What do you call something that you do when you’re not working, that you don’t just do because it keeps you alive, that you make time for where you can, spend a certain amount of your disposable income on doing, and enjoy?
For me, things that fall into this category are photography, walking, music, reading and knitting.
I believe they’re known as hobbies.
What about clothes, though? I think this is something people don’t realise. I like wearing clothes, I like buying clothes, I like looking at clothes on the internet or in the weekend newpaper supplements, and I like thinking about clothes. I have to wear clothes, though, and I think this is where people get confused.
But equally I have to eat food and there are plenty of people who count ‘cooking’ as a hobby. If I wrote a post about my quest for more ethical eating, I don’t think anyone would question that it wouldn’t necessarily entail a change in how much of my money I spend on doing so. If I’m a foodie there won’t be much difference between getting Waitrose best-quality this-or-that, and the Fairtrade/vegetarian/etc equivalent (whatever my particular ethical beef happened to be. Pun semi-intentional).
I was asked on this blog what harm my increased spending on clothes would do to the rest of my budget – would it stop me supporting independent cafes or bookshops, for example? I think this is a fair question – if nothing else, no-one but myself really knows what my spending looks like pre- or post-ethical resolution, but also it is a definite consideration. I love town centres, little cafes, restaurants and independent shops, just as much as anyone and I want to still have a town centre to go into on a Saturday when friends visit or walking isn’t an option or just for fun, and the only way we get to keep that is by using those shops and cafes. It would be a thought worth considering – that my supposedly ‘good’ choices were ruining other things I value.
But I think some people take that line of thought bizarrely far. The comments on a recent Guardian article about giving up clothes shopping for a year by and large completely miss the point. The author of the article spends something like £1200 on clothes each year, has hardly changed size during adulthood despite marriage and motherhood, has an amazing archive of vintage items to draw from since her mother worked in fashion and kept everything, as well as the hoard of her own things from the past however many decades of shopping, and partway through the year a friend gives her some very pricey shoes, box-fresh, tags-on, because they’ve never fitted the friend in question. How do you buy expensive shoes that don’t fit – and then keep them?! So the author of the piece has a huge and rather lovely wardrobe to draw her clothes from before she resolves to stop buying clothes.
Evidently this woman is very lucky. However she also has always taken care of her clothes and in the course of the year learns to do so even more – darning tights for starters. Her attitude to clothes-buying changes and when the year ends she doesn’t feel a major sense of relief. She says she felt ‘liberated’ by her challenge rather than constrained, and intends to spend the next year continuing to get rid of things rather than buy new things.
All the comments, however, are in the vein of ‘£1200? I don’t think I spend £100 a year on my clothes’, harping on about her privilege, her rich friends, asking things like ‘would it have been as interesting if you simply could not afford to buy clothes for a year?’, and accusing the post of being shallow.
I’ll admit it’s hardly hard-hitting journalism, but it very much struck a chord with me. I don’t know what your hobbies might be, but what if some good could be done to the world if everyone did less of it, and on that basis you decided to give that hobby up for a year (or at least the buying of things associated with that hobby)? Say you really like gaming (since I’ve spoken about it recently) so you spend a year playing all the games you already own and ignoring all the old releases? You then write a blog about it and I come along and comment ‘well people in Africa don’t have Playstations so I don’t see why you think this is so hard’ or ‘well I didn’t even spend £10 on games last year, basically you’re just spoilt’.
Anyway, it’s only just struck me that ‘clothes’ is a hobby of mine. Buying them, choosing what to wear, imagining perfect (usually nonexistent or unobtainable) outfits for upcoming events, looking at clothes on the internet to hanker after new things or gaze mournfully at things I never will have. Wearing clothes I like makes me feel happy; wearing clothes that don’t quite work together puts me in a bad mood.
But if even I didn’t really consider that clothes could count as a past-time, how could I expect people to understand that who literally view them only as a necessity, merely as a thing that stands between them and social nicety and possibly hypothermia?
And it’s possible that part of this realisation is due to the imminent arrival of J’s sewing machine. Now all those unobtainable or imaginary clothes can be real, and can really fit and suit me. The despair as I realise I can’t get a dress I like for S’s graduate ball for less than £more-than-I-have is allayed by the revelation that I can get a dress of extreme gorgeousness in any one of my favourite colours for much less money… and much more time.
I’d better get planning.