I was going to write about cleaning closets, a chore I generally put off until the spiders demand maid service, which I began providing at 5 this morning after I was wakened from a deep sleep by incessant claps of thunder and the renting of skies. But what I really want is to find a Marimekko dealer. It is time to replace the long striped gowns that I've had since about 1979. When I stretched the vacuum hose across the stack of shoes, I heard a tearing sound that was not in my back, but on my back. The renting of fabric. Before too long, the bottom half of this tee is going to separate from the top half.

But I don't want to let it go. I can't bear using rags made out of clothing that has seen me through most of my life. Old clothes are not only the most comfortable clothes, they are the most comforting clothes. They conform to your body, whereas new clothes demand your body conform to them. Eventually, your body wins out. But it takes years.

And those years matter. There is nothing like the satisfaction of breaking in your own clothes, as anyone who was a teenager in the seventies knows. Remember how we used to scrape our nails across the knees of our jeans? Wash them endlessly till they wore thin? Patched our boyfriend's sweaters at the elbows? Or picked a thumb through the cuff of a long sleeve? I am not too embarrassed to tell you that only a couple of years ago, I went to the Gap for new jeans (when my knee went all the way through). I pawed through the piles, brought some styles back to the dressing room, and realized with horror that some of the clothing was filthy, and torn. I took the stack up to the cashier.

"You have some defective items on your shelves. Or possibly a gang of bad girls left their old jeans here and took new ones. I just want to let you know. They have holes in them. And they look dirty."

She looked at me in awe. She had never seen a live alien before.

"They're supposed to be that way."

I'm not going to wax on about how nightgowns carry my history, as I've already done that in Slow Love. Instead, for those of you who know exactly what I'm talking about, I offer a link to the most-excellent Mary Chapin Carpenter, singing This Shirt. She says it all, about the shirt that was a pillow for a weary head, and a place to keep cigarettes, and a place where a cat gave birth to five. And a place with a tear in the sleeve where she wore her heart.

While we're on a bit of a MCC jag here, I offer a link to two stunning duets, one with Joan Baez, Stones in the Road, and another to MCC and Shawn Colvin at ZooTunes in Seattle recently, singing That's the Way Love Goes. And while Joan Baez is on my mind, (picture swiped from the net, courtesy Henry Diltz) may I say that every time I listen to her singing Sweet Sir Galahad at Woodstock my throat thickens with memories of torn jeans, worn elbows, frayed cuffs, and leather headbands. Here's to the dawn of their days... This is what comes of getting up too early, finding myself adrift on the slow, wide River of YouTube. But I do wish I had grown up to be a dj.

Anyhow, I ushered in my Marimekko phase during sophomore year in college. My friend Robin and I went to see Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage, and I was a goner. Not only did the movie fry my tiny feminist brain on the subject of marriage, men and relationships, but it catapulted me out of my Lanz phase into the long horizontal striped cotton tee shirt phase that seems not to have abated, with the exceptional appearance of silk gowns in scenes from love affairs. (And if you have to ask about Lanz, you probably did not go to summer camp, or live in a girl's dorm.)

That Liv. Could anyone make depression look sexier?

(Whoa. What's this? A real-time experience of New Age Internet Spying. Moments after typing in Slow Love, above, I got an email from Amazon. "Looking for a memoir?" say they. "No, not really," say I. Coincidence? I don't think so. But while I'm on the subject, feel free to add only glowing reviews to the Amazon group.)

For years now, I've contemplated replacing a couple of these tees (I have four) but I know perfectly well that I'll just buy a new one, and add it to the old pile. There were a few decades during which they were impossible to find, but they're back again, probably due to the demand of all us moms who liked the cotton stuff from Hanna Andersson we were putting on our babies better than the stuff we could find for ourselves.

Speaking of which, I made a trip to the Banana recently to find new shorts, Theo having made off with a few of mine, which, admittedly, I originally made off with but that was years ago, so by rights....Banana Republic is selling fabulous plaids in muted and unusual color combinations. But only in the Men's Department. I'm cool with that--and probably it means Theo will take his pick of my shopping--so I load up on shorts, a great shirt, and pants. All classic but modern, so to sales speak. Then I mosied down to the Women's Department just to make sure they didn't have something that would fit better, and I was sort of shocked. Do Banana men and women live on the same planet? In the same decade?

