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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Do We Still Cherish Quality?

My grandmother didn't learn to knit until she was in her 60s. She learned to tat, crochet, embroider, and sew as a child and did each beautifully. Once she learned to knit, she loved it and had a new found passion. I became the very fortunate recipient of many of her projects. Whenever I would come to visit, she would borrow books and have them waiting for me to look through and choose something that I would like to have. On one visit, I chose a long, v-neck tunic. A lavender yarn caught my eye, and the anticipation of the finished garment began.

At the time, long tunics with bell bottom pants were popular (yep, I've lived long enough to see this trend circle around more than once!). While I waited, I designed my outfit, matching lavender bell bottom pants with a white blouse. The blouse had gathered sleeves and a tied neckline. Once the pants and blouse were finished, I eagerly anticipated the arrival of my grandmother's package. 

I moved to Chicago in 1982. At the time, Michigan Ave. was truly the Magnificent Mile. The stores that lined the avenue were Bonwit Teller, Marshall Field's, Lord and Taylor, Saks, I. Magnin, Nieman Marcus and more. Inside they glistened as though everything was made of gold and crystal. Incredible pieces of clothing hung beautifully on the racks. It was a dreamer's paradise. I interviewed for a position with I. Magnin and was offered the job. 

Although my official position was in cosmetics, we were encouraged to sell throughout the store as we were given commission on everything we sold. I developed a relationship with my customers and learned what they liked, as well as what they used and needed. Each morning when I arrived, I would quickly scan through the store to see what was new, what was on sale. The next few hours were spent on the phone calling customers. It made for a much easier shopping experience for the customers and a more lucrative situation for me. Sadly, all but Saks and Nieman Marcus are now just a memory. 

Although I live in Chicago, I usually save my trips to downtown for when I have an appointment. A week or so ago, I had a doctor's appointment, so I decided to do a little shopping. I had heard on the news that there were incredible bargains to be had. My first stop was Zara. I had never been in the store...and I will never return. As I walked through the door, I was shocked to see what looked more like a garage sale than a store on Michigan Ave. Clothes were hanging cock-eyed on the hangers, tables were a jumbled mess. It all felt rather surreal, and my head began to scream, GET OUT OF HERE!!!. My next stop was Banana Republic. The store was well taken care of, nothing hanging off of a hanger, or piled on the floor. I saw a strapless dress on a mannequin that looked rather nice, but on closer inspection, it was flimsy with no built in support. From there, I popped into H&M, Top Shop, and Macy's. I felt heartbroken that the lovely shopping experience that at one time existed was now gone, but not totally. 

I walked into Ralph Lauren and was met with lovely, soothing music. The sales clerks were welcoming. I struck up a conversation with one and asked if she had customers who could not afford to buy non-sale items. She said, "oh, quite a few." She went on to describe basically the same shopping experience that we offered so many years ago at I. Magnin. She said that when a sale was about to hit, she has a list of customers that she calls to alert. She said that she also has customers who can only afford items if they have been marked down the second time, and she added, "I love them all!" 

This week I began working on a sweater that is on my list of knitted pieces that I would like to complete this year. 



As I knitted each row, and the piece grew longer, I found myself dreaming of how I would like to wear the garment, tights with over the knee gray boots. Then the memory of the lavender tunic came to mind, and how I anticipated its arrival and cherished the outfit each time I wore it. I ended up literally wearing it out.  

I think that for those who sew, our clothes have continued to remain precious. We honor great construction and beautiful fabric. And whether we purchase garments from high-end department stores or not, we do enjoy looking. 

While many cannot afford high-end clothing, I wonder if clothing for many has lost the factor of being cherished, respected and lovingly cared for. After all,who cares if it falls apart, it didn't cost that much and another can be had. Do we still anticipate and look forward to having a new garment, or has shopping for a bargain replaced a desire for quality? 

I would love to hear your thoughts :)  



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20 comments:

  1. That's a tough one. I can't really blame people for buying cheap clothes, because that might be all they can afford. But it does sadden me to think that some clothes might be used only once or twice before going to landfill. The ABC ran a documentary recently called War on Waste which dealt with these issues. They followed a group of young women who would shop several times a week, refused to wear an outfit more than once for fear of being shamed by their peers, and often threw away bags of clothing brand new with tags, unworn. That culture has to change.

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  2. For wear out in the public, I would rather wear a beautifully-made garment until it is very old and worn than wear something cheap once. However, around the house, for everyday at home, my clothes may well be quite cheap and old as long as they fit, are comfortable, and are not garish.

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  3. I find that I buy very little women's wear - I'm lucky that I have a build that lets me wear men's pants, so I get them when I do need something I can't (or don't want to) sew. I find the quality in men's wear is so much higher than the women's clothing at a corresponding price point.

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  4. I cherish my clothes not for the money they have cost but for the memories they hold.

