Jacinta flicked through the clothes rail in the unconventional little boutique, which stood on the corner of Osborne Road in Southsea.
A memory blinked across her mind. ‘Make do and mend,’ her grandmother used to say: an old phrase from the twentieth century. So it hadn’t all been waste, in those days.
Nowadays everything was about environmentally sustainable fashion: reworked vintage clothes, restored using safe materials, and limited numbers of new clothes that were hard-wearing and would last well into the future.
She took a red skirt off the rail. It was made of restored imitation velvet. She loved the texture, rich and heavy and such a deep shade of crimson, brushed so that parts of it shaded to a lighter hue as it swung. Jacinta went into one of the cubicles to try it on.
Again, she heard Granny’s words in her head. ‘I couldn’t believe it when clothes first started to be made out of plastic. I thought, whatever is that? You could see it wasn’t proper cloth, and I don’t know how they could think anyone would like it. But I just got used to it in the end.’
Granny would have loved the clothes of today- they were beautiful as well as biodegradable. But sadly she had passed away before all the changes in society had begun, while Jacinta was still in High School.
She looked in the full-length mirror, turning this way and that. The skirt looked good on her. She would have preferred a second opinion, but she hesitated to ask the shop assistant, as they sometimes made unwelcome remarks such as, ‘It’s a little tight for you, don’t you think?’
Jacinta made up her mind that the skirt fitted, and she loved it, so she would buy it. She put it back on the hanger, got dressed and began walking towards the counter, with the skirt dangling and bumping against her leg.
Then suddenly she stopped and looked at the other rails. She could buy another skirt, maybe that lovely blue floral one that she could see on the rail in front. Or perhaps that light red top over there, to go with the red velvet skirt even though she didn’t need it, because she had tops at home that would do… The clothes shop was stocked well enough for much more shopping.
In Granny’s day a lot of women were inclined to shop in order to lift their mood. They would buy too many clothes and shoes, which gave them a buzz of excitement, and then stack the items in their wardrobe. Rebellious feelings stirred in Jacinta. What if she were to go backwards to vices of the past, and give herself that buzz?
But the savings book would have to come out for that, because the clothes were priced to discourage customers from doing it. It was quality instead of quantity. Her twin brother and sister’s joint birthday was coming up next month, and she really needed the money to buy them presents.
Also, it wasn’t as if spending too much was the only problem with those old habits. Granny had described how her favourite high street store was always over-stocked, with more new clothes being delivered every week, and most of them ended up in the sale just to get rid of them. Some people even suspected that they were manufactured in sweat shops. It would never happen now, for these days everyone believed in eliminating excess textiles, as they become waste which clogs up the environment.
Would it really make her happy? She would be going against her ideals, and more importantly to her, she would have to disappoint her brother and sister on their birthday. Jacinta changed her mind. Quickly she paid for the skirt, and then headed back home.
It was time to get ready for the meeting tonight, the Women’s Empowerment Group, which was all about women finding strength and beauty within themselves. Some of them had known one another since school. It had been so reassuring to find her own tribe, others who cared about the same things she did.
None of them wanted to be boring and sanctimonious, talking about the way women ought to be. It was a group for their interests, anything from cooking and childcare to martial arts, and the empowerment came from exploring these interests as fully as possible. Although they believed the beauty came from within, they still focused sometimes on make-up and clothes, without any shame because it was perfectly natural.
They also liked to have a laugh, and catch up on the gossip. You have to be yourself. You can’t be some perfect china doll, repeating platitudes like a robot, even though society may have swung towards sensible living habits, and healthier eating too. But that’s another subject – Jacinta had always been more interested in clothes, and would have made them herself if she had the skill.
Jacinta started to get ready, and just as she was doing her hair, her phone rang. It was Emma. ‘Hey, are you coming to group tonight?’
‘Yes, Emma, course I am. I’ll be there. But I’ve been thinking about something.’ She hesitated.
‘What? Tell me, then.’
‘I was shopping in the Osborne Boutique this afternoon. Emma, tell me something, have you ever wanted to buy more clothes than you need? Just because it’s exciting, or to cheer yourself up?’
The phone crackled with Emma’s laugh. ‘All the time! And some of my other friends have said the same thing. In fact we’re thinking of starting a clothes swap, where we all bring along clothes we’re bored with, and swap with other girls the same size. If enough of us join in we’ll be sure to find something we like, and it will be like going on an extra shopping trip. We thought we’d have the first one in two weeks’ time.’
Jacinta immediately felt better and replied, ‘Great! I’ll definitely come along to that. Where is it being held?’
As Emma gave her the address, her rebellious mood passed, and she was sure Granny would have approved.
Inspiration: I was inspired by the high level debate we had about this theme at the Writer’s Hub – it felt like we were debating it in parliament! I’ve always had to watch myself to make sure I don’t succumb to shopping addiction. (Yum!)
Pens of the Earth is about environmental tales from a positive Portsmouth – encouraging writers to celebrate existing environmental initiatives, and to imagine what might be.
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