I mean, is everything these days made for Barbie dolls? I'm all for flirty, there's nothing better than getting on a good eye-flicker. But is that all there is? Back to the days of bellbottoms and headbands--we had to go on strike, in high school, to be allowed to wear pants to school. Public high school. Mini skirts? Probably what is now considered maxi length. And the point is, at the risk of fogeyism, that sexy is fine. Sex object? That's a problem. And in the name of liberation, that seems to be where we've gone.

The men's stuff is durable (but why must they put the buttons on the wrong side?) and classic. The women's stuff is backless, frontless, lengthless, neckless, sleeveless, and flimsy and ruffled. Are women expected only to be able to topple into their martinis? Weird.

It is a lucky thing, in a way, that I didn't have daughters. My child-rearing repertoire would have been reduced to one line: "You aren't going out in that." Which, come to think of it, is what I would say about myself in my torn and tattered gowns.


david terry said...

Am I the only person who's recently found out why the buttons on women's clothes are sewn on the left side, whereas those for mens clothes are placed on the right? I was delightedly fascinated by the explanation.

SKIP ALL OF THIS IF YOU ALREADY KNOW (or Adhere to a different Opinion):....

FACT: Prior to about 1900, handsewn (which would be the obvious case) clothing for both men and women, made by and for "regular" folks, always had the buttons sewn on the right side, as is the case with mens' shirts today.

Most folks, without thinking over the matter, push the button through the hole with the thumb of their dominant hand, which happens to be the right hand for most folks.

Prior to about 1900 (the friend who told me this is a curator who also has a degree from FIT), the only clothing ("male" or "female") with buttons sewn on the left-side would be that worn by upper-class/aristocratic women.....the sort of women who were dressed BY someone else every day....someone else who would be FACING you while she buttoned up and fastened the front of whatever you wore.

I haven't exactly "fact checked" on this myself (contrary to what you might assume, I don't, actually, keep a row of 18th century "shepherdess" gowns in my closet). Still....according to my friend, all those hundreds of buttons on the back of a fine gown would have been sewn onto the right side....since your maid would be facing the same way as you while she buttoned up the back of your pre-zipper-days dress. So, the buttons on fancy dresses were sewn on either the right OR the left...depending on whether they were on the front or the back of that dress that someone else was putting you into.

According to my friend, this eventually became a "sign" that you were wearing a "fine" dress and were the sort of person who, mais bien sur, kept a femme de chambre. Even today, I know a few women who can very quickly look a single look at one or two "details" and determine that, while it's a very pretty item of clothing, it's definitely NOT couture....so don't try fooling anyone.

According to my friend (once again) the standardization of "WHERE DO YOU PUT THE BUTTONS ON WOMEN'S CLOTHING?" came about with the very late 19th century and the advent of what we now call department stores. this would be the time when every artistocratic English woman bought her Worth gowns in Paris. Placing the buttons on the "left" side of female clothing suggested that the item of clothing was upper-class French. New York department stores mimicked the trend....and American women got stuck with buttons-on-the-left.

I gather you've all gotten used to the matter.

I'm oddly gratified by that explanation, which makes very practical, historical sense. The placement of the buttons used to "mean" something to/for aspiring, middle-class women...department stores afforded such women a chance to mimic a certain, identifiable "look".

All in all, it's a relatively benign affectation, compared to a case of which I know (for good reason)....an old woman who, WAY up into the 1940's, was miffed if anyone suggested that she get a drivers' license and install toilets in her very large house. Such suggestions implied that she couldn't afford appropriate "help".

and out I go to the back porch to pick ticks off the dogs. the dog population hereabouts is about to increase by 33%, and the tick population is absolutely overwhelming this season.

Level Best as Ever,

David "Thank you, I'll do it myself" Terry
(Honorary Secretary of The Society for Piercing the Innermost Mysteries of Our Southern Ladies' Wardrobes)

VL said...

