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Some soul searching questions

I mentioned in my last post that I am on a self-imposed charity shop ban until May. Here is how it came about.

I am currently reading Fashion Victim: Our Love-Hate Relationship with Dressing, Shopping, and the Cost of Style by Michelle Lee, and one of the arguments she makes is that we are all fashion victims, we may see the ridiculousness of the ever accelerating trend cycles, but we still buy stuff all the time, thereby fuelling the process.

the book that sparked many questions

My initial reaction was a smug ‘Not me!’. I like to think that over the years I have developed a personal style that is recognisably ‘me’ and only marginally affected by what’s available in the shops or whats ‘in’.

I also very rarely shop in high street shops. I mainly get things I ‘need’ new, like a winter coat, or shoes or a suit for work and I spend a lot of time researching them to get the best thing, which often also is the most ethical thing. I hardly ever buy anything new on impulse – the only things I can remember buying on impulse in the last year were these things from oddities I posted about ages ago – and that was because the shop was closing down.

So I think its fair to say that I do not contribute (or at least contribute very little) to ‘Fast Fashion’.

BUT, and this is a big but…

I own TONS of clothes. I have a three door wardrobe all to myself, plus a chest of drawers, plus six storage boxes on top of the wardrobe, plus a shelf in the storage cupboard for my shoes. If I didn’t buy any more clothing for a whole year, I would be fine.

But I still go out to the charity shops and buy more all the time. I love the process of rummaging through all the crap and finding something pretty and planning an outfit. But its not *that* unusual for me to wear a new item only a couple of times. There are a couple items from my charity shop finds I have posted about here I haven’t even worn yet, and many more items in my wardrobe that haven’t yet been worn often enough for them to meet the a-pound-a-wear rule. While there are many things I do wear again and again, there are so many more possible combinations of my existing clothes that I just haven’t tried because I’ve always got something new to show off.

So I suppose what I’m asking is:
* Is this impulse towards the new and exciting charity shop find not just a (less harmful) displacement activity for the search for the new and exciting ‘new’ thing?
* Is the turnover of thrifted things in my wardrobe so very different to the cycle of trends Michelle Lee describes?
* Do not both of these processes stop us from valuing and enjoying the things we already have, without always moving on to the next thing?
* Is this not what is behind ‘Fast Fashion’ and what is stopping manufacturers making good quality, durable things in the first place?

What do YOU think? Do you think I’m wrong? I hope I am! Is this something that worries you?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Helen 3 April 2009, 11:28 am

    I do sometimes feel guilty for my consumption of clothes. Shopping at a charity shop may make you feel less guilty, but the things in charity shops are just a result of this consumption. The amount of primark things I see in charity shops is unbelievable! Most of them aren’t even worn. Buying from a charity shop is better, because it’s for a good cause, but I think buying and consuming too much of anything can create guilt.

  • Rachael 3 April 2009, 3:25 pm

    Uh yeah – what Helen said!

  • breaking adeline 8 April 2009, 3:10 pm

    I’ve been wondering exactly the same thing lately. I think thrifting is recycling. You’re not adding to the rush and pull of new consumerism: new stuff, things, materials, fuel. I buy a lot of my furniture the same way, and I’ve been trying to practice letting go of an old item as I introduce a new item into my home. It helps having a small apartment. I have more trouble with clothes, but I try the same thing with my closet.

    I also think buying vintage clothes is an investment, as they were generally made in a better way, with better fabrics and metal fasteners that can be repaired. If I’m forced to have a varied wardrobe for work (and, I’ve had to face that all positions are sales positions, no matter what) then I would rather give in to the man in my own way.

    Plus, charity shopping is exciting.


  • Oranges And Apples 8 April 2009, 5:10 pm

    hi, Thanks for your comments.

    Adeline, from reading your post on your blog (where you make many valid points) I think we’re slightly talking cross purposes here though. I’m not talking about having five outfits vs ten, or wearing things every day until they fall apart – I’m talking about having 100 dresses, or pairs of shoes or whatever, or buying something then not wearing it for a month and counting (as I have now done). Of course thrifting is recycling and has a negligible environmental impact (assuming people keep buying new stuff and donating it), but I suppose what I’m interested in is the way that culturally, despite being seemingly counter-consumption, it lets us maintain the culture where only ‘new’ is good. Whether than new is ‘proper’ new or ‘charity shop’ new.

    I’m also not sure I agree with your point about work clothes, but I’ll leave this just now.

  • breaking adeline 8 April 2009, 7:27 pm

    “Yes, but..”
    Thanks for responding so quickly and for your original entry. I think I posted too quickly in excitement. I’ve been weighing some shopping guilt since my friend visited from the buddhist monastery. You’re right, you know: buying secondhand isn’t avoiding the advertising or pop culture push that makes anyone buy in the first place. We subscribe. It’s “grass is greener”: the shinier, the newer, the better. Is satisfying this the source of our thift-lation?

    I’d like to think there are nobler reasons, too: noble in the same way that art or poetry is noble, but also self-indulgent. (probably too much here, huh?)

    I agree with you on all points, but I don’t think we should be so quick to shoulder so much guilt. Of course, overdoing anything is dangerous. I admire your self-imposed hiatus from the stacks.

    I also think there’s a certain amount of consumption that we can’t help, and my entry was more a side note. A defense of consumption, if you will. My friend lives apart from society, and my stance on any of this doesn’t mean a thing to her, who believes, “People don’t care about the way you appear.”

  • Shelayna 5 May 2010, 5:05 am

    I don't know if you're over this discussion, but I too am primarily a charity shopper.I love to thrift shop, and have a fair amount of clothes (not quite as many as you, but more than many of my friends).I recently came to the conclusion that I needed to explore my closet and APPRECIATE what I have. I am calling it One Closet, One Year and I am taking one year of adding nothing new or used, or borrowed,to my wardrobe. It was born out of that feeling of "I have nothing to wear", then realizing while looking through my closet that I indeed have plenty to choose from. In order to inspire creativity I have vowed to wear a DIFFERENT outfit each day. I am on day 124 and it's been fun!

    However, I do think it is leaves less of a "footprint" if you shop at charity shops. I guess balance is key! Interesting point!

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