Over the past few years, the clothing industry has seen rise to what is known as “throwaway” fashion. Retailers rotate their stock on what feels like an almost daily basis, and shops such as Primark are constantly overflowing with people rushing to grab the latest must-have at the cheapest possible price. There’s even a weekly magazine dedicated to fashion on the high street - just in case we needed any more help to whittle away our money!
Clothes keep getting cheaper and more readily available. Today you can even buy clothes at the supermarket when you do your weekly food shop. But for how long do people keep these purchases, how often do they wear them, and what happens to them? More often than not they’re banished to the back of the nation’s wardrobes, tags still intact, or else in the bin (and following that, a landfill) after only one or two wears, because the quality is poor or the trend has passed. What happens next? We still find ourselves suffering from the dreaded “nothing to wear” syndrome, so we head out to the shops, and the cycle of consumption repeats itself.
It’s all getting a little out of hand. Whatever happened to carefully considering our purchases? When was the last time anyone actually saved up for anything? We’ve swapped patience and eager anticipation for plastic cards and a “buy now, pay later” attitude. That feeling of lifting the lid from a box of new shoes and giddily tottering about in them for the first time has been replaced by guiltily stuffing full carrier bags to the back of an already overflowing wardrobe.
Poorly sewn garments don’t sit correctly on our bodies, badly constructed shoes damage our long-suffering feet, dodgy jewellery turns our skin green on contact, and cheap fabric leaves us feeling itchy, uncomfortable and frustrated. Why do we keep spending our money like this?
Looting your favourite of the cheapest high street shops can be a thrill. High on the buzz of receiving so much value for so little money, you gleefully stuff your basket with dress after jacket after bag. It’s all so cheap, there’s no need to try anything on! Leopard print sunglasses case for £1.50? You’ll take it! (Even though it’s the middle of winter.)
You get home and unload your purchases. Actually, you discover that the fabric of the dress is really unflattering. The jacket doesn’t sit on your body very well at all, and the bag looks so poorly made that you’re worried to even put anything in it. Buyer’s remorse begins to set in and you wonder what it was that made you pick up these items in the first place.
Perhaps you bought those things because they were massively reduced, recently spotted on your favourite celebrity, or simply just “in” fashion. But what if you hadn’t bought that unflattering dress, unsuitable bag and poorly made jacket? What if instead, you’d bought a cashmere cardigan – something that you needed and truly wanted – that you then wore once a week for three years running, and even had enough money leftover for a matching camisole?
I’m not suggesting that we shun the entire high street, turn our noses up at anything less than haute couture and live in nothing but the single white tee and perfect designer jeans we’ve invested in. Style is constantly developing, requiring changes, wardrobe edits and new additions – naturally, that involves buying things! Fashion is a hobby, one to experiment and have fun with. Shopping isn’t a hobby, and that’s the difference. When someone lists shopping as one of their regular activities, it makes me picture them mindlessly spending money on inappropriate impulse purchases, trying to improve their mood through buying clothes, and looking for a quick fix. But when I hear that someone is interested in fashion, or better than that, style, I envision them dreaming up a unique aesthetic, defining their influences, collecting inspiration and sourcing the best pieces they can afford to put together a truly individual look.
Budget clothing shops work for some people – they’re the ones who can tell the difference between a genuine bargain and a false economy. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter how much money you have or what your tastes are – thoughtful consumption simply means think before you buy. Having a budget doesn’t mean you have to try and cram as many cheap clothes as possible into your basket, it just means becoming more aware, whether you buy your clothes on the high street, at local market stalls, online, or in the high end boutiques of Harrod’s.
Let’s make 2011 the year that we stop rabid consumption and impulse buying for good. Wherever you shop and whatever you buy, try to do it mindfully and consciously. Make a start today, and think how much your wardrobe could have improved by the end of the year, full of clothes that were made to last and have become treasured pieces – a prom dress that made its debut on your birthday, a denim skirt that you wore on sunny afternoons with your friends, and a princess coat that reminds you of a snowy date with someone special.