Amen! It's no wonder women are always colder than men, since their clothes are invariably skimpier yet somehow also more expensive. I have my share of tattered tees, too, and can't bear to give up their softness. Besides: even with holes, they cover more skin than most of what I see girls wearing in public nowadays...

On a more sentimental note, I remember reading a very sweet essay once by a woman who loved her old flannel nightgown to tatters. (It had outlasted all her romantic relationships.) When her new boyfriend quietly repaired the major holes, albeit inexpertly, she decided he was a man who would treat _her_ tenderly, too. They married and, as of the time of the writing, had been happy together for a number of years. I hope they're still taking care of one another today.

VL said...

David, what a terrific history! I agree, it's a gratifying explanation that makes perfect historical and sociological sense. (It's amazing how much comes down to status-seeking in our supposedly classless society.)

Thanks for the enlightenment!

sparkletruly said...

I agree with your comments on female fashion today. Who wears this stuff? Thrift stores have become my answer. Many of my decades past, worn-to-a-rag much loved clothing items have been replaced by new or nearly new items of the same era from the thrift stores in my community. Loved the post and I laughed out loud at the memory of Lanz. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I continue to wear a 12 year old tshirts because they fit my aging body. All the new ones seem to be made for size -2. I hold them up in the store and can't imagine what female form can wear that. My waist now is in inverse proportion to these new t-shirts. Since I can't find clothes that fit well I am holding on to the ones I have that fit. Only they are becoming tired looking...

Anonymous said...

Oh Dominique, reading you for as long as I have [beginning with your debut at H&G, all your books, right up to your essay posted this morning], I surmise your brush with IB's pinhole of a window into the male and marriage was an act of violence perpetrated on a mind such as yours, indeed I think your "fate's belated," maybe I'm even sure of it. I'm 10+ years older than you, and my belated fate recently presented me with the "prince of the hours of my lifetime," and I never even saw it coming. I had to close the pinhole or I'd not have recognized him.

Might any of these samples come near the gown of your dreams?

Short: http://www.kiitosmarimekko.com/marclasaptas5.html

Long/long sleeves: http://www.kiitosmarimekko.com/marclasaptas2.html

Long/short sleeves: http://www.kiitosmarimekko.com/marclasaptas4.html

Elizabeth said...

Great post -- I especially loved the comment about Liv in the Bergman movie.

By the way, I just saw a similar tee at Target of all places -- I felt compelled to purchase but came to my senses, knowing that it would fall apart after the first wash or so. But you've inspired me to keep looking!

david terry said...

Hey "VL".....

reading your comment?.....it occurs to me that I should send you a copy of a short story in which an old, upper-class southern woman lies dying around 1940.... covered by HER quilt.... into which (sixty years previously) she'd sewn all her first lover's letters before she settled into the obligatory (given the times) business of marrying, raising a passle of children, and (after the death of the husband) running a large farm/plantation over five tough decades.

The story makes Mary Chapin Carpenter's "This Old Shirt" seem like a chipper "What I did at Summer Camp!" postcard.

I should admit that I can't, just now (I've come back into the house to COOL DOWN and will go back out to work in about five minutes), recall whether the story is Katherine Anne Porter's "the Jilting of Granny Weatherall" or Andrew Lytle's "Jericho, Jericho" (both of which deal with an old-style lady's deathbed moments/thoughts).

Yours, as ever, for Uplifting Reading,

david terry

Karena said...

We can indeed tell our era Dominique, by so much in common, yes Lanz!

I am holding on to a pair of pajama bottoms so soft and thin now in a cotton slightly oriental print.

Oh and I am still embarrassed for chastising my eldest granddaughter for wearing tattered sandals, they were fringed and "supposed to look that way"

Art by Karena

VL said...

Dear David,

I'm utterly abashed by this fact, but honesty compels me to confess I have never read Katherine Anne Porter or Andrew Lytle. I am woefully deficient in 20th c American lit: for some reason, I always gravitated to the Brits for the 20th c (among living authors I love A.S. Byatt, Michael Frayn, and Ian McKewan, and I am completely enamored of the WWI English poets...Wilfred Owen, etc.).

