During my childhood in the 80s fashion was an event. New outfits coincided with birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Summer holidays and school discos. My memories of these events are permeated with images of meticulously chosen ensembles, perfect for each occasion.
The pink 50s crepe skirt with matching twin-set and pumps I proudly paraded around in for Easter lunch, the black and gold-flecked puffball dresses that my sisters and I all wore on Christmas day. How about the mustard pleated pants with braces (oh yes!) I chose for my first ‘under 16s night’. We took nothing for granted and enjoyed each new and exciting fashion moment as if it were our first.
As I ‘designed’ outfits on my Fashion Wheel and cut out pictures from the Marshall Ward catalogue, I dreamed of the day I would have the independence and luxury of choosing and paying for my own wardrobe of to-die-for outfits.
Business-minded from an early age, I regularly called the local florists, greengrocers and newsagents in search of the Holy Grail that was the Saturday Job and when a friend’s dad scored us roles as kitchen hands in one of the pubs he managed, we thought we’d won the lottery – not that we knew what the lottery was back then of course.
I can still remember my first ever pay packet. A small brown envelope with my name in the top right-hand corner. Inside, a light blue pay-slip, multitudes of pound coins (my share of the week’s tips) and the biggest bundle of notes I’d ever held in my hand outside of a game of Monopoly.
Financial independence at the age of 15 felt good and I knew exactly where to go. Formerly Chelsea Girl, the newly launched River Island was new to Liverpool city centre and everyone was talking about it. Getting the bus home carrying one of their carrier bags felt SO sophisticated. I was thrilled with my maroon jeans and dark green tapestry waistcoat, followed closely by a Blossom-style floral dress, velvet shirt and maroon lace-up boots. (Maroon was big in the 90s). It was a momentous milestone indeed as the high-street became my oyster.
The Student Life
Fast forward to life at university in the mid to late 90s and fashion had become more of a convenience. More concerned with friends, the Student Union bar and good times, I remember the outfits (satin shirts and leather mini skirts, anyone?) but not where I shopped or how often.
Every town was now a mish-mash of low-cost, low-quality, fast turnaround pieces that I felt no loyalty towards. Ideal for a student who’d much rather spend her money on low-cost, low-quality bottles of wine. The few items of clothing I deemed worthy of investment were all band merch and I lived in Space, Dodgy and Shed Seven t-shirts.
Just The Ticket
As I started my professional life in London in my twenties my main concern was, ‘how can I look good for less?’ The cost of living was high and disposable fashion was at my fingertips. This was particularly useful during my early years as a temp when I’d be in a corporate office one week and a casual media company the next. And even more-so when I landed my dream job in the film industry.
Questionable sourcing, unethical labour practices and textile waste didn’t even cross my mind as I was able to affordably update my wardrobe on a regular basis. Living on an arts-industry wage, but expected to grace the red carpet on a regular basis, fast fashion was just the ticket.
The Dark Side
Only in my thirties did I start to think about issues like fair trade, child labour and landfill. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my fair share of Primark binges…in fact those binges made me more curious. The more time I spent in jam-packed stores, queuing forever to purchase bags full of product that lasted a couple of wears, the more I questioned what was going on behind the scenes. It took a tragedy like the Rana Plaza collapse to bring a very public conversation about the dark side of fashion to my attention and I’ve been curious ever since.
Now in my forties we live more than ever in a culture of instant gratification and are consuming fashion at dizzying rates. My love affair with fashion continues, but I’m making much more of a conscious effort to consider the impact of this mammoth industry on people and on the planet. I still shop on the high street, but I mostly buy only when my wardrobe really needs it and I have an (at least) one in, one out policy with regular visits to my local charity shop.
My aim for 2019 is to invest in more ethical, durable pieces and to edit my wardrobe even further. I’ll reclaim fashion as an event…although I’ll keep the Christmas puffball dress firmly as a memory!