Actress and activist Jane Fonda vowed to never buy new clothes again, when she was arrested outside the US Capitol on the 18th of October, 2019 during a climate change protest in Washington, DC. Her reason was to highlight the horrors of climate change, and she believed that the fashion industry with its promotion of wasteful consumerism should not be spared from scrutiny. Now being someone who believes in and practices slow fashion; I won’t say that I will not shop for another garment again. Though if I had Miss Fonda’s wardrobe, it might be a different story… It was her activism though that inspired me to write about keeping clothes and to share stories and pictures of some I have stubbornly refused to let go of, even after decades of ownership.
It’s the mid 1990s, and way before internet shopping was to become a thing. In a big international city like Taipei, there was of course no shortage of both local and global fashion brands. For those after something unique, quirky yet affordable, there were other options too, what we called the 舶來品店 – Shop-of-Foreign-Goods (SOFG) for the not-so-main-stream shoppers’ satisfaction.
Selling handcrafted jewellery from Nepal and India or high-street fashion from Hong Kong, these were the boutiques that held the most interest for me back then. Every visit to those stores was like an exciting treasure hunt. The whole shopping experience was personal, you built a relationship with the store’s owners, telling them what you liked and what you didn’t. This explains why I had a drawer of exotic earrings and a collection of one-of-a-kind outfits in my wardrobe… well, for a decade at least!
Amy, the shop keeper of the SOFG I went to most frequently, was a woman in her late 20s. She had a business partnership with a flight attendant and, this was a very common scenario for this kind of stock. That’s how the foreign goods were acquired – via the air hostess as fashion buyer! I remember very well the day I spotted this Carwash Pleat Dress (it was very on trend in the ’90s, read my previous post here) at Amy’s. Even though I did not need one more dress, I wanted it.
The thing is, I could see the ‘flowers in bubbles’ print and the gold buttons would go very well with my black suede belt; with it’s gold metal statement buckle in the new moon shape. Yes, mix and match, I thought of these things when doing my window shopping. And what’s the chance to find a perfect match between these two items – and one I already owned! Since everything was truly one-off here, there was no other size to compare. I was trying to find other information such as fabric, the whereabouts of where this frock was made… but there was none. Amy seemed to be reading my mind, she said:
‘This is a runway piece, designed and made by a fashion graduate in Hong Kong. You won’t find a second one in the world!’
‘So now I’m really interested!’ But I didn’t tell Amy that, though I suppose she already knew. Without hesitation, I went and tried it on behind the curtain. It fitted! Did I want an exclusive dress that no one else in this entire world could ever have? Absolutely! It did not even come across my mind to bargain. I bought it. She wrapped it. It was mine.
The next few years were the golden age for my Carwash Pleat Dress. It had become a look I relied on; an ensemble I felt was closest to fully expressing myself. I saw my first The Phantom of the Opera in Hong Kong wearing it. I dressed in it when celebrating the release of my first novel for young adults, which was published in Taiwan. I have many photographs and memories from wearing it… and that’s why I couldn’t bear to part with it when exchanging my time living in Taipei for Sydney in late 1999. A drawer of exotic earrings and fashion jewellery were donated or given away, but I was not leaving this dress behind.
Another decade had gone by, my ’90s frock was quietly hanging in my Sydney wardrobe waiting to see sunlight, to shine again. It was not forgotten. It was the gold buttons that were stopping me from wearing it. I thought they seemed dated. After successfully finding a set of clear grey buttons with delicate marbling detail inside; I decided that it was time to give this dress a second life, to make it a truly timeless evergreen dress.
Isn’t that what they say? ‘Fashion always makes a comeback’… well if we are patient enough. Through the years of 2014, 2015 and 2017 I witnessed the grand return of the carwash pleats style, seeing it return as both dresses and skirts. Nowadays, everything is instant, rapid and short-lived, I am so very proud of myself that I have given this beautiful evergreen dress a long lifespan. Call me sentimental? Well I am. I wore my on-trend-again outfit and made those beautiful cobblestone streets of Prague my runway!
Here let me quote Miss Fonda to wrap up this post. It’s what she said at her Washington, DC climate change protest in October 2019, which was for me an enlightening moment. I think it’s really something, this more-is-more generation should think about, and I have been keeping it as my motto too:
‘We don’t really need to keep shopping. We shouldn’t look to shopping for our identity. We don’t need more stuff.’ – Jane Fonda.
Do you still love your dresses from the past which have been buried in your closet for a long time? Why not extend their lives by wearing them or alter them to give them a second life! The planet, Miss Fonda and I (maybe your partner too) will thank you for it.