Friday, 13 January 2012

I'd Just Like To Say...

... we are all under pressure and I think I've found a culprit.  

It’s a situation that I’m sure every woman has been in at some point in her life, and if you work with a large group of women (as I do!), particularly those with quite a lot of a time on their hands (yes, that’s me again), then it tends to happen with an alarming frequency. I am talking about the group activity of sharing your most recent clothes purchases. 
Performing in a tour, although you are working almost everyday of the week, means that quite frequently you are only needed in the theatre during the evenings, which in turn means that very often you have three or fours days a week to fill with activities before you are needed at work later. Combine this with the fact that you are often in a new city that you want to explore together with a large group of female colleagues and the result is very often shopping. A lot of shopping. So every couple of days, when we arrive at work, we have the almost ritualistic process of the group share. Although I don’t ever have anything to share in these sessions, what with always making my own clothes rather than shopping on the high street, I do enjoy how close it brings us as a group and it’s always fun to have a good chat and a giggle. However, every so often a type of conversations crops up and I find myself biting my tongue. Take last week for instance.
The clothes sharing session was particularly intense and exciting because there was a night out planned after the show that evening and so everyone was piecing together their prospective outfits. However, in amongst the flurry of new dresses and plastic shopping bags a voice piped up: 

“Is it really wrong to wear this dress tonight? I wore it before on a night out and I just think that wearing it again would be wrong.” 

This particular girl’s logic was that she had worn the dress in question in front of our group before and she was worried that if she wore it again she would be judged. Basically she was worried that we, her friends, would view her as cheap or trashy just for wearing the same outfit more than once. 
Now I know that my opinions with regards to disposable fashion are a little bit biased, as since taking the decision to make all of my own clothes and buy only second hand I have really started to appreciate the amount that a person can consume and the detrimental effects that this constant need for MORE has on the environment. In our society we are now brought up thinking that we can have whatever we want whenever we want it, regardless of the effect that our wants may have on the world around us and the people in it. This has bred a generation of people whose need to be on-trend (or perhaps rather on-fad) without wanting to pay designer prices causes them to constantly refill their wardrobes with cut priced items from shops like Primark, the hardly worn cast offs of which will most probably end up as landfill. I see the effects of this kind of shopping all the time amongst my friends. For example, over a period of just two weeks I witnessed a friend of mine purchase a pair of moccasin boots and wear them intermittently before they started looking a little worse for wear and finally ended up unwearable as they had holes in the toes and one of the soles actually fell off. The only epitaph that was offered as they were thrown into the bin was “Well, they were only £20 from Primark”. But regardless of my feelings towards disposable fashion in general, last week’s conversation with the girl about her dress seemed to bring something else that I find just as worrying to light: 

Is the availability and popularity of fast fashion causing people to feel pressurised into keeping up and creating a feeling of failure if they can’t?
It’s seems to me that high street fashion has created a vicious cycle that one can be very easily sucked into. We are tempted in by seemingly brilliant money saving offers - “It’s only £20!” or “2 for the price of 1!” - so we stock up on everything from jeggings to dresses which of course gives us that happy post-shopping glow. However within just a few weeks a new style may start to emerge, suddenly it’s studs instead of feathers or skinny jeans rather than flared so we head back to the shops to fill our wardrobes once more, convincing ourselves that it’s ok because the prices are “so cheap”. However, when you add up the total of all these purchases long term, you suddenly find yourself not really looking at bargains at all. Bargain after bargain after bargain and you can’t call it a bargain anymore. And what have you got to show for the hard earned cash spent? A wardrobe full to bursting with panic purchases and items that will probably fall apart after a good wash, of which you probably only ever wear about 20% regularly. With such a negative and terrifying relationship with shopping and our wardrobes no wonder people are feeling so under pressure when it come to what they wear.
The thing is, I know just how the girl with the dress feels, because just over a year ago I was in a very similar situation with own my clothes purchases. I was a serial shopper, my wardrobe was filled with things that I never wore and the guilt of seeing those clothes there used to drive me crazy. I’d look at them thinking, “why did I buy you? You could be petrol in my car or a new book but instead you hang there taunting me with the fact that you don’t suit me or fit me and I’ll probably never wear you again!” I really had no sense of style other than the one that was dictated to me by whatever was trendy at the time and, in spite of owning enough outfits to clothe a small country, I constantly felt that I had nothing to wear. These things are probably why I found letting go of high street fashion so refreshing and freeing, I was no longer trapped in the cycle of fast fashion and I could finally discover my own style and really start discovering myself again. I think this is why we have such an intense relationship with our clothes, they are the outwards expression of what you have inside, they are the personality that you choose to show the world, like a form of protective armor. Every time I get dressed I feel as though my clothes, like my hair style or my make up, can hide any insecurities I may have and I’m ready to face the world. Can you imagine how hard life becomes when your clothes are one of things adding to that list of insecurities? So much so that you don’t even want to wear the same outfit twice?
What do we do in these situations? Clearly something has to change just for the sake of personal sanity! Now, I’m not saying that everyone should make the choice that I made in giving up new clothes because I know that my way of going about things isn’t for everyone, nor am I trying to sell it as the “perfect lifestyle” (believe me, it’s not!), but if you are finding yourself in a similar situation to me a year ago and want to do something about it then I want to let you know that you have options. 

