Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Friday 1 November 2013

Frocks and Politics

So, I’m in Nottingham and I’m in a frock. I did warn you.
Today's shirt and dress combo,
and yes, it is leather.

Yesterday, Gita messaged me on Twitter to the effect that she expected a bit of feminist politics with my blog on clothes.

Interesting, I thought, especially in the twenty-first century.

Despite being a raging feminist, I’m not sure I have a feminist agenda when it comes to what I wear, and I’m not sure when last I had such an agenda, and I’m not sure who still has that agenda. As far as I’m concerned I have equal clothing rights with anyone and everyone, and as far as I’m concerned everyone should have those rights. I don’t care who you are, as far as I’m concerned you can wear what pleases you.

It’s my preference not to see young, particularly pubescent and prepubescent kids sexualised in their clothes, and I might be considered a snob when it comes to the appropriateness of clothes. I’d rather not see vast quantities of anyone’s flesh on show, but then I’m not all that keen on seeing discomfort, either,  of any sort, including men in stiff collars and too-tight jeans, and girls in too-high heels that they can’t walk comfortably in.

We should all feel good in our clothes. We shouldn’t be swamped or crippled by them, and it’s a pity if they don’t honestly reflect our personalities.

My problem with wearing jeans was only that I was conforming, taking the easy route. It wasn’t to do with politics.

I am political about clothes, though, and I think there are good reasons to be political about what we wear, just as there are good reasons to be political about what we eat or drive.

In his blog, John Scalzi talked about his lack of interest in clothes from a sartorial point of view, and I get that, but I was surprised that he didn’t talk about his interest in clothes from any political point of view. I was surprised that he didn’t question under what circumstances it was possible to manufacture a pair of socks for a buck.

For me, that’s a political question I’d want to know the answer to.

The truth is that with cotton growing in the States being heavily subsidised Mr Scalzi’s probably on safe ground with his socks. Here, on the other hand, with so much cotton imported from India, sixty pence for a pair of socks would probably mean that someone, somewhere was being exploited.

My preference is to buy clothes manufactured in the EU where I can be fairly confident that fair wages are being paid and safe environments maintained for the factory workforce. I don’t want to be responsible for big carbon footprints when things that I’ve bought have been shipped large distances, and I certainly don’t want kids who should be in school working industrial machinery or, for that matter, a sewing needle, for less than a living wage anywhere in the World. I don’t want to support economies that don’t have carbon standards for manufacturing processes or for their power stations either... not at any price.

Yes, of course that means I pay more for my clothes, but I also choose to buy fewer clothes and treat them better. I’ve got clothes I’ve been wearing, quite literally, for decades. I buy what I like and what I think suits me, and I buy decent quality; I launder carefully and I trust my dry cleaner, and I know how to use an iron and a sewing needle. 

The same goes for footwear. I’ve got boots that are three decades old, still boxed that have been heeled and soled countless times; they cost me three pounds new, in a sale, and they’re bottle green suede. I kid you not.

On a cost per wear basis, I get damned good value for money out of my expensive clothes, I get to wear things that I love, I keep my carbon footprint down, and as far as I’m able to determine, no children are harmed in the making of my wardrobe, so my conscience is clean.

The next step is for clothes labels to contain information as to the origin and carbon footprint of raw materials and where and by whom they are processed. I would love to know that my frock made in Spain was manufactured using cotton grown in India and processed and dyed in China. It would be fab to be able to make that choice, too.


  1. We are slowly winning the struggle for useful information on food labels, so I see no reason why we cannot get the same for clothes.

    Especially if the Government are honourable enough to act effectively on the UK's emissions targets instead of delaying again.

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