Honest wear.

March 22, 2014 § 4 Comments

My Guild Guitar, circa 1967I learned the term “honest wear” from a guitar appraisal on The Antiques Road Show.

I have since heard it used repeatedly when one of their men in nice jackets looked at “this custom Gibson Les Paul” or “this classic Fender Stratocaster.”

According to the Antiques Road Show guys, there are many things you can do to an antique that lowers its value.

Like trim the edges, or glue it to non-archival cardboard, or strip off the tacky, crazed shellac “patina.”

But honest wear is okay.

Perhaps the appraisers have a soft spot for the stories behind that honest wear about how, when you were misunderstood in high school you held the guitar in your arms late into the night, your cheek resting on its flank as you felt the reverb pulse like a second heart, and maybe it got a little wet.

Or how you beat it with a pick in a cold garage sure you were the next Hendrix.

Or strapped it to the roof of a VW.

Or lent it to your boyfriend who was cute but not real responsible.

Honest wear takes time and effort.

It accrues.

It’s not just guitars.

Honest wear shows up on the things we use hard and love well; a favorite stuffed animal, or pair of shoes, or the spatula with little of the original red paint on its handle.

Igor Toscanovich (stuffed dog). It tells in the places where the finish has worn thin, the threads hang frayed, the color has faded.

It shows up as thickened knuckles on a pair of hands that has knit, not one sweater, but a hundred. Or split wood for winters’ fires. Or kneaded the weekly bread.

In high school I did a portrait of my mother. She claimed I made her look like George Washington because I emphasized the wrinkles around her eyes. The honest wear on her face showed that she had devoted a lot of her time to smiling.

I inherited my mother’s facial expressions and I now have those same radiating lines—my favorite wrinkles.

“New” gets the easy kudos. It has novelty going for it. “New” is shiny and crisp. Smooth and unmarked. Flashy and of-the-minute.

Despite the fact it often has a chemical smell, we flock to it and show it off. “Have you seen my new…?”

But when we need reassurance and reliability we reach for the familiar.

Not everything is worthy of the time and effort required to produce honest wear. But many things are.

The evidence of what we have loved, what we have relied on day after day, what we reach for without thinking, shows.

Like the Velveteen Rabbit, those things we love are worn and faded, wrinkled–and real.

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§ 4 Responses to Honest wear.

  • craig reeder says:

    Thanks for making those of us who are carrying around ample evidence of “honest wear” feel good about it!


  • KM Huber says:

    I have been told that I am “one who never gives up on a garment”–actually what I was told was the sentiment behind the line (from the movie version of “Lonesome Dove”)–I know both the emotion and the line to be true of me, and I am not unsettled by either. There is honest wear also in much of what remains in my home. I try to donate items that still have a bit more honest wear in them, although my need for them is no longer.

    I really enjoyed this post, Adrian, for it has taken me round to those “things” that I keep with me for this or that reason, and their memories remind me of life as it is. Thank you for that.



  • Lovely to think about the patina of age – the treasures of art museums that hold Ancient World items are all, old, old old. On my mind, since I recently saw them.

    Like these thoughts about the familiar. I have a pitcher from my Mother’s kitchen, my father’s carved letter opener; we treasure our family heirlooms.
    Thanks for reminding us that 20 year clothing (if they fit) are old friends.


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