Firstly, look at the way you buy new clothes

I don’t want to come across as someone who despises shopping, nothing could be further from the truth! I know how it feels when you make the perfect purchase, how much that can change a person’s confidence for the better and how much happiness it can bring, but not all purchases are like that. But what if they could be? Next time you go shopping on the high street make a pact that you won’t just buy something you like, buy something that you LOVE. Don’t be afraid to take your time, you don’t have to buy something as soon as you see it, try walking away and waiting for a few days to make sure that the bond is strong and true before you part with your money. If you buy something you love you will love to wear it, therefore it won’t hang around your wardrobe looking lost when you quickly lose interest.
Support small businesses and up and coming designers

I think that this is the best alternative to the high street if you really want to buy new rather than second hand. I love showing support to small businesses who invest a lot of time and effort into the clothes they make, because you know that you are going to be paying for quality and longevity in a garment. This is not a cheap alternative, you are paying for what you get, but I would rather pay more for one beautiful dress that I cannot live without than a wardrobe full of things I’ll never wear. Plus with a lot of smaller businesses the garments that they make are often produced in limited amounts, so there’s much less chance of someone showing up in the same outfit as you!
Buy second hand. 

I love collecting vintage pieces from fairs and I love to browse ebay and etsy, but quite often this comes with a high price tag so I tend to save these purchases for one or two every few months. Again I’m talking about quality, not quantity, because it’s in these special vintage outfits that you can really see the quality of how clothes used to be made (cue my old lady voice, “they just don’t make them like this anymore!”). Some of my vintage clothes are over 60 years old and are still in practically mint condition, I wonder whether a Primark jumper would be able to say the same in 2070? Buy quality vintage and strive to keep it that way. The garment will last longer for you and then the chances are that you will be able to pass it on to someone else later in the big circle of life of fashion! But there are also more inexpensive options to second hand clothes. If you want a cheaper fix a la Primark without having to actually go there (because let’s be honest, who in their right mind would want to?!) then you cannot go wrong with a charity shop or car boot sale. And the best thing about these kinds of garments is that if they’re not perfect then you can make them so! Some of my favourite and most worn garments started their lives as huge charity shop dresses or horrendous blouses before I got my hands on them and revamped them. I find breathing new life into an outfit that others may have thought was unwearable is one of the most satisfying things I have ever done, plus I know I’m being environmentally friendly at the same time. 
Why not try your hand at making something? 

It’s really not as hard as it may seem and the best thing is that if you do make mistakes you will just get better with practice, it’s all about the learning curve. Believe me there are few things more pleasing than walking down the street in something you have made yourself, knowing that it fits you well and that no one else will ever own a garment like it. Plus, after all the time you invest in the clothes during the creation process you are certain to take care of them therefore guaranteeing that they will last. Go on, try it, I dare you!
These solution may not seem easy and that’s because, well, they’re not really. Changing the way you live your life isn’t always easy, that’s almost the point. It’s hard work to begin with, but I think you’d be surprised at how quickly these ideas take root and then everything wardrobe wise starts to fall into place. This kind of a wardrobe may take time and it doesn’t always work out as the cheapest option (which I know is a controversial thing to say in a recession) but I would always rather invest in something that lasts than just buy clothes for the sake of it. It’s time for us to reclaim our own sense of style and the whole shopping experience. Let’s start the wardrobe revolution!
And as for the girl with the worn-once-before dress, I gave her my honest opinion on the subject: she looked stunning in it, which would not change regardless of how many times she wore it, and anyone who thought otherwise was probably a bit of an idiot. 

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