I am a child of the fast fashion generation.
I know what it feels like to buy a T-shirt the price of a ham sandwich or piece of chocolate cake. I know what it feels like to stare into the soul of my undeniably abundant wardrobe (cultivated by years of working in retail) and declare I have nothing to wear. I also know what it feels like to be seized by the temptation of a new purchase every time a special occasion arises.
To be honest, it doesn’t feel that outlandish. These are the consuming, dressing and disposing-of habits that we, children of the fast fashion generation, have come to know as ‘the norm.’
We fear the commitment contained in investments and turn in solace to cheap, impulse buys. Sound familiar? After one or two wears, the ‘must-have’ hits the back of the ’drobe and meets its premature demise.
You could call it a contemporary wardrobe crisis. In fact, Clare Press, fashion journalist and author of upcoming title, Wardrobe Crisis: How We Went From Sunday Best to Fast Fashion, already has.
When working on her book, Clare unearthed a closetful of disturbing statistics. “In 1930 the average American woman had nine outfits. In 2015, the average American woman had 30,” she tells
me, remnants of concern evident in her decorous British accent. “That’s one outfit for every day of the month.”
Gulp. I think back to my fruitful wardrobe and realise it probably rivals that of this average American woman, whoever she may be.
“As a society, we own more clothes today than we ever have before. And no one’s telling us to stop. We’re like greedy kids in a sweetshop,” Clare continues.
Again, gulp. I think back to designer warehouse sales I’ve attended with relentless competitive flair. I’ve been that kid in the candy shop. We’ve all been that kid.
Recently, my Grandmother complimented me on my outfit. It reminded her of a favourite wool pinafore she used to wear on special occasions.
I brushed her admiration off and replied apathetically with something like, “it was really cheap, I just bought it because I needed something to wear.” She couldn’t believe it was an acrylic imitation purchased for $35 online. And despite my reasoning, neither could she understand why I would buy clothing simply for the sake of it. When she was my age, she saved up for six months to buy that wool dress. It was her Sunday best.
It was about this time I was struck with a pertinent thought: is fast fashion rendering our Sunday best extinct?
I ask Clare to elaborate on the concept of Sunday best. I'm interested to know why she chose to include this seemingly archaic concept (in the 1800s it referred to a churchgoer’s finest attire) in a title that explores the ethics behind what we wear.
“Years ago, our definition of ‘best’ was far different from what it is today. It was the outfit in our wardrobe that was the least darned. Perhaps the one that was handmade. It was the one you treasured more than anything else,” Clare explains.
She admits it seems a “really old fashioned phrase”, but its relevance here lies in the changing relationship between the contemporary consumer and their ‘best.’
“How can we possibly have one ‘best’ today, when fast fashion allows us to have 20 different ‘bests’ at any given moment?”
It’s sad, but true. How can we, children of the fast fashion generation, foster a relationship with one particular ensemble that is intimate, appreciative, and most importantly – offers connection with the garment’s maker, when we all have brimming closets worthy of Carrie Bradshaw?
The answer, according to Clare, is in the self- discipline of the consumer. Sure, our Sunday attire today is more athleisure than elegant, but that doesn’t mean our consumer habits should stop us valuing fashion the way it should be valued.
It should be valued like a piece of art. A financial commitment with which you are smitten. A unique creation that took many hands (and litres of water) to make. Not a ham sandwich or a piece of cake.
Wardrobe Crisis: How We Went from Sunday Best to Fast Fashion by Clare Press. Published by Nero, $29.99, available at all leading bookstores.
This article was originally published in Fashion Journal Issue 157.