Make Do And Mend By Sigrid McCarthy

The classic saying “out with the old, in with the new” is one that can be difficult to embrace, and not merely because it assumes that the new is somehow better than the old. These days we are all too quick to throw things out. We often tell ourselves that something is no longer useful before we even contemplate how the item could be potentially salvaged. This extends to all areas of consumption, but particularly the consumption of clothing and fabric, as very few people go through life wearing the same outfit. Whether fueled by nostalgia, environmental concern or just a yearning to be different, the use of second-hand fabric and pre-loved garments opens up a world in which we are given creative license. It also gives us the opportunity to work with materials that may not be available today.

Sally Hyland, a charming young lady from the outskirts of Melbourne, has similar values which she applies when making dresses and other things for her clothing label SallySaid. Her dresses are made from mainly recycled materials, highlighting that one can in fact give life to something seemingly redundant. “Fashion is constantly evolving and we have a tendency to dispose of items, replacing them with something new, a lot more quickly than we really should be. Using vintage fabrics is a great way to put some of these old items to use again – giving them a second life. If there are already beautiful fabrics out there, why not put them to use again?” says Hyland.

For those of us with a romantic disposition, second-hand material is more than simply a fabric. It is something that has a story behind it – a previous

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life that adds to its charm and allure. Similarly, there is something quite special about finding an old dress that has been worn by a stranger from another era. It gives the garment a greater sense of character. It becomes more than a mere item of clothing. The item begs you to wonder who may have worn it before you and what kinds of events it has previously attended.

Making your own clothing seems to be one of the few ways you can ensure something is truly unique. Luckily for those of us who have difficulty mastering the art of sewing, one doesn’t necessarily need to start from scratch to make a great garment. The term ‘refashion’ is becoming increasingly popular for those who acknowledge the potential in pre-loved items of clothing and who are attempting to avoid the ills of fast fashion.

‘Refashioning’ can be described in many ways, but simply put, it is when someone uses details of an old garment to create something less dated and/or better fitting. Of course, it can be as simple as cutting a pair of pants into shorts! ‘Refashioning’ means having more than just the opportunity to use good quality fabric or cute details. It means having the opportunity to break away from the restraints and mundaneness of retail shopping and, more importantly, being able to reduce your impact on the environment by making do with what already exists.

During World War II, the Make Do and Mend campaign was initiated by the British Government. As many of the country’s resources were being used for war efforts, this strict rationing program forced people to rethink their wardrobes and live with the clothes and supplies they already had. Of course, this campaign arose in a very different context to the one we live in now, but perhaps we could still apply this mentality to our own lives. Opting for second-hand garments and fabrics seems like a simple way to blend ethics and aesthetics, while also having a lot of fun.

Sigrid McCarthy


Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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