Thursday, May 19, 2011

Origins of an American Closet

"They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks.
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back to your hometown."
- My Hometown, Bruce Springsteen

International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Union Made AFL-CIO. That was the label on a vintage yellow coat (Best and Co., Fifth Avenue, New York City), which I acquired for $30 at the CATS Resale Shop in Westwood, New Jersey.

Only when I look at vintage clothes do I see union labels, like this one on a hat at the buy and sell shop of Abram Demaree Homestead in Closter, New Jersey.

Very few things that we buy are necessities. Food and clothing are. Can we even find the countries our clothes are produced in on a map? Do we think about who toils away so we can have: cheap, excess, dispose of it? It's the same situation as our food supply: pretend if we don't think about it, no one suffers in poor labor conditions, the environment isn't impacted for the worse. It's all about us, right?

I acquire the vast majority of my clothes second hand (clothing swaps, consignment shops and charity thrift shops). I don't want to support labor conditions I don't know of, I want to lessen my impact on the Earth, and I'd rather pay a fraction of the cost, or nothing at all.

Consignment shops are a great addition to the dwindling American main street (more about that in a future post), and I love supporting charity shops like my two favorite, CATS Resale (supporting homeless cats and dogs) and Housing Works (benefiting homeless and low income New Yorkers with HIV).

Since I'm acquiring already produced items, I don't look at the labels as closely, but here's a random sampling of my most worn items in my closet. I encourage you to look at yours as well.

Purple H&M dress: Romania, $40. From H&M. Several years old.
H&M rain coat: Romania, Estimated $60. From H&M. Several years old.
Black Cynthia Steefe Skirt: China, $5. Housing Works, Hell's Kitchen, New York City location
Gap jeans: Canada (of USA fabrics); $5. Our Thrift Shop, Westwood, New Jersey
Forever dress: USA, $8. Revived Attire consignment shop, Hillsdale, New Jersey
Banana Republic black wool cardigan: China, Free. Clothing swap
Banana Republic white cotton top: Vietnam, Free. Clothing swap
Anthrolopogie dress: China, $25. A Beautiful Little Secret consignment shop, Dumont, New Jersey.

Some recent second hand acquisitions:
Blue Albert Nippon skirt: Thailand, $7.50. Housing Works
Old Navy black and white polka dotted cardigan: China, $1. CATS Resale Shop
Guess sunglasses: Unclear, $2. CATS Resale Shop
Victorian Classics white cotton nightgown: India, $4. CATS Resale Shop
Miss K yellow sleeveless blouse: Thailand, $5. Housing Works.

I do need to do better with shoes. I find some through thrift or consignment shops, and I got a nice dress pair at a swap, but do go to Payless a few times a year for shoes - all of which are made in China. Since the female shoe obsession skipped me, I don't buy many. I am going to make more of an effort to get them secondhand.

Do you look at the labels of your clothes? Does it bother you so few "Made in the U.S.A." labels exist? Are there any we can support?

Do you go lightly donating or selling your clothes, swapping, hitting garage sales, freecycle, consignment shops or thrift stores? Find a charity shop through

How about fixing or altering things? I found a whimsical daisy top at Housing Works for $3 that was a very odd length which I suspect fit no one (and why it was only $3), but had it shortened by a tailor for $10. I'm also a big supporter of local shoe cobblers, and keeping that trade alive (remember how few craftsmen and women there are anymore).


  1. Since I'm super duper fat, it's very hard to find any clothes (well, those that aren't totally hideous) new or used. However! I did recently find an online retailer with mostly made-in-American clothing.

    Speaking of main street dying--online shops are becoming far more common than store fronts for plus size clothing. Companies make more money off of us--even stores with huge, no pun intended, plus size clothing sales will push all of their bigger sizes online, because folks rarely bother to return clothes that don't fit when they're purchased online. Nice, huh?

    Anyway, this shop, Making it Big, doesn't have a whole lot that I like, but the few pieces that work I have appreciated a great deal. They also have a line that is sourced from a worker-owned collaborative abroad that pays fair wages, etc. So, I try to limit my purchases to the Made in the USA goods at that particular line.

    But still--I would love be able to find clothing in thrift stores! I always make sure to use freecycle or donate to thrift stores when I'm getting rid of my clothes (the business stuff I usually just give directly to women's shelters), because I know how hard it is for big girls to get used clothes.

    Why do I always write novel-length comments on your posts? Hmm. I suppose it's because I can't shut up. Also? I love your compassion and concern for your fellow humans. :)

  2. I can never understand this about the fashion world. How many size two's are there in the world compared to the average woman who also wants to take pride in her appearance and look fabulous no matter what her size?

    One of the biggest challenges at the seasonal clothing swaps I co-host is getting larger sizes. People of various sizes or styles say, "You don't want my clothes" but we do! Even if no one takes them we donate them, and thrift store shoppers are all not smalls and mediums!

    Thank you for sharing the info. about that company, and for your passion and input - it's always welcome and appreciated.