Thursday, 11 August 2016

reflections on ironing: quality will out

There was a light sprinkling of rain this morning, just enough to make the prospect of gardening thoroughly uninviting without doing the garden any good at all.  Instead I tackled the pile of ironing which had been growing on the spare bed.  I don't actually mind ironing, since I can listen to music while I do it and the results are gratifyingly instantaneous, big pile of crumpled clothes reduced to small neat piles of usefully wearable garments, but I generally save it for days when it's raining, or I need to go out mid morning and need something I can do until then without covering myself in mess.  But it hasn't been wet recently and I haven't had any appointments requiring me to hang around at home in a presentable state until ten thirty or so, and I was starting to scrape the barrel in terms of wearable t-shirts.

Seeing most of your shirt collection laid out before your eyes is a reminder of how quality pays. The oldest of my Peruvian Connection pima cotton long sleeved t-shirts must have been in my wardrobe for over twenty years, but are still wearable.  Faded though pleasantly so, some stretched to slightly odd shapes or mildly bobbled, I wouldn't put them on display under a jacket for a day out, but layered under other clothes I don't plan to take off they're fine.  I used to wear them two or even three thick on winter's days working at the plant centre, and goodness knows how many times they have been washed.  One had started to fray visibly round the neck and was chucked into the drawer of gardening clothes without being ironed, but the rest are good for a few more years yet.

Boden have reduced the quality of their t-shirts, I'm sure of it.  Three rather nice scoop necked ones with a very fine rib and narrow satin trim around the neck which I know I bought while I was still working in the City are still going strong after at least sixteen years, a bit faded but otherwise intact.  The next generation of Boden t-shirts have all descended to the garden clothes drawer as they got shorter and broader while their hems came unstitched, then they started unravelling into small holes.  The most recent Boden purchases turned out to be in a lighter weight jersey which I can't think will last anything like sixteen years and is a sod to press.  It gathers under the iron and ends up getting creases ironed into it.  The seams on the arms aren't straight either.  Boden's prices do not seem to have dropped in line with the decrease in quality of their t-shirts, and I've rather given up with them.

Boden also developed an unfortunate mania for stripes.  Now stripes can be great fun in their way, but a working wardrobe is not made of stripes alone.  If you are planning to wear a cardigan or scarf with a pattern, or a tailored formal jacket and a necklace, you don't want stripes but a plain coloured base layer picking out one of the colours in the pattern or your jewellery.  Not a fun t-shirt trying to get in on the act.  I have sat drinking tea in the atrium cafe at the British Museum and seen so many other middle aged ladies wearing striped t-shirts, you would think there had been an edict that we had all got to wear them on pain of fine or imprisonment.

I went through a brief phase of supermarket ultra cheap t-shirts, but have given up on them as well. You don't expect cheap goods to be built to last, but they don't age gracefully, and shabby chic works better if the item was chic to start with.  Lands' End garments are almost entirely lacking in panache, but built to last.  I have just sent off for three more on special offer as a stop gap, hoping that the scooped neckline might make them more elegant than the crew neck version, so that I will have some more vaguely tidy ones.  My absolute favourites of the current crop are two from Peruvian Connection with three quarter length sleeves, one in black and one in bluish green, but alas those were the only colours they did in that design and now they've stopped doing them at all. Those and the John Smedley sea island cotton polo neck bought to wear to a winter wedding are definitely the nicest things in my t-shirt drawers.  In the long run you can't beat sea island cotton and pima.

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