Dad's battered Levi's 505s.
It is a truism that fashion turns the old into the new. Magazines and newspaper style sections often proclaim that 'the [insert decade here]'s are back!' and I have no doubt that these are correct observations. One need only check out the latest acid-washed denim, wayfarer sunglasses or bouffant hairstyles for confirmation.
It seemed like an eternity, an impossibility even, but our dad's wardrobe finally became cool again. His dock shoes, Canadian tuxedo and ample supply of checkered flannel shirts would not seem out of place in Williamsburg or Camden. Now that Top Shop, H&M and every other industrial fashion outlet is churning out his staples, I have realized that something was lost in translation.
Our dad’s closet is a veritable vintage gold mine. Every pair of jeans is Levi's, every denim shirt Lee -- you get the picture. What is interesting though, is that he made these choices not out of styling, but quality. The 'boyfriend' jeans of late are an exact copy of his 'work' (that is, real life work: house chores, rebuilding the bathroom, installing a washer/dryer, painting the porch, changing the oil on his motorcycle), the consequences of which are tears in the knees, worn wallet holes, paint splatters and oil stains. Quality, not style, cut, or brand popularity, ruled his decision making. A brand like Levi's (or Hunter, or Burberry, once upon a time) made products designed to satisfy the demands of everyday people. Today, this notion seems to be lost for the sake of trendiness.
I fully appreciate aesthetics, how a combination of texture, color and cut can achieve a harmony comparable to that of a great painting or sculpture. I find it sad that modern design has lost touch with its roots. H&M, Primark and TK Maxx attempt to peddle style, but I cannot hide my disappointment with how quality has been forgotten in the name of disposable, cheap fashion. High fashion obviously isn't accessible to everyone. As a student, this is glaringly (even painfully) evident to me. That said, given the choice between a denim shirt from Primark (the ubiquitous British discount clothing retailer) or one from Levi, I'd choose the better quality, only slightly more expensive option. Similarly, between a Top Man suit and one from Club Monaco cut by Timothy Farah (who learned the ropes designing under Thom Browne for Brooks Brothers,) I'd pick the latter any day.
Burberry trench, circa 1914.
I find the lack of social and environmental responsibility amongst companies like Primark even more repellent. Their cheap products, that have an expiry date of approximately 10 hours, produced at the lowest cost in Asia with dubious labor standards, contribute massively to the environmental footprint of the western world.
Clothing not sold is incinerated, clothing bought turns into garbage in mere days anyways. The Times reports that 'textiles have become the fastest-growing waste product in the UK. About 74 per cent of those two million tonnes of clothes we buy each year end up in landfills, rotting slowly (or not at all) in a mass of polyester, viscose and acrylic blends.' This statistic, if nothing else, is a strong enough argument for saving up those dollars and pounds we might spend on three paper-thin H&M dress shirts to purchase a good quality, loose-weave oxford or better yet, something perfectly cut in broadcloth. Having only one of something will make you think twice about trashing it.
There must be a balance between the disposable fashion of a discount retailer, and the highly expensive realm of couture. I believe it is embodied in some of our parents' choices, back when brands were built on quality, when utility mattered more than a fleeting trend.
All photos of dad's Levi's 505s are by my thieving sister, because she stole BOTH pairs.