By the way, you (and other SLL readers) might very much enjoy Frayn's "Headlong", which is absolutely the funniest thing I've read. It is at once farcical and scholarly, and keenly observant about human behavior.

Leslie Brunetta said...

Hi, Dominique,

What was in there, just cocoons, or any interesting sheets or funnels?

Is there not something truly decadent about paying someone to "distress" one's clothing before one buys it? I can only imagine that some designer first came up with this idea as an ironic comment--the exact reverse process of sending rent clothes to Goodwill knowing that it may benefit by pulping them or selling them as rags--and then the idea ran amuck in this bizarrely conformist consumer culture. If you write "SlowLoveLife," it's like these clothing manufacturers are peddling "FastDisdainDecay"--but they sell it because people buy it. I've never been able to understand it.

Another advantage of men's clothes, especially jeans: you can mix and match waist and length sizes. I'm short and squat (peasant stock, and proud of it)--if I buy a women's pair of jeans in a size that fits me, I have to have them shortened. No such problems with men's jeans. And they have deeper pockets. Boys' T shirts--better quality at a lower price than girls' or womens'. Boys are bigger nowadays, which means so are their shirts: perfect for women. The result is that I am essentially in low-cost, high-quality drag most of the time and supremely comfortable. I've recently invested in a few classic Marimekko items, so I'm all set for years.

AND, Dominique, a big, big, big thank you for praising Spider Silk so early in its career. We're riding high at the moment--recently honored with three exciting awards, including being longlisted for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books--but it was fellow writers like you who kept our spirits up when we couldn't get any conventional press (at least in the US; we got great reviews in England, where they actually like science and spiders). Thanks again!!


Anonymous said...

Agree on all fronts. My favorites are still with me thread bare and all.

quintessence said...

Oh where to start! Well - I had the EXACT SAME Marimekko dress!! I still remember buying it at the little Marimekko shop in Croton - right near the train station but DR on 57th St. was my favorite source!! I also remember seeing Scenes from a Marriage in a multiplex in Warwick - half the theater walked out - guess it wasn't mean for the early-mid 70s suburban RI audience. And lastly - since I have a prepubescent 11 year old girl, you can imagine how many times I've said "You aren't going out in that."

Tru Dillon said...

I have found most blouses today look like maternity wear.

Tree said...

Ah..these Marimekko classics are just the best! Prior to online access, I used to have to stock up in Helsinki. I've had good success with an online shop in Minnesota, and would think either the NYC or Cambridge stores would order for you.

Hoskins Smith said...


mary said...

Actually, I did say exactly that: No, you are not going out in that on your first day of high school (or ever, but she didn't know it at that exact moment)--how many tears and screams later I cannot remember, but she did go up and change into "something respectable" and off we went----my day was ruined as I was convinced that I had ruined her life for good. But she arrived home in the afternoon all smiles; so I guess all was not lost. Thank you for prompting happy memories. Mary

Unknown said...

WOW!....I love the way you "tied it all up"....smiles.

farmgirl said...

I still wear the same kinds of clothes that I wore when I was 16. They allowed me to feel like "me" and they still do, at 53.

profA said...

Ah, yes. The time of spiders in the closet! Bites in the most awkward (sp?) places usually signal me that it's time to get out the swiffer cloths and give the underwear drawers and closets a good once over.
Loved your Marimekko pix, Dominique. Beautiful. When we lived in Seattle in the late sixties I made big panels for the picture windows in the living room out of some scandinavian foto fabric. Psychedelic! (oof) and a Rya (sp?) rug and the brown Arabia Ruska. Loved it all. Oh, my years with Ingomar Bergman. Thank you for blessing all with your post.
As I write am wearing JCrew MEN's searsucker pants. Just the best. Cool and comfy. They are a little frayed already. (yeah!) HOpe to have them for at least ten more years. As FarmGirl said..." I still wear..." etc. which includes a nod to the sailor pants I got from the Great Lakes Navy Surplus at age...16/17.
Wish I could still wear GAP jeans. Just not trim enuf. I am definitely going to check out the plaids at B. Republic. A beautiful thing...plaids in summer.
Wonderful posts at the end of the day. Thank you, all.
Linda B.

