Thursday, July 22, 2010

In defense of owning 14 to 21 t-shirts

The charms of the stripped-down life are just about always greater in theory than in practice. Not having a computer, for instance - the stuff of escapist fantasy, but as I learned the week mine was out of commission, in practical terms it makes getting things done just about impossible. And having lived both with and without air conditioning and a dishwasher, I'd have to say that having both is better than not. By all means only use the a/c when it's super-hot out, or the dishwasher when it's full, but abandoning these amenities for the heck of it is not so rustically delightful when the sink is piled up with dishes and you've got a 100-degree kitchen to wash them in.

Another luxury I don't see the point of denying one's self is the ownership of enough t-shirts or tank tops to allow for a clean one every day for the duration of a laundry cycle. Permitting themselves only fresh underwear and (and this I really don't understand) limitless accessories, a group of women and token men are restricting themselves to six items of clothing for a month, and referring to this as a "diet". This is some groundbreaking reporting from the Times.

As with any attempt by first-world types to lead a simpler life, this round is all about some minor sacrifices being made, mimicked, and publicized. No electricity! All local foods! But only for a set period of time, after which the proceeds from book sales will fund an electric conveyor belt connecting the author's home to the kitchen of his or her preferred McDonalds.

Anyway. Shirts, especially in an especially hot summer, start to stink. I suppose if the wearer simply goes from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned office and back again, a shirt could last a bit longer, but that loses something of the anti-consumerist message. Or maybe they just wash the shirt every few days? Isn't this the cloth-versus-disposable-diaper debate all over again? And I suppose of these "dieters" are, as the article and images suggest, stunning blondes who exude wealth and have an eye for choosing basics, people in the room probably just assume the stench is coming from someone else.

But seriously - one shirt? Or is "underwear" being loosely-defined so as to include everything but outerwear? Because if that's the case, and every garment that touches more skin than it does clothing falls outside the rules, then what's the point?

The commenters are great. They're appalled that anyone might dress in more than a burlap sack, and seem convinced that only the hoitiest and toitiest own more than one pair of pants. They've been surviving on six items or less "for years." The exceptions, those who believe owning clothing is not a major sin, are self-righteous in their own way - they point out either that they grew up poor and/or deprived by their parents/school uniforms and now enjoy variety, or that the six-items experiment wouldn't work for people with Real Jobs, for whom "jeggings" are not a corporate basic.

But I especially like this comment: "I bet there are people in this country and around the world who would like to have six items of clothing. Food for thought." A comment that finds an "echo," if not several. There really needs to be a disclaimer on the front of every Styles section, warning that the articles below will not be about starving children in Africa, accompanied by an address to write to if you want to complain about the section's very existence.

Or maybe I'm just particularly enamored of clean t-shirts, even by first-world standards. With the Soldes ever more impressive and the laundry at the laundromat costing as much as the shirts at Petit Bateau, these are dangerous times.

1 comment:

Britta said...

Yeah, I thought that was an annoying article too. As people in the comments pointed out, the amount of water you waste running unnecessarily frequent really small loads would far outweigh any sort of environmental benefit. Not to mention, if you don't own a washer or dryer, it's considerably inconvenient/expensive to have to do laundry every day.
Plus, buried in the fine print, one woman with three black blazers just rotated them and counted them as one item. Fine, but, that totally defeats the purpose. If it's actually about only wearing 6 styles, then the article isn't about consumption or waste at all, it's about aesthetics or efficiency. While there are people with 30 identical white shirts, or pairs of jeans, or whatever, that's not the same thing as only owning three things.

Also, I have a lot of clothes, in part because my clothes never wear out. I am currently wearing 12 year old shorts, and while they are starting to fray at the edges, they will probably hold up for another 3-4 years. I could donate all my old clothes to the Goodwill, but if keep wearing them, then I don't see how buying, say, 6 new items a year and adding them to my old clothes is worse than buying 6 items a year and wearing only them until they fall apart. My husband does have the philosophy of "buy fewer, more expensive things." He owns 1-2 pairs of jeans of moderate-expensive price (dress and casual), and wears the casual jeans every day until they fall apart. His jeans life span is probably about a year, so he ends up having to buy a new pair of jeans a year. I have about 5-6 pairs of jeans, the oldest of which are 11 years old. I actually only buy new jeans every 1-2 years, it's just because I can rotate among them, they last longer, so the lifespans overlap quite a bit.

I guess my point is lots of clothes doesn't necessarily mean more consumption, but rather could indicate a different consumption pattern, or even more thrift (I am loathe to throw anything away, and have been pleasantly surprised at how clothes in the back of my closet suddenly seem stylish again, so instead of getting rid of it, then having to buy a new version, I can keep wearing the same thing).