Thanks for the Memories: Laura Craik Writes About the Importance of Cherishing your Clothes
When you have a baby, you become incredibly, irritatingly fastidious about everything they eat. Their body is a temple. Only the best organic purée will do. When they become a toddler, you eschew the Wotsits and Quavers of your own youth for organic rice cakes, and when you start taking them to birthday parties, you cringe at the mounds of sweets, pizzas and sausages on sticks. Nobody tells you that by the time they are 13, they will be living almost entirely on pizza, washed down with Haribo, Dairy Milk and, if they have particularly bad judgment, the occasional fag. Turns out their body isn’t a temple after all, it’s a dustbin, a receptacle for whatever crap they choose to put in it. All your efforts to give them the best were in vain.
I was thinking about this food trajectory as I looked through my wardrobe the other day. There are parallels. When I started buying clothes, my intentions were lofty: only the best would do. My first “proper” job in fashion – at The Face in the mid-1990s – wasn’t well paid (£12,000 per year), yet I’d save ferociously for the pieces I wanted. The word “pieces” is significant. I would never dream of calling the stuff I wear now “pieces”. “Pieces of shit”, maybe. But back then, if you worked in fashion and you loved clothes, this was how you referred to them. “What a beautiful piece,” you’d say, stroking the dresses at a designer’s showroom on press day. And so it came to pass that the first proper piece I bought was a black hooded nylon raincoat by Prada, one that would come to be, er, “paid homage to” by Demna Gvasalia at Vetements some 20 years later. Mid-1990s Prada was unassailable, and that purchase was eventually followed by a more-tailored charcoal grey Prada coat. I still wear it now sometimes, only I look like the Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
At The Face, our working uniform was very different from the one I would eventually adopt on the various newspapers that I worked at for more than 20-ish years. It was all rare Japanese denim, debate-worthy selvedges, obscure Nike trainers and niche leisurewear. Our standards were high, our parameters narrow. We cared deeply about the clothes we wore, and hated on the clothes that other people wore with equal passion. We were young, pretentious and carefree, with little else to do than shop. And shop we did, with some of us acquiring hundreds of pairs of trainers. I still have the North Face padded coat, Supreme sweatshirt and Lovers’ House tee that I revered so much back then.
I also have a ton of stuff – sorry, “pieces” – that fit far less smoothly into my life than these items of branded leisurewear. Whatever you end up doing with your life, there will always be a place for a North Face padded coat. Skiing in a lesser-known resort not frequented by royals? Perfect. Weekend break in the Wolds? Good enough. Supplementing your day job by dealing weed in NW5? You’ll fit right in. Alas, the same level of usefulness cannot be attached to some of the other jackets in my possession. A Vivienne Westwood denim jacket with a peplum waist and sleeves fashioned from frayed denim strips springs to mind as one of the less-utilitarian items I’ve acquired over the years. Is it a collector’s item? Undoubtedly. Is it useful on the school run? Not so much.
The same can be said of a slew of other garments hanging mutely in my wardrobe: the Chanel bouclé coat embroidered with tiny burnished silver sequins; the Chloé shift dress with its millefeuille bodice and delicate sleeves; the kingfisher blue Antonio Berardi cocktail dress with its plunging neckline; the other Berardi cocktail dress with its exaggerated shoulders and brevity. When regarded now, in the cold light of day, in middle age, the dresses have a particular poignancy. Who was the person who wore them? Where did she go? What did life do to her? And why does she only buy dresses from Zara now?
Obviously I am a hoarder. My natural instinct is to hold on to things. As someone who kept diaries from an early age, the transition to keeping clothes was an easy one. If words preserve memories, so too do clothes, conjuring remembrances just as vividly as sentences can. Of course, hoarding has been rebranded these days, or at least become more acceptable. You are not a sentimental nutjob who can’t chuck things out, you are a poster girl for sustainability. You are thrifty, economical, parsimonious. As it happens, I am none of those things. I keep things just in case they come back into fashion again. I keep things because it hurts to give them away. I keep things because I know I’ll mourn the loss of them. I keep things because I am afraid of death. I dunno, why does anyone keep anything?
