“Our clothes are important for they help to keep us well. … Sewing is an art which all girls should learn. If we know how to sew, we can keep our clothes in order and always be neat and attractive in appearance.“*
Clothes and health in 1920
This is the opening sentence of the book Clothing and Health: An Elementary Textbook of Home Making. The book was published in 1920 and exclusively targets girls. In 1920 women spend over a billion dollars a year on textile materials alone.
The book gives some other reasons, than to be neat and attractive, why women should know how to sew. Reasons that still carry some weight from the perspective of our days, exactly 100 years later: to know how to sew would make women aware of the costs of clothes, and the durability and whether the clothes wear well.
The origins of clothes
As a result, in those days, women were educated the origins of clothes. Women learned from which plants the raw materials were made and how these materials were manipulated into yarns, and how the yarns were woven into textile from which finally the clothes were made.
I am totally unaware whether today in schools girls, and boys, learn those things. If not, that would be a pity. To say the least. Because, since 1920, there are many new developments that are of interest when it comes to clothes.
Buy and wear clothes that are good for the environment
Conventional cotton uses lots of insecticides: 25% of the amount applied worldwide. Most of these pesticides are under suspicion of causing cancer. Cotton is also grown with enormous quantities of synthetic fertilizers. Insecticides and synthetic fertilizers make cotton one of the most significant environmental polluters.
Moreover, for the fabrication of cotton into clothes, many toxic materials are used, such as heavy metals, flame retardants, ammonia, phthalates and formaldehyde, just to name a few.
Also avoid polyester and nylon clothes. The raw materials for these type of clothes come from crude oil. The processing of crude oil increases global warming and releases toxic chemicals into the air.
Organic cotton, linen and wool are excellent alternatives compared to their conventional versions. Take for instance organic wool. Extra care is taken to pasture and animal management. No insecticides, pesticides and fungicides are applied. Not to the soil, not to the feedstuff and not to the sheep. No synthetic hormones or medication are allowed. Moreover, the production of yarn from wool is also limited to environmentally safe products.
Wear clothes that are good for your health
Besides, do we know what the clothes we buy do with our personal physical health? There is hardly any research that gives you insight into the health benefits or dangers of the clothes you wear. Yet, here are some rules of thumb:
- Wear clothes that decrease the chances of infections.
- Wear loose clothes, these are clothes that do not pinch off nerves, arteries or even your skin.
- Wear Fair Trade and organic clothes.
- Wear locally sourced clothing, with known eco-safe practices.
- Wear small designer’s clothes, whose production practices are transparent.
- Buy less new and more second-hand.
- More in general: value the clothes you wear and wear them with care.
Where to buy good clothes?
For every decision you make, it is wisest to inform yourself first. Which means that we all have to go back 100 years and learn from the Girls’ Sewing League of Pleasant Valley. Not because we all have to learn to sew again, although that is sound advise.
But we have to learn again were the raw materials for our clothes come from, how the clothes are made, and what the consequences of the production of clothes are. This report from Greenpeace if good for starters.
From the environmental, ecological and health point of view it is safest only to buy Fair Trade or organic clothes. Be aware that such clothes are not only made of cotton. Wool and linen made of flask are also textiles that you can buy organic. The Internet is a very rich source, so you must be able to find a shop in your neighborhood. Don’t forget to share what you find with your friends on social media.
* Kinne, H. and Cooley, A.M. (1920) ‘Clothing and Health: An Elementary Textbook of Home Making’, p. 16 (ebook; p. 4 in the printed version).