Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dressing For Recession -

Day to Day, November 26, 2008 · Retail spending is down — holiday sales are expected to be the worst in 20 years — but one writer and stay-at-home dad found a way to produce new children's clothes on the cheap. Well, at least they're new-looking clothes.

I was walking along a gritty, windswept thoroughfare in one of the outlying neighborhoods of San Francisco when my daughter, holding my hand, suddenly refused to move.

Emmeline pointed at the Salvation Army sign in front of us and protested, "No! I don't want to go to the fabric store!"

Because she is 2 years old and weighs as much as a Furby, I picked her up and went inside the thrift store anyway. Together we thumbed through vintage jackets and the kind of gaudy, sweat-stained blouses that were once high fashion for the Mad Men highball set and their cocktail-party wives.

Now, these oversized castoffs and floral relics are my toddler's clothes.

I call it Recession Wear.

As the economy takes a turn for the worse, our family has changed the way we shop for everyday necessities. Instead of shelling out $40 for the latest Janie and Jack dress or $30 for something from the Gap or Gymboree, we are treating thrift stores like fabric bazaars — buying ancient wool skirts or vibrant cotton sundresses and ripping them apart for the material.

Sure, there is the occasional embarrassing encounter with a worried clerk who wonders what a stumpy, stubble-faced man is doing in the women's section, holding up adult dresses to his daughter's chin — but it's worth it.

A few cuts here, a little elastic there — maybe some delicate pink piping along the hem — and we can produce children's clothes for a tiny fraction of store-bought prices.

My grandparents were raised during the Great Depression and spent the rest of their lives hoarding rubber bands, bacon grease and batteries. It used to fill me with empathy and embarrassment that they would actually rinse out Ziploc bags and reuse them. "Poor people," I thought. "Don't they know there's always more?"

I was raised in the Disposable Generation of Styrofoam boxes and plastic water bottles. If something ran out, you simply got a new one.

But this year, we are re-evaluating not just how we spend our money but also the lessons we pass on to a new generation.

I made Emmeline a skirt the other day out of a men's sport coat once sold exclusively at the Watergate Hotel. You can't buy that kind of fashion statement at Target.

On our most recent trip, Emmeline's glowery mood changed when she happened upon a shirt decorated with farm animals and said, "Ooh, now doesn't this look nice!"

I examined it and agreed, asking, "What do you want to do with it?"

Emmeline twirled her toe on the speckled Formica floor and thought it over for a moment.

A smile widened on her face: "Oh, I think that will make just the prettiest dress."

Her latest outfit cost $1.50.

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