A greylag goose in flight

The Anserines

Thin end of the wedge

Seamstress Communism

By Rose

1. Fat-Bottomed Girls

Are you gonna take me home tonight?

Queen, “Fat Bottomed Girls”

I like to joke that “I’m a fat bitch with multiple personalities”, my take-off of the Whitman quote “I am large, I contain multitudes”. It’s true: I’m pretty fat (size 26 in most UK clothing shops), and that’s changed my outlook on a lot of things. I don’t mind being fat, most of the time… except for when I go clothes shopping.

We recently, as a system, did a bit of online clothes shopping. Until recently, basically all of our clothes had been bought for us by our mum. Now, I love my mum, but all this multiplicity stuff is kind of new to us and I don’t really want to burden her with the task of shopping for 12; not to mention, we’re bodily in our 30s, so it’s a little bit embarrassing to still be relying on parents for that kind of thing. Plus, there’s that whole pandemic thing going on right now. So the most sensible thing to do was to measure our body and work out what we wanted to buy, order it, and hope that it fit well enough.

Clothes shopping for a fat, transsexual body containing multiple minds is a process of compromise. We have to balance a whole bunch of different concerns, including:

We live in a society (lol) that insists we wear clothes. I don’t mind being naked, but I do, to be honest, think that clothes are nice. They can be fun, affirming, playful, serious, sexy… and it’s incredibly unfair that for a large (lmao) section of the population, they’re so difficult.

Surely there’s got to be a better way?

2. Mass Production

Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.

Henry Ford

The lie of capitalism is that it’s individualist. It’s not. Unless you’re wealthy, you’re generally left filling your life with off-the-shelf products, one-size-fits-most devices designed for the lowest common denominator. These products are generally made on a production line, consisting of workers, machines, or a combination of the two, each one performing one particular task in the production of an endless sequence of identical products.

Clothes aren’t any different. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Marx used the example of linen and coats when writing Capital. Sweatshop labour is a huge problem in the fashion industry, as the demands of mass production entail frequently horrendous working conditions. And where there’s input, there’s output: the endless production of identical items of clothing leads to an endless production of discarded clothes. If you’re lucky, those discarded clothes end up in a charity shop or thrift store, but the racks of a charity shop skew even more towards the average body than those in New Look or GAP.

So at the end of the day, we have a situation that’s bad for the people making clothes, and bad for the people wearing them. No prizes for guessing who it’s good for. Clothes are a great example of the problems of Fordist production, and a site for us to start thinking about what a better system might look like. Factory “communism” won’t save us, either as consumers or as workers.

3. Tailors, not Taylorists

Should Smith now fall, then Taylor takes his place We’re measuring our progress by burying our waste

Chumbawamba, “Smith and Taylor”

A relative of ours is a conceptual artist. At an exhibit of his that involved some custom-made suits, he said to us that everyone should have at least one tailor-made item of clothing: nothing else fits quite right. It’s like the dichotomy between phones and desktop computers: with one, you take what the companies think is a good set of components; with the other, you can build something specifically for your own personal requirements.

I don’t dream of labour, no matter how well it’s organised. I don’t believe in a future of mass production, of the five-year plan or the production line. I dream of beautiful, handsome, sexy, cool, dorky, fashionable clothes that fit, that are comfortable, that meet my individual (and my& individual-collective) needs.

Clothing is both art and necessity. Both arts and necessities should be supported by the societies they exist within. There are people in this world who derive so much joy from sewing, and yet custom-made clothes remain out of the reach of so many people simply because materials and labour are made artificially scarce.

In a post-capitalist world, we could have the freedom for true individualism, a true autonomy of sartorial style, aesthetic and comfort supported by a collective power. Imagine a union of tailors and seamstresses creating clothes based on individual measurements and requirements. Such clothes could be engineered to fit the body who commissioned them perfectly, as well as being designed in such a way that they can be easily modified should the body wearing them change (in either sense).

Of course… this is all idealism. There is no perfect world. But by imagining what a perfect world might look like, sometimes we can work out ways to make our imperfect world a little better. We design buildings supported by sky-hooks, and then try to capture some version of what we’ve made in reality. Maybe, rather than one big Bespoke Revolution, we’ll have to make do with a thousand little ones. Maybe we need to think of how we can make our world a little more custom-made in the here and now.

This isn’t a “luxury” communism: I don’t think clothing that fits ought to be thought of as a luxury. Rather, it’s a reframing of a necessity based on the observation that the capitalist mode of production does not serve our individual needs. I refuse to work towards a socialism based on capitalistic production, because that kind of socialism will inherently share the failings of capitalism in almost all respects.

Here’s to sewing machines behind the barricades.

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