I was initially writing a little bit about some of the exhibitions of the British Textile Biennial that I saw, but I then went on a waffle about trends. Instead of polluting that post with this rant, I decided to dedicate a separate post to my initial thoughts on trends (I guess I am suggesting that I may have more thoughts about this in the future!).
I think many people like novelty, beautiful things, shiny new things. Many of us also like to express aspects of ourselves through what we wear whether this is individuality or an association with a certain demographic (subculture, religious group, social/economic class, profession).
Since development of the internet, reliable online shopping, and especially the smart phone and social media, we are all connected across the globe and can instantly and constantly publish our most recent works, our newest inventions, or our look of today. Moreover, we can buy those things made by others that we see published across our feed.
I think that this technological advancement in human communication is amazing, and I wouldn’t choose to have been born earlier. However, I feel that this cornucopia of exposure to products might make many of us feel like we should constantly be looking for new things to buy because there might be something even better than what we already have. And of course, there will never be an end to finding new things as the www is so big now and it no longer costs more money to use the internet for longer (I still remember having to dial up, lol).
I got into alternative fashion when I was around age 14-15, this was in the very early 00s. There was no online shopping for alternative fashion, but we did have ‘de Large’ (Large popmerchandising), a mail-order catalog in my home country of the Netherlands. This was mainly for alternative music CDs and band shirts but they also sold some alternative fashion. I remember requesting this catalog whenever a new one was released, asking friends to take a look at theirs if they already had their copy: it was great! But I couldn’t afford to buy a lot of stuff from this catalog, though. There also weren’t any alternative fashion stores in my mid-sized provincial city where I might have been able to find some bargains.
In order to still have some opportunity to buy ‘cool’ clothes, I went to Amsterdam with my parent(s) and sibling around once a year to visit the Waterlooplein market and other shops in the area. I would end up going home with a few new garments and accessories. However, my main problem was not geographic accessibility but the fact that alternative and goth clothes were expensive! Luckily my mother had a sewing machine she taught me how to use, and I was allowed to freely use it. This is how I got really into designing and making garments/fashion when I was in my mid teens. Sadly I don’t have (m)any photos of my earliest creations as this was before decent digital cameras were affordable.
* As a little sidenote: the first fashion item I remember ordering online in a web shop is this pair of boots that they still make: Demonia Stack 301 boots in patent PVC. I thought about this purchase long and hard before parting with my money as it was a lot of money for 16-17 year old me (they cost less at the time, but obviously a lot of stuff did circa 2003). Please note I do not own the copyright to this imagine:
Anyhow, where I am going with this is that I never wanted to be ‘hip’ or go along with the latest fashion. I did get into alternative/goth fashion and there are (were?) trends, but they weren’t as fleeting as today’s trends, possibly because when I was still really into dressing up every day, there was no Facebook or Instagram. Maybe these days alternative fashion has a lot of short-lived trends too, but I doubt it as the people genuinely into an alternative aesthetic are not about keeping up with trends. Many find their own, ‘timeless’ style.
Perhaps the goth aesthetic is stuck in the past because you could still look ‘cool’ now wearing the exact same outfits worn in the 80s or 90s. Or maybe this phenomenon is testament to the nature of goths not caring about being trendy in any way. Goths also don’t really age out of clothes: you can find 20 year goths wearing the same as 50 year goths. I think that’s pretty cool, but I bet some people would think that this timelessness of aesthetic suggests that goths never grow up!
Another thing that might feed into today’s rampant consumerism is the need for instant gratification: if I buy something on Amazon today, I can usually have it delivered tomorrow. I get the appeal, I really do, and I have at times made use of this. But perhaps this service being available and fairly reliable has also made people plan less well or plan differently with much shorter allowances for purchasing necessary items.
When there was no online shopping you’d be making a list of things you needed for a holiday, then take your list to a local store. Perhaps you had to go to five different stores to get everything you needed. Maybe you needed to allow for a couple of weeks in case the only store that sells this one thing had run out and you needed to allow for restocking…
The instant gratification thing feeds into buying more. You see thousands of garments on your social media feed or in a web shop, you see many you like, you make a selection based on your budget, you are excited to check out, and then you enjoy anticipating the arrival of your order. If you place a national order, you will probably receive your items within 1-4 days. You are excited when the parcel arrives, when you unpack the garments, when you try the garments on. You post some pictures of your looks to your social media, and then you put the garments with the dozens of other garments you will wear only once or twice, or perhaps never. And many people in developed countries can afford to do this.
