Monday, July 8, 2013


Fast Fashion and the "Economy of Unquenchable Desire"

At Blouin Art Info, a cogent piece about the fashion industry, why it's easy to dismiss, and why it's important not to do so:

The trickle-down trajectory of fashion — beginning with the spectacle of the seasonal runways and ending on the anarchic sale racks of trend-oriented cheapie stores like H&M and Zara — fuels an economy of unquenchable desire and voracious lack. In this light, fashion seems not only vapid, but somehow malignant: a bastard child of culture, a trivial pursuit of the superrich, an aspirational fallacy, and a pandering solicitation of the male gaze.

Fashion — conventional wisdom tells us — trafficks in unobtainable images of female beauty, sexualizes the bodies of prepubescent girls, and feeds a culture of body dysmorphia, fat shaming, and self-hatred. Even highbrow fashion journalism often falls prey to the essentialist binaries of pearl-clutching chastity or objectified hypersexuality.

Chloe Wyma argues that the most salient vantage point on fashion is one that concerns labor, alienation, and the massive gap between presentation and production. "The aspirational spectacle of advertising and glossy magazine editorials promises us an aestheticized vision of the world," she writes, "but — for most of us — what fashion delivers is an aesthetically impoverished regime of disposable rags cobbled together by deskilled sweat labor." She continues:

To criticize fashion is not to advocate for an ascetic renunciation of all earthly possessions, nor is it to campaign for some sartorial regime of sexless functionalist uniforms. “Commodity fetishism” is sometimes used as a kind of academic longhand for materialism. It seems fetishistic to invest too much emotional value in mere stuff. But the problem with the fashion industry isn’t that it invests too much importance in objects; it’s precisely the opposite. “The commodity,” writes fashion scholar Ann Rosalind Jones, “comes to life through the death of the object…A shoe manufacturer who is obsessed with the particular shoes he makes is almost certainly a failed capitalist.” At the risk of sounding preachy or precious, I’m arguing for slow fashion: an industry that cares about the provenance and objecthood of our clothes, one that includes local, ethically made, and used or vintage when possible. If we dismiss fashion, we relinquish our power to change it.

Wyma also cites the statistic that half a century ago, nearly 100% of clothing in America was manufactured domestically, but that today, domestic production is at 2%. My own wardrobe certainly reflects that; I'm careless with possessions and don't like to spend a lot of money on clothes, so I still buy almost everything at fast-fashion stores. I am not proud of this habit, and I am skeptical that foreign garment factory conditions will change on a large scale even after agreements like the recent one that H&M and Zara signed after the four-figure casualty fire in Bangladesh, but I still find myself going back for more. Anyone have a go-to alternative?

h/t Emily

100 Comments / Post A Comment


I try to focus on quality over quantity, and I buy US made items as much as possible. I shop sales at stores and can find premium denim that's made in the US for $100, whereas a pair from Urban Outfitters would run about $68. It costs more, and I know not everyone can afford the difference.

And aside from the ethical reasons to not shop at fast fashion stores, the quality is also terrible and the clothing often looks worn out super quickly.

Basically I'm no saint, but I'm trying!


@olivia Where do you get your made-in-the-US jeans?/What brand?


@rosinator J Brand, Citizens of Humanity and Rag and Bone jeans are made in the US. (Some of their fabrics aren't made in the USA though.) Then there are smaller brands like Raleigh Denim and Imogene and Willie that are 100% made in the USA. I scope out tons of websites for sales when I'm on a denim hunt, from the big department stores (Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Barneys, Piperlime) to the boutique websites (Shopbop, Revolve, etc.) If you know your size in a certain brand you can order then without trying them on, or even if you don't most are returnable and a lot of places have free shipping.


If it wasn't for fast-fashion, I wouldn't have a wardrobe. It's all I can afford!


@Slutface Exactly! And honestly, I feel sort of awful when people lump Urban Outfitters into fast fashion... because I wish I could even afford that.


@nina! Indeed -Zara isn't cheapie! Zara's almost aspirational from my perspective.


Yes, seriously. Zara has some cheap-ticket items to lure you in but the vast majority of their stuff is pretty expensive, from my perspective. And Urban Outfitters is totally expensive, too. There's a huge gap. Places like Zara and Urban Outfitters sell jeans for $50, $60 dollars. Forever21 sells them for $10.50.


It's goodwill, salvation army, thrift stores and the like that keep me from buying "fast-fashion". If you're into fashion or dressing yourself a certain way already, I feel like there is little thrill in shopping at a place where everything is automatically "in". At least with goodwill-type places, you have to actually try.


@elsaschneider yeah. I thrift a lot of my clothes. And I try and by locally made things when I can. And then there is the siren song of Target.


@elsaschneider I'm not trying to start anything, and God knows I love to thrift shop, but I feel like a major reason thrift stores/secondhand stores even exists is fast-fashion and its ilk. If large numbers of people couldn't afford to give away clothes before they wear them out, thrift stores wouldn't exist, especially not on the scale that we see today. I think that fast-fashion places (and fast-not-necessarily-so-fashionable places like Old Navy and Macy's) are a big part of that. So while I think thrift stores are great, I don't know that they're a true alternative to fast-fashion as much as a byproduct.


@elsaschneider Yes! And the lovely thing about buying used is that you can see how something stands up to wearing and washing. If I've bought a sweater at Goodwill, I know it won't pill because it would have already. There's an awful lot of stained/torn/threadbare junk there, but I can usually pick out a couple of dress or skirts or cardigans that are in good shape and will likely hold up to my abuse, plus they're cheaper than even going to Target or Sears and buying new. Forget fashion; I will never be fashionable. I just like having a source for my generic work look that I can afford!

