Clothes, like cars, have become so much more than tools to hide our nakedness or keep us warm. Clothes say a lot about a person and we constantly appraise others, and perhaps ourselves, by what they (we) wear. Even without the influence of advertising, we seem to know who’s well put together, who’s got no taste and who just doesn’t care. Kind of crazy. Animals are much better off with their all-season adaptability.
Second-hand or vintage clothes are all the rage and my daughters seem to get a real thrill going thrifting and I’ve tagged along a few times. Yes, there are bargains out there, after all, our western world overflows with stuff.
But back at the end of the Second World War, 'stuff ' was valuable. Especially clothes. You wore what you could get. Sewing machines, tailors, department stores, fabric shops, all that infrastructure to support human fashion had been destroyed. That’s what world wars do.
Soldiers eagerly tore off insignias that labeled them and became ordinary men again. Warm coats or boots stolen off a corpse were treasured finds. And there were a lot of corpses. As the snow melted and that spring of 1945 revealed the hastily buried, it was an ugly mess. But clothes and boots were salvaged for the living. Size, cleanliness, and definitely style, no longer mattered. It was all about survival.
Officially, prisoner of war garb was called Telogreika. These quilted jackets were stuffed with cotton that would be grown in the Soviet Union in places like Kazakhstan. I know that my mom wore such a jacket because of a memory she shared of a woman being close to a bonfire and the cotton catching fire.
The Telogreika was warm but not too water-proof. No, they did not supply the prisoners with proper raingear. When I worked as a mail carrier, I couldn’t convince my mom that I had the proper gear for the Manitoba weather and that, in fact, I preferred facing the elements of nature to the artificial lights of an indoor job.
Dressing for the weather is a luxury that I, growing up in Canada, take for granted. Modern-day “Telogreika” jackets are ubiquitous and every Canadian probably owns one. Today’s quilted jackets are filled with down or polyester and some are waterproof. Looking at images of the refugees in Ukraine, back in March, I noticed that puffer jackets are ubiquitous over there, too.
How we take the comforts of our closets for granted . . . until we’re on the road, fighting for our lives. It's been a fickle spring and I'm never sure what to wear. Peace time problem.