As someone who was gifted with having nearly no interest in fashion, my relationship with clothing has been a steady and straightforward one, allowing me long-term and monogamous relationships with T-shirts and jeans long after they should have been retired. But there’s a kind of sentimentality in clothing that you keep for a long time. Like Garth says in Wayne’s World, “at first they’re tight and restrictive; but after a while, it becomes a part of you.” My clothes as a kid were all hand-me-downs from my brothers – every T-shirt was huge and usually already threadbare by the time I wore them. In this way, clothes become more than their cloth, they become memories and tokens. My Mongkol is made out of my mother’s skirt from exactly this kind of sentimental attachment to cloth.
So, imagine the attachment one feels to Muay Thai shorts: these were the first pair I fought in; these were given to me by X; I trained in these for a year before buying a second pair, etc. They mean a lot, but they also take a lot of punishment, being drenched in sweat, washed and hung out in the sun to dry day in and day out. When the elastic goes, they won’t stay up anymore and I do still try to wear them, but damn… it’s not good. I’ve only ever discarded a small number of shorts when they wear out and every single one has stuck in my memory with regret. I wish I still had them. So the rest of them, even though they’re unwearable, are tucked in the closet with their soft, worn in and worn out cloth as a signal of how loved they are.
above, a vlog of the experience, the little sewing machine stand
It took me a while, but I discovered you can repair shorts. I mean, obviously you can, and I’d taken maybe 5 pair to a shop once to have the elastic in the waistband replaced but the result was pretty lame. The first lady I brought those shorts to just put one big elastic band around the wide waistband, which kind of gave the shorts the function and appearance of a burlap sack tied with a string. I still wear the shorts, but because I love them and need them; there’s a sadness to how they’re so defunct. So I was a bit shy to try again when a number of my still-functional shorts started to slide off during training. The first lady I’d gone to has actually moved (which is good, I think) and her shop is gone entirely. But as I was driving down the same street I saw a little old lady with a table and a chair with a sewing machine on top as her whole operation. I decided I’d give it another shot, at least just to make the shorts stay up.
Her shop is under a row of beach umbrellas on a busy urban street, either side of her are small noodle stands. So she’s always in the shade, almost in the dark like a cave, but when she saw me hand her a bag full of Muay Thai shorts she gave me a huge grin, full of gaps from where her teeth just aren’t anymore. I explained that I wanted the elastic replaced and she’d clearly never been given this particular task before, but she was so taken with the project and me that she threaded her arm through mine and pulled me over to her table so she could set the bag down and hold a pair up to my waist to measure for size. She was already light years ahead of the first lady I went to. We chatted and I said I’d be back in a few days, then off I went. When I came back after maybe 5 days she hadn’t even completed one pair. I was a little shocked. But then she showed me how she’d opened up the first pair and seen how they were constructed, noticed that just adding a single elastic band would be total crap (as had been the case the first time I tried) and so showed me how she’d bought some smaller elastics to put in rows down the whole width of the waistband. Like, actually fixing the pair to be the way it was when new. I was delighted; she was just asking my permission to fix them like this because it’s more expensive. But at $25 to have 9 pairs of my beloved shorts revived to pretty much brand new, but with all the memories and soft cloth intact, obviously that’s a great deal!
I came back twice more and she still wasn’t finished, but that’s okay. She’s a little old lady with a sewing machine, working outside in the heat and under umbrellas such that it’s practically in the dark, and she’s got other projects going on. I don’t mind that it took her a while. I mind that she took the care to fix my beloved shorts. You can find these tiny shops everywhere, once you know what to look for, and I feel like I got really lucky with how excited she was, how meticulously she repaired each pair. She was really excited to show me all the finished pair, inviting me to inspect each one, individually. She even squinted her eyes at the pair of shorts I was currently wearing and then hooked her finger under the waistband to give it a little tug, “you should fix these, too,” she teased. I assured her that I had many more pairs of shorts that would need repair soon enough. She’ll be seeing me again, no doubt.
Fixing an old, threadbare T-shirt would never dawn on me. So long as it covers enough to not be inappropriate, I’ll keep wearing a shirt full of tears and holes until it literally falls apart. But repairing shorts, being able to keep using and wearing and building memories into the fabric of these clothes is brilliant to me. And shorts are expensive, so being able to maintain and repair them is security on the investment in purchasing them, in addition to the investment of sweat, tears, and thousands of kicks that go into them. Find a tailor in your town, visit a shop that makes shorts, or find an old lady with a sewing machine and a gapped smile. It’s worth it.