I love a bargain as much as the next hopped-up, crossed-eyed consumer. I get it, I do. I totally understand the clammy excitement of nabbing something 90% polyester and 50% off- it makes the synapses fizzle and hiss. You got the thing you never knew you needed, and at half price! What could be better?
The truth is, we are hard-wired into needing (or at least thinking we need) whatever the latest thing galloping past our eyes is.
In caveman times, it would have been a rabbit or a bison. Hunt it down and make it yours and you could fry up the meat with a little garlic and rosemary (what? They weren’t MONSTERS) in your nice cave-kitchen, providing sustenance for yourself and your tribe of cave-brats, and *bonus* have a nice little pelt to wrap around your neck to keep the chill off at the next sacrificial orgy.
So far so obvious. We need to need, it’s what keeps us alive (and makes us look great while we’re doing it).
So- we’re coming to the end of the feeding-frenzy that is that is known officially as ‘The January Sales’ and unofficially as ‘The Nearest Thing to Hell on Earth Except the Outside of the Bingo Hall in Tooting Broadway on a Friday’. This time in the consumer calendar crystallizes all that is terrifying and wrong about our attitudes to shopping in general, and clothes shopping in particular.
Brands and shops have been slashing their prices left, right, and you’ve guessed it, centre, in order to get rid of last season’s crap. And crap it most certainly is, let’s not kid ourselves.
But we love a bargain, don’t we?
Paying less than you would have done 5 weeks earlier for the same old thing now gives the impression that you’ve got one up on the people who made it, the people who sold it to you and everyone else you elbowed out of the way. You’ve won, you’ve beaten the system, go you!
Consuming this ‘fast fashion’ is filling in an addictive way, like Doritos. But like Doritos, they never leave you truly satisfied, and quickly you’re brushing the orange dust from your t-shirt (and chin, let’s be real) and going back in for another handful, convinced that this will be your last but knowing you won’t stop until there’s an empty packet in your lap and an ominous gurgling in your belly.
But, as old Bobby D once crooned- the times are indeed a’changin. And it’s weird that I feel so very in step with the changes. (I’m normally so out of sync with ‘da yooth’ that I might as well be my own grandfather- don’t look at my CD collection).
As previously mentioned, my natural habitat was rampantly combing the sale rails and lodging myself upside down in a bargain bin.
But over the course of last year, I started to feel less and less comfortable with the idea that my t-shirt (a snip at £3) had needed over 2,700 litres of water to make. (Three years-worth of drinking water, FYI).
Clothing has the fourth largest environmental impact after housing, transport, and food. Now I love the old Routemaster London buses, and a taxi after a night out, and I love potato dauphinoise and salami slices straight out of the packet (be still my greased-soaked heart), and I love housing obviously, but I love clothes the most. I love what you can say with them, and how they can make you feel, and the idea that they might be hurting the planet more than we ever knew made me feel incredibly sad and overwhelmingly guilty.
My selfish need for ‘good value’ and the subsequent careless disposal when whichever ‘good value’ item broke or ripped or became misshapen after one wash, was having a bigger environmental impact than if I took an aeroplane to work every day.
Consequently, there has been a slow but sure shift in the way I add and subtract to my wardrobe. I have been ‘investing’ in clothes in a way I never have before. And by this, I mean spending uncomfortable amounts of money. But hear me out: Instead of spending that same dosh on a huge Dorito-style haul from Zara or ASOS (fun at the time, but unsustainable and definitely not one of my five-a-day) I have been putting that amount towards things that will go the distance.
Now, higher quality stuff usually means higher price points. And that means one or two carefully chosen, preferably classically designed and well-made items that slot neatly into my wardrobe rather than the usual jumble sale of quick-fix acrylic and loose sequins.
It’s funny how quickly I came around to it. The initial sharp inhalation of breath at spending ‘HOW MUCH?!’ on a coat, say, or a pair of winter boots, or proper quality denim, gave way to a relaxed reassurance that I would be wearing or using said item #everydamnday. Instead of languishing unworn or used only a couple of times, these newer, quality pieces quickly became hard-working stalwarts (because if you’ve spent all your money on just a few things, you’re gonna wear them, aren’t you? Like, ALL the time). The fabled ‘cost-per-wear’ algorithm means that quite quickly, you’re feeling smug as a bug in a well-made rug.
And that’s pretty much how I shop now.
I haven’t been on ASOS in forever (not strictly true actually, I bought some discounted Nike trainers to go to a terrifyingly named BODYPUMP class, what is my life?) but I haven’t set foot in Zara for a good while (partly because the aforementioned sales tend to hit Zara pretty hard and it’s like trying to conduct a pub quiz in a migraine, when the rest of your team are cats).
Obviously the high-street is great (and more and more stores like H&M and Mango are developing ‘conscious’ ranges that use ethically sourced materials and have transparent trading policies with manufacturers) and where you can find some amazing products at reasonable prices-I’m not suggesting splashing out simply for the sake of splashing out- but I’ve found this personal modification in the way I consume and shop for clothes interesting, as well as relevant to these cultural shifts around our preoccupation with the effects of our consumption on the environment, and it is what I will be bringing to my blog in the coming weeks and months.
Once I’ve finish my Doritos.