Happy 2017, everyone! Even though I’m not really into New Year’s resolutions, I know many of us today are taking a hard look at how we consume everything from food to entertainment to… fashion. Beyond the usual watchwords (shop vintage, buy less but higher quality, just say no, etc), I have some specific suggestions about how to become a more conscientious fashion consumer. Let me explain.
I spend a lot of time in the kinds of stores that sell fast fashion, the kinds of stores I urge others not to even enter.
They’re big, cavernous spaces, filled with racks and racks of tightly packed, trendy garments, garments that will be worn a few miserable times, then end up in a landfill, or on a barge bound for a third world country.
I’m doing research. If someone were to observe me on CCTV, I would either look like I was doing research or casing the joint. I enter with purpose. I look far, then close. I scan the racks, reach for random garments, pull them out and assess them for: hand, silhouette, and craftsmanship.
Occasionally I take a break from the racks and check out the customers and customer service. When I’ve had my fill of that, I move on. The problem is, once in a while something catches my eye, draws me to it and then actually meets my standards.
Usually these things are hanging out in some subtly more elegant little space that sets them apart from the rest of the merchandise. Such was the case recently at Zara, my love-to-hate-except-when-I-love store, where I saw an interestingly cut, deconstructed, pin-stripe collection.
They were a few simple pieces and they all screamed my name.
They were me, and I wanted them. No, I did not try them on, I did not buy them. It’s not that I’m that disciplined, and it’s not that I never buy here. That time, I just didn’t and I’ve been kicking myself ever since.
That’s the thing, fast fashion is like candy, or cocaine, and I can attest to struggling with the addiction.
The more time I spend in the stores, the more I crave the high of finding something that’s “me” and makes me feel good. I want to “score” just like everybody else, even though I know very well that I’ll ultimately be disappointed by the whole experience. I might even feel “sick” afterwards for having wasted my time and money.
I’m not a fanatic, a penitent, or any other kind of fundamentalist—and I know most of us aren’t. We just want to simplify.
Like you, I want to consume less, enjoy more, and make things last.
So, if you have thought about resolving to consume less fast fashion lately, go back to the three criteria I use to assess a garment:
The “hand” of a garment is how the garment feels in your hand. Is it soft, rough, silky, or slick? Does it feel light, heavy, or “puffy?” Does it feel cheap in your hand?
Silhouette means shape, go with that. Is the garment tent shaped, or is it long and slim? Maybe you would describe it as big, or is it just baggy?
Craftsmanship? Think simply, later you’ll become more sophisticated. Are the lines of stitching and seams straight? Are the buttonholes finished properly, or are they coming apart with the buttons about to fall off?
Does the garment look finished, or does it look like your 5th grade Home Ec project?
If even one of these criterion isn’t met, i.e. if the garment doesn’t feel right in your hand, the shape seems odd to you, or it’s poorly made, move on. You may want it, but you don’t need it and it will not make you happy.
That’s it, for now. Do you think shopping for clothes this way might help you consume less?
P.S. The Zara velvet tuxedo up there didn’t pass these tests. Few things do!