Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Greek Collection: The Greek lady's wardrobe (Άρωμα Ελληνίδας)

After work one hot sunny afternoon - we call that hour μεσιμέρι (mesiMEri) - midday - in Greek, and not afternoon (that starts after 5pm in summer) - just when capital controls had been slightly relaxed and we could make weekly withdrawals of 420 euro (instead of the daily limit of 60 euro), I parked my car on the outskirts of town just above the law courts, which is how the area got its name: Δικαστήρια (dikaSTIria), so I could go to the bank to make my first withdrawal since capital controls were enforced. I had been procrastinating about this cash business, trying to convince myself that I did not need any. That theory was blown out the window when I met up with some friends for a coffee. Asking to pay a total amount of less than ten euro by plastic money at a cafe is still a cause for embarrassment in Greece, despite the greater use being made of debit/credit cards since capital controls were introduced.

I parked the car right in front of the now defunct incarceration unit where prisoners were held until their trial took place. I recall in days of old young handcuffed men being walked down the slope to the courts, flanked by police officers, The building was showing signs of its vacant state, with graffiti scrawled over various parts. But I did not see the graffiti - something else caught my eye: two fashion brand-label carrier bags that had been placed carefully, propped upright so that they did not tip over, against the wall of the former holding cells. Although there was a blue recycling bin on the pavement, the person who had left those bags on the street clearly did not have the heart to throw the contents of those bags straight into the bin. Luckily for me, she did not.

Bags full of used clothing left on the street are a relatively common sight in my town (along with toys and furniture, and other stuff associated with babies and children). I admit I used to do it too, before the second hand clothing stores owned by foreigners opened in the town. It made me feel that I was doing my bit for poverty, I have now changed tact; when my children grow out of clothes, I take them to the second hand shop where my profit is passed onto a local children's cancer charity. Whatever clothes do not end up being sold (very cheaply) in this way are passed on to other charities that look after refugees stranded in Hania, various church-related organisations that pass on clothing to the needy, and even to the local animal care centres for strays to keep warm during the winter. 

I always rifle through bags of clothing that I come across on the street, in the hope that I will find some useful fabric for my patchwork projects. My children say it feels embarrassing to do this, even though they know that the clothes I pick up are used in my fabric art. (I'm particularly fond of old jeans - they make great quilting material as well as nifty looking fashion bags.) It may seem somewhat unethical to take used clothing which was obviously destined for reuse as clothing for a poorer person, and tear it all up to use as patchwork. But I do not believe that the clothing would all have been re-used in this way had I left it. For a start, the recycling rubbish collectors would have trashed it themselves if it hadn't been picked up before their rounds, so it might not have been used after all. Hania is a rather well off town, so a lot of clothes are dumped. People are generally aware of the way they can be reused, but dumping them on the street is a sign of laziness. If they really wanted to help the needy, they'd make the effort to take them to the right place. Leaving clothes on the street is a slovenly way to help the needy. You need to seek them out to help them more appropriately.

Even so, I knew I had got lucky today. The bags contained a lot of light summer cotton and denim clothing, perfect for reusing in patchwork. There were also quite a few T-shirts which I don't re-use myself (although they can be cut up into strips and used as knitting/crochet yarn). The items were in such good condition that I decided to take the bags home and sort the items out in my peace and quiet, taking those clothes that could not be used to the second hand store to sell on behalf of charities.

The clothes

The clothes were well used. Some had yellow age stains under the armpits. They smelled musty, as if they had been sitting in a basement for a long time, and had not been aired. They had clearly not been in use for a while. The owner of the clothes was obviously well off - it isn't a coincidence that these clothes were found at Dikastiria, generally known as the inner city neighbourhood where the wealthy/upper-class live. Nearly all the clothes had branded labels; she particularly liked the Greek Bill Cost. She was a stylish woman judging by the cuts: she must have been slim and wore specific styles and colours. I was quite surprised to find so many whites: 2 white denim style skirts and 2 white jean style trousers, as well as some white T-shirts. You can only really wear white successfully if you are slim. There was also a beige pair of pinstripe trousers, which shows how old the clothes were: pinstripes are no longer in fashion. She must have been tall, judging by the trouser leg length. Her shirts were mainly in single earthy colours: cream, white, ecru, brown, brick red(compare that to Varoufakis' last - ? - appearance in the Greek Parliament), things that don't go out of fashion too quickly.  There was only one mainly blue item, a blouse with large blue spots. Blue is a difficult colour in the fashion world, and this particular Greek lady knew that well. Most of the t-shirts had some 'straz' stuck onto it. Greek women love straz. The former owner of these clothes was probably not a smoker - cigarette smoke lingers in a house, especially an apartment, affecting everything in it, and these clothes did not smell of smoke.

Because the items she was throwing away all seemed quite stylish, I believe she had problems giving them away. It must have been a difficult decision to take: the truth must have dawned on her when she realised that there was no other option but to get rid of those bags which were cluttering her apartment (most homes in the Dikastiria area are mainly apartment blocks). Maybe she had put on enough weight to know that she would never fit into these clothes again; maybe she had updated her wardrobe umpteen times and the old stuff had to go to make way for the new. There were no children's clothes in the bags, nor were there any men's clothes, suggesting perhaps that she lived alone. Therefore, she was able to afford to dress well. The clothes suggest that her income probably included inheritance as well as a well-paid position in the public service: the clothes remind me of what mature female office workers would wear.

Some items consisted of clothing that all self-respecting fashion-conscious women would own. A pair of jeans were included in her throwaways and there were also quite a few black items - you can't do without black in Greece, it's the colour of choice for a church memorial service.  The only multi-coloured clothes were a dress in a red, green and white print, a sheer blouse in various shades of orange and yellow, and a blouse in various shades of green. There were also a couple of items that clearly did not fit in with the lady's dress style, the kinds of things we ladies would label as bad purchases, wardrobe mistakes: in her case, it was a pair of brown cotton trousers from a 'kineziko' store, which had been cut off to be used as shorts, but whose elastic band had loosened, and a satin blouse that looked as though it may have been bought at the laiki - a sign of the crisis finally hitting home, perhaps...


The Greek lady's wardrobe, like the wardrobe of many stylish women, must also include a bit of Burberry somewhere. There was no Burberry in the throwaways, which was to be expected: if you buy Burberry as an accessory, it should last you forever. You don't wear Burberry all over, although I have seen this too: the woman who committed this crime failed miserably in her attempt to be a fashion icon, instead becoming the epitome of bad taste, pretentiousness and ostentatious elegance. (She was boarding a budget flight with me for London.) Burberry needn't be expensive, either - you can buy a scarf, or bag, or hat in the classic beige Burberry tartan for just a few euro at the laiki from the fake designer clothes sellers. (Plenty of them in Greece, too. Fake designer fashion is called 'maiMOU' in Greek, which means 'monkey'. It describes the everywhere-Burberry woman I bumped into to a tee.)

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I decided to reuse the fabrics in an artistic way, which is how my project took on the name 'The Greek lady's wardrobe'. Even though there was no Burberry item included in the bags, no doubt there would be a Burberry-something in this particular Greek lady's wardrobe. I decided to add a Burberry-something to the collection of fabrics. I also needed to add some blue and some yellow-orange-red fabrics to substitute for the blue and white t-shirt, and the yellow-ish sheer blouse whose fabrics were not suitable for patchwork projects. I bought these items at the laiki (a Burberry print mini skirt - 50 cents; a blue and white mini apres-swim skirt - 1 euro; a blue satin pair of pants - 2 euro; and a summer dress in bright colours - 2 euro). The Burberry was not used much in my design - I tired to use it in the same way that a stylish woman would wear Burberry (just a dash of it, mainly as an accessory).

The chosen pattern looks quite attractive in the photos. Up close, I can see all the imperfections of my patchwork. The work is not quite finished - I have quite a few pieces to put together. To be continued...

Bonus photo: the top part of the jeans were turned into a bag which I now use. I made it during an evening when my next-door to the next-door neighbour had an outdoor party. The musicians arrived at 9pm and tested the sound system. They began playing at midnight and stopped at 5.30am. I sta outdoors, using my sewing machine on the balcony until the wee small hours, knowing that no one would notice.

UPDATE: "Economics is like coca-cola," a friend once said to me, "it goes with everything." So does denim - old jeans, upcycled together with the remaining pieces of the The Greek Lady's Wardrobe.

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