A fresh start after 60: ‘Selling vintage clothes takes me back to happier days’

AIt was disturbingly quiet at Cathy Wood’s parental home in Manchester last Christmas. Her daughters, 19 and 21, were in exams. She says she and her husband “barely saw any of them… I was kind of fed up.” Bored and frustrated she bought a 45kg (99lb) She was fed up with second-hand clothes, without knowing what she was going to do with it.

She speaks from her sitting room, and behind her the room is cluttered with racks of brightly colored clothing. Wood, 62, enjoyed shopping for vintage clothes with her daughters, and had even discussed getting a store with a friend, but the rent kept them from doing so. A week or so after the bale arrived, she booked a stall at West Didsbury Makers Market

Wood, a former academic English teacher, has always loved clothes. “My grandmother learned art and crafts, and both she and my mother spent a lot of time with the sewing machine and taught me how to sew.” At Leicester College, where she earned a National Higher Diploma in Business Administration, she “hanged out with the fashion students” and sewed her own velvet, new, romantic, fringed outfits.

However, standing at her first market stall in January was a whole new experience. “It was nerve-wracking. It was very different from teaching. You need just the right amount of contact with people.” First, she greeted her customers with a chatty, “Oh, hello – this is my first market.” But, she says, “People did a runner. Then I noticed they bought things when I went to the bathroom.” She has now learned to be more subdued and has perfected “seeing into the distance”.

Wood sold four pieces on her first market, which paid the pitch and left a small surplus. Now she sometimes comes home with 30 empty hangers. But she found the contact with customers and fellow traders most rewarding. “It is a wonderful environment. You chat and get to know each other. I really enjoyed it because I lost touch with people,” she says.

After the birth of her second daughter, Wood, then 42, had a prolapsed uterus. At the time, the family lived in France, where Wood taught English as a foreign language, and in 2011 she was equipped with a pelvic mesh

It wasn’t long before she noticed that she was “in a lot of pain, without knowing the cause. Gradually I could not drive further to different companies to train their employees. Eventually I came home in isolation. My children grew up and became teenagers. I had a depressive illness,” she says. “I decided something had to change.” She enrolled in a master’s degree in linguistics and commuted one day a week from France to Birkbeck, University of London.

Despite three surgeries to remove the gauze, Wood doesn’t know “what was removed and what wasn’t…I’m still in pain all the time.” The pain of sitting for long periods made teaching on Zoom impossible. Being active, running her stall, picking out clothes, buying bulk, sorting out, mending, ironing and steaming, she says, “helps take the focus away from both the pain and the fear of what’s left inside. And I got it feeling that I am useful.”

Wanting to “be of service”, Wood has lowered her prices to reflect the cost of living. She also has an MSc in Environmental Resources, so she enjoys the sustainability aspect of selling second-hand clothes. Sometimes, in quiet moments in the stable, she takes out her mending and thinks of her mother and grandmother.

“I was thinking about how much this clothing evokes in me and how nostalgic it makes me feel. I think it’s a form of wishful thinking,” she says. “I would really like to be completely fit again. But what these clothes do is take me back to other times when things were easier for me. They make me feel good. That way, nostalgia can be a good thing.”

After she stopped teaching, “she started to feel like a non-person,” she says. The market stall “has given me the status of being part of the community, contributing, being someone people talk to, someone people smile at.”

To see more of Cathy’s vintage clothing, visit her Instagram page: @vintagewardrobemanchester

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