The Fallacy of Fast Fashion
Our “fast fashion” culture is our current world of consumption that involves buying lots of cheap clothing that is “trendy.” The market for fast fashion is a relatively recent phenomenon in retail where the fashion trends are presented and promoted in such a way as to be obsolescent soon - it’s a cycle that is set up for maximum store purchases on a regular basis. While fashion has always been based on cycling of trends, the fast fashion cycle is sped up to a point where new merchandise is hitting the store racks every couple of weeks as opposed to every 3-6 months. Think about how this inspires us to shop more often, tapping into our desire for something new. The price point also makes this possible and the little required for something new, maybe like $5-10 for a shirt, seems inconsequential at the moment of purchase. Stores at the forefront of this fast-fashion culture are H&M, Forever 21, Zara, Old Navy and now most retailers are following the fast cycle required to remain competitive.
Some people have heralded this movement to fast fashion as positive for the masses - the democratization of fashion and trends where everyone can now have access to more highly designed and on trend clothing items. While this may sound like a good thing, I believe this has led us to closets filled (and often overflowing) with clothing items because we can make such rash clothing choices in the store, and often we are bogged down in these overfilled closets. If a clothing item costs less than $10 or $20, we are not likely to consider the purchase very long but rather are likely to just blindly purchase the item to satiate our momentary desire for novelty.
Shopping is an interesting act that is future oriented. You purchase something in order to wear it at some point in the future. The act of shopping not only fills our desire for instant gratification and pleasure of making a purchase but also taps into our mental projections of an idealized future self. This is a powerful combination. And when coupled with retail shopping environments conducive to making new purchases easily and affordable, we tend to find it hard to resist. But what happens later after the purchase?
We are often left with closets filled to the brim with cheap clothing. We find ourselves standing in front of this full closet still thinking we have nothing to actually wear. This “nothing to wear” is a result of a hodgepodge assortment of items that do not work together or that do not make us feel our best. I see this so often with my clients, and have certainly been in the situation myself!
Like fast food, which tastes good, is cheap, but doesn’t nourish us and ends up causing more harm to our bodies, our addiction to fast fashion ends up doing us more harm than good in the end. It looks good at the moment, it’s cheap, but it doesn’t fulfill our desire to look good on a regular, long-term basis. It’s a quick fix, an immediate high and afterwards, we are left with a bunch of junk that no one wants, where it gets recycled into industrial rags or tossed into landfills.
So what do we do to break our habit? I believe we have to rethink our approach to building a wardrobe, which is what I help clients do. It’s better to have fewer clothing items that are really great, that work together, that you love, and that look amazing, than to have dozens of items that don’t. We get worried about needing different outfits, not wearing the same thing twice in a close time frame. But guess what, no one cares if you wear the same thing twice in one week - really, they don’t! Sure, it may be awkward to wear the same thing every day in a row, but if you are varying the way you wear something, no one will notice, or care, that you just wore it the other day. This is especially true if what you are wearing looks great on you! People will notice that you look good far before they will notice your repeat item.
We also get trapped into the thought process that we shouldn’t invest much money in clothing because the style will be out of fashion soon. But in truth, fashion trends actually have a longer life than retailers and fashion magazines suggest. For some classic clothing items, the styles do not change much, if at all. Take a blazer, a very classic wardrobe staple, where the elements of the garment that make the item a blazer have not changed - set-in sleeve, notched lapel, and 1, 2 or 3 button front closure. Granted, some design elements may be added here and there but the classic blazer is always in fashion and always looks great. I actually have a blazer from high school that still looks amazing today, 18 years after the purchase! Other clothing categories like denim, suiting, shoes, handbags and jewelry have a longer life also, lasting at least several seasons to a full decade.
Don’t get me wrong, I think trendy items have a place in our wardrobe, but not the prominence it has today. I suggest a majority of investment pieces with some trendy items sprinkled in. Let’s say 80% good quality, classic staples with 20% trendy, fad items. How do you narrow down the abundant choices in the marketplace and know which items are best for your investment? You have to know your body, and chose the best styles that suit you and only purchase the item when several key factors are met like quality, the right style and fit for your body, the right color for your skin, hair, and eyes, and the right fit (which may include a trip to the tailor). Like we carefully choose the food in which we eat to nourish our bodies, so too should we carefully choose the clothing in which we adorn our bodies.
When you’ve got a wardrobe that works for you, you always go to your closet with joy and ease at finding the right outfit to wear each day. When the items in your closet work together, you have exponentially increased the possible combinations of items to create a variety of different looks. This process is not necessarily easy but well worth the effort. I urge you to rethink all of those little $10 and $20 purchases, which really add up, and instead consider making a more thoughtful $100 or $200 purchase that will better serve you in the long run.