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Alternate History

Clothes and Fashion (1983: Doomsday)

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Among the many things that were taken for granted prior to Doomsday only to become difficult to come by after it was clothing. With most of the world's population struggling with survival, the concept of fashion effectively died out and the manufacture of new garments ground to a halt. For years afterwards a policy of make-do-and-mend prevailed with second, third, and even fourth hand clothing being traded, worn and patched up within an inch of their lives. Garments that had become damaged beyond repair were taken apart and any usable material turned into new garments. Good quality, and therefore long lasting, clothing became a valuable commodity, with jeans and work shirts being in particularly high demand, but even cheap and nasty garments were carefully preserved as well as possible, although it still didn't take long before they were worn to destruction. Even now, almost three decades after Doomsday, this attitude is still widespread. In many countries there is a thriving trade in used clothing and it is far from unusual to see someone wearing a shirt or coat that is older then they are.

Even in countries that weren't hit hard by shortages there was a change in the clothing worn by the population. Higher levels of UV led to long sleeves, long legs and sun hats becoming the order of the day, particularly in warmer climates. In places like the ANZC, where people were used to wearing shorts and t-shirts most of the time, this took a fair bit of getting used to.

Fabrics

Cotton

Once the most widely used natural fibre, cotton has undergone a severe reduction in fortunes since Doomsday. Due to its fairly specific climate and soil requirements, which are generally met within the seasonally dry tropics and subtropics in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, the breakdown in international trade after Doomsday rendered cotton unavailable outside of these regions. Even in those nations where cotton cultivation was possible, production was either severely reduced or put on hold altogether for a number of years after Doomsday as the land was turned over to food crops. In countries that had mainly grown cotton for export, many fields were simply abandoned when the foreign markets disappeared. However, in places where cotton grows it is still generally the most common fibre for local use.

Although the international trade in cotton is being gradually re-established, the expense of importing it and the often relatively small quantities involved means that in many countries it is currently very much a luxury fabric. India is by far the world's largest cotton producer and consumer. Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, and especially Peru have stepped up cotton production since the 1980s as they had to meet the needs of the entire South American region. They have begun exporting to other parts of the world, but in relatively small quantities.

Wool

The dominant fabric in use in Europe before cheap cotton became available, it was inevitable that it would regain its former status when cotton became unavailable after Doomsday. Although a large number of sheep were slaughtered for food during the eighties, there were enough survivors, mainly in the form of feral populations in more isolated areas, for a wool industry to be established once circumstances permitted it. The fact that sheep can be raised on land unsuitable for growing crops was another point in wool's favour. So was the sheep's importance once again as a source of textiles.

Today most of the new clothing being produced in Europe uses wool in one form or another. A number of the major producers of wool in Europe are British successor states and, although still early days, there is every sign that they could go on to collectively dominate the market, as England did during the Middle Ages. Although most of the wool currently being exported from the British successor states is in its raw form, with textile mills being established in Lancaster and Cleveland this may change in the future. In the ANZC, New Zealand is of course famous for its sheep, but in fact Australia has more than twice as many; both are important wool producers, though exports are restricted by the fact that most of their nearest neighbors have tropical climates.

Linen

Like wool, linen has increased in use in areas where cotton has become unavailable, particularly in Europe, although compared to wool it is very much in second place. Due to it being more comfortable next to the skin then wool it is widely used for underclothes, while the fact that it is highly absorbent and a good conductor of heat, properties which allow it to quickly remove perspiration from the skin and feel cool to the touch, makes it a popular choice for summer clothing. Linen can also be treated with linseed oil to produce a waterproof fabric known as oilcloth.

Flax production had been almost totally limited to Europe, Russia, and northern China, all areas that were heavily bombed. Production today is therefore mostly low-tech and small-scale. The Duchy of Lancaster is a major local producer of linen.

Hemp

More to come...

Nettle

The idea of using nettles to make cloth has been around for a while, about 2,000 years in fact, but nettle fibre lost its popularity when cotton became available in the 16th century due to it being easier to process. It made a brief comeback during the First World War in Germany due to the British controlled supply of cotton being cut off, making it necessary to find an alternative fabric to make uniforms from, nettle being said alternative. Although nettle fabric largely returned to obscurity after the war, the idea was obviously not forgotten as the German successor states are generally considered to have been the first to start production of nettle cloth after Doomsday. Other significant producers are the Kingdom of Cleveland and the Duchy of Lancaster, the former being believed to have been inspired by the World War I Germans and the latter being known to have got the idea from Cleveland. Processing methods in both countries were largely worked out through trial and error and are currently less developed then in the German successor states which have had something of a head start but there is every chance of them catching up in the near future.

Rather surprisingly given the plant's reputation, fabric made from stinging nettles is of excellent quality when the fibres are properly processed, being both soft to the touch and highly durable, with even the individual fibres being difficult to break. The fibres also have the useful property of being hollow, which gives nettle cloth natural insulation unless the fibres are twisted tightly enough to close the hollow core. Due to this and the aforementioned durability, nettle cloth is widely used for uniforms and work clothes. In addition to the fibre properties nettle has a further advantage over flax in that in terms of cultivation, nettles are pretty much idiot proof.

Tapa

Tapa is a traditional cloth beaten from the bark of the paper mulberry tree. It was widely used throughout the Pacific region in pre-industrial times, but by the late 20th century was mostly used for ceremonial items. Many Pacific islands, almost totally isolated after the Doomsday event, had no choice but to return to tapa for day-to-day clothing, since no other textiles could be produced locally. Australia's export-driven cotton industry collapsed after the war, so Australian cotton was not immediately available in the rest of Oceania, even after communication was restored. New Zealand wool was available but largely unsuitable in the tropics. Even today, the expense of moving goods means that many Oceanians continue to rely on tapa produced locally or traded over a short distance.

Synthetic Fabrics

More to come...

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