Faintly Macabre

@RoyRogersMcFreely That's definitely true to an extent, but there will always be people who give nice things away because they have money and shop too much or whose tastes or needs or sizes have changed. I have high standards for thrifted clothes and a good eye, and I've thrifted plenty of designer/non-fast-fashion clothes that were new or almost new, or just needed a bit of altering to be up-to-date.

Even when women only owned a few dresses and had to custom-make or order their clothes, trends and fashion still existed and often changed rapidly. The major difference I see is that then, poorer people would just keep wearing good-quality but outdated clothes while the rich changed theirs at whim, but now most people frequently update their wardrobes, just at very different price points. I think it is possible to base your wardrobe around fewer, good-quality, classic items, but that has its own problems, especially since the notion of trends is so entrenched in our culture. I've also seen internet fashion snobs brag of only owning ten perfect items instead of constantly following trends, ignoring that most people can't afford to buy or take care of ten perfect items.

up cubed

@RoyRogersMcFreely: My recollection from when I was a kid, Goodwill (thrift stores in general) had way fewer "modern" fashions, due to the lack of fast-fashion stores. I still shop at Goodwill, but now I easily find items that match current styles.
I do feel a little unease about how my choices (wearing thrifted fast-fashion) perpetuates the process. I'm always honest when people ask where I got something, but if I walk into any fast-fashion retailer, I'm wearing what they are selling. For this reason, I still try to pick clothes from Goodwill that are made under moderately more humane conditions, to alter my clothes (to avoid buying more stuff), and to care for my items ( shoes reheeled, holes patched, etc).


@RoyRogersMcFreely Yes, I definitely see your point— and ultimately that is up to how the person shops. My biggest personal shopping rule is never to buy a pre-worn piece from a brand I wouldn't have paid full price for at a retail store.


So will ethical fashion always be a privilege of the rich? Genuine question. I honestly do not shop often, but the things I need multiples of (white t shirts, summer work dresses) will probably always be beyond my affordability (in the sense of being able to pay $50 per shirt, or $100+ per summer work dress). Perhaps the answer is that I just need to do a better job at rotating my clothes. I don't even consider myself poor and I feel limited by this -- there are plenty of people for which a $50 shirt is out of reach, especially low-income families! What are they to do? I hope this is cross-post to The Billfold because I would love to hear people weigh in on this.


@EleanorHiggsByson If it's plain stuff you're after, have you checked out American Apparel? They're problematic for other reasons (owner is a disgusting creep, objectification of women is in ads and photos online is super offensive, problematic hiring practices, etc.), but the majority of their items are made in the USA. T-shirts there are usually $30 max, and less for the basic stuff. Some basic skirts and dresses are also inexpensive, although the more fashion forward stuff gets pricey.


@EleanorHiggsByson I mean, I guess part of the solution would be not worrying so much about wearing different outfits all the time. For example, I work in an office, so I don't get dirty or sweat much, so I could really wear the same clothes (except underwear, just because of personal preference) for multiple days a week. So in theory, if we all had just a couple really high-quality outfits that lasted a long time, the spending would more or less even out.

On the other hand, quality stuff like that is a big up-front investment, and if you don't have the money on hand and it's your first day of work, you're going to run to H&M or Target or whatever. And of course, it's not fair to put the pressure on people who already can't afford much and tell them to change their habits when people who could afford better are choosing not to.


@olivia It's just... for some people, $30 is still expensive, you know? If I can get basics for a third of the cost that last in the wash if I take good care of it, I will.


@olivia My problem with American Apparel (other than the ones you mentioned) is that they don't fit me. Most of their stuff doesn't come in larger than an XL (or even L), and their XL is smaller than XL at a lot of other manufacturers.


@EleanorHiggsByson I have all kinds of mental rules about clothing prices -- shirts have to cost less than $20, dresses under $30, pants under $40, shoes under $50 -- because I grew up shopping at Goodwill and then, when we had more money, Ross, and my budget as an adult isn't much different than my single mother's. I know I could probably buy one really nice shirt for the price of 3-4 cheap ones, but when you can't afford much quantity is more exciting than quality. Also, even if I moved up a step or two as to where I shopped, I still don't think I'd be buying from companies than treat or pay their workers well, because almost no mainstream fashion does and I work in too conservative an industry to buy from the crunchier companies. So I don't know what to do either.

Edit: American Apparel doesn't do plus/larger sizes and is shitty to women, I do not shop there.


@nina! I totally get that. Their totally plain t-shirts are $18. I know that's not cheap for a lot of people, but it's a lot more attainable than a $50 Splendid t-shirt. I'm no AA lover, but it's a good solution for ethical basics if you can afford to spring for them.


@sophia_h "when you can't afford much quantity is more exciting than quality." THIS IS MY LIFE, EXPLAINED.


@SarcasticFringehead Yep, their sizing is pretty nuts. I can't fit into their women's pants, and I'm a 6-8 elsewhere. They're super problematic in pretty much all categories except the ethically made one.


@olivia I think that's the problem -- I'm not necessarily even talking about clothing for function; I mean the fact that poor people are limited in visual expression of individuality (which I think is a huge part of fashion!) because to be ethical and still live within their means they have to make sacrifices that richer people don't. Plus, in order for good fabrics to last, you probably shouldn't machine wash them, and poor people do not have the time to deal with hand washing, and certainly dry cleaning is no better for the environment. Maybe I think everyone deserves a chance to have it all?? Maybe there's a way of re-purposing vintage shirts with details to make them new, but I see that in NYC boutiques and they still cost hundreds of dollars! Argh.


@sophia_h Right there with you - I find the founder personally repugnant and their policies are disgusting.

Laughable Walrus

@EleanorHiggsByson I think you make some really good points, and I don't have any answers to them (or at least time at work to get very thoughtful about it!) buuut in terms of less-expensive, high-quality stuff: everlane.com. Some of their things get pricey, but their basic t-shirts are $15 and beautifully made. They aren't made in the USA, but they write that they have a commitment to safe factory workplaces.

