Oscar Wilde famously said that “fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months”. These days though we have weekly collections hitting our favourite apps and bombarding our inboxes. And those BIG RED SALE signs are far more frequent than the once-a-year Christmas Sales I remember getting excited about as a teenager.
Months before Ibiza’s closing parties, Topshop start flogging their Summer bits. You’ll no doubt find a recent purchase you haven’t yet removed the tag from flopping gracelessly from the sale rails. Weeks before Christmas, ASOS will hit first with a 30% off code. Followed a couple of days later by THE SALE.
Are they sending us a subliminal message so they will always be one step ahead? Telling you that you will never reach the fashion nirvana of being fashionable. And your bias cut midi skirt that was sold out constantly for the four weeks it was en vogue, is now desperately outdated and fit only for the bargain bin? I remember reading that the ombre hair trend came out of the economic downturn in the late 2000s. The upkeep of a full head of highlights every six weeks was no longer affordable to most women. Ombre locks could be worn for months without needing to visit a hairdresser, so it thrived.
The Frugal Everywoman
We tend to think that celebrities and the rich instigate trends but they merely elevate them. It is the frugal Everywoman whose own tightening purse-strings created this one as a reaction to an economic recession. In light of this, perhaps a quickening of pace when it comes to fashion is a direct result of growth in our economy. And this was after the deepest recession since the Second World War.
To make an argument on the impact the economy has on fashion you can look at Liverpool in the 80s as an example. It was a million metaphorical miles from the Wolf of Wall Street fashions when I was born, and economically it had been crushed.
Shell Suits and Trainers
Our shell suits and Adidas trainers were a retort to their equally shiny suits, expensive watches and mobile phones. Liverpool was flashy in its own way. Despite widespread unemployment due to the closing of the docks and shrinking of its manufacturing output (cheers, Thatcher).
Plenty of research has shown how societal structures, class systems and politics are embedded in language, and preserved in its use. Fashion can be viewed as an extension of this as an expression of self. Liverpool has always been a proud city. The ridiculed shell suits were a way to communicate a sense of worth Showcasing what we could afford when we saved.
My friends in the mid to late 90s were dressed in Oilily dresses with matching hairbands. Salmon pink Bon-Bleu trackies, Fiorucci and Paul Smith bits from Wade Smith. Evisu jeans with the paint squiggle on the back. They had Christmas clothes, Easter clothes, going-round-your-nans-for-tea clothes, and they always looked BRILLIANT. There was an upturn in the economic downturn. We were becoming a tourist destination for our refurbed docks and we showed it through the way we dressed.
I use ‘we’ to include a broad section of the population of Liverpool during this time but actually neither of my parents are from Liverpool. I think this contributed to the absence of Christmas/Halloween/Shrove Tuesday clothes in my household.
My earliest memories of buying clothes was at the Woolworths at the bottom of my road. I vividly remember picking out a dress from the Ladybird range which I found years later. It had age 3-4 on the label. At that tender age I was already feeling the thrill of choosing a piece of clothing that was my own. I started to associate the action with happiness.
While even ten years ago I would’ve balked at buying more than one item of clothing a month, nevermind a week, there are still more memories which could have contributed to the ease with which I became as much a consumer of fast fashion. Just as the brands wanted me to be.
Frenzied trips to Tammy girl, adrenaline pumping as I ran up the stairs from Etam. Wearing purple and black stripy tights and a Kangol beret at an 11th birthday party and all the mums saying I looked ‘trendy’. Doing well in an exam and my mum saying I could choose something from Topshop – how proud I was to finally own something in an adult size.
Where Does It End?
But these flashes are only memories because they were few and far between. And as the pace with which I buy and click and consume increases, the buzz decreases. In twenty years time if I can recall the two jumpers, cardigan, midi dress, leather boots and woven slingbacks I’ve bought in the past week I will be shocked.
The thing with ‘fast fashion’ though- is where does it end? I didn’t always need a yearly subscription for next day delivery. And I certainly wasn’t brought up in a family where money was easily parted with but I have indeed fallen into this trap.
The fashion industry used to sell us the concept of a capsule wardrobe, buying less and choosing well. But discerning consumerism simply doesn’t work for the producers of fast fashion. Their success relies on telling us we need to buy more to get ahead. But while the deep-seated associations I’ve made between fashion and happiness is not something I can entirely blame them for, I have made the decision that this is one relationship I simply can’t afford to support anymore.