Ashley and Her Homemade Clothing

Nov 30, 2014

Growing up, there was a girl in my grade through high school named Ashley. Ashley’s outfits were never quite like anyone else’s. They weren’t especially fancy, and nor were they in noticeably bad shape. The clothing was generally simple. Aside from when she’d wear a shirt from a student organization, none of the clothes ever had logos, images, or text on them. They didn’t look too different. Just different enough to notice.

I never knew Ashley well. What little I gathered from others who knew her directly was that apparently Ashley’s family made most of their own clothing. Given our age I suspect the parents did the bulk of it – I can’t say for sure how much she made her own – but all the same it didn’t come from stores in the mall. It came instead in pieces and materials from fabric stores, measurements, a home sewing machine, and what I can only imagine was a considerable amount of time, even for relatively simple clothes.

The goal didn’t seem to be to looking nicer. The style didn’t look like high fashion. She wore no unusual materials for eye-catching patterns or striking silhouettes like we’d see on Lady Gaga during performance, or on models posing along a catwalk. Nor do I imagine that this was purely an effort to stretch money further. Granted, it would have to cost much less buying materials than buying finished clothing from trendy stores, however if their situation was difficult enough to not be able to afford even simple clothes (of the general sort they made) at least from lower cost venues then I’d have a hard time picturing them having even the modest luxury of enough time to spend making clothes.

Have you considered making your own clothes? Not just an occasional knitted scarf, or a bracelet made at a summer camp when younger, but pants, t-shirts, day-to-day basic clothing?

It had never crossed my mind, but the materials are available. The equipment to do so, at an individual or family scale, isn’t prohibitively expensive or unusual. We’re not talking about what it would take to mass produce clothing for retail, just enough to wear.

Throughout much of history and some other parts of the world, families making their own clothing must be a fairly common occurrence.

In the industrialized world anyone is basically free to do this. Yet, whether to save time, fit in, look fashionable, or simply because we never really thought about it as something we could take into our own hands, we instead buy clothing made, shipped, and sold by strangers.

You probably know because of where you’re reading this: clothes aren’t really the point. I’m also probably the last person to be lecturing on clothing or fashion. I never made any of my own clothes. All my life I’ve worn my brother’s hand-me-downs, t-shirts from organizations I’ve been a part of, and just enough “nice” clothes (when found on discount) to be able to blend in passably on special occasions.

What fascinates about the family making their own clothes was the preference for self-sufficiency and homemade craftsmanship, the decision to, at least in a way, opt out of the costly branded fashion arms race, preferring a personal connection to the clothing and the functional, pragmatic simplicity.

Along the same lines as I wrote about a few months ago in Homemade Games: Because Who Made It, Where, and When Matters, there’s something appealing about making your own entertainment. Even if it’s much less fancy. Even if it’s nothing too out of the ordinary. Even if it isn’t something that would necessarily have broad market appeal. You know everyone who helped make it, you can truly change anything about it, and that brings its own different type of fulfilling fun that no commercial entertainment product, no matter how masterfully it was designed and developed, can ever even begin to achieve.

Here’s what I like about what Ashley’s clothing brings to the picture: they weren’t making these clothes to sell on Etsy, or otherwise suit customer demands. They weren’t doing it to begin a career in the fashion or garments industry. It was something they decided to do. You have to figure that this choice didn’t define everything about the family. (To be fair, for me as someone who didn’t know them personally, it sort of does, but surely it would be unreasonable to assume that their clothing is all they’d know or talk about.)

Virtually anyone could choose to do it. It’s not a far-fetched thing to talk about or think about. It’s so rare though for someone to really go through with it that by having done so they stood out just a little in an interesting, positive, memorable way. That’s cool.

Even if your game isn’t being made to charge money for, or to put ads in, or appeal to what’s popular and trendy that strangers seem interested in, it’s still totally awesome and worthwhile to make your own entertainment.

Nothing by Banana Republic, J. Crew, or Ralph Lauren, however nice or well-made, will ever be as interesting, memorable, discussable, or meaningful as Ashley’s clothes.

Instead of comparing your newly purchased $60 PS4 game to a friend’s newly purchased $60 Xbox One game, it’s a lot more interesting and personal to instead be talking about the two simpler games you’re each creating, or perhaps creating together.

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