Edit: whoops, just noticed you posted about them downthread!


I have to admit I tend to leave ethics such as this that involve higher financial costs to people who can better afford to do the right thing. It's like how I don't feel bad for using disposable diapers when I have to (we use cloth as much as possible but for me that's more a cost-saver than an ethical/environmental concern) - leave the g-diaper eco-nappies to the wealthy, or at least those who only have one child.

I guess there's also a part of me that is like, "It's going to get yoghurt or ballpoint pen on it within about 3 days of wearing, so I'm not spending $30 on a t-shirt when I can get one for 8 bucks"


Thrifting, with the occasionally dip into higher-end consignment, is my main wardrobe source and I heartily endorse it BUT it has a few problems: it takes time, which is also a privilege, to flip through all those long, long racks for the thing that is your size AND looks cute AND doesn't have a giant stain in a noticeable place; the fatter you are, the harder a time you will have (which is also true of buying new clothes, but my fatter friends have told me that thrifting is harder for them than buying new if they're really trying to keep costs down); and depending on how old it is, and how well-made it was in the first place, it may not have a lot of wear left in it.

If your ethically sourced thing is also well made -- quality and durable materials, well-assembled -- it will not only last you a much longer time, it'll take mends and alterations better. I have good boots that I bought new (okay, on sale for $40, but still) and the shoemaker has reheeled them twice for me for about $12 each time. Even if I had paid the original $100 or so for them, I'd still be in better shape than if walking on them had destroyed them and necessitated a new pair, so this is particularly recommended for things like shoes where you maybe don't need a weeks' worth of pairs as you might for, say, work shirts.


Clothing swaps can be a good option, too!


Nobody ever carries this particular thought all the way through. "Let's help garment workers in poor countries by eliminating their jobs, so that they can _______________" What goes in the blank?


To put it another way, if you ask a Bangladeshi sweatshop worker "What should we do to make the global fashion industry more equitable for people like you?" it seems unlikely that her answer would be "Make more durable, more expensive clothes in the United States and stop importing them from Bangladesh."


Not that I think most people advocating this particular form of "ethics" have ever tried asking them this question, or even considered doing so.


@stuffisthings You bring up some really good points — not enough people are asking those questions. However, I was under the impression that the conversation was centered on improving working conditions rather than making the clothes in the U.S.? (Maybe I missed something!)


@nina! I'm referring to this line: "local, ethically made, and used or vintage when possible."

There are activists who work on improving conditions in the developing-country garment industry. The vast majority of them are from and live in those countries which is why we rarely hear from them.


@stuffisthings Thanks for the clarification! I agree.


@stuffisthings Stephanie Nolen (I love her!) did a piece about the effects of the garment industry in Bangladesh in the aftermath of the tragedy, that brought up a lot of those points. It was really interesting: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/cheap-clothes-have-helped-fuel-social-revolution-in-bangladesh/article11589450/


@stuffisthings Yes, absolutely. Drives me bonkers how often you hear the same person make these two two points simultaneously, as if there's no tension (unless you resolve it through straightforward nationalism): (1) buy local to preserve local manufacturing jobs, because manufacturing jobs are great; and (2) don't buy foreign goods, because manufacturing jobs are exploitative and bad.

frumious bandersnatch

@stuffisthings Oh, I don't think that's really fair to say that no one advocating this form of "ethics," as you put it, has thought about this question! The arguments for "local" (at least the ones compelling to me) often have a lot to do with reducing the environmental footprint and having more certainty about the regulations keeping the workers healthy and paid. (Although minimum wage has been so stagnant in the US, not sure how compelling this is.)

"Local" is definitely the least important to me, but I really take issue with 'exploitative is better than nothing, soo...' Personally, I don't want to put money into this economy that exploits people, destroys the environment, and perpetuates the ethos of continuous novel consumerism. (I by mostly used clothing.) The people are part of it, but the whole system is broken. I don't think 'keep consuming because not doing so will hurt these people more' is tenable.

I know you're not arguing to maintain the status quo, but almost everyone I've ever talked to about how to do fashion ethically has thought about these issues, so I'm bummed to hear you think they're not. I absolutely think people should learn more about local activism and not think buying in the US absolves them of all problems, but talking about buying ethical/used is a start.


@frumious bandersnatch So, how does buying used or locally made goods help garment workers in developing countries then? You say that "keep consuming because not doing so will hurt these people" is not a tenable argument, but if we banned all garment imports from Bangladeshi sweatshops tomorrow it would have enormous negative consequences on millions of poor people in Bangladesh. If you think that is a worthwhile sacrifice which is likely to result in some better, less exploitative future then please make that explicit. Bonus points if you can explain why it is your right to decide what a good future for Bangladesh looks like.

Also, I'm not necessarily saying that proponents of "ethical fashion" haven't thought about this issue at all -- they just don't seem to have thought to ask the people who they are ostensibly helping what THEY think.

(I'm also not even certain that making clothes in the United States or Europe has a lower environmental impact than making them in Asia or North Africa and shipping them to market on bulk freighters. I'd like to see the impact analysis on that.)


I'm also interested in the "ethical" side, like, how does that work? Who sets the standards? Is $1/hour enough? $2/hour? If you paid $2/hour then garment workers would earn nearly double the median wage in Bangladesh, even working a standard Western workweek. Is that enough or should they get more? What about people in other industries? Etc.

frumious bandersnatch

@stuffisthings Hey c'mon. I did not say I got to decide what's best for Bangladesh, nor did I say I thought we should ban imports tomorrow. The whole point is it's an economy and system I feel uncomfortable contributing to. Perpetuating a system that values consumption and trends allows for a world in which companies are having employees work around the clock to make knockoffs and is super bad for our environment. It normalizes exploitation. "Ethical" is definitely not some bright standard we can achieve, but I think being conscious of where my clothes come from and, when I'm able, paying more for clothes that come from fair labor practices is important. ("Fair" should absolutely be determined by the people affected.) And maybe, crazily, that could help with a slow shift in the market. (I also don't want my money going to companies contributing to causes I find vile.)

