The Fashion Contradiction

Posted on May 6, 2012

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One thing that I have found deeply contradictory about myself in my quest to become more financially literate, is that I am still so very addicted to fashion.  Fashion, of course, is the notorious powerhouse of mindless spending.  As I write this, I am fully aware of the  eye-rolling banality of this “first world” issue, so thanks for reading this far.

Fashion changes all the time for completely arbitrary reasons, such as such-and-such fashionista has proclaimed it so.  And with such frequent random proclamations that neon is in, now it’s out and kitten heels yes, wedges no etc…the engine of consumerism is constantly on the go, getting people to buy more stuff, different stuff despite the fact that, at last check,  they still only have two arms, two legs etc.  There is also, of course, the horrible-ness of being a mindless zombie follower of the soft-dictatorship of the modern propaganda department of consumer marketing.  Fellow women, I’m talking to you: we and our wallets are, by far, the most targeted.

Anyone suspicious of themselves needs to move house at least once.  This is when you are forced to go through all your crap and realize how much money you’ve wasted on things you don’t even realize you own.  That’s what I’ve been faced with recently.  Opening up my shoe closet, you’d think that I was some interbreed of caterpillar.  Or my wardrobe might suggest that there is a small maudlin theatre troupe residing with me during their stage production of the The Spice Girls: a Two Decade Retrospective. Or my accessories box would remind one of Aladdin’s gay uncle’s costume jewellery haul.

I’ve tried to mitigate my lust for material things by buying second-hand only (I somehow think this circumvents the pull-demand to supply more by mining the Earth anew from the manufacturer’s side);  to limit myself to only one black sweater; to “just look” modern-museum-appreciation style; to buy only on sale (ironically, to “save” money); to only buy things that are well-made, “classic” or have longevity; I try to re-make and mend clothes and shoes: to experience the pain of DIY.  Although this may read incredibly pathetic to some, it has actually been a huge improvement from my house-is-sound-proof-due-to-so-many-clothes days.   I’ve donated a 100kg of clothes to  a farm community in Fujinomiya in Japan.  It is like a type of consumerist obesity that I am trying to overcome.

Growing up in the 80s, I recall us kids making fun of students or teachers who didn’t update their wardrobe from the 70s.  Winged glasses and bell-bottoms, which by the way, have since made their way back into the magazines several times, were somehow “ridiculous” when they were worn unprescribed–perhaps as “eccentric” as an Edwardian banker suit worn to the mall.  We catch up to celebrities, who are rarely seen wearing an outfit twice, by buying and quickly disposing of fast-fashion knock-offs.  And in HG Wells’ 1960’s classic, the Time Machine, the store window mannequin’s changing fashion is the audience’s first clearest and truest understanding of the passage of time, and perhaps the “progress” of time.  Maybe we would feel left behind and irrelevant if outwardly, we weren’t dressed according to the times no matter how non-sensical and random (wool swim suits or acid wash anyone?); maybe natural selection requires some sort of indication of a sense of psychological relevance in the group in order to seem attractive.  But does it have to be brand name?  Does it have to cost so much?

And what about the concept of feeling “confident” when dressed up nicely?  I can attest to that.  It’s not nothing.  But again, must it be done at the speed of fast fashion?  With inventory stock turnovers every 2 weeks or so at stores?  At the current breakneck rate of resources consumption and unpaid over-time hours of factory workers in low-wage countries?  How is our self-esteem when we inevitably suffer unmanageable debt due to unsuccessfully trying to catch up?

I picked up on this topic through recently researching the “contradiction” that some feminists perceive in other women who claim to be feminists, but also love fashion (presumably a made-to-look-good-for-men concept).  The Love of Fashion also presents contradictions among environmentalists, human rights activists and even in the fashion couture industry itself, which was meant to be high-quality and artisanal but always sells out to licensees for global prestige and profit (OMG, June 12, 2012 update: Maison Martin Margiela Set to Collaborate with H&M–’nuff said.)  And of course, I immediately saw the contradiction in myself regarding trying to be financially responsible.

Our society depends so heavily and deeply on the efficiency of mass production, a logical child of the industrial revolution, that the issue is further complicated when we realize that because of such efficiency models, more intellectually stimulating jobs, more affordability of things that make our standards of living higher, consequently, a bigger middle-class and the physiological health to even fight for things like feminist-, human-, civil- and environmental rights have been made possible.  We’ve been straight climbing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with our updated handbags, watches and haircuts, with the gall and luxury to look back and complain.  It’s when our consumer market thrives and expands, that our senses of rights and entitlements grow.  Through shopping, we’ve become liberated.

Such complicated monsters we are.  Or I am, if I speak for myself.

So, are we morally compromised from ever being able to make a case for any type of reflection or change?  Probably.  The theoretical global consequence of  even our sneeze is strangely what we are trying to leverage in terms of awareness of problems created by such a system of efficiency and interconnectivity in the first place.  We are the hated paparazzi to our own narcissism needed to make others care about us and our cause.  And for this particular blog post’s topic, we are impoverishing ourselves financially by increasing the feeling of enriching ourselves socially.

This huge pustule of a conundrum sits right in the middle of my face every time I look in the mirror.  I think I just have to put up with it.  My strategy is to slowly do things differently.  Mindless shopping?  Mindful. $500 on new crap every month?  $50.  Sale? Skip it. New handbag? Make one.  New shoes?  Repair some old ones.

Like the Chinese parable of “moving a mountain” by slowly taking a step backward every day.  The mountain won’t ever go away, but it’s all about perspective.

I recently UNsubscribed to a trendy fashion site one fateful day they came up with this drivel (below).  I don’t want to directly link to them to save you all from brain cancer.  But you might already be able to extrapolate from these freeze frames.  I was heartened to see that most of the feedback recognized what blatant, stupid consumerism really looks like.  It’s horribly telling when the staff responds with some brand-sponsor pandering tripe.  Yup, such things exist:

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Posted in: people's stories