Continuing along the lines of my last post, Polyester Rant II, I’ve been thinking about what and how much we’re consuming, and what fashion means to us in North America. We spend many dollars shopping, but much of the clothing we purchase is poor quality fast fashion. One of the reasons for my obsession with this topic is how frustrating my shopping experiences have been in the last few years. There is a lot of “cheap crap” out there, for lack of better words – low quality workmanship, inexpensive synthetic fabrications, little in the way of fine details, seams unfinished; all of which leads to poor quality clothing and sustainability challenges. I love fashion, but I slip, making poor choices from time to time. But I try to be concerned about fashion consumption in a more “mindful way”. How can one incorporate a love for fashion and maintain a unique style in our world of over consumption?
First, A Few Terms That Need Defining
“Fashion” is the style of clothing popular with the mainstream population at a given time period, and is influenced by many factors. Fashion also applies to hair, home decor, architecture, art, and behaviour. I’m using “style” as an individual’s distinctive appearance and expression of self through the clothing one wears. Style can also refer to a particular design or form. A “trend” is the general direction in which fashion is developing. Most fashion trends are short-lived. This is where fast fashion lives; retailers and designers continuously flooding the marketplace with trends. A “classic” is an item of clothing that waxes and wanes in popularity over the years, but never really goes out of fashion. Designers modernize or update classic pieces.
A Quick Look At Fashion History
If one looks back at the fashion from previous decades beginning in the 1900s; popular fashions are relatively easy to identify. In the 1920s, it was the first time women were showing their legs, so shorter dress styles became popular. One of the most recognizable dress styles is the flapper dress, often made from beautiful lightweight silk chiffon and adorned with beads and fringe. The introduction of the Chanel Suit in this same time period, along with Coco Chanel’s signature strings of pearls was another popular look. From the 1950s and 1960s, these stylish women, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Marilyn Monroe remain as icons for these classics: the LBD (little black dress), the Kelly bag, and the fitted black suit with peplum waist. Most of these items of clothing and accessories mentioned above are considered classics to this day.
As we move into the 2000s, with the introduction of fast fashion, I see the distinctive styles of fashion blurred. It is pretty hard to pinpoint characteristic fashion and stylish individuals among the mainstream, because there is so much out there. Social media plays a large part influencing what we wear; mainly based on a focus with what “celebrities” are wearing. The speedy deliver of fashion into the stores and the marketing of it, incites us to constantly consume. We spend so much time in purchase mode, that we’ve lost an appreciation for the beauty of fabric, details, and classic items. We need to take a breath, and be more aware of our consumption, by reflecting on who makes our clothes and the production processes.
If a lady from the 1920s was looking down on us, she would wonder what we are saying about ourselves. No matter which way you cut it, there is meaning to the clothing we adorn ourselves with every day; how we respect ourselves and others, and what we are ultimately saying to the world. We can still create an individual look or style with fashion, so let’s look at how to do this.
How can we incorporate our love for fashion, and maintain a unique style in a mindful way?
- Know Thyself. In developing your own style, begin by paring down your wardrobe. What do you like to wear? What are your favorite colors? What do you wear over and over? Don’t worry about your age, but don’t try looking like you did in high school. Clothes should fit well, not too tight, or baggy and shapeless. Having well fitting garments will make any body shape look amazing. I always think of the model Ashley Graham, a beautiful larger size model who owns her hourglass body; she struts down the runway liking who she is and wears fashion with style. There are many knowledgeable stylists out there to help you with this process.
- Who Made My Clothes and the Production Process. We can’t always know who’s making our clothes, but more companies are transparent about their manufacturing. This industry is global with clothing made in countries where labour is cheap. It’s not to say that all workers in developing countries are employed in deplorable conditions or taken advantage of. In doing your part, buy local, domestic, or from designers and manufacturers that share how they are being sustainable. Be supportive of these companies. And for all you knitters, think about making some of your own garments and accessories, using the amazing natural fiber, hand dyed yarns produced today.