Because fashion and trends are everywhere, and your high from your last purchase has worn off already, and ‘the internet’ seems to have already moved on from faux rose gold garment/accessories hardware (and you only got to wear your new items out a few times), and you see new and shiny new styles, you start putting new stuff in your digital shopping basket. And because you shop fast fashion, it doesn’t cost you that much to buy a bunch of new stuff regularly anyways.
Because you didn’t pay much per item, you don’t care that much that:
- the items are made from lower quality materials
- the items are made by actual children and/or adults who make peanuts per day despite working 14 hour days (or longer!)
- the production causes major pollution
- the items were transported across the globe, sometimes perhaps even several times over from sourcing the raw materials to ending up on your doorstep
- some of the items won’t fit that well due to their design, development and manufacturing having been rushed
- they won’t look good for long due to being made of rubbish materials and with rushed manufacturing methods
- the items can’t be recycled in a meaningful way.
You’re just happy to be shopping and to frequently have something new to wear/show on your Instagram.
Hey, I get it. I used to regularly buy fast fashion. When I was really into fashion, I wanted to frequently wear something new, something different, and when I was in art school I often made a whole new outfit for myself to wear when going out. It’s fun to experiment with your style, with how you look, and in my case I really liked designing and making my own clothes.
But hardly anyone makes their own clothes, so that’s not the ‘enjoyment’. The joy for people buying fast fashion is the buying, then showing off their new purchase, then wearing the garment as part of a new look for a couple of times, and then they feel the item has gone stale and they move on. That’s where a major issue lies, in my view.
If people were willing to spend more per garment, they’d think much longer about whether to buy it or not. They might save the product page in their browser to come back to it in a few days or even weeks. They’d look for reviews online or see if they can find more photos of people with a body type like theirs wearing the item. They might try to find a store that sells the item so they can try it on before committing to a large purchase. Such a process can take weeks or even months depending on whether it is a very big expense for you and whether you need the item right now or can wait.
The most expensive accessory I own is a specific watch. I came across the brand’s website one day and instantly fell in love with the look: they do sell a range of colour/material combinations but have only about a handful of designs as they appear to aim to create timeless designs. Every couple of months I’d come back to take a look at the watches on their website (not going to lie, hoping to find a sale!), but I simply could not afford to buy one as I was on a student stiped. Eventually when I was already several years post graduation, I looked online to see if these watches are for sale in brick and mortar shops anywhere as I was now considering treating myself to this watch. But I found out they are on-line only and are located in continental Europe.
Despite the company accepting returns, I didn’t want to buy a model that wouldn’t fit my wrist size. As I was struggling to decide between two models, I went through the effort of printing out a picture of both of these watches to their actual size and then glued corrugated cardboard onto the back of the watch itself (not the strap) to pad it out. Trying on these dummy watches showed me that their larger model would probably be too large for my wrist, so I decided to go with the smaller model. Was this silly? Maybe. Was this a massively expensive watch? No, not compared to what most people consider an expensive watch. But it was a big expense to ME as someone who had been a student until I was almost 30. This is why I waited until I felt comfortable splurging on a luxury and because I kept coming back to look at the watches online, I knew I would love it for years to come. The money wouldn’t be wasted.
What if we could all value our clothes more? What if we paid more to get better quality clothes made by someone who got a fair wage, made in a way that is the least detrimental to the environment? We would perhaps end up spending 2-5 times per garment of what we now spend, but this will make us think twice, thrice, and perhaps even four times before making the purchase. Do I really need it (now)? Do I really want it? Will I get enough use out of it? Does it fit me well enough that I will wear it frequently? Does it go with garments and accessories I already have, or would I feel I need to buy additional items to make this item work? Do I expect the item to be durable and age well? Would the item have resell value if I would want to move on from it in a year or a few years time? You will for sure buy fewer items if they cost a fair bit more!
No one is perfect, but we can all make some small changes to our consumption of fashion.
I might come back to this blog to edit it, we shall see…