Inspired by one of my Sustainable Fashion courses, I decided to find some people who I could interview about their everyday fashion habits. I was very lucky to meet Alda, who is so interested in reusing garments, picking up her clothes in second-hand shops or wearing her mothers dresses. In addition, I found out that sustainable fashion tradition is held in Alda’s family already for third generation — her grandmother was a golden hand lady, her mother saved most of her youth clothes and now Alda herself is following this tradition. Sometimes she can surprise you, wearing the same sweater she wore in primary school. I am sharing with you fascinating interview with daughter and mother and amazing pictures of clothes they both wore for various occasions. I hope you will enjoy it!
Hello Alda! You mentioned that your family practises a sort of lifestyle when clothes rarely are discarded, often redesigned, recycled or passed from generation to generation. How did you get interested in that kind of lifestyle/fashion?
It seems like I have to tell the story which touched three different women from three different generations – my grandmother, mother and myself. The situation in my family’s closet , which is supplemented by myself at the moment, wasn’t immediate and conscious consequence. It just happened spontaneously. Maybe it was determined by historic period, when there weren’t enough money for clothing, or it’s just economical side of suvalkas’ character :) (Suvalkija is a ethnocultural region of Lithuania. Local people from Suvalkija are famous for their frugality).
The best in sewing and redesigning clothes was my grandma, though she didn’t teach that neither me nor my mom. So I can not tell you how quickly and effectively renew your old stuff, cause for that you need a needle and some understanding how to use it, a sewing machine, fantasy and a lot of time. I have only fantasy, however. I suppose that’s the most important thing.
The whole system in my wardrobe looks like this: buying things in second hand shops, sometimes wearing clothes until they are completely worn-out and turned in tatters. When the new things replace the old ones – usually I put the latter aside, somewhere in the highest shelves and they may stay there even for 10 years. Practically the house is kind of a second-hand shop itself.
Sometimes I think that such saving of things and avoidance to throw unnecessary ones is excessive affection or even worship. However, otherwise I contradict myself, because I am happy to give away my clothes both old and still new and favourite to my friends. The main rule here is – to avoid the bin!
You also mentioned that you have some clothes from your mother’s youth. How does it if feel? Are they more meaningful for you?
That’s true. I do have some old my mom’s clothes and they are very precious for me. Mainly, it’s the outfit from her study times. When I was a child, I used to say that I would study in Vilnius University, as my mother did. That was really important for me. I do realise, that it does not make any sense and it’s not related with my future – it’s just symbolic, however, it’s just lovely to go to the same university with the same dress as my mother did. I guess the most precious dress is the red one sewed by my grandmother. She didn’t have much fabric, almost shreds, but the dress turned out just great!
Few years ago, approaching the big school event (100 days left until the final exams), me and my parents went to the mall, so at least once I would buy something new, beautiful and luxurious. However, few hours later me and my mother were just disappointed of supply of the shops, so I just dressed up with old my mom‘s spotted shirt. In fact, many years ago it had long sleeves and collar – but it has been quickly redesigned after mom got bored of the old style.
However, the most intensive sharing between me and my mom is happening now. We are practically the same height and build, our tastes go along, so it’s quite casual to borrow each others clothes and the boundaries between my and her wardrobe are vanishing from sight.
2008, February. My mother’s shirt, preparing for the school fest.
Do you have any interesting story about the garment, which was remade and used for a different purpose?
Usually clothes have their own path of evolution. Beloved clothes get worn out sooner than you get bored of them – knees and elbows ravel out. Then trousers turn into shorts, shirts – into T-shirts. They don’t go to trash, they just wait for their own renaissance somewhere aside. It’s quite strange, but the sweaters I wore 12 years ago perfectly fit me today too. Once, I just wanted something fresh and new and now they are back to my wardrobe.
The patterns of cardigans which were worn in childhood. They were kept and I wear them today
I think it’s very important to consider all available options of your clothing. Starting with the basic – put on few layers due to keep yourself warm and during the day, if necessary, exchange the order of layers. If you just take off your sweater, the blouse can be your outfit accent for the rest of the day. We can talk about extreme way of use as well – thin sweater with tied sleeves and hidden neck can perfectly fit as a scarf for a cool evening. I think it’s important to realise the fabric of the clothe as a feature itself, also the form of the outfit and the possible options, which can be very unexpected. Once in a secondhand shop I found Dr.Martens child shoes which cost just few litas, and straight away I got an idea to use them as a pencil box on my work desk!
