The depth of fashion

When we first came to the wilds I was amused by what I deemed to be a new standard for what passed as acceptable fashion.  Our neighbours were a study in dressing down.  Way down.

People seemed committed, practically dedicated, to wearing third-hand or hand-me-downs or worse.  Well, they seemed committed to ‘layering’, too, so that, in itself, made it worse.  It was bad enough to wear threadbare and stained, ripped and faded, no-style and conflicting-with-sensibilities.  But then putting it on three or four layers deep and adding wet-weather gear!  What were they thinking?

It was wild!

The Layered Look

I swear: T used to have me laughing out loud at her outrageous outfits.  So much so that I began to carry the camera in order to record some it.  Pretty funny stuff. Or so I thought at the time.

My further-out (in so many ways) neighbour R was inclined to exaggerate his wardrobe as well.  He showed up in gumboots, baggy jeans with suspenders, old cardigan sweaters and sporting one of his own, self-knit hats with ear-flaps and a ball-tuft on top as his basic go-to outfit.  It would often be augmented with colourful wet-weather gear, scarves and crazy accoutrements.  Plus he sported a perpetual maniacal grin and a stubbly beard.  He would have been ‘well-known to police‘ and likely arrested in the city just on appearance alone.  Lacking T’s extraordinary closet cachet, he still managed to cut quite a dashing figure amongst those on the dock on community Wednesdays.

But, over time, it all became the norm.  One J sometimes wears only a towel.  And not all the time at that!  Another J wears clothes I swear are at least forty years old.  Maybe older.  Others wear paint-stained shirts from the last time they painted and that is so far back, the originally painted item has faded into obscurity.  But not the T-shirt.  It is faded but not forgotten.

And so it goes.  A really clever archaeologist type could establish a historical pattern of the local settlement by careful analysis of clothing currently found in closets, I am sure.  And it would be easy – much of it is still worn out in public every day!

Put another way:  “He’d give you the shirt off his back!” Does not have the same spirit of generosity out here.  Nostalgia, perhaps.  Generosity?  Not so much.

I mention all this because friends were coming up to visit last week.  They were traveling by boat.  But they had little time and they had a slow boat.  It was not a good plan for a relaxing week off and we were unsure if they were going to actually make it.  As it turned out, good sense and a sea-sick dog prevailed and they stayed in the Southern Gulf.

“I am feeling guilty, she said.  “We didn’t show.  Looks bad.  We meant to.  But it just wasn’t in the cards.  Sorry.  Don’t think ill of us.”

“Don’t be silly.  We thought the trek was too much to accomplish in the time allotted.  We know we are far away.  No problem.  And forget about appearances.  You have sailed to the South Pacific and back — twice!  We have learned up here to judge by substance, not appearance.  And, to us, you guys have substance.”

And, after that phone call, Sal and I got to talking about that Forest Gump-like statement she had used; ‘We judge by substance, not appearance’.

“Well, you know when you are on the dock and you are talking to people who have climbed the Alps or lived in Asia or who have built their own boats or volunteered in Africa……?  And well, all of them have also built their own homes……had kids……..survived extreme situations……….raised their own food…….they have some kind of real-life substance.  To me, anyway.

“They are more solid somehow in some respects.  Substantial.  And then three well-dressed bureaucrats step off a plane and tip-toe amongst our tulips looking for cell-phone reception?  Seems shallow by comparison.  Well, I guess I am still judging by appearances but it seems to me that the ‘old-clothing, gumbooted-types’ somehow have more to them than do the ones who show up well-dressed.  Maybe I am just a reverse clothes bigot now but the hand-me-down crowd seems more substantial to me.” 

Fashion, eh?  Pretty strange.  Definitely in the eye of the beholder.

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