Savers, Anxiety and the Mohair Cardigan of My Dreams2 March 2015
Walking through Savers on Sydney Road is an intensely personal experience… personal in the sense that it is both sensorially and spiritually engaging for the individual shopper. There is the familiar smell of your grandmother’s kitchen and closet all at once; the rows and rows of multifariously coloured and textured clothing and the nondescript changing rooms somehow remind you of that time you spent in an emergency department cubicle. The humour of finding a sateen 80s dress with a ridiculous amount of shoulder fabric is not lost on the savvy Savers shopper. The gist of the Savers model is that these clothes and bric-a-brac once belonged to someone else and were given away, perhaps as part of one of those new-fangled Marie Kondo material cleanses of the mind, for the betterment of someone else’s life. Or is it?
As a human being with more than moderate levels of anxiety inhibiting my everyday existence, I tend to view the act of purchasing items as a double-edged sword in the quest for stress relief. On the one hand, it feels great to have something new in your material inventory, something to play around with when you’re deciding what to wear to uni on a cold Monday morning, or something to slap on your lips when you’re feeling decidedly miserable about the state of your face. On the other hand, when your bank account balance teeters dangerously close to $0, depleting it further does nothing more than cause a resurgence of the anxiety that was quelled with the purchase of shiny new material things.
The Savers model appears to be promising in its mediation of the everyday struggle of the stress-shopper. Cheap second-hand clothes assuage your financial anxiety, the need for material comfort, and that part of your soul that is still firmly lodged in the long-form article you read months ago about the sins of fast fashion. I had this insane experience with a fifties cashmere jumper once, just by the sheer power of imagining someone’s grandmother having once worn this. The garment and the age-related scars (read: holes) it bore proudly felt like a pair of imaginary hands encapsulating me in an emotion that I can only describe superficially as ‘graciousness’. The graciousness of age. The graciousness of warmth. The graciousness of someone having handed this over to the possession of someone else. The graciousness of the afterlife of the material.
My mother finds the smell of my mohair cardigan off-putting. She describes it as “needing more than a carton of mothballs to neutralise”. But it’s really not that bad – it’ll probably only take either a few washes or a period of olfactory acclimatisation, depending on your perspective on sensory enjoyment. To me, however, the mohair cardigan, grey and yellow and fraying in more than one place, tells a story. It tells a story of how it was once made, once worn, and once given away, and then purchased by me. As with the physiology of human bodies, it tells the story of use and abuse, wear and tear. Imagining the afterlife of the material necessarily invokes an inquiry into the sense of material preservation: how our bodies, like our Savers buys, continue to sustain themselves through ineffable cycles of illness and health, use and disuse, and the handing over of the material body, in its imperfections to the ideations of the everyday. It is up to us to conceive how we will now wear the garments we have chosen to receive, how we will move our bodies away from the instructions of our parents. Perhaps, when Marx was talking about commodity fetishism, he was really talking about how I can’t let go of that one dress my mother bought me when I was fifteen, into which I can no longer fit more than one and a half thighs.