Clothing: Essential to Survival and Self-Esteem

By , September 25, 2009

“Trust not the heart of that man for whom old clothes are not venerable.”—Thomas Carlyle

Clothing is one of the essentials of survival, along with food, water, and shelter. Western society’s relationship to clothing is particularly complicated by the influence we’ve allowed it to have on our self-image. If we must, we can hide in a corner and eat unfashionable foods. Water, despite inroads made by designer bottled “varieties,” is still, in essence, water. Even a home that speaks less well about us than we might wish it to can be hidden from those whose esteem we seek, as long as we look good in what we’re wearing.

Clothing is a great concern to us on the homestead. True, we are less fashion conscious than most. Our main concerns are durability, comfort, and protection from the elements.

Living on almost no income, we face an interesting dilemma, that of finding the highest quality for the cheapest price. What we need to obtain must be inexpensive. What we have must last as long as possible.

Finding high quality clothing at rock bottom prices would be impossible, except that we’re blessed to live in the United States, home of the most acquisitive and least frugal people on earth! The sheer volume of clothing that our nation casts off each day is unbelievable. Lucky for us, many of these rejects end up in thrift shops!

I got over the stigma of hand-me-downs at a very early age. Not only am I the son of a minister, I’m a little brother. I worried about dressing fashionably, like any teenager, but I never reached the point where I rejected my brother’s hand me downs, or the bounty of the church rummage closet.

Finally, I become attached to clothing for sentimental reasons, and rarely part with a quality item until it wears out completely. I have shirts that I’ve happily worn for 20 years or more.

My reluctance to pass on clothing led to storage issues in our home, which only resolved when we moved to the homestead. Suddenly, my oversized wardrobe became an impressive stockpile of clothing. Stashed in the shed are boxes and boxes of clothes for all seasons, some of which I won’t open until the clothes I currently use wear out. So what if they’re out of style? They weren’t that fashionable when they went in the box in the first place. What do I care? Are they comfortable? Do they protect me from the elements? These are the questions that concern me. Like anyone else, I want to look good, but I think I do okay without being a slave of fashion.

In the future I’ll talk more about clothing strategies such as thrift stores, sales, and hand-me-downs. I’ll share with you what’s useful in our region, and yes, even what’s fashionable. And, no doubt, I’ll rhapsodize now and then on my particularly favorite—and no doubt old—clothes.

You will find a version of the essay above, as well as writing on similar and related topics in Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm by Mark A. Zeiger, available in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. The published version will likely be expanded, clarified, or updated from what you have just read.

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