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A Fashion Movement: Voluntary Simplicity and The Curtain Club

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A Fashion Movement: Voluntary Simplicity and The Curtain Club

What can one woman do to carry herself, her family, and her country safely through the current economic crisis?

Each day, more and more people are starting to feel the economic crunch. For some people, it is the loss of a job. For others, it is a home in foreclosure. For others, it is a general sense of less money, and more caution related to purchases such as food, gasoline and clothing. This holiday season brought us less shopping and less things, including less new sweaters, hats and mittens for the cold months.

In addition, there is a sense of lack brought on by the wasteful wars our country is engaged in over in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, the sense of grief and compassion for the civilians in those countries, and for the victims of the blockade and war in Gaza.

How can we respond to these events? How can we help to fix these events?

My solution is to make a partly symbolic and partly meaningful shift in the culture with a new fashion trend: applying frugality and Voluntary Simplicity to women's fashion.

In World War ll, people in America and England started to feel the impact of war on their daily lives. Sometimes through choice, and sometimes through government programs and rationing, new attitudes had to arise concerning consumption. Food was rationed. Clothing was adjusted. And, fashion was affected by the need to save resources for the wars. For women, this trend meant an involuntary end to long ball gowns, pleats and vests.[1]

During the Civil War, when the Southern states of America were under blockade, fashion was greatly affected. In the first year, women made the sacrifice of boycotting "Yankee goods,"- including fabrics and fashion accessories. Though, as the blockade wore on, there were genuine shortages of fancy fabric, feathers, and other accoutrements of fine dressing.

In America, in 2008, it has not come to that yet. Our government has not had to intervene in fashion. Nor has the fashion industry faced a lack of supply of fabric. Though, could it be, with the dire warnings of economic collapse, that a time like that is coming?

I hope not. And, I do not predict such dramatic hardship. Though, this article is about a more voluntary way of empathizing with the lack in the world, and trying to create a better economy by consuming less now. I have a small circle of women who have committed to this trend with me. We call ourselves "The Curtain Club."-

The inspiration for the name comes from the fictional character of Scarlett O'Hara. In the dark times of the Civil War, when she wishes to apply her feminine charm despite her poverty, Scarlett O'Hara created a green, velvet dress out of fabric from the curtains of her decaying mansion.

In addition to Margaret Mitchell's Scarlett O'Hara, the inspiration for such a movement of politics, fashion, ingenuity and self-sacrifice comes from a variety of other sources, as well. There is Gandhi, with his principle of using homespun fabric, so that materials would not have to be imported from overseas. And, there is Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire, who realized that a way to create space for women in the world of politics was to use fashion in the support of the cause. (Ironically, while my focus is on peace and prosperity, one of Georgiana's most interesting fashion moments was to have women dress in frilly soldier dresses to support the military.) As I created the name of this movement, I was also reminded of the governess in the "Sound of Music,"- who was portrayed as having created playclothes for her charges out of old curtains.

The style I envision for The Curtain Club is not old jeans and raggedy hand-me-downs. Duane Elgin, author of Voluntary Simplicity, notes: "Simplicity means that the way we live our lives represents a work of unfolding artistry. "-In this spirit, an elegant simplicity is an understated, organic aesthetic that contrasts with the excess of consumerist lifestyles."-[3]

My first inspiration for the Curtain Club came from my desire to dress up as Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire for Halloween, without having to spend a lot of money on a fancy dress. I was not able to pull it off this year. Though, I am determined that the next time I am invited to a formal event, I will wear an old dress, with funky jewelry, and carry myself like a Duchess.

My vision for the Curtain Club includes: Voluntary Simplicity, Shabby Chic, World War ll Utility Fashion, Do-It-Yourself, Historical Costume Drama, and a little bit of bling from the bottom of the jewelry box.  I think that it is possible to dress like a Princess or a Duchess for less. And, that by wearing beautiful things, it will bring some brightness into the dreary days our country may face with the current economic crisis.

There is already a fashion trend which has been leading into the Curtain Club: Recession Chic. That term has been applied to Michelle Obama, in part for her elegant wearing of off-the-rack fashions. Though, even the black-and-white Donna Ricco dress that Michelle Obama wore on "The View"-, which was thought to be very egalitarian, was $148. I expect that genuine poverty and/or genuine Voluntary Simplicity would require a much lower price tag.

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Ian Wilder is co-blogger at onthewilderside. He is a peace and justice activist, and a former NY State Green Party Co-Chair.
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