I’m going to sound old here, but I can remember when I was in high school you would get your wardrobe at the beginning of the school year and that was it. You would get enough clothes so that you could wear something different on your top half every day for a week to two weeks. You would still be wearing some of the clothes from the previous year or two, assuming you had not grown. Clothes were thought of as semi-durable goods. Coats and shoes were expected to last even longer – a decade or more in some cases. If you take inflation into account, the prices were higher back then, but you shopped less frequently.
Nowadays, lots of clothes are considered to be disposable, or nearly so. Even coats and shoes often give out after a year or even just one season. Shopping itself is the goal, not the actual ownership, because the ownership phase is very brief – no time to get attached to stuff because it’s going to be trash in a year or less anyway.
Last winter I did some financial and time analysis and realized that I was spending way too much time AND money purchasing clothes, and it was because things were falling apart so quickly … once an item became unwearable I would have to spend time and money finding and purchasing a replacement, and ultimately spending more on a series of crappy versions of the same item than I would have spent on one of that item if it were of better quality.
This was especially noticeable with shoes. All the shoes I had bought in recent years had worn out or fallen apart within a year or so of purchase, except for a pair of German shoes I bought 10 years ago and still wear. It reminded me of what I knew in high school – clothes and shoes don’t need to be disposable and shoes can be considered a durable good.
So, I decided to boycott poor quality. It has been interesting to try to find stuff that’s made well, but it has also been rewarding to find and acquire the good stuff and to look into my closet and see less, but know that all of it is stuff I really like and I know that I’ll have it all for a while (maybe I’ll even have some of it for the rest of my life).
I have a friend who puts a lot of effort into being fabulous (and succeeds, I should add, in case he’s reading). I don’t have the fabulous gene, but I have had the opportunity to paw and inspect my friend’s couture leather goods. It has been fascinating and educational and, in a way, encouraging. These items are the real deal. There are purses and satchels that will outlast everyone who is reading this blog, made by people who have made craft their life’s work.
The slight problem with this is that most people aren’t going to be able to spend $4k on a purse, but I think there’s a lesson here about the difference between quality and showiness and between true value and image.
In one of those instances of synchronicity that makes me wonder if humans have a hive mind, Elizabeth Cline has written a book about the hidden high cost of cheap fashion. I hope that this signals a shift in how Americans think about their wardrobes, and about waste and sustainability. I can’t wait to read the book. I’ll review it here later, if there is interest.