Eulalia Benejam Cobb said...

Ah, Scenes from a Marriage! I just saw it again after what--30 years? and it still seared my soul. As to what sexual "liberation" has done to women's clothing, not to mention to women, that is sure to go down as one of history's greatest ironies. But we'll always have striped t-shirts.

Warren said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Warren said...

As a male coming of age during women's lib I can say I came through totally confused about niceties like holding doors, paying checks.... Now I find myself saying to my teen girls "when you and your partner...." --- only to be corrected by "Daaaaad, I'm not...

I remember Marimeko. I guess that simplicity is why we all now love and accept Ikea.

As for old clothes, Dominique, I think if you had daughters you would not have any left. I recently discovered my old Trout and Nez Perce sweatshirts on my daughters.

If you ladies are looking for comfort in old, worn-out cotton, may I suggest you augment your supply with Patagonia's organic cottons? You will be doing some good and they just keep that oh-so soft feel -- timeless. Unless your kids steal them, as mine are.

BTW: buttons on the wrong side?! I paid an outrageous sum for a Hugo Boss MAN's leather jacket on sale at Harrods and discovered it came with a GURL's zipper?! James Dean would roll over, whatevvvvvvvvvvvver.

Ronnie said...

I think your Marimekko shirt is winking at all of us who remember these times. What was it about Scene’s From A Marriage that got under our skin so?…the passion, the drinking, the fighting, the way they could not leave each other alone? Probably all of it.

We don’t need to let that go (except maybe the Lanz gowns), and why should we, it’s our fabric…follows us everywhere, like your shirt. A nice reminder to find that here.

david terry said...

Dear "Leslie Brunetta",

First of all, you've published in the Sewanee Review? I went to college there...knew Andrew Lytle (or did you work with/for George Core?) quite well. Earlier this morning, I found myself "explaining" Lytle to someone who'd been understandably unsettled by John Sullivan's recent "tell-all" essay in The Paris Review.

Secondly?...I read your comment about "distressed" clothing with some amusement. You wondered if perhaps some designer was being "Ironic"?.....

I can assure you that no one involved in that business was being "ironic" (although I gather that Galliano is, for obvious reasons, currently insisting that EVERYTHING is merely "ironic"...). I'm longtime friends with the woman who hastily organized (which would be the most accurate verb) that 80's trend in "stone-washed" and "acid-washed" denim.

Start with an early 80's industrial accident in a Milanese factory...involving American Cotton Inc.....a lot of money about to go down the tubes, etc.

There's a very good reason folks often use the term "fashion INDUSTRY". Very little happens as the result of some sprezzatura fit of ironic creativity.

I've recently promised myself that I will not afflict The Devoted Readers of D. Browning with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome by forcing them to scroll through unsolicited, longass postings. So, if you want to know the story, you'll have to ask for it.

Level Best as Ever,

David Terry

Anonymous said...

On Monday evening as I was preparing to go out with my two daughters, the older one said to me,"You aren't wearing those shoes, are you?" I was stunned until she asked, "How does it feel?"

I wore the shoes...but I was uncomfortable all night.

Erica said...

I love the way you tied it all up! Thank you for prompting happy memories.

Year Old Birthday Party Ideas

PSING said...

i am most struck by the sweet sir galahad reference here. like you allude to, the poignancy of that relationship and what we come to know now of their fate...well, sigh.....psi

Leslie Brunetta said...

Dear David Terry,

Yes, in 1992, an essay on Henry Green and his novel "Caught." George Core was the editor--although we had limited correspondence, it was a great experience for me.

Thanks for the insight into distressed jeans. To think of such a basic feature of everyday life being negatively transformed by an industrial accident, and then being not only accepted but also demanded by a population willing to pay more for damaged goods -- it could be one of those science fiction films that critics label "a parable for our times."


Airelle said...

I think Marimekko just opened a store in New York?
Lovely to see something so Finnish has made such an impression in the US!

sushisistah said...

My Marimekko Jakapoika shirt is my something RED in my Red, White + Blue post for the 4th of July weekend and was delighted to find that you are also a fan. How sad when a favorite is worn out beyond repair. Happy Happy!

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