AAt Christmas last year, Cathy Wood’s family home in Manchester was eerily quiet. Her daughters, 19 and 21, were revising for exams. She says she and her husband “saw almost nothing from them…I was a little fed up”. Bored and frustrated, she bought a 45kg (99lb) pile of second-hand clothes, not knowing what she was going to do with them.
She speaks from her living room, and behind her the room is cluttered with rods of brightly colored clothes. Wood, 62, loved shopping for vintage clothes with his daughters and had even considered opening a store with a friend, but the rents put them off. About a week after the ball arrived, she booked a booth at West Didsbury Makers Market.
Wood, a former professor of English for Academic Purposes, has always loved clothes. “My grandmother taught arts and crafts, and she and my mother spent a lot of time with the sewing machine, teaching me how to sew.” At Leicester Polytechnic, where she earned a Higher National Diploma in Business Studies, Wood “hung out with the fashion students” and sewed her own romantic new frilly, velvety outfits.
Standing at her first market stall in January, however, was a whole new experience. “It was nervous. It was very different from teaching. You need the right amount of contact with people. At first, she greeted her clients with a chatter: “Oh, hello, this is my first market.” But, she says, “People made a runner. Then I noticed them buying things when I went to the bathroom. far”.
Wood sold four pieces at his first market, which paid for the land and left a small surplus. Now she sometimes comes home with 30 empty hangers. But it’s the contact with customers and other traders that she has found most rewarding. “It’s a lovely environment. You chat and get to know each other. I liked it a lot because I had been deprived of contact with people,” she says.
After the birth of her second daughter, Wood, then 42, suffered a uterine prolapse. The family lived in France at the time, where Wood was teaching English as a foreign language, and in 2011 she was fitted with a pelvic net.
Before long, she found herself “in a lot of pain, without knowing the cause. Gradually, I couldn’t keep going to various companies to train their employees. I ended up being isolated at home. My children were growing up and becoming teenagers. I had a depressive illness,” she says. “I decided something had to change.” She enrolled for a master’s degree in linguistics and commuted between France and Birkbeck, University of London, one day a week.
Despite three surgeries to remove the mesh, Wood doesn’t know “what was removed and what wasn’t…I still feel some degree of pain all the time.” The pain of sitting for long periods made teaching on Zoom impossible. Being active, stall-keeping, choosing clothes, buying in bulk, selecting, mending, ironing and steaming, she says, “helps focus on both the pain and the anxiety about what’s going on. stay in there. And I feel that I am useful.
Wood wants to “do a favor” and has lowered his prices to reflect the cost of living crisis. She also has a master’s degree in environmental resources, so she appreciates the sustainability aspect of selling second-hand clothes. Sometimes, in the quiet moments at the stall, she pulls out her mending and thinks of her mother and grandmother.
“I was thinking about how much these clothes mean to me and how nostalgic they make me. I guess it’s a form of wishful thinking,” she says. “I would like to be fully able-bodied again. But what these clothes do is transport me to different times when things were easier for me. They give me a good feeling. Nostalgia can be a good thing to this way.
After she quit teaching, she “started to feel like a non-person,” she says. The market stall “gave me status in my mind to be part of the community, to contribute something, to be someone people talk to, someone people smile at”.
To see more of Cathy’s vintage clothes, head over to her Instagram page: @vintagewardrobemanchester