When Did We Decide Fashion Should Be Cheap?

Credits: Photo - Anonymous, Styling - Sarah G. Schmidt, Location - Oak Bay Avenue, Victoria, BC 


As with any true-life long love, my personal relationship with fashion and style continues to evolve. Last week I attended a panel discussion on sustainable fashion as a part of Fashion Revolution Calgary event calendar. One question posed that night has stuck with me since: when did we decide fashion should be cheap?

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that I am a sucker for a cheap find. Be it at a second hand shop, consignment rack, or the sales section way at the back of the store. Guilty as charged. While I love something that is inexpensive, I know that the cost of producing that garment is so much more than the price tag may suggest.

It doesn’t take much to be exposed to some of the hard environmental truths of fashion. The fashion industry is top user of water and filler of landfills. The risks to human life, too, should not be minimized. We are simply producing and consuming at an environmentally-not-friendly, aka: catastrophic rate. Documentaries like The True Cost and River Blue lay this predicament out plainly. I know, too, that we are all at various levels of learning (and frankly, interest). 

It would make sense to jump straight to supporting exclusively sustainable options but, for me, though it seems that simple, it’s not. That includes shopping local, shopping secondhand, or slowing down the rate of shopping. These are all partial solutions. But don't get at my actual craving.

It's not simple becuase this other part of me still craves the Insta-worthy twenty-dollar dress that I will wear for a couple seasons and then, after it's had it's run with me, likely consign or donate it. Why that blouse, that shoe, those sunglasses, you may ask? Sometimes I crave a more-of-the moment cut or colour that you can’t access - whether is sizing, stock, or a steep price – from more sustainable options. Part of that is due to the more trend-proof cuts and colours of sustainable pieces. Sustainable options aren’t typically as frivolous – ie: fun – and rather stick to tried, tested, and true styles and silhouettes. While it is likely a classic, it’s a bit boring to me at times (likely because it already exists). In other words, I’ve seen it before, thus not as exciting.

On the one hand, like any great, glutinous consumer – har har har - I crave newness. On the other hand I’m also aware that I value citizenship - not domination and reckless consumer driven extraction - on this planet and that I should try and leave something for future generations. The struggle and my conflicted state is real.

One of our human desires is to create. Families, careers, culture – and yes – fashion. Totally get it. But our planet can only take so much and more is really excess at some point, right? I am also concerned with the possibility that we’re just going around in circles creating very similar things, in different cities, that accumulate to a massive, collective amount of stuff.

No matter how you slice it, producing fashion costs time, resources, and funds. It could be simple to give up on it all and just say it is hooey. (As soon as I said those words my heart’s voice retorted, “No, it most certainly is not. You know you don’t believe that.” For the record, it’s not; I don’t. Style is my truest form of expression.)

While that is true for me I do think fashion and style is different for everyone. That said, I think we could all agree that our society got a bit lost when we accepted the idea that clothing can, and should, be cheap. It’s not cheap; it’s costing a lot. Yet, on average, we are so careless with fashion and thus, personal style.

What to do about it?

First, acknowledge that it’s a thing. Spinning a bit out of control. Check.

Second, understand why it’s a thing. Does it boil down to North American arrogance of taking whatever we want and tossing what we don’t? Is it, like me, a sense of boredom, which likely means a deeper issue somewhere else in my life? What are we really searching for?

Third, decide what you’re personally going to do about it. All I ask of you today, sweet stylish savant, that we each question the habits we have created over time, we question them, and ultimately decide where we stand (consciously or not). Style is – and should be – personal.

Fourth, please know we’re all figuring it out, on our own time and own terms. Be kind on yourself. Do you.