Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On fashion and consumption

When my future mother-in-law gave me “Funny Face” as a gift, I was thrilled. I was even more thrilled when I saw what the film was about – Audrey Hepburn, an intelligent and intellectual young woman, is swept up in the tempting world of fashion. I was excited to learn something about how the two worlds could be reconciled: the purer virtues of knowledge versus the fun frivolity of fashion.
What I got instead was a film that glossed over the issue by creating a fashion-y love interest and a sleazy philosopher-villain. Sigh.
I spend a lot of time wondering about my interest in fashion, and how it fits into my world. My dad’s biggest hobby is thrift shopping, to the point that I have called him the Imelda Marcos of pants. He has owned literally hundreds of pairs of the things. I’ve inherited this love of thrift shopping. As a result, my wardrobe has a turnover not unlike a character on a TV show (though I do actually rewear clothing). It seems justifiable because the individual items are so cheap, but, over time, it all adds up: I’ve got a closet that’s nearly full and a wallet that’s close to empty.
Not only is this a bad thing from a financial perspective, but it’s also an intellectual dilemma. At school, I study international development; we talk about how countries all over the world change through time, and what that means. After years of study, I feel that I’m qualified to say that the current trends towards consumerism and materialism are unsustainable. If every country in the world becomes like developed countries are now, the planet won’t have the resources to support us all.
If we lived modestly, this wouldn’t be a problem. But we don’t. We live in a world of disposable items and quick obsolescence. Don’t like your current iPod? Don’t worry, there’ll be a new model next year. Your blender broke? It’s cheaper to buy a new one than to replace the single flimsy plastic piece that broke. Very few things are built to last, and we’re encouraged by the advertising industry to throw things away and start afresh. A prime example of this is, of course, the world of fashion.
But I love fashion. The excitement of a new dress or the thrill of the hunt on a sales rack or in a thrift store is a pretty great feeling. Even though I rarely buy things at full price, I am definitely contributing to the problem. So how do I slow down and tell myself that I don’t need a new cardigan to match that skirt? Do I give up caring about fashion altogether? It sounds a bit silly, yes, but for me it is a valid concern. What do I do? What about you?

Elaine, the budget-conscious fashionista helming Clothed Much, one of my favorite fashion blogs.

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