Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The bequest of quality

After this month's bleak job-loss statistics, I wondered about the relevance of some of my posts. I've decided to keep on writing about beautiful, well-made objects even though some of us (including me) can't afford them.

Fine craftspeople and a
rtists continue creating, despite the times. The same philosophy I endorse about personal style as one ages- that we don't need to look drab, run-down or dowdy- applies to spending.

People are waking up to the old notion that a thoughtful choice, anchored by the requirement for quality is far more prudent than buying an aspirational, over-priced brand. And if the times mean buying nothing, it's time to reach into the closet and hope what we've chosen is durable and pleasing for the duration.

A friend's father bought a English-made navy suit in his late 70s. "This will see me out", he told her. Though unnerved at this reference to death, she understood his values: buy the best you can afford and make it last. Dr. E. wore the suit for twelve years; his grandson wears it now.

Some of the most-desired vintage clothes, jewelry and objects were made during the Depression and recessions. Talent is not dictated by the economy.
People joke that the clothes they have now are the ones they'll have for life. If that were so, would you enjoy your wardrobe?

My m
other, married in the depths of the Depression, had thrift and caution as life-long companions. She made aprons from my old skirts. When the aprons wore out, she made potholders from the scraps. But she'd buy an emerald silk velvet evening cape, or a loden-cloth coat that lasted for decades.

When prosperity returned, she never reflexively bought just because she could; she craved beauty and insisted on quality.


My purpose in showing a breathtaking ring or elegant cashmere is not to urge "recession-beating personal spending"; I doubt that's as effective as some economists think.

It's to lift the spirits and celebrate the gifts of artists in our time, and before.
To remind us to choose with care, enjoy what we have, and perhaps leave to the next generation.

12 comments:

Completely Alienne said...

I am with you there Duchesse - just because you are on a diet doesn't mean you can't look in the cake shop window.

Deja Pseu said...

Completely Alienne beat me to it. I love looking at beautifully made things, whether they're clothing or art or fine gardening tools at Smith & Hawken. I think we need beauty to feed our souls, especially now.

materfamilias said...

Well said -- Pater still occasionally wears an Aquascutum coat my father passed along to him before he died. We can't understand how it manages to fit and look good on him -- huge disparity in their buildis -- but it does, and it's at least 20 years old. And part of what financed it was my parents' brilliantly creative frugality in other areas, the kitchen for one -- no one could transform the "day-olds," cheap cuts, soup bones, and brown bananas like my dad!

greying pixie said...

Last Friday Britain was officially declared to be in economic recession and I wore to work a recent ebay £5 find, a French bright red long knitted and very well made jacket/cardigan with huge gold shiney buttons, five on each cuff and six down the centre - utterly kitsch. My colleague officially delared it to be my 'anti-recession' outfit!

gp said...

Oh, and on the subject of sartorial inheritances, I've inherited my father-in-law's bespoke tuxedo suit. It's completely the wrong size and shape for my husband, but I can see that with expert help I can adapt it for myself. I've had it 14 years already, but will get around to doing it one day - perhaps when I retire?.

WendyB said...

Great post. I would sink into a personal Great Depression if I believed there wasn't any room for beautifully made art in the world anymore.

Duchesse said...

Alienne: Looking is different from longing, isn't it?
Deja Pseu: We do need it and I'm worried that many makers will evaporate as the market rules.
ma: Le Duc has a trenchcoat of my Dad's, too. I'm guessing you ate your share of banana bread.
GP: I like the insouciance of a woman in a tux! And your eBay find- impressive. (What took them so long to figure out it's a recession?)
Wendy: Good, as you are one of the creators of that beauty.

Imogen Lamport said...

I have really come to love well made clothes in the past few years. I'm always disappointed when I pay for an item (and not a cheap item) and the quality is not there in the fabric, as I'd hoped by spending the extra money on a classic shape that I would get that durability. When a fabric quickly starts to pill and look cheap it makes me very sad that the manufacturer was all about making a quick buck and wasn't spending the extra money they charged for the item on a better quality fabric.

Duchesse said...

Imogen: I think consumers are partly to blame, because they think clothes shouldn't cost much. Even in my university days (in the 60s!) we used to take apart high end clothes in textiles classes and find many flaws- bias cuts that weren't, terrible construction, shoddy linings.

Frugal Scholar said...

In my poor grad student days, I combed through thrift stores to find vintage clothes to sell. What a lesson. It's worth getting a feel for vintage cashmere; very little that is sold now matches the quality.

Clothing used to be so expensive. That's why our closets weren't stuffed. It's hard not to over-accumulate when things are so inexpensive.

I'm trying to be more "French" in my shopping--i.e. a few nice things, worn to death.

Thanks for the interesting post.

cybill said...

This is a great post Duchesse, thank-you! I completely agree with you, craftship and good design make life beautiful.

Mardel said...

Good design and beautifully made things will hopefully always be with us. There are people who will strive for that, and probably always someone who can afford it.

I love quality and beautifully made things and have some my grandmother's and great-grandmother's. DH has a Brooks Brothers tweed jacket made in the 50's that is in better shape (except for the elbows which have been patched) than the newer version of the same thing he bought in the 80s after Brooks was just becoming another retail commodity.