When I was little, I remember shopping with my mother and grandmother. Grandmother would pick up a garment, roll up the hem and point toward the stitching with a frown on her face. Mom would nod in agreement and then grandmother would put the item back on the rack. Grandma’s lips would thin at dresses with no linings and button holes with inadequate stitching.
Grandma lived through the Depression. Most of us don't understand the how frugal the average family had to be just to exist. Food was a priority, meat was a luxury. My grandmother could carefully remove the thread from a skirt's hemline so that she could use it again to shorten the length. Let that sink in...reusing a thread so you didn't have to buy a new spool.
Clothing, in her opinion, should be well-made. A woman should be able to wear her purchase for quite some time without fears that a seam would rip or a button would be lost. Or that the whole thing would fall apart in the washing machine.
Fashion came secondary.
I can’t say I disagree with her priorities. But let's talk about fashion-because it’s a matter of some confusion to me.
The original designers fashioned clothing to be flattering to your body type. Fashion, in this form, is an art. But somehow it evolved into something different. A status symbol. Fashion became wearing someone’s label...becoming a human billboard to advertise their goods. And if you were going to use your body to advance someone’s profession, shouldn’t you get reimbursed instead of paying for this opportunity? I don’t get it.
Remember the fairy tale about the Emperor’s new clothes? No?
Let me tell you about it... it’s one of my favorites.
In 1837, Hans Christian Andersen wrote a tale about two weavers who talked the Emperor into buying a new suit. This suit promised something special. It would be invisible to anyone who was "hopelessly stupid”.
The weavers displayed the imaginary fabric with a flourish. With theatrical gestures, they expertly wove the non-existent material into the glorious new apparel. But there was a problem.
The Emperor couldn't see his own new suit. And he was ashamed and unwilling to admit it.
So, he paraded around with nothing on.
(I posted this picture of a throne instead of naked Emperor. You didn't need to see that.)
Everyone was afraid of saying anything to the Emperor and being exposed as being stupid. Except for one innocent young boy who declared...
“But he isn’t wearing anything at all”
Even in 1837, it wasn't a new theme. A similar story circulated in Spain in 1335 and in India in 1283.
What does it come down to? "Fashion is an emotional decision, not a rational one.." according to Susanna Koelblin. Let's chose to use our heads when we're buying clothing. She says that while 60% of us are interested in sustainable clothing, only 30% purchased it. She had an interesting article that you can read here.
Let's follow Patagonia's example. In 2011 they ran an amazing campaign starting with an ad in the New York Times. In huge letters, above a picture of one of their coats, the page declared, "Don't Buy This Jacket". When asked why they did this, this was their response:
It’s time for us as a company to address the issue of consumerism and do it head on.
The most challenging, and important, element of the Common Threads Initiative is this: to lighten our environmental footprint, everyone needs to consume less. Businesses need to make fewer things but of higher quality. Customers need to think twice before they buy.
Why? Everything we make takes something from the planet we can’t give back. Each piece of Patagonia clothing, whether or not it’s organic or uses recycled materials, emits several times its weight in greenhouse gases, generates at least another half garment’s worth of scrap, and draws down copious amounts of freshwater now growing scarce everywhere on the planet.
Let's start looking at hems. Let's buy quality and expect it to last more than a single season. Let's consider what a person says and does...instead of what logo they carry on their garments.
Full disclosure: I've purchased and worn items from Costco, Walmart, Target, consignment stores...and I'll do it again. But I'll also start shopping Patagonia because I love what they stand for.