When worn-out clothes turn into rags, they become useful in the garden, garage or cellar. Otherwise, it can be good drapery! When I was in art school, we used to use old clothing for our painting constructions.
What is your relationship with second-hand shops, for some it is just a junk storage, for others it is an opportunity to express their style and personality, what do you think?
Well, I never heard people saying that second-hand shop is just a junk storage, which consumes a lot of time. But I faced with hostile opinion that the clothes were worn by total strangers and shouldn’t be reused at all.
In my opinion, second-hand shop concept is just superb idea and activity, because it does not consume any other raw materials, it only manages existing quantities and gives an opportunity to buy. Maybe it might sound idealistic and naïve, but I like the idea that I can swap my clothes with the rest of the world. The price I pay is like a fee for a given opportunity, producing, warehousing and access for a neat display in a shop.
Since I’ve visited second-hand shops from early childhood, I have learnt to select what is suitable for me. Perhaps the particularity of search is totally different from the one which is used in a new clothing store, cause in the latter I can not find anything. True, when you root the second hand clothes, which are different size, for different seasons, were made and fashionable for the different periods, in order to find something suitable you have to learn filtering. Since there is so much stuff, the check is quick, you have to decide quickly if it’s worth to pay more attention for the garment. I try to touch and have a short glimpse of every clothe, that’s how I evaluate the colour, material and size. Very often I find the outfit which I wanted!
First Communion, the dress made by grandma
You mentioned that you grandmother had a passion for redesigning clothes, go to second-hand shops and had many original ideas how to use different things. Can you tell us about it more, how did it influence you?
After independence second-hand shops took off and my grandma used to go there every day! Everybody used to say both for a laugh and seriously that grandmother goes to work. She, in turn, has done her job well – she used to find outfits for everybody and for any occasion, both for us, children, and my parents and my uncle’s family.
Besides all casual clothing for the family, there were other purchases, which were rarely seen for us. Well, actually we were not really interested – neither golden jackets, nor fancy bags were relevant to us. She used to buy everything what was nice in itself, it didn’t matter that it was not practical for the moment. She used to redesign the purchased clothes – usually for herself. Second-hand clothing was a cheap way to buy a variety of fabrics, buttons, knitwear, which could be re-knitted. That’s how she made a dress for my First Communion.
She used to buy a lot of clothes, which were beautiful though not right at the time – so she used to hide them neatly somewhere in the deepest shelf of the wardrobe and totally forget about them. Today we still can find them! The dress I wore at my brother’s graduation was also found accidentally at home.
What did I learn and how did it influence me? Perhaps the main thing I have learned is that you can find a clothe in a house for any occasion, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the first of September or a wedding party. There are definitely some clothes in your wardrobe which you bought once but did not have a chance to wear them. You can check your upper shelf in the closet where things weren’t touched for a long time, also have a glance at your mom’s wardrobe. Just think about all the possible combinations!
The garment is not just one day business. Perhaps its time has not come yet, and if it passed – probably not for good. Sometimes after a while the clothe starts to look a bit dully and uninteresting, even if you liked it a lot before. The garment should be treasured, why would you throw away the thing which is not useful for yourself anymore but could still function perfectly? Not all wearable clothing do “face for society” function, so they are not necessarily fancy — first comes being comfortable and practical. Casual clothes are out of keeping with criteria “I got bored with it”.
The same sweater — theatre in Kaunas in 1999 and freshmen camp in 2008.
In Western countries today there is a trend of praising to the skies the retro/vintage style, however, those things are quite expensive and they are more like “hot news” than the real lifestyle. Also the concept preaches up the idea of having a lot of clothes but wearing them rarely – even wearing the same outfit for three days in a row is sometimes considered to be a bad taste. What is your opinion about it?
