Saiorse Ronan and her suitcase

Have you seen Brooklyn yet? I finally got to see it this weekend and can fully concur with all the reviews about it being a heart-wrenching depiction of migration, love, life and life choices. However, for me, one of the things that stood out the most was Saiorse Ronan’s tiny suitcase (well, the suitcase belonging to her character, Eilis Lacey. You can see it on the deck to her left in the pic below: she’s the one in the green coat. Pic from here).

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Eilis leaves Ireland via ship to work in the US and isn’t planning to return any time in the near future, so ostensibly packs every item of clothing to take with her. Even then, it doesn’t fill her suitcase. “Your shoes will take up a bit of room,” says her sister, Rose, but seeing as Eilis only has one pair to put in, there is actually still room to spare.

Eilis is certainly not rich in the story, but she’s not living in abject poverty either. She and her sister are both educated and the family look to be relatively middle class. And yet her entire wardrobe hardly fills one suitcase – and I don’t think this would have been so unusual at the time when the story was set (the 1950s). It really made me feel quite guilty about all the clothes in my own wardrobe, many of which are worn only once a year, unlike Eilis’ wardrobe in which everything got a good regular workout: witness her “beach date” outfit which makes several appearances throughout the film.

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With Tony at Coney Island… (image via vogue.com)

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… and with Jim back in Ireland (image via ew.com)

I started thinking about what I would take if I were moving somewhere and were limited to one suitcase but my brain started to short-circuit as I just had too many choices. My accessories alone would fill one suitcase, and I know I’m not the only one! Rather than amazement at how little people used to have, it’s probably more appropriate to be stunned at how much we have – and don’t regularly use – these days. My excuse is that I love making and customising clothes or mending them when they get old and then I can’t bear to give them away, but (this is going to sound judgey) for most people it would be more about the temptations of fast, cheap fashion: it’s hard to say no to updating your look with a new dress for $10 or a T-shirt for $5. Eilis herself buys new clothes and her style blossoms once she finds her feet in her new home, but she wears things over and over again and obviously takes good care of everything to give it the longest life she can – as was typical back in the 1950s when clothes were not cheap and every woman would have known how to do simple care and repair on their wardrobe.

Brooklyn isn’t billed as a fashion film because the lead character doesn’t do hundreds of costume changes, but in the lead up to Fashion Revolution Day on April 24 it’s exactly this aspect that the fashion system (and we as consumers) need to consider emulating.

Kind-of-judgey-post over. Go and see Brooklyn for yourselves! (And if you liked this film review, you might like to check this out too.)

 

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