AND this will be the last time you wear that thing!'' said my daughter. A good look in the mirror confirmed her words. I hadn't realized before how faded and, yes, disreputable looking ''that thing'' had grown in the several years I'd been wearing it. It was tan cotton, or at least it had been. It ironed like a dream. No button had ever come loose, and there were 17 of them.
I well remembered buying it. My boss and longtime friend had come into the office on a Monday morning wearing a cotton Oriental blouse, vastly becoming despite her many extra pounds.
''Where did you find that?'' I asked admiringly.
''At the market on Grand View and Venice Boulevards,'' she answered. ''They were selling like hotcakes. I doubt that there are any left.''
At noon, when I got away to shop, there were practically none left, but I did find two in my size, a tan and a blue. They had been made in Japan. I paid only ornamental brown and white or blue and white buttons each, and a long row of ornamental buttons, brown and white or blue and white, according to the blouse, fastening up front. They flattered the figure and I wore them happily with high-necked blouses and slacks for years. My daughter never shared my enthusiasm for them.
''When are you going to get rid of that thing?'' she asked once when I wore the tan, and I replied airily, ''Oh, I'm going to take a pattern from it and make half a dozen more of them in wool - they're so comfortable!''
I always intended to do it, but I never found the time. But now that I'm not working, it occurred to me that I had the time to make my pattern, and I'd better get to it.
Accordingly, one afternoon, fortified by my favorite TV program and a razor blade, I started to take the tan vest apart. I know that razor blades are old-fashioned, and that there are much better instruments for ripping seams. Since I sew so rarely and rip so infrequently, however, I've never bothered to modernize my method; the razor blade does well enough.
I should not have been surprised when the seams proved practically impregnable. After all, if years of laundering and wearing hadn't loosened the threads, why should a mere razor blade work?
Suddenly I was admiring something new about my vests - how well they were put together. I had learned to make special seams years ago in school, but when I sewed (rarely) I didn't bother - such seams were too time consuming, and who ever looked at the wrong side of a garment? Whoever made my blouse, though, had neatly enclosed the rough edges, had reinforced the two front pieces, had sewn the buttons on superbly and reinforced the neck.
I imagined a seamstress performing the task. How much was she paid for such artistic work? Had my inexpensive buy been a rare fire sale bargain, or was the seamstress normally paid a mere pittance for her endeavors? Was she low woman on the totem pole of profit and loss? How had she learned to sew so well?
I began to worry about her. Bending over a sewing machine for hours every day can't be fun. Was she a war widow with young children to support, or just a needy elderly woman in a man's world?
She certainly did superlative work. The pockets of my vests were outlined in two rows of ruler-straight white stitching. Not one stitch had broken in all my years of laundering and wearing. Neither had a single stitch snapped in the ornamental stitching that reinforced the neck.
In her shop, quality must have been underscored. Was that in competition with the United States garment industry? Oh dear, why would just ripping a garment apart stir up so much thinking? I was accustomed to hearing about inferior Japanese products at that time, but there was nothing inferior about my vest. The design, the thread used, the buttons, the work, were all top quality.
I went over mentally my closet full of clothes. When had I ever given thought to the women - or the men - who made them? Women who sewed much better than I ever would, with or without a modern machine.
I once was an accomplished darner, but who ever wears darned socks these days?
I can bake bread - I do it occasionally, but I'm a whiz on the typewriter. I suppose the domestic arts must still be practiced by some so that people like me can type. Together we make the world go 'round.
I know one thing - I have a much greater appreciation for the people who put my vests together since I had the tedious task of taking one apart.