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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?