16 June 2010

A Lost Story

We are encouraged to think of time in terms of linear progression. One event follows another with cause and effect in constant motion. Whether it be through the division of time through individual life spans, decades, or centuries, time is a unit to be charted rather than experienced. Comparatively, history and the past are a far more complex and personal notion.

Walter Benjamin wrote that the past lay beyond the reach of intellect. It is something to be experienced - a fragment to be regained in some fleeting moment or flash. History relies on fragments and records. It could be the actual material object from a time past or a tradition kept alive. A story is remembered or experienced in some sensory mode, whether it be looking at something or hearing something, we can all attest to that moment which transports us to some past, even though it may not be our own.

Clothing has that rather magical trait of being able to convey a story or history, even if that history be unique for each person. The bodily experience of wearing a corset, or the feel of some tweed against your skin, or the nostalgic cut of a pair of flairs, or the process of buttoning one's braces, clothing can transport one to another time or indeed simply allow one to continue a tradition.

Clothing can also contain moments of the past and history through its very age, with wear and tear allowing it to convey some story to the viewer/wearer. It is odd to consider that clothing can signify a person even in their absence. I like the idea of material objects having a story to tell because I like the idea of having some sense of dialogue with the past. I suppose I am a romantic at heart in that sense.

The inevitable backlash against disposable fashion seeks out tradition and craft, however it can often be a mere surface recognition of that idea. It is for that reason that I dislike buying factory worn or distressed clothing. It seems odd to pay more just to have clothing that is worn in before it has ever even touched a body. I would rather pay more to buy a good quality garment that will stand the test of time and that I can wear in myself. It is far more personal.

Just like clothing can evoke some sense of the past, so can other material objects. I found these two hand embroidered postcards dated 1918 at the Covent Garden antiques market. I love the effort and skill put into their design by the senders (the cards came with a blank front envelope, which one then embroidered oneself). They seem so much more thoughtful than your average postcard and are pieces of art in themselves. I would love to be able to find out the specific stories behind their sending and the people involved, but as they stand they certainly provide a romantic piece of history.

I think I shall have to write some letters by hand this summer to send to friends. Sometimes you forget how personal a letter can be.

Currently playing: ABC's ft. Chubb Rock - K'Naan



  1. Oh !!! That's fabulous !!! I just adore !!!

  2. I could just hug you for quoting Benjamin!!! "Unpacking My Library" is my favorite piece of his.

    What a wonderful, evocative piece this is, on the evocativeness of things. Thanks my dear.

  3. wonderful post. I totally agree with you. and i love the postcards as well.

  4. i am reminded once again of your amazing way with words!

  5. They're from 1918? Oh my! Everytime I come across something that's vintage I can't help but think of all those people that have seen it and everything it has been through.
    Lovely. And it's hand-made right? I wonder who wrote it and what is the story behind it!

  6. those envelopes are adorable!


  7. so delicate too. very pretty!

  8. I have been debating about writing letters this summer..but you inspire me.

  9. I wholeheartedly agree - what is the purpose in buying clothing that is artificially pre-worn? Vintage clothing is fascinating for its timeless appeal and its nostalgic look. Sometimes I wish each item could come with a tag telling the stories of previous owners.

  10. Absolutely agree. Btw, Syed, whatever happened to the Around the World project?

  11. oh how i miss letters! I still have all my old letters.

    These are an amazing find,they really are! what a piece of poignant romantic history and the detail is wonderful

  12. I don't think that I've ever seen any embroidered postcards before. These are great.

  13. I'm a huge fan of letters and postcards. I'm forever buying postcards to send on to people and I especially like it when they send something equally nice back

  14. your writing is pleasure to read. if i only had your eloquence i'd be able to describe the beauty of your writing style. your interpretation of walter benjamin made my day.


  15. lovely! your blog is great. found you today on bloglovin. stop by and say hello sometime: