I volunteer as an 'image consultant' at a local Dress-for-Success-type agency that outfits women with appropriate interview and business attire. I suppose someone has to work a ladle down at The Soup Kitchen, but as far as socially conscious time investments go, mine is the FUNNEST! A couple times a week I get to dress up needful, grateful lifesize dolls and then thrust them into the downtown core with a veritable spree of shopping bags. It's a blast (ours originated with the local Junior League; see if there's an organiztion in your area).
Because I contribute during regular business hours the blend of fellow volunteers is strangely dichotomous. It seems the volunteers are either 'ladies who lunch' comfortable or somehow marginalized/unemployed/in transition. I am neither (read: comfortably unemployed). There is a fine line of circumstance that separates the two, and I am surely the volunteer who is toeing it. I wear brand names and have some tastes so expensive they sound like Tracy Jordan lines/Kanye West tweets. Yet, I buy almost everything steeply discounted online or through charity or vintage shops. I love that victorious feeling schlepping through Value Village, like I've somehow pulled one over, beaten the system, damned the man. At the volunteer agency I get a kick out of being the indistinguishable gray to the haves and have-nots (BTW all of whom get along famously, arguing only over things as trivial as "is this embellished cardigan cute or gaudy?")
There was a rather stirring conversation last week in the back-of-house while sorting through the mountain range of donations that is somehow constantly creeping towards the fire exit. These discussions are usually sparked by a single article of clothing being pulled from a garbage bag and held up, Lion King style, for the hushed onlookers to worship. My Scandinavian friend (recently immigrated and volunteering until her work papers are in) hoisted a spectacular wrap dress only to find a couple moth holes on the skirted portion; then the "do we toss it or is it WORTH saving" debate circled the room as the dress was passed and examined by each person. It looked orderly, like a Kindergarten classroom in which only the person holding the Share Bear gets to speak. I listened, unsurprised, to each woman's vote fall onto her side of the aforementioned line of privilege. Worth is subjective. I am guilty of devaluing items because they are, or even have an air of, disposability. Simply because I can throw something away doesn't mean I should.
I can't remember whether the dress was rescued or refused, but it has been front of mind since. I've been padding around my bedroom, eyeballing the unworn and forgotten garments that line the drawer bottoms and remote corners. There is a white hoodie ripe for a washing machine dye-job, jeans to be cut off, and even a wrap dress that would be far more useful as a top. So for the next few weeks my Bernina is going to take over the dining table, and hopefully I'll end up with a few 'new' things to wear volunteering.
Great DIY sites like BUST magazine and Threadbanger have friendly hosts that impart complex crafting know how in digestible little pieces. You can find anything from millinery techniques to silk screening. Free.
Some excellent resources for those interested in EcoChic. Beware: scary info about the environmentally deleterious effects of the cotton industry and alarming amounts of post-consumer textile waste... may change your lifestyle.
Comprehensive and well researched, Green Is the New Black: How To Change the World With Style
More books for upcycling inspiration:
The Generation T books (there are 2)
The modern day version of the Make Do and Mend propaganda of the 40's and 50's is Platform21's (an Amsterdam-based collective) Repair Manifesto. If you can get your hands on the vintage pamphlets too there's some grandmotherly wisdom about increasing textile longevity (ie: the extinct art of 'darning').
Another volunteer just told me to check out Wabi Sabi (Wiki That Shit), a Japanese theory and spiritual concept that focuses on the transient properties of material objects, honouring the imperfections and evolution that results from natural processes.
Beauty is impermanence.
I like it.