Fashion Victims

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There is a new book out – Overdressed – The shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline. To be honest, I want to read the book but I’m already a convert so I don’t know if I’m willing to shell out the $13 for the Kindle version (a great Christmas gift, by the way).

 Back in 2003, Michelle Lee wrote Fashion Victim – Our Love-Hate Relationship with Dressing, Shopping and the Cost of Style, which I just finished reading. While Cline’s book seems to focus more on the manufacturing process of clothes – the pollution, exploitation of human labor and inherent waste of cheap fashion, (and not having read it yet, I stress that I am making assumptions based on reviews I’ve read), Lee’s book skims the surface of those issues and is more focused on our mentality as a consumer towards fashion. As she states in the epilogue, “Whether you rejoice over or bemoan fashion’s staying power, hopefully some of the words in this book have opened your eyes to the way fashion affects your life and the lives of others.” 

Here are some points that stuck with me from this book:

“McFashion stores will have effectively pushed originality from our closets. Eventually we’ll forget that our clothes can serve as a creative extension of ourselves. And we’ll be a society of outrageously boring dressers.”

Our culture is becoming homogenized – we eat the same foods, we buy the same clothes. We don’t want to take risks and strive to fit in. Most of us like to think we’re unique and would scoff at being called a conformist, but that’s what we’ve become. What a shame. Luckily, I think that this is starting to turn around a little bit (remember this book was written in 2003). I think the whole handmade, refashion movement is helping revitalize individuality and originality. At least I hope it is. I personally love to shop the art & crafts shows for one-of-a-kind pieces and support craftspeople.

 “It’s infinitely sad to see shopping quickly eclipsing other, more rewarding activities (art, reading, volunteering) in popularity. Something is seriously wrong when we’d rather spend three hours at the mall than with friends at the park, and when our main motivation for taking a trip across the country is to visit the hot new destination mall (which has the same exact stores you would find in your local mall – Lynn). The act of shopping may offer us temporary respite from our daily worries, but consumerism adds few lasting benefit to our lives.” (emphasis mine)

No wonder depression is on the rise. Everyone is living their lives on the surface instead of really digging deep into their relationships, passions, talents and interests. What do you get when you go shopping? A momentary high that just puts you deeper into debt. Shopping fuels the emptiness in our soul while forging meaningful relationships, doing creative work (you get to define what that is based on your passions and interests), helping others and growing as a human being by challenging yourself fill that void.

 “Fashion Victims hate to think that workers are being exploited but we love our inexpensive clothes. We feel some level of pity towards workers who earn pennies for each shirt they make, but usually not enough to do anything about it. We shake our heads at news of big name retailers caught up in sweatshop scandals but don’t stop shopping at their stores.” (emphasis mine)

Two points here. The first is: we vote with our dollars. Throughout the book Lee talks more than once about the “injustices” that the fashion industry makes and how we don’t like it but still continue to buy from the offenders. Are we just a nation of hypocrites or are we all leading unexamined lives?  Second, everyone deserves a fair wage for their contribution. If you accept the exploitation of third country workers, how soon do you think it will be before someone is trying to exploit you? It’s all connected.

 “So, can we ever know if our clothes were sewn under good working conditions? I posed the question one day to (MIT’s) Dara O’Rourke. After half-heartedly giving me the obligatory answer that some brands are better than others, he paused and conceded, ‘If you sewed it yourself, you might know.’ “

I point this particular quote out because I am a sewer. My fashion philosophy has changed a lot over my 40+ years. I used to live for shopping and had the debt and the full closet with “nothing to wear” to prove it. I understand the power of looking good but I also understand that it doesn’t just come from your clothes. It comes from knowing your values and living them, knowing yourself and being secure in who you are. I am working on making myself a real working wardrobe – clothes for work and play. Clothes that flatter my figure, are made of natural fibers, easy to care for (no dry cleaning) and classic so I can wear them for years with proper care. I am using reclaimed fibers because I want to leave a smaller footprint and the challenge of finding them is as fun for me as is actually making the items.  I want to look good, but I also have other things to do with my life – places I want to experience, relationships I hope to deepen, new things I want to learn.  I don’t want to be bothered with the endless question of “what should I wear?” and waste valuable time shopping. I want to be confident knowing that whatever I throw on will look good when I leave the house to go about the adventure of living my life.

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