Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

UK Vogue: The Ageless style issue

Vogue has just biked round the July issue of Vogue which has a piece by me on 1968 fashion, Thatcher chic (apparently) by Mario Testino, a long piece by Lisa Arnmstrong, fashion writer of the Times on how to dress as you get older, a cover shot of Uma Thurman, facing forty with glamour and a piece by editor Alexandra Shulman on her own wardrobe at fifty.

Farewell, I might be some time.

Yet another reason not to buy cheap clothes

Every once in a while I take a bag full of clothes to the charity shop. My view is that yeah, all right, I've bought disposable clothes, but since they'll get a second lease of life in someone else's wardrobe, with the charity benfiting as the middle man, then when I buy something, I am, in part making a charitable donation further down the line.

Or so I thought.

“Disposability has caused an explosion of problems,” says Dr Lucy Norris, the co-curator of a new exhibition at the Horniman Museum in south London, which traces the odyssey of clothes dumped in Oxfam clothing banks and charity shops. “Clothing is now given in such huge quantities to British charities that they can’t sell it all in the shops. The volume is increasing, while the quality is decreasing.”

For charities to get a return on our tat, most of it is exported. But if you had visions of your old treasures being parachuted into Burma as aid, think again. Charities don’t give clothes away, they sell them. “It takes too long to ship things to disaster areas, and to air-freight them is too expensive,” says Rob McNeil of Oxfam.

Instead, the clothes end up in eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, where they are either sold whole or organised into great colour- coded mounds, as in Panipat, north India, then shredded, pulped and respun into what is known as “shoddy” yarn (recycled wool) and made into cheap blankets.

. . .

The problem is that much of what is donated is synthetic, which is the most difficult to recycle; cotton is also expensive to reuse. The easiest textile to recycle is wool, but the demise of knitwear over the past 15 years has seen the “shoddy” industry suffer. And while donation bins are being stuffed with synthetics, charity shops are struggling to stay competitive with the likes of £3 jeans.

Now that our castoffs are being shipped halfway around the world, what about the environment? Do the benefits of recycling outweigh the carbon cost of shipping? Oxfam hasn’t assessed that: the environmental benefit is only part of the story — cash is the rest. And it’s a difficult area. Second-hand clothing exports can damage the local garment trade — from 1985 to 1992, 51 out of 72 Zambian clothing firms closed, partly due to foreign competition. “If we sent stuff to where there is already a second-hand clothing market, it could undercut that industry,” says McNeil.

You really should read the rest.

Doing the vamp

Go babe, go!

A film is released today which stars four female characters all in their forties. One hits her fiftieth birthday during the action. The actress who plays her is 51. The other actresses really are in their forties, not 23 year olds with prosthetics. It was its female audience which made Sex in the City, not studio executives. Women of all ages watched it. It contains a character which I don't think had ever been seen on screen before, the single, financially independent vamp.

Kim Cattrall has her number:

But is her vamp persona realistic at the the age of 51? "It depends on where you live," says Cattrall. And on what you look like. "It also depends on your financial security. She's a very successful woman, and she takes care of herself."

The vamp understands the power of her sexuality. She gets the idea that it's not just looks, hormones, but the manipulation of a whole appearance through clothes, scent, jewels. This role has usually been taken by the mistress, the manhunter (think Rita Hayworth in Gilda), occasionally by those with inherited wealth. The potency of the single, sucessful city-dweller who insists on taking her pleasure on her own terms is a new creation.

Not of course one than many of us can emulate, but in an age of the sixty-something Harrison Ford reprising Indiana Jones, we at long last have the older women come to centre stage, at least in fiction. Good.