The act of upcycling, mending and altering clothing is often referred to as being ‘sustainable’, though only a handful of us have the skills to render a tired garment new. Yet historically, these practices were common and would have been carried out by the majority of society due to necessity. In the eighteenth century, for example, it is estimated that 30% of a family’s wealth was spent on a handful of garments. This kind of expenditure meant that people were invested in making garments last. Some clothes would be worn until the cloth could no longer clothe the body, mended as a pair of breech seams split, darned as the shirt holed, or reused to create another garment. The ways in which clothing was made in the past also reveal careful attention to planning, with full widths of fabric used to limit waste.
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