- Choose Natural Fiber Fabrications Over Synthetics. I have talked much about the benefits of natural fibers. Synthetics are too much of an environmental problem. There is still a place for some synthetic applications, but keep it to a minimum. For example, a small percentage of nylon in sock yarn adds strength and durability. Items like bras, wear better in synthetics like polyester and nylon, but silk for those special items like camisoles are a luxury worth the expense. Rayon or viscose is very popular today, but even though it’s a cellulose based fiber, the manufacturing process is the same as for synthetics. I prefer rayon over polyester as an alternative to silk, as it has similar properties.
- Investment Purchases. You will get your money’s worth when purchasing quality clothing. The initial cost is usually high, but the cost per dollar is less over time, than for poor quality items that don’t last. The initial cost is normally high for a classic coat in a wool/cashmere blend, but the cost over time is low in comparison to buying an inexpensive synthetic coat that lasts a season or two. You are not saving money by frequently purchasing the same type of product. Do more investment purchases, particularly for coats, shoes, boots, and suits.
- You Can Follow Some Trends. The caveat here is don’t spend much money on short-lived trends. Update your classics with beautiful fashion forward accessories and footwear. It’s fun to keep abreast of everything new, but remember purchase the ones that only work for you.
- Quality Leads to Longevity. Quality has a different meaning to all of us, determined by our perceptions and expectations of what quality is. But we can define what goes into the manufacturing of a quality garment that stands the test of time. Fabrication – the best quality fibers for most woven and knit fabrics are natural. Learn to read labels for fiber content and care; by law all textiles must have these labels. Workmanship – check that all seams are finished, with no raw edges that can unravel after cleaning. Manufacturers sew garments with a certain number of stitches per inch. You don’t want so few stitches per inch that the piece comes apart. It’s All in the Details – items with extra buttons, sample yarn to mend, bound or welt pockets, pockets loosely stitched closed to maintain shape, and contrasting Bemberg lining. All these extras define quality. This is a short list, but I wanted to give you a taste of what it takes to make a quality garment.
- The Three R’s. Recycle – use your DIY skills. I saw some very expensive, trendy Citizens of Humanity jeans with pearl beads attached, so I decided to recycle my cropped flare jeans and sewed beads onto the fronts. I think they look pretty amazing (photo above). Repurpose – donate, gift, or consign items you no longer want. Repair – my favorite, short leather jacket was in dire need of a lining replacement. Because it still was in great condition, I decided to spend the money and get it done.
- Less in the Landfill. Over consumption leads to too much stuff, so much of our clothing ends up tossed in the garbage. Polyester and other synthetics are practically inert, and degrade at a very slow rate as compared to natural fibers. Making better and fewer quality purchases, and utilizing the three R’s will help to alleviate disposal challenges.
- Take Care of Your Clothes. Learning to hand wash is one my best tips; particularly for knits, delicates like bras, and silk items. My next tip is do not dry clothes completely in the dryer. Dryer heat actually promotes wrinkling, and is damaging to some fibers; you’ll also save on your electricity bill by cutting back on its use. Many manufacturers are over-cautious when it comes to care labels, protecting themselves from consumer complaints if there are cleaning mishaps. They even put dry cleaning labels on items that can be hand washed or laundered. I wash cashmere sweaters and even woven wool scarves. Just be sure you research and become familiar with fibers and textile fabrications. The Laundress is an excellent company to learn about laundry and fabric care. There are many eco-friendly cleaning products available for a successful laundry day. Some garments still must be dry cleaned, but keep dry cleaning to a minimum. You don’t have to dry clean a pair of wool pants every week or month. Depending on how much they’re worn, once or twice a season is all that’s required. I dry clean my coats after each season. Learn how to wash shirts and blouses at home; the laundry process at the dry cleaners is damaging to fabrics.
By being aware of the sustainability challenges of clothing production, and our habit of over consuming, we all can make better fashion choices, and still maintain an original style. There are many things we can do beginning with knowing your style, choosing natural fibers and quality fabrics, patronizing designers who are transparent about manufacturing, making more investment purchases, recycle, repurpose, repair, and taking care of our clothes. What sets you apart from everyone else? You can do you in a mindful way and still look amazing.