I found this article very helpful and meaningful to me, especially in light of my promise to myself to prioritize quality over quantity when it comes to shopping. It was written in Fall 2008 but it’s still as relevant as ever (in fact, four years on, one can still pick up a few tips from the wardrobe investment guide at the end of the article). The prices may be relative (what is very cheap abroad may be high-end in the Third World) but the message is the same. Quality over quantity.
Invest In Your Wardrobe
The same way we’ve forgotten how to save our pennies, we’ve forgotten how to invest in our wardrobes. For the past decade and more, we’ve been on a reckless spend-o-rama, maxing out our credit cards with cheap, chic, disposable fast fashion.
But now — with rising concerns about the economy, the environment and worker exploitation in developing countries, not to mention a season of temptingly timeless modern classics — investment dressing is chic again.
Good thing, too. All those cheap Prada knock-offs were not only clogging up the landfills, they were overflowing the closets in our tiny condos, too.
The investment dressing trend is major news all over, according to everyone from the editors of fashion magazines to tastemakers like Holt Renfrew fashion director Barbara Atkin, to the designers themselves and right on up to politicians.
Just last week, England’s House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee released a report that condemned cheap and chic insta-fashion, calling it “costly and socially unacceptable.”
The report pointed out that clothes from retailers like Britain’s uber-popular Primark and TopShop are so cheap that there is no incentive to repair them, or even to hand them down or recycle them. And that, they say, is just wasteful.
Of course, the Brits aren’t the only ones who have been revelling in a frenzy of cut-price poly blends. International chains like Spain’s Zara and Sweden’s H&M have conquered the retail world by not only knocking off designer duds minutes after they appear on the runway, but completely restocking their stores with brand new fashions every two weeks or so.
That’s right: Where once there were two fashion cycles a year (spring and fall), now there are two a month. When clothes are this cheap, why not?
The thing is, when a dress costs only $20 or a pair of jeans is a mere $15, someone is paying full price for it, even if it isn’t you.
That someone is typically a garment worker in a developing country like, say, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. There, millions of people — most of them women and children — work brutally long hours sewing clothes in squalid situations for less than $10 a week, which may be the legal minimum wage, but it’s not exactly a livable one. That’s all manufacturers can afford to pay, though, if they want to keep prices as low as customers demand.
The other way clothing companies keep costs down is to use cheap fabrics, typically energy-wasteful cotton or non-biodegradable synthetics. Producing these fabrics can create massive amounts of pollution — especially in regions with lax environmental standards.
Admittedly, it can be easy to forget about conditions half a world away when you’re looking at an adorable blouse that costs little more than your morning latte. To bring the harsh reality home, consider this: A closet crammed with cheap, disposable clothes is more expensive than a wardrobe of well-made, long-wearing classics.
It comes down to the cost-per-wear formula. Take the cost of your garment, divide it by the number of times you wear it and that’s what its actual value is.
For instance, a $20 top you wear once has a $20 cost per wear. A $500 jacket you wear every week for a year has a $10 cost per wear. The better value? The $500 jacket. Besides, those inexpensive garments just don’t last — which is why, back in the day, fashion guidebooks always used to say that women on a budget can’t afford to buy cheap clothes. That’s definitely something to consider given the current economic meltdown.
Something else worth considering: One of the reasons we all fell for fast fashion in the first place was to express our personalities through our clothes. Ironically, all we’ve managed to accomplish is looking like everyone else out there.
We’ve also devalued the very designers and labels we’ve been ripping off.
Given all that, it should come as no surprise that there has been a backlash against all this gross over-consumption of clothing. Just as fast food inspired the slow food movement, so has fast fashion inspired a new “slow fashion” movement that encourages shoppers to buy locally produced, ethically made, high-quality clothing that will last more than one season.
In fact, that’s how the world’s most stylish women have always shopped.
French and Italian women don’t buy a lot of fast fashion; instead, they are famous for having a few well-made basics that they update with well-chosen accessories. They look inside North American women’s closets and wonder how on earth we manage to dress ourselves with so much junk. Men don’t typically buy a lot of fast fashion either. Instead, they often expect to get a decade’s wear out of a coat or suit, so it has to be top quality — and that’s why menswear stores offer expensive, beautifully made clothes and complimentary tailoring.
Meanwhile, we women have been dressing ourselves in nasty, flimsy, scratchy, badly made and ill-fitting clothes, all for the sake of being on top of a trend that lasts about two minutes.
Sure, we want to have fun with fashion, and fast fashion can definitely be fun. And it’s great for teens, who are still trying on new styles to learn what suits them best and have small allowances to pay for it in any case. But for the rest of us, shouldn’t we know better by now? Shouldn’t fashion be a bit more luxurious than this? Shouldn’t it make us feel good? Shouldn’t it be, well, nicer?
Luckily for all of us, this fall is all about beautiful, modern, updated classics, the kind of clothes you’ll want to wear for a good, long time. Atkin calls it “stealth wealth,” clothing that is elegant and carefully crafted, but doesn’t shout its pedigree with all-over logos and bling.
And yes, it can be expensive, but maybe it’s time to bring back another outmoded concept: the idea of actually saving up to buy something special instead of racking up more debt on a whim.
This is a great season to begin investing in your wardrobe again. It’s a great season to invest in the building blocks of a timeless wardrobe, in luxurious fabrics, beautiful colours and flattering fits. It’s a great season to invest in creating your own unique style, and not following the same trends everyone else is.
It is, in short, a great season to invest in you.
YOUR FALL 2008 INVESTMENT GUIDE
This is a great fall to shop for wonderful clothes that should last a couple of seasons at least. But before you whip out the credit card, remember, not every piece out there is worth the big bucks. Some garments are merely fads that will last a season. Other styles are so outrageously new it’s too soon totell if they are going to have lasting power. Here are 10 Fall 2008 pieces worth investing in and 10 trends you might be better off skimping on.
A fabulous, slightly crazy signature piece
A great couture coat
A pencil skirt
A beautiful blouse
A classic shift dress
A well-made, perfectly cut, straight-legged slouchy trouser
Anything in charcoal grey
An oxford or loafer-style pump
A structured leather handbag
A great piece of costume jewelry
A nutty new trend you’re not sure about
A fun, colourful faux fur jacket
A flared miniskirt
A crafty knit sweater
A boho floral frock
An MC Hammer-esque trouser (baggy, tapered, cropped)
Anything in teal
Fringed suede booties
A novelty handbag in neon brights