By Lily Corcoran
For a long time, we have been trained by society to consume fashion. Clothes have long been a commodity, all throughout history, from vendors selling silks in markets, to aristocrats visiting seamstresses and purchasing metres of lush fabrics. But our clothing consumption has snowballed over the years, to the point where we’re at a near crescendo in our fast fashion frenzy.
We have progressed from a love of luxury fabrics or long-lasting practical wear to the excessive need to consume for the sake of it. With thoughts turning to our Summer wardrobes, and how we’re going to make a statement when we emerge from lockdown restrictions, it’s made me think more about how we currently consume fashion.
Do we consume fashion or does it consume us?
We could have easily predicted the rise of fast fashion retailers – we are so taken with the idea of adding to our wardrobe. Fashion is a statement: it tells the world something about the wearer, whether that be wealth, status, mood, personality, vocation, etc. But there’s no denying that our careful and appreciative consumption of clothes in the past has morphed into something wholly different as the price of labour has dropped along with retail value, as well as the value of clothes themselves.
With what we wear being such a huge part of our identity, and most significantly our social status, it is no wonder we are consumed by the idea of fashion. With the emphasis on looking good and being in line with the trends of the time, social media ideals have shaped (and continue to shape) our clothing choices, at least for many of us. Most of our influences revolve around fast fashion outlets and our need to satisfy our fashion ‘needs’ now.
Lockdown and the urge to click – the 4 stages of the quick fashion fix
- First of all, I see influencers on Instagram and YouTube show off their hauls of new, cheap, stylish clothes, and I get the itch to copy them.
- I dive right in and feel the inevitable satisfaction of amounting a horde of this season’s clothes and seeing a modest total for my basket.
- Then of course, there’s a rush of anticipation as I click purchase.
- When the package arrives, there’s a feeling of glee and a sure satisfaction that I got all this for such a good price!
But, truthfully, after that initial excitement, I soon lose interest in the clothes I bought. Their only real value was in the quick fix of adrenaline I got from making a cheap online purchase and feeling in tune with the trends of the season. After a couple of wears, the clothes become less valuable to me: they fray due to the poor stitching, they feel starchy out of the washing machine, and who knows how many others are walking around in the same outfit?!
We’re all chasing trends that don’t last, which means we buy more and more to stay afloat of the new waves of fashion.
How can we relearn to appreciate our clothes and form a sustainable relationship with fashion?
So, how do we get back to a feeling of luxury and value in our fashion choices? I think the answer is to look to the past, and remember that clothes are a commodity, yes, but fashion is an art form and it should be treated as such. Who made the top you’re wearing right now? Who was the stitching done by – a machine, a seamstress in a studio, or an undervalued employee in a warehouse in a poor country? Knowing the true origin and journey of our clothes, rather than just the pixels on a screen and a fixation on a tiny price tag, will increase the value of our clothes. Reconnecting with the process of searching for good quality fabrics that catch our eye and paying that bit extra for the materials is worth it.
Cheap prices have changed our idea of fashion – and it needs to stop
Fast fashion has warped our conception of fashion. This isn’t something to be ashamed of: we’re caught up in a consumeristic cycle. We expect a low price tag. We expect a high turnover and a short lifespan of products. We’re not surprised by the poor quality of cheap garments – we have come to accept it. All around us, we are being told that cheap clothing is good; deals are ‘hot’ – discount codes are a given; click here and Instagram remembers all your cookies. We see this link pop up, and this one, and this one…
It’s becoming increasingly easy to stumble down a rabbit hole of fast fashion-fixated consumerism. We want it now and we want it cheap.
The fast fashion scene has taken the Western world by storm, but climbing out of this rabbit hole is necessary to clear our minds from the obsession with a fashion quick-fix. Straying away from the advert-fuelled obsession that sees us impulsively purchase cheap clothes that we know aren’t sustainable can only be a good thing.
Yes, purchasing clothes cheaply is necessary for many people, and investing in ethical clothing is a privilege. That’s not to say that charity/vintage shops, clothes swaps and outlets like Depop and Vinted aren’t great sustainable options, too. Our clothes tell the world something about us, but we can extend this story to tell of the origins of the fabric, the time and effort that was put into creating it, and the promise of passing it down after we’ve had our wear out of it!
Fast fashion isn’t as glamorous as it is made out to be on billboards, adverts on taxi cabs or Instagram adverts. And it certainly can’t replace the feeling of choosing a quality garment from a skilled worker which is sure to last the test of time.
Investing in sustainable, well-made, versatile pieces is one solution.
I’d be interested to know, do you feel fast fashion has altered your perception of what it means to have a healthy consumption of fashion?
I have learned that if I buy one top every 2 months instead of 4 tops every month, sustainable fashion brands don’t seem so expensive – they last and they feel like more of a treat! If you’re someone who has fallen prey to the instant but short-lived satisfaction of cheaply made garments, I’d love to hear your thoughts! You can also join our newsletter to stay up-to-date with discussions on sustainable fashion.