Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Clothing and Laundry - Afloat

When we first moved aboard in 2002, I knew I had several more years to work as the skipper of a LMD (large mahogany desk) in Washington DC.  Washington was a place known, if not for conservative politics, certainly for conservative clothing styles.  And at home I was going to have one small locker, room for 11 hangers plus 5 shelves about 18 inches wide, to hold all my “stuff” except shoes and underwear.  The new job didn’t faze me, but dressing for it was going to be a challenge!

I’m an engineer, so I seriously overanalyzed my wardrobe in preparation, and made myself some rules.   Some of what I learned was boat-specific, and some could be useful for any downsizer.

I wanted to make sure I had enough outfits to get me through a week or two of work.  Then I wanted to be prepared with clothing for other likely events in my life: something to wear for a fancy evening or New Year’s Eve party; something for “lunch with the girls;” something for a wedding.  It felt more like I was packing for a long trip, than for the next 7 years of my life.  And indeed, when I was done, everything fit into 2 carryon bags.

I selected twice as many tops as bottoms -- who remembers your pants, anyway, or whether you’ve worn the same pair twice in the same week?  I was counting on making a bigger impression with what I said, than with what I wore.  Who knows?  Maybe the constraints of the clothing pushed me to greater professional achievement hoping my comments overshadowed my style!

I embraced high-tech synthetic fabrics.  Almost everything was hand- or machine-washable and didn’t wrinkle.  I had fewer pieces than when we lived on land, therefore could spend a bit more on each.

I picked one colorway, and stuck to it.  That first winter, it was black – white – red, and shades of these including gray, pink, burgundy.  Every top went with at least two pairs of pants, every pair of pants went with at least two tops.  I was the mix and match queen.  By sticking to one range of colors, I only needed one set of accessories – shoes, belts, socks, purses, briefcase – in black/gray; I didn’t also need brown and also need navy blue.  I made it work with four pairs of pants (black, charcoal gray, winter white);  eight or ten tops - sweaters, shirts, blouses, a mix of styles and fabrics, mostly solids but one or two with patterns, again in that same limited range of colors; three blazers; several scarves that took up almost no space but could jazz up a look.  For dressy, I had a pair of slinky bronze pants and an ivory lace shirt, and a black halter top and black skirt that I could put together to make a little black dress, or mix the black halter with the bronze slinky pants, or the white shirt with the black skirt and one of the blazers or a scarf.  Weekends were jeans and t-shirts and turtlenecks and sweatshirts.  Then the shoes: three pair of everyday shoes (can you guess? Black flats in two different styles, gray pumps) one pair of strappy sandals with rhinestones for dressy events, tennis shoes, sea boots and deck shoes and hiking boots.  Summer was the same drill, only in white and tan and a soft green.  The system served me well for the 7 years I continued to work.
My clothing locker.  Honest, it's not staged! But I did want to show that (a) I really do keep everything in just one set of colors; and (b) it really is small!

Fast forward to my retirement date of 9/9/09 – I hung up the phone on my last-ever teleconference and we prepared to head out.  I showed up at Goodwill to donate armloads of business clothing in dark, somber colors.  Now I could wear turquoise, and orange.  Together.

We’d been warned not to bring cotton t-shirts and jeans on our voyage south because cotton held odors, took a lot of water to wash and took forever to dry.  So our cruising wardrobes consisted largely of nylon Hawaiian shirts and quick-dry shorts, along with some SFP-50 sunblock long-sleeve shirts and long, lightweight pants.  Also along for the trip were one nice outfit for going out and another for looking respectful when meeting customs agents, a complete set of polar fleece long underwear, tencel underwear, and several swimsuits each.  Everything could be hand-washed in a sink using very little water, and hung dry.  We had no washing machine on board, so for towels and sheets we pretty much needed a laundromat.  Where we could, we supported the entrepreneurial spirit of one of the local people who were only too glad to wash and fold our laundry for just a few dollars.

This little gadget is wonderful for drying small pieces in limited space - here, our dive booties.   And, it stores flat - perfect for the boat. I'd never seen these hangers in the U.S.

Then, we got into historically-accurate reenacting with a focus on maritime,(photos, for example, here ) and all my careful wardrobe logic went totally out the window porthole.  Of course there was the storage issue: this stuff wasn’t exactly used very often so the space we were devoting to it was a big luxury.  The real news, though, came in the actual wearing of these clothes; we relearned what our forefathers knew.  Loose, light, natural fabrics – in this case, our linen shirts and sailors’ slops – are fantastically cool, easy to move around in, and durable.  They surprised us by beating the most high-tech of our modern clothing for comfort.  And check out the washing instructions that are sewn right into the label!  
Laundry instructions on my linen 17th century sailor's shirt: "Dip in creek.  Beat on rock.  Hang in tree to dry."

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  1. Enjoying these posts! Wearing orange and turquoise together, that's living LOL! Can't wait to get rid of my work clothes!

  2. Thanx Cheryl, yes, it is! I wonder how much of the stress of daily life can be attributed to wearing "sad colors" - black and brown and dark blue and gray and dark green - to work every day? It's been fun following your journey; hope to see you on the water sometime, somewhere.