I'm not a fair trade activist, but I do try to take some positive steps (like buying from better companies, contributing when I can to local activists). I agree that the people pushing for reform in the fashion industry should talk to the workers affected and have plans in place to concretely improve their lot, and just waving arms about how bad the situation is with no future plans is lazy and dangerous. But man, the "something is better than nothing" argument doesn't seem any better.

ETA: I agree saying "don't buy fast fashion... for the workers!" is wrong, but I don't think contributing to it when you can afford (with time or money) to push for alternative models is really helping anyone. I also don't get the fetishization of local except as a proxy for environmental issues/not supporting big evil corporations/proving that alternative models can flourish.

frumious bandersnatch

@stuffisthings More cogent thoughts: I totally agree that just opting out of a system doesn't do much to change that system, so I try to also take positive steps, and think we should be talking about positive steps alongside any negative ones. But "it's better than no job at all" has been used to justify exploitation forever and I want us to say "Nope! We know it's messy but we're not ok with something being better than nothing, we want to find a fairer world for everyone!"

This might not be possible with capitalism.


I think it's a manifestation of the depth of consumerism in our thinking. There is a problem; the solution must be to change our purchasing patterns.


@stuffisthings How about this: US manufacturing was not historically, and often still is not, a worker-safety party, and yet there are labor laws, worker safety laws, and environmental protection laws in the US. Maybe some of them are not as toothy as would be ideal, but the entirety of the 20th century did help people out a little bit as far as labor protections around here. I don't think anybody is coming at this from an "Eff you, Bangladeshi worker!" point of view, and I don't know the answer.


@stuffisthings I think the "local" is meant to be shorthand for places that have labor laws, and also to cut down on shipping and manufacture of disposable goods. I think then follow-on idea is ethical production throughout the world, perhaps with a higher pay scale and focus on durability and craft over disposability, and perhaps manufacture of good to be used locally (ie, Bangladeshis make clothing for their local economy rather than making clothes for the US that are then later glutted into their own market).

But I think your point is well taken - people need jobs and often those factory jobs, even with their conditions, are safer and better paid than farming and whatever other heavy industry you might otherwise see. The whole thing is a clusterfuck for sure.


I'm late to the thread, but I'll take you up on this.

1) It's distorting the economy in Bangladesh to have so many people concentrated in cities focused on the garment trade. It makes their economy extra-unstable because so specialized/dependent on a single industry (one that is notoriously fickle, too) and discourages investment in other industries. So not buying fast-fashion made there decreases those distortions of the local Bangladeshi economy.

2) There will be less urban misery with fewer clothing factories because people won't think (rightly or wrongly) that there are better-paying jobs in the cities and come to those cities in numbers greater than the numbers of factory jobs available. If people stay in place in their places of origin, they can engage in subsistence farming or animal husbandry instead, which can be a more reliable life-style. And/or creating their own cottage industries instead of being employed as garment workers in multinational factories that don't invest in the local infrastructure because they are neither from Bangladesh nor bound to remain there.

frumious bandersnatch

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll Well, I think consumerism is a whole lotta the problem in the first place.


This article basically says, "Many people dismiss fashion, and those who care about it, as being vapid and materialistic. But look! Foreign sweatshops are terrible, and sometimes modern artists use clothing in their art!"

Both of which are true, but when most people hear "fashion," they think of models, styles, and next season's sales.

I always remember that scene in "The Devil Wears Prada," where Meryl Streep and her flunkies are agonizing over which belt buckle to use, and Anne Hathaway just sort of smirks because, belt buckles, seriously? And Streep responds, well, let me find the quote:

"'This... stuff'? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select... I don't know... that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise. It's not lapis. It's actually cerulean. And you're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent... wasn't it who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff. "

And because Meryl Streep is awesome, we're supposed to be impressed with that speech. Except... it's complete bull- Hathaway (a character who doesn't care about fashion) probably just grabbed the sweater off of a clearance rack, and bought it because it looked pretty and was cheap. It doesn't matter that the cerulean sweater was the end result of a thousand fashionistas deciding what next fall's style was- she'd have bought it if it was just plain "blue."

So, yeah. It's true that there are a lot of moving parts in the fashion industry (the same as most modern industries), and that with those moving parts come various complications and influences on life- economics, art, feminism, plus many more.

But that doesn't stop me from judging, just a little, someone who is obsessed with finding a matching pair of shoes for her top.


@beetnemesis shoes-matched-to-tops for LYFE. (although you're probably right about the fashion thing - sometimes you're wearing low-rise jeans because that's all anyone fucking MADE this year, not because you want to.


@beetnemesis I think you have an excellent point - just because a lot of jobs go into making cigarettes, for example, doesn't automatically make them a cultural good.

But there's also the issue where, in our society, people who are obsessed with (or even interested in) fashion are denigrated a lot more than people who are, say, obsessed with technology. There's a gendered issue here, where we think of fashion as being vapid, and, oh what a coincidence, a thing that girls are into, and technology or sports as valid interests (not that everyone sees them this way) and, oh look another coincidence, something that boys like. I think that kind of attitude can also obstruct reforms, like, "oh, stop being so shallow and just wear durable clothes."


@SarcasticFringehead Agreed! And the way that fashion complicates and influences those other aspects of life and individuality is not trivial. Just think of the school/work uniforms you've had to wear in your life and what that means regarding what you should represent to the world. Not everyone has to be interested in fashion, but we're all influenced by it.


@SarcasticFringehead I think you're right that people look down on fashion because it's considered feminine, but I think the causality also works in the other direction -- women were socialized to care more about fashion because a) we were considered "the decorative sex" and b) we weren't supposed to worry our pretty little heads about important things.

