I must admit that my favorite season of the year is autumn. Growing up in New York it meant I was in the midst of another school year which I loved, piano lessons had resumed, which I loved, and the leaves of the trees in Central Park were turning their incredible shades of gold and red, which I loved especially.
In addition to all these, autumn was a precursor to the Holidays. When the leaves began their transformation, Thanksgiving and then Christmas could not be far behind. And I always looked forward to those because there seemed to be such a spirit of gentleness and kindness that people naturally acquired during that time of year and freely shared with others whom they met.
When I was seventeen I moved to Chicago for college. Like New York, Chicago had lots of beautiful trees which performed their rainbow dance in the same way. But what I discovered was that Chicago, unlike New York had only two seasons -winter and August. What had been a progression that mimicked a long term transformative counseling session in New York had been transmuted in Chicago into shock therapy.
Well, the advent of winter was alright with me as it was my second most favorite season of the year. The fact that it seemingly lasted forever until the first few brave crocuses would poke their heads out of the ground in early spring in the park across from the apartment didn’t bother me. Nor did the cold winds or the streets filled with snow, then snow with salt, then slush. Because I had a defense against all these. That shield which held off all assailants was flannel and it never failed me.
Most people are grateful for the weekend because it is a respite from going to school or work. I never minded either of these and yet I looked forward to my weekends because it was then that I could set aside the business attire I had worn for five days and slip into a warm, comfortable, ever-so-soft flannel shirt.
Once upon a time Lands End had graced my mailbox with one of their catalogs. Now I have never been someone who could be described as a clothes horse and I think their first attempt to gain my interest resulted in my placing this rather hefty document in the recycling bin without thumbing thru it. But then they struck a chord on a subsequent effort. There was the picture of a beautiful flannel shirt on the cover and it intrigued me enough to turn to that section of the catalog.
I bought four flannel shirts from them in various bright and vibrant colors, two solids and two plaids. I remember removing them from the box the day they arrived. Taking off the plastic outer wrapping of each shirt, the cardboard stay in the collar and removing all the pins which held the shirts in place. I knew that I was going to enjoy these shirts. Their quality was apparent in each garment.
And so began my love affair with my flannel shirts. And the bond between us grew deeper with each washing as these amazingly soft shirts became even softer and more inviting. While I could only wear them during winter, still they got a tremendous amount of use and were hung in a special place of honor in my closet.
After ten years of wear I noticed that the cuffs on several of the shirts had begun to fray slightly and the same had happened to one of the collars. But I viewed this as a badge of honor – a job well done and lovingly performed.
But the frays got more noticeable, so I reversed the cuffs and the collars and held on to those treasures for another four years. By now, with their frequent washings they seemed to me to be less like shirts than they were outgrowths of my own skin.
One day I realized that I had worn a thin spot in the elbow of two of the shirts. But I still wore them around the house until the thin spots became tears in the fabric. After fourteen years of a beautiful relationship I realized that my shirts had done their duty and been good and faithful servants. So I removed all the buttons and turned them into rags to dust and polish around the house. It was a sad moment when I took them apart – as close as we had been for so long.
Although for my friends in the northern hemisphere it is not winter, I am writing this now because I wouldn’t mind if it were. Hundred degree plus heat becomes tiresome after awhile (which for me is about two hours). Talking about winter cools me off almost as effectively as a quick dip in the pool.
My point in this post is not only to reminisce about my flannel shirt fixation but to speak of merchandise that is made with quality. I do not know if these Lands End shirts were manufactured in the United States or elsewhere. What I do know is that the retailer obviously insisted in providing a high quality product for its customers. I think you would agree that a shirt that withstands the ravages of fourteen years’ wearing meets that definition.
This occurred to me this morning because as I put on a pair of cargo shorts which I had purchased a few months ago at Walmart I noticed that the cuffs were already starting to fray. As I examined this I also noticed that the material where the cuff met the leg of the short was beginning to separate. I don’t think these shorts have been washed more than five or six times.
I thought to myself, “Where were these things made?” So I looked at the label and saw that they had been manufactured in Bangladesh. Who knew that the Bangladeshis made garments for sale in America? I certainly didn’t.
Now I am not trying to make a case against the quality of workmanship that is the output of the people of Bangladesh. These workmen are doing their job with the materials that are specified in their company’s contract with Walmart. I am sure that they do so in a very workmanlike manner. But they are obviously starting with inferior materials – and the result is an inferior product.
If we think about it, Walmart which bills itself as the “low price leader” may well live up to their motto. But we should remember that “low price” and “low cost” are not synonymous terms. These cargo shorts have a life expectancy of about one more wash before they start falling apart completely.
It makes a great deal of sense for us to stretch our dollars as far as we can. But making decisions based simply on price do not accomplish that goal. The difference in the value I received from my flannel shirts and my cotton cargo pants demonstrates that principle. So I learned something from this and will not be making further purchases of cargo pants or any other clothing at Walmart. I simply can’t afford to buy clothes that are that cheap.
This reverie about winter has made me feel a deep need for some spiced apple cider, so I think I’ll go downstairs and make myself some. But as this is a winter’s tale as told in July, I believe I’ll serve it over ice.
And what better way to enjoy that than by listening to some Vivaldi: