I’ve had this c. 1950s/60s men’s alpaca cardigan sweater since the late 1980s.
It was among my first “thrift scores” and I have loved it ever since. It warmed me through the amalgamated post-hippie/punk/ folk/college-rock years dubbed “alternative” (or “art-fag” if you were stupid and from my neck of the woods), a dabbling of grunge, a decades long love of emo-ish hardcore, and even got away with looking like a hip “boyfriend” sweater the last few years. It’s been paired with Sex Pistols t-shirts and vintage hippie skirts, over-sized R.E.M. t-shirts and leggings, strategically torn jeans, boot cut jeans, and then leggings again. I’ve mended it many times, but my elbow finally poked through one of the sleeves the other day.
So at the moment, it’s not doing very well – I don’t think I want to sew on the classic professorial suede elbow patches, so I may go with some wool tweed. And I can’t get Weezer’s Undone out of my head to save my life (even though this isn’t what the song is about).
Highly uncharacteristically of me, I never noticed or looked up label before until now…
And oh holy hell, what have I got here, something to do with golf again!?!?
Yep, Gene Littler was a golf champ and probably got his own line of sportswear in the 1950s or ’60s. At least he had good taste in fibers and got behind a smart timeless design…
But back on the subject of thrifting – I’m not quite sure when and how I got started. Like most families in our rural area, we had a single modest income and were extremely conservative* with money. Our food budget was supplemented by a lush garden and the slaughtering of our chickens and rabbits. Horse camp? Nope, I couldn’t go, or any other childhood activity that required fees. Clothing was homemade, handed-down (yes I wore my brothers’) and never purchased at full price. However, as a small child, my mother liked dressing me in Polly Flinders hand-smocked dresses from a previous decade. I believe she found them in consignment shops or garage sales and recognized some of the quality handiwork that went into them (possibly from sweatshops in the ’60s maybe?). And thankfully she stopped acquiring them when my tomboy-hood banned all things smocked, gathered, and frilled, but I believe this is what set the precedent for obtaining used clothing.
I also have a clear memory of the second grade and being on the outer ring of a group of girls surrounding a lone victim wearing a dress I had secretly liked but was clearly from an earlier generation – a blue pinafore or jumper** with colorful embroidery (I think it was a pattern of small fish). The ringleader of the mean girls, whose name I recall was actually Ashley, taunted the girl (I’ll call Pam) without her realization of what was happening along the lines of:
Ashley: [Sneeringly] I like your dress Pam.
Pam: [Shyly blushing and looking downward] Oh, thank you!
Ashley: Where did you get, it?
Pam: [Brightening] Oh, I actually found it at Goodwill!
Ashley: [Sneering even more] What is that? Is that a fancy new shop downtown?
[Ashley’s friends break out in cruel giggles]
Though this taunting was pretty tame, I am ashamed now that I didn’t punch Ashley, but I pretty much knew from then on I wouldn’t be friends with her or the others for the next ten years at school. I remember going to a small birthday party for Pam at the local trailer park once, but shortly thereafter something started to go terribly wrong with her or her life and she often just cried by herself on the playground. Though the school was tiny, I lost track of her. She was one of the first to die from our class after graduation – I don’t know what happened.
Knowing I too was on the fringe and would never be a cheerleader, jock-cock sucker, star athlete, or sweet hometown homecoming queen, and I’d always have a long strange ethnic name in a sea of Smiths and Jones, was not the same religion as most of my peers, came from a liberal outspoken family, got good grades, was a band freak, was tall for my age and flat-chested to boot (then), and even the stupid fact of being the only one with a summer birthday and never having the class recognize it, and therefore me, gave me a solid f*ck-all-ya’ll attitude that the “alternative” culture embraced. So even though I was shoved and locked in lockers, voted off the lunch table, and hid in the bathroom whenever dodge-ball was assigned, I knew life was better outside of that shithole school and town. Thrifting was an escape, a way to time-travel, and it felt good to occupy the fabric skins of others who had passed through their shitty youths and were on to something better.
Though once in a while I did think about how the former owners of my duds could have died long lonely deaths, or still be around and be even more miserable than me…
*Conservative only in personal finance, certainly not in politics – many in the area were crazy right-wingers and their children are probably teabagging preppers these days… hopefully they don’t believe in voting.
**Brits call sweaters and pullovers “jumpers” but what do they call the sleeveless dress that you have to wear a shirt underneath?