Of course there are big cultural moments where fashion played an important part in social movements, etc. but by and large, following the latest trends on the runway IS frivolous. Not to say that we aren't all allowed to be frivolous sometimes, but I think it's fair to call it what it is.


@beetnemesis This was the exact reaction I had to that scene -- I thought it was meant to show how out-of-touch Meryl Streep's character was and how she was so steeped in the Bizarro World of fashion that she didn't understand that none of that ultimately mattered to Anne Hathaway's character, but then it turned out to be some kind of profound, revelatory moment or something.

Hot Doom

@beetnemesis I disagree that the points in Streep's speech are "bull" (I have lots of issues with that film, but that bit stood out as one of the few things that made sense). I think there is a lot of truth in that the choices people make reflect a trickle-down system based on what designers, PR, marketers and editors decide. As design concepts reach different classes, whether in the form of a direct copy, silhouette, color, print, or a type of textile, they do affect the choices we make as consumers, in deciding whether or not we want to buy something, and why. I do think, that with new(er) forms of dissemination, like blogs and social media, this trickle-down system is becoming less relevant in some ways, but for the most part, it is still going strong, and adapting to new media. As you say, and as @sarcasticfringehead points out, the cycling and consumption of fashion are rife with problems of class, gender, race and culture, and are tied up with how and why we want to present ourselves in a certain way. Why do you judge someone who is obsessed with buying a pair of shoes to match a top? I'm not going after you, I'm just curious as to why you would care one way or the other, and the implications about that person. To me, snarking on those choices people make to identify themselves through what they wear (like Andy does in Devil Wear Prada) reflects those different socio-economic issues, and can serve to enforce distinctions in class, culture and ideologies, and is not a far cry from a Gucci-wearer who looks down on someone who wears Coach, who looks down on someone who wears Forever 21.

I'm not saying the whole fashion machine and its associations are not really problematic. I just take issue with the dismissal of Fashion as not very important to how we choose to present ourselves (based on who else wears what, where it comes from, how much it costs, etc), why, and how the changes and cycles of fashion are important to identity.

Full disclosure and TL;DR version: I'm really into fashion (and Fashion as a concept and study) and I think it matters a lot.


@Hot Doom

I disliked Streep's speech because she was saying "Oh, you think fashion doesn't matter? You think these BELT BUCKLES DON'T MATTER? Just think about how much time and effort went into the evolution of your lumpy cerulean sweater!"

That's not enough for me to care about something, else whenever I walked out of my house I'd be awestruck when I thought about how amazing the evolution of architecture is.

As for why I'd judge someone who is really into Fashion... well, first off, I don't think they're like, Nazis. But I think if you're really into fashion, that means you are likely overly-concerned with appearances.

I mean, you said it yourself- you equate fashion choices with identity. Not everyone thinks like that.

And while yes, the history of fashion in a socioeconomic context, or with regards to feminism, or some other lens, may be interesting, that doesn't change the fact that they were talking about two nearly identical belt buckles.

Hot Doom

@beetnemesis I understand that not everyone feels the same way that I do about fashion, or more to the point, what we choose to put on and why. To me, those choices involve one's identity and how they want to be perceived in society. I'm sure some people who are into fashion are overly-concerned with appearance (we might have different ideas of what "overly-concerned" means though), and make unfair assumptions about the appearance of others. But, like @EleanorHiggsByson said above, we're all influenced by fashion in some way, whether we like it or not. Regardless of whether one feels his or her identity is tied to what they wear, other people will still form assumptions and opinions about someone based on what's being worn and treat them accordingly. The fact that women get treated differently based on the length of their skirts is the obvious example of this, or likewise, what the phrase "well-dressed" means to people. For more niche groups, it could be the choice of two similar belt buckles, which to some, look completely different. Maybe people should find a new group to run with if they get shat upon for not wearing the right belt, but my point is, those two separate belt buckles do have the ability (in some circles) to operate as signifiers, perhaps of socioeconomic status or political beliefs (for example, a Jewish person might not wear a Dior belt buckle designed by John Galliano, post-anti-semitic rant). Granted, the amount of people who notice these details are small, and the significance they have the potential to carry is also relatively small.

In addition to aesthetic influences and choices made by designers, what I find interesting and meaningful is what people choose to do with clothing, and what it represents to them and others. If that is not something you're interested in, fine, but I think the point of Miranda Priestly's monologue was that there is meaning in what we wear and even if some people don't put stock in the origins of the blue they're wearing, or a fiddly thing like a belt buckle, there are other people who do, and in the process of moving these units, they might make tons of money from it, shape cultural attitudes and shift class boundaries.


@Hot Doom Exploring the cultural impact of pretty much anything can be fascinating, and fashion is something that has its fingers in so many different aspects of life, it can't fail to be interesting on some level.

However, Miranda Priestly, readers of Vogue magazine, and the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch are not anthropologists- they're people who think the type of belt buckle you wear is important. Not because of Third Wave feminism, or the fact that it was made with Fair Trade bronze or whatever, but because looped belt buckles are super cute this year (but not last year, and definitely not next year).

Here's the difference: you're arguing that fashion is important because people care about it. Miranda Priestly thinks people care about fashion, BECAUSE it's important.

Oh, squiggles

Yeah, as a fat person, I'm just lucky to find clothes that fit, are somewhat comfortable, and don't make me look ridiculous. I will invest in ethical fashion when ethical fashion actually accommodates my body shape/size.

You'd think that with the 'obesity epidemic' there would be plenty of plus sized clothes at thrift shops, but I'm guessing there isn't, because if other plus sized people are like me, the only clothes that fit are the cheaply made/low quality stuff that just gets worn to shreds.