The funniest thing I’ve ever heard is that the retro/vintage clothes are bought in second-hand shops here, in Eastern Europe, and resold to the West for a much higher price. Well, that just proves, that garments were not appreciated and abandoned too early. On the other hand, I understand the storage issue. Eastern Europe is not as densely populated as Western, we have parents or grandparents with the spacious houses in the villages – great place for warehousing :)
When we’re talking about daily change of outfit, I’m not sure that Eastern and Western habits are very different. I think that there is a group of people here, in Eastern Europe, which follows this “three days” rule, as there are people in Western countries who were the same jeans for all week. Generally it depends what you do and what kind of people you are surrounded with. If my day consists of lectures, library, home and meeting with the closest friends, it would be foolish to dress differently every day. It’s not like somebody follows your look daily. In my opinion that would be pride. Although I can not deny that such a thing like the first impression judging by clothes exists. For instance, kind of job requires to consider the outfit more carefully. However, I do not believe, that people are so annoyingly curious and meticulous examining the changes in your outfit day by day. I want to believe that it’s not like that. And even if it is true – I wish it wasn’t. It would make myself wonder and question: where exactly do we point our eyes when we meet a stranger? His face? Do we listen what he says or maybe the best presentation of personality is his shoes, watch or purse?
Interview with Alda’s mother
How important is fashion in your life? What do you think about people who throw the garment away after wearing it just a few times?
My opinion of fashion would be more like passive interest and observing. I always follow the trends a bit and orient in that. However I am critical, because not everything what is fashionable is nice for personally. I am also very attached to my own clothes, I do not like all the colours, fabrics and cuts, however, I do not think that only what I dress is beautiful. There are so many fashionable clothes I do like and they look so good on other people, but they are not acceptable for me and I don’t think I could feel cozily and comfortable wearing them.
My attitude to people who throw away clothes after wearing them few times is negative. I suppose there is always a possibility to give away the old garment – that’s how you make other people happy. It’s quite stupid to refuse the old dresses and then complain that you don’t have what to wear and there is no money for new ones. Also, to my opinion, clothing is not the most beneficial investment, money can be spent more properly – for studies, experiences or other kind of self-development.
Alda mentioned that she has very nice clothes from your youth, why did you save them? Have you ever though that your daughter will wear it?
I kept the clothes because I liked them and I felt very comfortable wearing them. My size hasn’t changed from those days so there was no point to throw away any outfit – they were neither too small nor too big. If they were comfortable in the past quite possible they might be comfortable today as well. Old clothing also holds some certain sentiments. Sometimes I open my closet and remember some great events related with particular dresses. It is just a pity that my mother didn’t save any of her clothes from young days, it would have been a pleasure to have them, but she gave everything away. I gave away a large part of my clothes for my cousins as well, however there are some which I kept and I am glad my daughter like to wear them.
Tell us how you find the patience to keep all these things and where do you find the place to store all of them?
We live in a house which has attics. So unnecessary things are packed in boxes and placed in there, often I even forget about them. Sometimes I remember that once I had a dress and then I open the boxes.
We’ve heard stories how 10–15 years ago it was just natural to give away children’s toys, clothes when they’re too small for your own child, while today people throw away everything what gets even a smallest defect. What do you think why the habits of living is so changing?
I think people don’t have time anymore. It’s just easier to discard the thing than to look for repair options. They need the item at the moment, fixing and cleaning takes time. People do not want to put any efforts, they need it rapidly and easily. I take it quite negatively, therefore this lazy and irresponsible attitude creates other problems: the increasing amounts of production and increasing mountains of waste.
Do you have the most favourite garment you kept, which has some special story and you would never discard it for any reason?
I save some clothes, which are not wearable but they hold precious memories, for example knitted daughter’s christening suit. I behave more practically with my own clothes – when they’re worn out, I throw them away. However, for some I feel stronger sentiments. In my wardrobe you can find Finnish coat which was bought in Soviet Union times, it was unbelievably expensive, but very comfortable and light. Now, even the sleeves are shabby, I was thinking it will be very practical to wear in the woods in winter time. Equally, I do not discard clothes which are made from a good fabric, have beautiful colour and interesting patterns. Even if the cut is not fashionable at the time but the fabric is valuable, I just put the garment somewhere deep in the closet or in the attic and I hope that the trend will return. I wish I have ideas how to redesign them, so I just hope that the sewing machine willed by my mother will start working again.
1998, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and 2012 Kudirkos Naumiestis, Lithuania, Mother — left picture, daughter - right one
Thank you for your time!