What is consumer culture?
The Oxford dictionary defines consumer culture as "cultures in which mass consumption and production both fuel the economy and shape perceptions, values, desires, and constructions of personal identity." In simpler terms, it's the idea that buying stuff makes us happy. This idea is harmful not only to our mental health, but the environment, too.
In 1955, retail analyst Victor Lebow remarked "We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate”. Since ‘burning up’ is no longer the way we want to approach the world, it’s probably about time we made some changes.
It’s no surprise that with recent events, so many of us took advantage of next day delivery offers in an attempt to spark some joy amidst the bleak reality of 2020. From clothes, to crochet kits, to scented candles, lockdown affected all of our spending habits, but what do we do when the gimmick of owning something new has worn off?
Covid and consumer culture
Parcels were arriving on doorsteps left, right and centre, but how long does that burst of joy really last? Well, that depends on what you buy. Items like bicycles, books, and a TV are all examples of products that provide a lasting satisfaction as they open the door to exploring new experiences to stimulate the mind. Since most of 2020 was spent indoors, there weren’t exactly many opportunities for new experiences, so instead, we found comfort in the short term purchases - like clothing.
The money typically spent on valuable life experiences such as going out with friends, or going on holiday was spent on buying material goods to scratch that itch. Since we were no longer going out out, lockdown saw a huge increase in the loungewear market. With the growing trend of online workout classes, gone were the days of tailored trousers, button-down blouses, and skimpy skirts; instead, we stocked our wardrobes with athleisure apparel and accessories.
This could be a good move for fast fashion, really. Pre-covid, the world of fashion was caught up in a trend-driven cycle of throw-away fashion. Bad for the planet, and bad for our mental health. In recent years, with the rise of fast fashion brands such as Shein, it’s almost been impossible to keep up with the latest trends, leaving buyers feeling less than satisfied with their latest purchase after only a few wears. However, here enters the trusty pair of joggers, a multifunctional product that can be worn in or out of the home. Dressed up or dressed down. A staple piece that can be worn in multiple ways, with multiple uses, seems like the perfect piece to combat fast fashion, all whilst from the comfort of your couch.
Making do and mending
So, what about all our of pre-conscious purchases? Is it possible to breathe new life into our old wardrobe? The answer is, of course, yes. More and more fashion lovers are adopting the ‘Make Do and Mend’ ethos, the idea that our clothes don’t need to be thrown away when they’re showing signs of wear.
First introduced as a government-backed scheme in World War II, Make Do and Mend was designed to reduce clothing and textile waste in a time of shortages and rationing. However, making the most of what we’ve got is great for our carbon footprint, as the fashion industry is amongst the most damning for the environment. Learning a few simple sewing tricks will allow you to keep on wearing your favourite pieces for years to come. Skills like darning, patchwork, replacing zips and hemming may all take a bit of practice, but it’s worth investing the time to save you the cash in the long run.
According to Sue Thomas’ Fashion Ethics, “Darned garments in the past were a positive sign of frugality and thrift. If the darn was discreet and skilful, there was no shame. In fact, it demonstrated there was someone in the wearer's family who could darn and cared about them looking neat.” So, if you or someone you love possess the skills to mend a piece of clothing, wear it with pride! If not, a quick Youtube search will throw up hundreds of tutorials showing you all you need to know. Being fashion conscious is something to be proud of - despite the pressure of keeping up with trends.
It's important to remember that money can’t buy happiness, and it's also important to remember that it’s impossible to be the perfect consumer. As humans, it’s inevitable that our actions impact the planet in one way or another- but we can make conscious choices to buy better and still look super snazzy whilst doing it.