I would love to see a fashion industry revolution, where bodies of all types were considered, ethically made clothes were focused on, and instead of a constantly evolving 'what's in vs. what's out' mentality, clothes were made to help people develop a permanent wardrobe that reflected their individual style. I'd love to have a closet full of good quality clothes that would last longer than a year, classic styles and basics that were different enough to reflect my own personal aesthetic.

I really just need to learn to make my own clothes.

Oh, squiggles

@Absurd Bird And if someone could please invent stain/bleach proof cloth, that would be great, please and thank you. I have ruined so much of my clothing :(


@Absurd Bird But if they made clothes for fat people, we would lose that constant reminder that we're unfit for normal society, and then how would we ever be shamed enough to lose the weight?

Haha but seriously, my favorite pair of jeans just wore out in the crotch AGAIN (I mean, not the same pair of jeans, but I have gone through so many pairs this way), and I am so over it.


@Absurd Bird Oh yeah, money is the first issue for me with shopping, but finding things that fit is number two, since I'm in the gap between "straight" and plus sizes. Cruising around the edges of the fast fashion places, I can usually find a couple of things, because the plus size stores make clothes for a different body type than I have (did you know it's possible to be a size 16/18 and a B cup and 5'4"?? They don't), and so by the time I've scrounged up a handful of items I can afford, ethical manufacture is a dim third in my mind.

Also, I gave up on jeans after the thigh rub/crotch wearout happened once too many times, and now live happily in skirts and dresses with leggings, tights, or bike shorts under as needed.


@sophia_h I've tried to go the skirts/dresses route, and it just...doesn't work for me? I know, intellectually, that they look cute on me, but I've just never felt comfortable in them, and they feel like a lot of work (which is silly, because a dress is only one piece of clothing, while the pants/cami/shirt I'm wearing right now are three pieces). Really, what I want is menswear-inspired clothes that fit big tits and don't wear out in the crotch, so if someone could get right on that it would be just swell.


@Absurd Bird I'm just so incredibly baffled by the fashion industry's refusal to make more plus-sized clothing!! It is really bizarre - kind of like the publishing industry's refusal to give female writers/reviewers the same amount of air time, despite the fact that women purchase and read more books than men do, or the dearth of movies directed by/about/starring women (again, despite the fact that women watch more movies and are a broader audience).

Let's all just shoot ourselves in the foot, yes?

As for the lack of plus-sized clothing at thrift shops, some are total buttheads and won't accept them (one of the nicer consignment stores in my area won't take anything over a 12), and a plus-sized friend of mine told me that she just doesn't ever get rid of clothes until they're unwearable because it's so hard to find them in the first place.
There are a few websites, like ModCloth and...I think Zulily? I see ads for them and I can't remember their name - that do larger sizes or will custom-make stuff, but it's expensive and it's a particular style that doesn't do it for everybody.
If I ever learn to competently make clothes, I will definitely make big clothes for my awesome plus-sized friends.

fondue with cheddar

@Absurd Bird "...the only clothes that fit are the cheaply made/low quality stuff that just gets worn to shreds." and/or they wear their clothes until they fall apart because clothes shopping is a nightmare.

I've been treading the line between "normal" and plus sizes for years now, and I'm very short with enormous boobs, so even when I do find stuff in my size it usually doesn't fit right.

@SarcasticFringehead My pants wear out in the crotch all the time! Or more accurately, where my upper thighs rub together.

This weekend I bought two pairs of shorts for camping and was AMAZED at how comfortable and well-made they are. (They only show up to size 12 on the site but they're available up to 16.) I'm used to buying whatever cheap, affordable crap I can find that rarely looks great and never feels great, but these are comfortable as hell, made of a stretchy, moisture-wicking, poly/cotton. I honestly never thought about shopping at REI for clothing before because I certainly don't have the physique of the typical "active outdoorsy person," but they actually had stuff in my size (14, in this case). And they've got non-chafing seams and functional pockets, too! I don't know what size "performance clothing" typically goes up to, and it costs more than I usually spend even when it's on sale, but it's something I will keep in mind in the future. If you're on the low end of plus-sized, it might be something to consider (and not everything looks masculine).


@fondue with cheddar Along the same lines, I've had good luck with the quality of clothes at Eddie Bauer. They're not Forever 21 cheap, but they're also not crazy expensive, and their stuff actually lasts. I have four long sleeve T-shirts that basically made up my entire wardrobe for two years (ah, grad school) and they still hold their shape pretty well.

I haven't seen a lot of plus sizes in stores, but they definitely have stuff online, and they're sized a little roomier.

Of course their woven tops don't fit me at all, but you can't have everything. They do have the best sundresses- all cotton with a cotton gauze lining that is the most comfortable thing ever in hot sticky weather. Lined clothing! For not a million dollars!


@Absurd Bird THANK YOU. Real hard to support these "ethical" companies when none of them carry anything in my size.


@Beaks But do you notice how many stores that do make things in larger sizes only sell them on their websites? They're happy to take our money, but heaven forbid anyone see us in the store.

fondue with cheddar

@blushingflower See this hilarious yet sadly accurate post on WTF, Plus Size Clothing Manufacturers?


Also, can we talk a little about accessibility of stores? It seems to me that fast-fashion stores are more readily accessible to the average consumer. For example, I can take the bus to the mall — which is great, because I don't have a car. I'm more likely to shop there, as a result. (I'm sure locally-made, ethically-produced clothing stores are in malls, but I would bet that there is a higher percentage of "fast-fashion" in malls.) Just thinking out loud.


I mostly shop at Goodwill, with the occasional TJ Maxx trip. At this point I find it kind of boring to shop in a normal store because there's no hunt--just everything easily displayed and available in a range of sizes. Also, I will admit it, I feel super smug about how little I paid for everything. Sometimes when I fantasize about being rich I have phantom regret for not being able to shop at Goodwill anymore, lest I look like an asshole.


@YoungLeafedJune Hah, yes, exactly, I don't even understand going to non-discount places where you don't have to scour every rack for a treasure. I always head for the sale corner in more expensive stores first.