The most glib answer is that I keep my clothes, handbags and shoes so that my daughters can enjoy them when they’re older. I’m not sure what self-justifying bollocks I’d have trotted out if I’d had sons; possibly I’d have said I hoped they’d grow up to be crossdressers. As anyone who has daughters will attest, they automatically hate every item of clothing you wear or own. “Um, no thanks,” they’ll say in horror as you offer to lend them a T-shirt. If they live in London, they are destined to spend their teenage years in sweatpants and hoodies from Sports Direct, with little interest in, or use for, your Jimmy Choo pumps, your Mulberry handbag or your vintage Miss Selfridge bomber jacket from the actual 1990s, the decade they seem most to revere. Although they may show a glimmer of interest in your wardrobe if you kept all your 1990s sportswear. My 13-year-old has currently deigned to borrow my vintage Nike x Liberty high-tops, which she wears with my husband’s vintage Nike sweatshirt, an item that falls down to her knees. But that’s OK, because #BillieEilish.
Whatever you call the practice of not chucking them out, it’s a stone-cold fact that hoarding/keeping old clothes is better for the environment, if not the economy, than mindlessly buying new ones. And, after decades of doing so, I can confidently say that most things do come back into fashion again. Nobody was more ready than me when Adwoa Aboah almost singlehandedly brought back the Burberry house check: out came my Burberry stilettos from the 2000s. When graffiti came back? Out came the Louis Vuitton/Stephen Sprouse sweatshirt and scarf. That Prada has reissued its iconic bowling bags from the mid-1990s means I can dust off my original – the one that my friend Johnny, once when shit-faced in a club, thought was an iron – and save myself a grand (from memory, the original was £700, now it’s £1,720).
For if there’s one item you should never, ever part with, no matter how cramped your closet becomes with cheap high-street tat, it’s a designer handbag. Those babies are better investments than gold. They’ll hold value more reliably than a Mayfair townhouse. The first Chanel 2.55 I ever bought cost more than half a month’s wages, but, at £650, it was a fraction of the price the same bag would cost now. Chanel handbags don’t date. And if you look after them well, they’ll barely even deteriorate. Most importantly, you won’t have to re-mortgage your house to buy one. Besides, there is always a place for a classic handbag in your life. You might not be able to wear a Balenciaga ballgown to your mum-chum’s 40th in the local pub, but a classic handbag will never get disapproving looks or look wildly inappropriate. You can get as fat, poor or feckless as you like and still throw on that motherfucker and feel like a queen.
Designer handbags might be failsafe good buys, but that doesn’t mean every expensive purchase will be. I’ve known designer coats lose their buttons, expensive shoes whose suede fades in the sun and pricey cashmere that goes into holes even when hidden away in moth-proof bags. And while there’s some truth in the trope that classic investment pieces will always earn their money back – my LBDs from Stella McCartney,Simone Rocha and Lanvin have been worn countless times and have definitely recouped their hefty purchase prices – in terms of cost-per-wear, nothing beats my short floral shift dress from Primark, one of only three items I’ve ever bought there, right when it first opened in London. That baby has seen me through two maternity leaves, numerous fancy lunches, several minibreaks, countless foreign holidays and one Glastonbury where, for the first and last time in my life, I was photographed by American Vogue.
These days, I spend most of my life in sweatpants. I really should give my designer clothes to charity so that someone with a more exciting life than mine can enjoy them. But fuck that. Clothes don’t need to be worn to bring joy. Their existence is enough. Karl Lagerfeld famously said that sweatpants are a sign of defeat. But to the army of women who live in them, the real sign of defeat would be parting with the clothes they used to wear before the sweatpants. In every dress, coat and stiletto lies some vestige of who they used to be. A panoply of memories ignites every time they lay eyes on them. Wardrobes are diaries, memory banks, places of remembrance. Cherish yours, whatever precious jewels and cheap monstrosities are in there.
Illustration by Charles Jeffrey. Taken from Issue 64 – BEST, FOOT, FORWARD – which is on newsstands now.