I have a friend who is awesome (yes, Alicia, it’s you), and who knits. A few months ago, she wrote about taking some scarves she’d knitted out with her, planning to leave them anonymously for people who were homeless or otherwise on the streets. Coming out of a store, she met a woman who asked her for some change, and my friend offered her a food voucher, and asked her if she’d also like a scarf.
The woman asked if she could have the purple one, and then changed her mind—there was a friend of hers at the shelter who loved orange, so could she please have the orange one instead, to take to her friend? Of course, Alicia insisted that she take both: one for herself, and one for her friend.
I love this story. It’s about three months since Alicia related it to me, and it’s stuck with me since. I love that she was doing something wonderful to help other people, with her hobby.
Fashion is often dismissed as superficial. Fluff. It’s not a necessity. As long as you have enough clothes to keep you warm or otherwise decent, it’s unimportant. Except it’s not. It really matters. Who hasn’t had a favourite pair of jeans, or a t-shirt which has literally fallen apart before it was finally, reluctantly, thrown away? Who hasn’t had to wear something—too short, too long, too tight, too fancy—and felt awkward and uncomfortable because of it?
Something the woman in the story above said to my friend really resonated with me. ‘Do you know how long it’s been since I got to pick out what I wanted to wear?’
Having that choice is a luxury most of us take for granted, and yet we often judge others for the clothes they wear, not even considering that they have little choice in the matter. When the budget is tight, there are only so many places one can choose to shop for clothes. Sometimes, it only allows for free, second-hand cast-offs, and in that case, the fact that the clothes fit is the only prerequisite. Sometimes, people just don’t have a choice as to what they get to wear. And yet, we judge them for their appearance.
Recently, I bought a new hoodie. It was the first new item of clothing I’d bought in several months, and it was also completely inessential, since I have two other jumpers which fit, and are in perfectly good condition. I bought it for no other reason than I wanted it. And I regret nothing. I love the new one. When I wear it, I feel happy. I look forward to wearing it. I keep it for special occasions. It has been years since I bought an item of clothing which exceeds its purpose of simply being something to wear. It feels fantastic.
Too often, we think of basic needs as the only needs on which we should focus. We think that shelter, food, water, clean air are the important things, and everything else is secondary. But humans don’t just exist on basic necessities. We desire little comforts. Even those of us who maintain a simple lifestyle have some extras we look forward to. Even those people who are living in the poorest of places, struggling to find enough to eat and drink, still have the desire for something other than the basics.
It’s too easy to forget this, when we judge people who may have fewer choices. It’s easy to think that people should feel as though they are lucky to have ‘enough’, when many of us are in the position of having more than enough. It’s easy to dismiss a person’s choice of fashion as being something completely within their control, but that’s not always the case. Fashion is a means of self-expression, but sometimes, the tools for that are not to hand. We have to make do with what we have, and it’s not always ideal.
It goes without saying, that what really matters is obviously deeds, not clothes. Being well dressed does not mean the wearer of those fine threads will be empathetic, tenacious or humble. Wearing fourth-hand tshirts and mis-matched socks does not make someone dishonest or lazy. Yet we tend to make snap judgements about people—their personalities or their jobs or their incomes, or even their worth as humans—from what they’re wearing and how they’re wearing it. Not only should we take a minute to re-think that, we should also appreciate just how lucky we are, to have the benefit of being able to choose what to wear everyday. And possibly, like Alicia, work out a way so that more people can have that opportunity. It is truly a wonderful thing, to feel good in one’s clothes.