@YoungLeafedJune See, whereas I can't shop at places like TJ Maxx because I hate the hunt. I want to find what I am looking for quickly and efficiently. Or at least I want things to be on the rack they belong on, and not find size 6s on the size 18 rack.


@YoungLeafedJune It's already such a goddamn hunt to find something that fits, that I will be able to wear regularly, and that won't fall apart immediate, AND that I can afford that I really don't appreciate any additional levels of difficulty to putting some fucking clothes on.

Beatrix Kiddo

@blushingflower I hate the hunt too. In an ideal world, I'd just wake up one morning and clothes that fit me would already be in my bedroom, rather than me having to waste tons of time and energy seeking them out.


Probably 90% of my wardrobe is used, with the exception of bras/underwear and some of my shoes. However, I'm really fortunate to live in an area with nice consignment and thrift stores that sell things I can wear to work, and I'm a size 4. It's really, really hard to find good secondhand clothes if you're anywhere above a 14, so I'm not going to blithely tell everyone to go buy used because it's not a viable option for a lot of people.
This is a really tricky question and one I think about a lot because I think a lot about clothes and where they come from. Most of the basics in my closet, like plain long sleeve shirts, are from Target, H&M, and Forever21, so I'm guilty of that too. I can't bring myself to shop at American Apparel because I don't want to buy clothes from someone who is basically a rapist. Most of the websites I've found that sell ethically made stuff are 1) super expensive 2) sell things that look like the cast members of Girls would wear and 3) I cannot wear their clothing to work. Seriously, I'm not paying $150 for a burnout cropped T-shirt.
I don't have an easy answer, other than that I will continue trying to buy as much as I can used. I'll probably never be able to stop shopping at places like H&M, because I can't afford to buy things like plain long sleeved T-shirts at Banana Republic (and honestly those stores are not really any better in terms of where and how their clothes are manufactured).

If anyone has any suggestions for where to find classic wardrobe staples that are made in the US or made elsewhere by fairly compensate workers, please let me know! The things I have to buy new are things I can't really make myself, like bras and shoes.


@commanderbanana Do you know about Everlane? They're a strictly online retailer with a small selection of basics made in manufacturing companies that they visit regularly. For awhile they only had the one white silk blouse, but I think they're doing well and seems like they'll be growing a lot soon ...


@EleanorHiggsByson I'm impressed with their prices, but it's sad that they're yet another retailer that only seems to stock up to L.


@frigwiggin I think they're a company that would listen to that type of consumer feedback! I promise I don't work for them, ha. Maybe it's a material/price issue, but I do not excuse them for not having looked into it.


@EleanorHiggsByson Thanks! I'll check them out.


fuck playing the game t-shirts from a pack!

'Course, I'm a guy and generally look like "not an axe murderer" so honestly nobodies ever gonna call me on anything I wear.


@Onymous That's great for you, but I don't think I can get away with T-shirts from a pack at the office where I work without a reprimand from HR.
While we're on the subject, can we just remind everyone that women get more scrutiny of their appearance than guys do, and it's much trickier to dress appropriately as a woman and still look professional and be taken seriously. Guys (in general) don't have to do stuff like police their cleavage so they don't get in trouble at work, or try to figure out what heel height is professional-okay and what is unprofessional-not okay.


@commanderbanana Amen to that. My fiancé? He wears the same "uniform" every damn day (black shoes, black trousers, French cuffed shirt in a different color every day, solid tie) and gets kudos for looking well groomed. If I tried something like that, I would a) never be taken seriously again as an adult, and b) get a serious talking-to about professionalism from someone. It is bullshit that I need to spend any time at all wondering if I can get away with wearing last year's lipstick shade or divining what the hell "business casual" means for this particular event/office. I have heard it time and again that there is no "neutral" for women, no way of dressing that doesn't mean SOMETHING, and it drives me batty. I resent the amount of time and energy I have to devote to my appearance in general. And the kicker is that I have spent a LOT of time figuring this stuff out since my scruffy, ugly intern days, and I know I still have a long way to go before I am really polished and professional-looking. I just can't talk myself into spending that much on my hair.


@commanderbanana This is what I was saying above - that "clothes are dumb, why do you care about them anyway?" is not a meaningful response to this issue. It would be great if we could just wear the same thing every day as long as it meets professional standards, but individual women shouldn't be tasked with trying to overcome this systemic setup.


@commanderbanana Great sure, but can we not pretend that just because I have a dick there aren't plenty of women wearing t-shirts and/or working random retail jobs?


@Onymous or for that matter soldiers, janitors, nurses and who knows how many millions of other jobs that do just wear the same thing every day because you know uniform.

>but individual women shouldn't be tasked with trying to overcome this systemic setup.

Well that's a bit of an is/ought problem because movements are made up of individuals, saying "individual women shouldn't [have to fix it]" is just a way to feel good about saying "I'mma just wait for some one else to fix it"


@Onymous ehn, yeah, that sentiment is true but as someone who is trying to do that on all fronts right now, sometimes when it doesn't work out it literally kills your soul into the ground. For example: I make no money because I work a job to support my idiotic graduate schooling and also work an unpaid internship (also for my schooling but also because hey, it is something I give two flips about?) and all summer, in the midst of it is oh, eighty near the lake at ten PM, I get treated with less respect because I wear perhaps less gender conforming clothes sometimes oh and because it is HOT AS BLAZES and I am doing work that involves being outside, or being inside where no one ever sees me? And after a while it starts to really suck because people are awful and judgey and I don't know how to buy clothes anyway much less really go and and buy nice looking ones (even a t-shirt, dude), but my superiors who are dudes can still wear sandals or sneaks and v-necks and shorts ... and I get side eye.

So, yeah, I'm an individual and if I was richer, I think I'd just buy into some of this problem to make my life slightly easier.