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  5. When H&M came to the twin cities, people were going crazy. I stopped in once when I was Mall of America (a place I avoid like the plague!) and was NOT IMPRESSED. I have never stepped foot again. I can only imagine that Zara is more of the same based on the things I see people posting from there.

    I think there are options in between the behemoths that are H&M, F21, etc and high end designer stuff. But yeah, those stores aren't Miracle Mile material (Chicago native here!). It's too bad.

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  6. I absolutely believe that shopping for a bargain has replaced the desire for quality. That same "fast and cheap" attitude is visible in the sewing community as well, with the prevalence of poor quality fabric and attitudes of how quickly can one sew a garment instead of how well can it be constructed. I think it's in part due to many of the generation learning sewing today has never known a time that cheap clothing didn't exist. When I grew up, I could sew my clothing for less than I could purchase it.

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  7. Most of my clothes that I loved growing up were made by my Mother. She did not teach me how to sew, I had a fantastic Home Ec teacher that did that, but because I had worn handmade clothes a lot, I wanted to learn how to make my own. No I don't think clothes are valued by anyone the way they once were. We throw away 65 to 80 lbs per person on average of clothing a year statistically and that doesn't count other textiles such as sheets and towels etc. If they are wearable give them away, if not, put them in a bag and mark them recycle and give to Goodwill or a few other services out there. Love reading your posts and it is going to be a beautiful sweater. Take care from Iowa

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  8. For a while I worked in a small shop selling high end clothing and grew to love the quality. I believe that once you experience that level of quality you find it difficult to accept low levels. We also had ladies who only shopped the sales - but even then were very discerning.
    The 'wear it once and throw it away' culture is not sustainable and I truly hope it burns out very soon.

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  9. Rhonda, I sympathize with you on the shopping experience. I went into Penney's one day and literally felt "assaulted" by all the cheaply made, garish clothing. Felt grateful that I can make my own and also missing the quality that was once available. I am loving the sweater you are knitting and wondering if you might share the pattern and yarn you are using, as I am looking for a new project to keep my hands busy during TV watching time. I will be in Chicago in a few weeks, so will be thinking of you and missing the great stores that used to be.

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    1. Hi Anna :) Just wanted to let you know that I posted on the info on the sweater in this post, http://rhondabuss.blogspot.com/2017/07/cables-seeds-and-sweater.html

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    2. Thank you so much Rhonda, I truly enjoy your blog, and I hope you will have some more soup recipes come fall, I am a vegetarian and your recipes are great!

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    3. I'll actually have a new soup recipe up next week, a twist on a carrot soup. Nice for this time of year when all the fresh vegetables are coming in :)

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  10. I totally agree with you, Rhonda. Shopping retail used to be a fun experience for me even though I have always sewn most of my clothes. Seeing well made, stylish garments in stores fueled my imagination and gave me tips for fine finishes. It's so sad that it's mostly gone. Karen

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  11. You need to read the book "Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion". Marie, formerly from Chicago and now living and sewing in Dallas.

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    1. Thanks Marie. I had intended to read it when it initially came out. I've orders it from the library, so I should have it soon ­čśŐ

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    2. I read this some time ago - great read. I appreciate my ability to sew even more after reading this. The clothes that I make myself are worn with great pride.

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  12. It continues to amaze me with how much we have in common. We really should get together now and then. I, too, had an early career in cosmetics. It started with my being a representative for Revlon and then moving on to owning my own modeling school and agency. I loved, and still do, Neiman Marcus and Saks, and all the quality stores. At one time I shopped I Magnum also. Moving on, my sister-in-law taught me to knit when I was 7 years old. I'm certain it was to get me out of her and my brother's hair, as he was 14 years older than I and would bring her home from college with him, and I, of course, wanted all of his attention! I am not near as diligent at finishing knitting projects as I am sewing, but I eventually get them completed. I will be in Chicago September 27 through Oct 1 or 2 for a court reporting conference where I am a speaker. Could we have lunch or dinner while I am there? I would love to see your studio.

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  13. When I was entering college, I visited wonderful women's stores like Streets, Ruth Meyer and even Dillards and Penney's here in OKC. My head was filled with a desire to become self supporting so I could purchase and wear such beautifully made garments. Now, retired and able to buy, the quality of clothing is rag bag. My mother taught me to sew and by age 10 I was making my own clothes. Now, losing weight and sewing all my clothes, I search thrift stores for the finest garments and I reuse this wonderful high quality cloth. I've learned new techniques by studying these clothes, and I love the feel of the them. Thanks for helping keep sewing and creating alive.

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  14. This was such a great post to read & think about ! As many have said when you sew you love finer details & finer fabrics.
    It bothers me when I read some sewists say they threw away a garment that didn't work out . It might just be someone else's treasure -donate & recyle !

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  15. Sometimes I think that we who sew are the only ones who care about the quality of our garments as well as the negative impact of fast fashion. When talking to friends and family who don't sew, their attitude to clothing seems to be lots and as cheap as possible. It's very sad. Sometimes I do wonder if this thinking will ever turn around?

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