The new are silver but the old are gold

Women are apparently even more sentimental about old clothes than men are, according to a recent survey.

Women hang onto their favourite clothes even longer than men do, according to a survey commissioned by the BBC’s The Clothes Show.

The programme found that many women keep favourite outfits for 11-12 years – coincidentally (or not), the length of time the average relationship lasts before it fails (if it’s going to fail, of course).

The results clearly came as a surprise to the programme’s hosts, who had imagined, like many of us, that it is men who hang onto their scabby old outfits, but I think a different factor is at play here.

Men hang onto clothes because they hate replacing things, and they wear them till they fall apart, but I think women hang onto things for their talismanic value – wedding dresses, party frocks and favourite shoes – and only get them out of the wardrobe once a year to look at them. This is certainly the case for me with my wedding dress – I can’t quite think of someone else owning it while I’m still alive. 

That said, it made me realise that I’m a hoarder and a half by these standards. I have many clothes in my wardrobe that date back 10, 15, even 20 years. If a thing’s good, and I love it, I certainly keep it. My ‘oldest’ clothes I’ve had for about 30 years, including a fox fur, a 1930s beige lace blouse and a Victorian hussar’s jacket.

Notably, these are all vintage items, which were never ‘in’ fashion, and so are never out of fashion. The other items that have gone on from decade to decade are items that are, if you like, ‘beyond’ fashion – my Aigle wellies, my cashmere sweaters in polo, v- and crewneck and my merino knitted pencil skirts. Everything else just comes and goes – the big shoulders, the acid colours, particular fabrics or treatments that date badly.

Other items get worn out. I’m hard on jeans, for instance, so they get replaced on a rolling basis, while coat and jacket styles tend to date, so the only jackets that have lasted a long time in my wardrobe are also vintage. They include a blonde suede 1960s biker jacket, a brown tweed 1940s jacket with burgundy velvet trim, a heathery tweed 1950s jacket with a fake fur collar, and a wartime green wool jacket with a ‘milium’ lining (a thermal lining usually used for curtains). Coats include a heavy camelhair 1950s swing coat with nutria collar and cuffs, a 1950s burgundy velvet evening coat and a 1960s grey fitted persian lamb in a Russian style – warm as toast on a bitter day.

It’s nice to have new things – for instance, I’m really enjoying my new stretch cords from Hennes that I bought at the start of the season, and my new Boden jeans – but it’s nice to know I’m not alone in hanging on to old faithfuls too.


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