Status and Clothes Lines: An International Comparison

A front page Wall Street Journal story today discusses how clotheslines have become a new battle front in America. The environmentally minded are using them in increasing numbers (clothes driers account for 6% of residential energy use).

This is yet another illustration of how status consciousness and years of cheap energy intersect to produce peculiar outcomes. In Australia, by contrast, the rotary clothes hoist is a suburban fixture, although it was always tastefully sited in the back yard:

The rotary clothes hoist and the barbecue have long been recognised as suburban icons; for example on the cover of Australian Popular Culture, in 1979 and in Suburban Icons – a celebration of the everyday, by Steve Bedwell, in 1991. Both the standard clothes hoist and the barbecue came to prominence in the 1950s; but both had existed before then.

Smaller clothes drying racks are popular in Australia and sold even in very upscale home furnishing shops. Similarly, my impression is that clothes drying outdoors would be acceptable in most European countries outside major urban areas.

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  1. Tomas

    Not just outside urban areas in europe. I live in Copenhagen, Denmark and we have communal outdoor drying equipment in the yard between the houses. And it is frequently in use.

    And yes, that does sort of make us dirty commies.

  2. Martin, the Netherlands

    I live in the Netherlands, in a town of 26,000, just south of Amsterdam. We do not have a tumble drier, but use clothes lines when the weather permits, and racks in the attic when it rains. Why, for heavens’ sake, should we waste natural resources, when the wind is clean (or as clean as it gets just outside a major airport), and free? Additionally, both my wife and I cycle to work (15 and 9 kms). I understand that this does make us highly suspect by American standards, but so be it…

  3. Yves Smith


    No, that makes you clean commies!

    Actually, not all of America is wasteful. Yankees are notorious for being frugal. Most of them maintain equipment and cars (rather than trashing and replacing them). But even they aren’t into clotheslines.

    It’s amazing what marketing and convention can do to one’s world view.

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