and style in order to fend off the temptation to wallow in self pity that it’s late March and still 20 degrees outside, is that French women (typically) buy nice clothes. Excellent clothes of quality. Made of fabrics not derived from petroleum.
(GUYS, does everyone know that fleece is really bad for the environment? That stuff just keeps breaking down into smaller and smaller particles and then it’s just in the water/air/our bodies FOREVER. That is a whole other thing that I am going to start going on some rants on soon, but for now I’ll just leave it. Except, PLEASE DON’T BUY ANY NEW FLEECE PRODUCTS EVER AGAIN! Buy something on eBay or the thrift store if you really need fleece in your life that badly, but holy cow.)
Ok, sorry. French women (and men). They buy well-made clothes in fabrics like silk and linen and cashmere and cotton. Clothes that are made well, and made to last. And to last not just for several years, but for decades. (Obviously, they don’t keep everything for decades, and this is just a broad generalization, but in general they seem to have a slower pace to their consumption of clothing than we do. And also obviously, there is a growing trend towards slower consumption here that is heartening to see. And this documentary, which everyone has seen, right?). This means that they have relationships with tailors and cobblers.
In one of the truly most frivolous books I have read about France recently (by an American who has lived there for decades) I read this:
“French women are frugal, and they rely on a handful of ‘enablers,’ those men and women who allow them to keep their clothes and accessories in pristine condition, sometimes for decades.
“Monsieur Cotte is one of my enablers. He is my shoe man… He has saved shoes I thought were lost forever, sewn sandals back together, and re-soled (and re-soled) some of my favorite shoes, and… has dyed several pairs multiple times. I had a pair of yellow slingback ballerinas. When it became clear the yellow was beyond salvation, he dyed them fuchsia; when fuchsia was over, we moved on to Bordeaux. I figure they can one day be navy and, finally, black. He dyed my camel suede ballerinas bottle-green…” (Guys, I think I’m too mortified to even cite the book this quotation is from! But I can’t not do that, because, well the Honor Code, so fine. It’s this book, p. 198. Please do not judge me!!!)
I mean, this is just such a different way of thinking about clothes and shoes. And most of us are just going so fast in life that we don’t have time to think about repairing shoes or mending clothes. (Or wait, does everyone already do this?!) There’s a calmness and a slowness in the French way that seems so appealing. What if we really just own the same couple of sweaters for years and years? What if we just wore the same dress to church every week? What if we spend $100 on a pair of real leather shoes instead of $15 on plastic ones at Target, but then keep them for years and have them mended and dyed, rather than throwing them away? (And sigh, for the record, I am running out of shoes in almost every category of shoe that I own, but I can’t bring myself to spend money on quality new ones, nor can I bring myself to spend any amount of money on cheap ones! I don’t really know the way out of this shoe-buying impasse, but maybe I’ll keep you all posted….)
What I mean to say, is that yesterday I stitched up a little hole in a wool cardigan that my mom sent me recently (which she bought second-hand from somewhere!). I didn’t have the perfect color of thread, and the finished product also isn’t perfect. But I mended it! It’s mended! And I also, in the very same morning, as my children were running around the house like banshees, stitched a seam that had come undone in a little silk tunic that I own. I could have probably had a seamstress do both things for hardly any money. But somehow it felt like a small act of resistance to do it myself. Resisting consumption, resisting the temptation to think, “Yay, it’s broken, now I can get rid of it and get a new one!” I don’t know. I think Wendell Berry would be proud.
[Also, your clothes don’t have to be particularly fancy in order to justify mending them. I bought a couple of linen dresses for $12 last summer at Old Navy, and they didn’t have pockets, so I asked one of my sweet friends who also happens to be an excellent seamstress if she would put pockets in for me. She did! And last year I hemmed up, my very own self, a pair of linen pants (also from Old Navy, actually) that were too long. But also, about linen pants: My sweet mother bought me a pair of linen pants from a NICE store last summer, and they looked and fit incomparably better than the Old Navy ones every did. They’re linen colored, which as any woman with tiny children knows is a perilous choice, just begging for tomato-sauce fingers or raspberry jam or mud, but because of my frivolous reading of books about French clothes, now I know that they can get stained and then I can just dye them navy, and then black….]
So anyway, here’s to cobblers and seamstresses and dye and thread and buttons! To slowing down enough to be content with what we have & learning to fix and live joyfully with a little patched hole in a wool cardigan. (Although read here for a post script about mending clothes, alas.)