@Onymous additionally, I do love my Hanes tanks/boxer briefs from a pack, but those are in house clothes only.


@bowtiesarecool Why don't you just have like, three outfits that have worked for you, and constantly rotate them? Maybe swap the colors if you feel like putting in more effort.

Not being condescending, I'm actually confused why you don't do that. I'm sure you've worn something you're happy with a couple times, can't you just have like, 10 variants of that?


@beetnemesis @bowtiesarecool

Seriously, why not? I think this is an even better way of being known as a great dresser than having lots of new outfits. Kind of a Diane Keaton/Audrey Hepburn thing.

In my old age I've started buying multiples of anything I like, because by the time I wear it out, look, there is the replacement, & I don't have to think about/look for this stuff for at least a little longer. Plus I have a couple of necklaces & scarves & if I throw on a different one it looks like a different outfit, whatever, bam done much simpler. Scarves solve the cleavage business, too ( so distressing when age causes one to become more endowed and the fit of all one's shirts changes!). I mean, I enjoy clothes too, but every single day is a little too often to have to think about them.

In my line of work, women are just as likely to be taken less seriously if they are obvious clothes-horses (& with clothes they "shouldn't" be able to afford) as they are if they dress sloppily, so might as well just hone something decent and run with it.


@Onymous That is....not at all relevant to this thread. Or my comment.


@beetnemesis That is what I do - I call it pulling a Joan Harris (<3 you Joanie). I don't change the silhouette of my clothes at all, and do not dress trendily, so I can get away with owning a lot fewer clothes, and if I find something like a shoe that works really well for me, I buy multiples in different colors.

But that doesn't address the fact that in order to be considered "professionally dressed" in my workplace, I also have to have makeup on, have my hair done (which means getting it cut regularly, which is more expensive than getting a man's haircut even though I only ever get an inch off the bottom every time and don't change the style, and dying it, which I do at home which saves some money), and have my nails taken care of (which I also do at home).
I work in a very conservative office, which also means that I (sadly) have to wear a lot of clothes that are dry clean only, and it's often more expensive to get women's clothing dry-cleaned.

I also buy pretty much everything second-hand, so I'm not spending as much on clothes at the outset, but again, women are subjected to more scrutiny of their appearance and in every workplace I've worked at, women are much more likely to be pulled aside by HR for their clothing than men are, and more likely to have coworkers or managers comment on their clothing. It reminds me of a news article about a woman who sued for Citibank because she was routinely chastised for her clothing, had duties taken away from her, and was eventually hounded out of her position and fired, because she 'dressed inappropriately.' They had photos of her work outfits and, in my opinion, there was nothing questionable about her clothing. She happened to have a very curvaceous figure and a big bust and was constantly subjected to comments about her body.

My point being, in most offices, the standards are different and it is harder to navigate looking professional without going broke as a woman than it is as a man. We're gearing up for a convention at my workplace and at our prep meeting yesterday, guys were told to "wear a suit and tie," and women were given a three-page document about what to wear (including, yes, having 'groomed hair,' 'professional makeup,' 'make sure no cleavage is exposed,' etc. etc.). The expectations are different, and by and large, men's bodies are not examined in a sexualized way in the workplace in the way that women's are.

Anyway, I'm not debating this subject, because I'm not interested in trying to convince someone that just because something isn't happening to them doesn't mean it's not happening to other people.


@SarcasticFringehead Thank you...Onymous' comment was, among other things, dripping with privilege.


@bowtiesarecool True fact! And I'm not sure how a comment like "I'm a guy so no one would call me on this anyway!" is helpful or relevant here. This is sort of like busting into an AA meeting with a beer and being like "I don't have alcoholism! This beer is great!" Bad analogy, but hopefully you're picking up what I'm putting down.
The dress code guidebook at my office is crazyballs - there's about two sentences for guys and several pages for women detailing, among other things, the parts of your body that can/cannot be exposed by your clothing.
I do wear a uniform of sorts (knee length pencil skirt, long sleeved dress shirt, pumps, and usually a jacket) every damn day and don't deviate from it. And I'm also not curvy, so I don't have to worry about inadvertently exposing some hills and then being yelled at for it. Trying to dress 'professionally' is much, much harder if you are generously endowed.


This is relevant to my interests because I just impulse-online-purchased two more pairs of shoes (Shoemint you are my downfall) after getting an "OMG SALE!!!!1!" email.

My new coworker stopped by my desk on Friday after my packages from Ann Taylor arrived (60% off sale price? DUH.) and commented "you have quite a few pairs of shoes under your desk!" "quite a few" = 3. I then opened the drawer in my desk dedicated entirely to the other 10 pairs of shoes I keep here and he was a bit stunned.



@Alli525 Question- isn't buying shoes online a hassle? What if they don't fit? I'm a guy, and have bought pretty much the exact same shoes every year or two for the last 15 years (black sneakers, black dress shoes, brown dress shoes. Maybe a pair of sandals or deck shoes if I'm feeling crazy).

But the sizes always seem to fluctuate by half a size or so. One year I'll be a 10.5, another year an 11.5, then an 11-wide, etc.

So, do you return shoes a lot?


Also, derp, the whole reason I came back to this thread was to recommend Elizabeth Cline's book, Overdressed, which is about the fast fashion industry, moving clothing manufacturing overseas, and the massive change in American's shopping habits. It's really fascinating, if a little tone deaf at times.


If it wasn't for fast-fashion, I wouldn't have a wardrobe. It's all I can afford! Mekong Delta Tour 1 day

the leests

I think you make some really good points, and I don't have any answers to them (or at least time at work to get very thoughtful about it!) buuut in terms of less-expensive, high-quality stuff: everlane.com. Some of their things get pricey, but their basic t-shirts are $15 and beautifully made. They aren't made in the USA, but they write that they have a commitment to safe factory workplaces.

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