Whither the washrag or, The future of the facecloth

When I first moved to Halifax, it was to a “fully furnished” apartment.  Although that “fully” was up for interpretation–no hangers or window coverings, for instance–it did include bed linens and bath towels.  The towels themselves were reminiscent of the meagre allotment that saw me through childhood:  thin bits of terry cloth that measured about 18 inches by two and a half feet.  Strangely, the apartment’s were the same hue of blue as the ones I had access to at the age of six.

One provision of the apartment’s linen closet was a generous (for one person) stack of washcloths (that square bit, measuring about six inches to a side, that some alternatively call “washrags,” or “facecloths”).  There were about four or five of them, snowy white, and a with a bit more fibre content remaining than in the towels.

When it came time to move from the furnished apartment into this house, I had to go buy some new towels and washcloths.  The family supply was packed into the moving van in Berkeley, and a three-week wait to wash and dry seemed excessive. It was at this juncture that I realized that the washcloth, as I’ve known it for decades–all my life–may be on its evolutionary way into an entirely different dimension.

What I found available was a piece of terry cloth of rectangular shape, its short side the same as the “traditional” washcloth but its longer side more than twice that. Considerably smaller than a hand towel–in both dimensions–this new sizing seems overly generous as a washing instrument, for if wetted completely, it develops a sopping tail to drip over dry parts of one or the surfaces surrounding one. A washcloth is perfectly face sized.  This piece is unwieldy.  But what I needed right then was a make-do bridge until our own linen closet contents arrived, so I simply made do.

The van arrived and the towels and washcloths were unpacked.  Some had, over several decades, aged beyond what I might have packed, had I been the one in Berkeley.  Others were fine.  The stack of face cloths, however, had truly aged into a pile of threadworn odds and ends: a purple one with raveling hems, a green and red one that seems to have shrunk in the middle but not at the binding, once white ones that are now virtually transparent and dull tan to boot.

I went shopping, at a couple of different bed and bath stores–nothing fancy–and discovered a couple of things:  one, is that towels are much less expensive here than in the US while sheets are more expensive.  This makes no sense as both are made of cotton and neither is either a luxury item nor a complicatedly crafted one. The second discovery was that the washcloth-on-steroids seems to be the going thing.  It took me more than a month–okay, I didn’t dedicate all my waking hours to the search–to find some good old squares the size of my face.

Is this a case of more is better and better becomes standard?  Is the change related to the prevalence of showering over bathtub bathing?  What’s  the state of washcloths in the US? Or, since both the US and Canada regularly compare statistical measures of success (or failure) with Western European nations, how are those Dutch facecloths doing?  Washcloths don’t get attention on the futures market or in poems, so maybe this only matters to me.  Should I wash my hands–and face–of the concern?


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