Your grandmother and my Aunt Belle would have been appalled and ashamed to wear what passes for clothing these days. I can see my Aunt Belle turning up her nose and twisting her mouth. If she had been even part Italian, she would have spit. But Southern Scots-Irish ladies didn’t spit in 1958, even in disgust. I make an exception here for the aunts up on the mountain who took a little snuff.

Despite the fact that the wise Henry David Thoreau cautioned us to, “Beware of enterprises that require new clothes,” occasionally I must venture out into the raucous and crowded land beyond my peaceful home. I must take up my coupons and battle the three dragons of the the dark forest of retail: cheap fabrics, unattractive styles and shoddy workmanship.

Cheap fabrics: Modern clothing problems begin with cheap fabrics — fabrics with slimy textures that stink like an oil spill, fade, or shrink or stretch when they are washed. Fabrics that perpetuate the idea that women need to flock to the new colors, so that even if my best color is blue, in some years, there is nothing blue in the store.

Unattractive styles: I refuse to purchase clothes designed for Night-Club Barbie. I don’t want shirts decorated with shiny bits that looks like a Cracker Jack prizes hanging awkwardly across my bosom, decorations which must be cut off with tin snips and thrown into the recycling bin. I decline blouses and shirts sprinkled with glitter that falls off in the wash — if I am lucky. Usually the glitter rubs off under my seatbelt and once into a sandwich I was eating. And what is attractive about underarms and flabby backs? I don’t get it.

We should be proud of our size, our bodies, but we should also be modest. I know that the patriarchy sometimes promotes modesty as a way of controlling women. But I don’t want to walk around in off-the-shoulder blouses, shirts with cut outs and revealing necklines. I strive for middle-class respectability, and would be annoyed with straps and necklines constantly falling off my shoulder, jeans and yoga pants that I had to struggle into, and embarrassed by glaring underwear. I was raised better than to try to wear inappropriate clothing designed for a younger generation or for a very different lifestyle.

Maybe middle-class respectability is no longer a desired character trait. Maybe it went the way of personal modesty and pride in one’s work.

Shoddy workmanship: Do modern merchandisers understand that there is a difference between a hem and a selvage? That necklines should not gap? That seams should not unravel? That collars and necklines should be straight? That sleeves should not pucker? That buttons should stay on?

And to make matters worse, when I am fighting these three dragons of cheap fabrics, unattractive styles and shoddy workmanship, I am simultaneously whacking through the jungle of size misdirection. Is this a European 12, an Asian 12, or a “generous” 12? And is a 3 the same as a medium?

And hidden in the dark forest of retail there are the obstacles of overcrowded aisles and racks, messy stacks, filthy carpet in messy dressing rooms and a constant backbeat of annoying music.

For every smart woman like me who tries to buy classic clothing that lasts for years, there are millions of silly women who are on the hunt for cute and cheap. And thousands of businessmen who are willing to accommodate them.

Yes, the ultimate protest is to order online. But if I order online there is no fondling the fabrics, no checking the seams and hems. And absolutely no ability to determine accurate sizing and fit. Often, when I order online, using tons of fossil fuel to get a pair of pants, I try them on, and have to send them back, using tons more fossil fuel.

If I could find decent fabric, I might pretend to consider sewing my own clothes. But the real truth is that, if my fingers could manipulate needles and thread and sewing machines, I would be producing more useful items like quilts and shawls and elastic-waist pants rather than trying to capture life with words in print. And besides, I never learned to wind a bobbin.

Since no moderately priced fashion line seems interested in creating nice, comfortable clothing for “traditionally built” respectable women, I choose to wear my current wardrobe until I reach the housecoat stage of life.

However, I am considering scrubs to get me through to those housecoat years. Scrubs are comfortably loose, colorful, sturdy and modest. And there is the added benefit that they look good with tennis shoes.

Thoreau did not mean the above quote to be taken literally. He was also saying that one should choose to go to what he called, “glittering balls and legislative luncheons.” He thought that we should cultivate our inner beings rather than our outer shells.

Perhaps I will be able to contemplate my inner soul more easily, when I get my new scrubs.

Cheryl Hilderbrand is a Jackson writer and educator. Email her at cmhild@bellsouth.net.

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