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An Ode to Mangy Sweater

I survey the winter bleakness from within its nubby, holey comfort. And it’s good.

Dorothy Woodend 16 Jan

Dorothy Woodend is The Tyee’s culture editor. Reach her here.

Can you love a thing?

The Guardian recently featured a story about one of the world’s top trend forecasters, Li Edelkoort, and her prognostications about the future of fashion.

Edelkoort has made her living sniffing the wind and declaring things like, “leggings will be cool.” Buried in amongst her more high-flying predictions in the Guardian interview was a rather homely little statement about how we might come to view and value our clothes one day.

As the need for excess stuff falls away, Edelkoort asserted, people will begin to cherish certain items more deeply, like they do their pets. She dubbed this trend “animism” and stated, “This is a bit further in time... but it will definitely happen.”

I’m there already.

May I present to you, mangy sweater.

It might not look like much, really. It mostly resembles a hairy clump of navy wool — natty, tatty, ratty... whatever word that you feel sums up the patina of hard use and long wear.

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In deepest, darkest January, when you can barely muster the will to live, much less leave your house, one can take comfort in a garment that both sags to your knees and can be stretched to just above your eyebrows.

From this rampart of nubby wool you can survey the bleak winter landscape, safe in the knowledge that your sweater has your back. As well as your sides, and a goodly portion of your bum.

My favourite scene in The Sound of Music is where Austrian wiener-schnitzel Maria dresses the von Trapp kids up in old curtains and parades them across the Alps, yodelling dementedly the entire time. Its pleasure lies in the relatable fact that almost everyone has a piece of clothing that they love and destroy in equal measure.

I have a love song that I sing to my mangy sweater, which mostly consists of crooning the words “mangy sweater, super mangy sweater, you’re my super mangy swea-et-er,” under my breath until I feel calm or bored or both. The sweater understands me, we are one. A symbiosis of sorts that evolved organically, like the slow decay of a flower.

Maybe the sweater started its life in a fancy store and passed through a few different hands, gradually sinking lower until one day I found it in a thrift store, took it home and made it my precious.

I wore the sweater every day over the Christmas holidays, cooked in it, cleaned in it, and, occasionally slept in it, until it became a second home, like the shell of a hermit crab, something I drew myself up inside when feeling antisocial.

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You cannot force this kind of purpose upon a piece of clothing: it must come to it of its own freewill, like a sacrificial lamb that you can wear. Drape its legs around your shoulders and off you go, yodelling like a lunatic nun. It’s a look.

One day I’ll probably have to say goodbye to my beloved sweater, but for now it’s still good, held together by sheer will. Holes, loose threads, nubblies, stretched out and worn thin and yet somehow still continuing.

If this is indeed the trend that Edelkoort is predicting, of loving our clothes to death, it can’t come fast enough. The evils of fast fashion have been well-documented, but luxury fashion, the stuff of status, class and obscene wealth, could also do with a quick ending. Death to new clothes! Mangy sweater forever.

When you’re young and fashion-addled, you might never have thought that it would come to this: taking leave of the desire for more stuff. I certainly never expected it. The itch that’s always been there just recently went away. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. It’s as if I woke one morning and all my hair had fallen out. All those years of dying, cutting, curling, obsessing, and then it was just suddenly over. Gone. Vanished. Now I’m bald.

In reality, there will always be occasions where you will need to don different outfits and take on other attributes. But increasingly, like me, perhaps you’ll feel most comfortable in your most raggedy finery, your very own mangy sweater, held together with only love.  [Tyee]

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