Ember, you ask about clothing. With Pam, Julie, Leah and Bri, I think you speak for many women today who find clothes something of a problem. It certainly used to be a problem for me.
I am a tailor's wife. I never thought of it before, but perhaps my husband became a tailor because he enjoyed helping me with clothes! Our marriage has been from the first a mutual helping and shaping of each other into one shared life.
A burlap bag is honest anyway. My husband was not a tailor then but worked with builders, as his father had done. Michael remodeled aesthetically distressed houses and made them beautiful. Even now he speaks of "building" a suit of clothes. There is something in that phrase. From the inside out and from toe to top, he has always insisted on material honesty in his work. I often think of him and his clients as building private worlds together, where honesty and maturity are possible even today.
Many years before we built Innermost House we began to build ourselves with clothes. In a real way you might say that we wore our house before we ever thought of building it. It is as if we began seeking a way to dress for life in Innermost House thirty years ago.
When you think of it, a traditional tailor is a sort of conscientious objector to modern life. He believes in nature, and insists on real materials. He believes in longevity, and builds his clothes to survive years of wear and fashionable change. He believes in individuality, and refuses to squeeze people into statistical patterns. He believes in the soul, and builds always with an eye on eternity.
Michael and I have always had a very small wardrobe. I find myself saying "wardrobe" and not "wardrobes," not only because of the single closet space we occupy, but also because our clothes are so alike that it is really only size and shape that distinguishes his from mine. We dress each morning without conscious deliberation in natural complement to each other.
Neither Michael nor I like to shop, and we go years between setting foot in a clothing store. We have always kept our clothing very simple. We wear wool most of the year and linen in hot weather. Our underclothes are cotton or silk. With the exception of a modest pattern here or there—indistinguishable at a distance—all our clothes are solid color. My husband's clothes are all either black or white or gray. Mine are all either black or white or brown. Almost everything goes with everything else, and we go with each other.
We both wear worsted trousers and I wear worsted skirts. We both wear tailored jackets. We both wear cotton and linen shirts. We both wear woolen sweaters. We both wear cotton socks. We both wear leather shoes or boots in brown or black. And depending on the weather, we both wear wool or straw hats.
Indoors at night we both wear a plain, full length garment of wool in the winter and linen in the summer. We both wear long dressing gowns of silk or wool or cotton. We both wear slippers of leather or felted wool.
I will say that I wear earrings and pins and Michael does not! My few pieces of jewelry are of gold or pearl or both. Michael chose most of them for me on his trips to New York. My wedding band and engagement diamond were my grandmother's and are almost a hundred years old now. Michael and I were so close to her. When we were to be married she wanted us to have them. The band had become so much a part of her it had to be cut to remove it from her finger.
All our clothes are of lasting quality, and they are mostly cared for at home. We brush our tailored clothes regularly to keep them clean and free of moths, our shoes are reinforced at the heal and kept polished, and our delicate underthings I wash in the sink.
The convention of wearing something once and then washing it seems very extravagant to me. At Innermost House every drop of water we used had to be pumped from a well hundreds of feet up a steep hill to a holding tank. It made me forever mindful of the use of water, no matter how it may appear to arrive effortlessly at our homes. So even through this hot and humid eastern summer I still wore a little silk undershirt everyday. Underclothes are much easier to wash than overthings.
Good clothes last a long time. Michael alternates between two suits of winter clothes that are now ten years old. The skirt I am wearing today—the same one I am wearing in this photo from the website—was made by one of my husband's tailors twenty years ago. I have had my favorite old winter coat for almost thirty years. And it was thirty years old when I got it! Michael has a sturdy leather suitcase for his work that has been through it all, and I have a couple of handbags that are now decades old, though I mostly carry a big woven oak splint basket.
Of course there is nothing wrong with new clothes. I like to have something new now and then—so long as I don't have to shop for it! But my husband has a saying, "Trust not the heart in that man for whom old clothes are not venerable." Yes, we have loved our old clothes.
And there is something more. Our clothes naturally serve the purposes of warmth and modesty, but they have also served us daily in our intimate relationship with Place. Al spoke awhile ago of how much it bothered him to see a house built out of place. Yes. Just because modern economies make building or dressing out of place possible doesn't make it beautiful. Place to me is a seamless fabric of life, and it has always been important to my husband and me not to rend it.
Clothes are our way of showing personal respect for Place. We are not just bystanders at a succession of places paraded before our eyes, but the offspring of her body. Traditional materials and forms have a natural relationship to place. As she is made, so we dress.
So in the country we wear country clothes—flannels and tweeds and knits. In town we wear town clothes—more structured and mostly darker-colored worsteds and wovens. At home we wear more delicate indoor clothes. Outdoors we wear sturdier clothes. It does not at all require a large wardrobe to dress for Place, but it does require a thoughtful one. Nature it seems never puts a thing together hastily or fashionably, but she invests all with a kind of patient and beautiful necessity. It is a pleasure to dress for her company.
I suppose we think less about clothes now than almost anyone I know, which is a strange thing to say of a tailor and his wife. But it was the first problem we solved, and that solution has served us always. Clothes were our first Innermost House.