Used, But Still of Value: Rethinking the Use and Functionality of Clothing in an Era that Values Disposability over Quality.
With the speed at which fashion is currently moving, we find ourselves trying to stay on top of it all. We are challenged to stay up to date with the current trends, while simultaneously keeping abreast of new brands and defining who we are with our unique aesthetic. I am sure that at numerous times we have all said: “I can’t wear that again”; “they’ve already seen me in this outfit” or even “I’ve already posted this look on Instagram, I have to wear something else.” To be honest, I have. With the dizzying growth of social media and the boom of the fast fashion industry over the last decade or so, society has shunned the notion of “outfit-repeating,” and instead has popularized buying the latest trends in order to keep up with the Jones (or Kardashians). This practice has become so embedded in our culture that it’s hard to even grasp. I’m sure you may have your favorite jeans or t-shirt that you wear all the time, but what about the other pieces in your wardrobe that hardly get “airtime?” Probably worn once, rehung, and never thought of again as you swipe past that once-loved outfit, thinking “ugh I have nothing to wear!”. You then head to your favorite websites, click NEW IN, and fill your cart until you have spent enough to get free shipping. This cycle is exactly what keeps the fast fashion market thriving today. The engraved idea that for something to be special, it needs to be new, fresh out the box, wrapped in plastic and delivered via expedited shipping. I think it’s safe to say, at some point, we’ve all fallen victim to this vicious cycle; so I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned over the years that have helped me to see past this facade.
Growing up, YouTube had a big impact on my fashion sense. I would watch my favorite influencers do ginormous hauls from all the big retailers, showcasing what’s trending and how cheap they bought the item for. At times, I would log on, purchase one or two of the items I actually could afford only to wear them once or twice and never touch them again, because these pieces were never my style to begin with, I just wanted to be included. Being young and impressionable, I thought that was all that being fashionable was: staying on top of trends. As I grew older, I realized that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
We live in a hyper-consumerist society that endorses new clothing and invalidates the ones we could rewear, pushing them to the back of our closets until the inevitable time for a closet declutter to make space for the new. Instead of seeing our clothing as disposable single-use items like paper plates or plastic forks, we should focus on the joy of making memories in each item. Your style should be an extension of yourself, so use the pieces in your wardrobe to reflect that. Having people see you in the same outfit is by no means a sin; it really shouldn’t say more than “Hey I’m *insert name here*, and I like this outfit” and there is no shame in that.
As fashion continues to evolve at such a rapid pace and clothing gets cheaper (in price and quality often at the detriment of garment workers in developing countries), our wardrobe sizes have increased exponentially. This gives us more to choose from, yet also more to forget we even had, which can cause decision fatigue (hence, feeling like you have nothing to wear). By no means am I a minimalist; I am probably the opposite. And while I love the concept of minimalism, it is not for everyone. However, what we can take from the practice of minimalism, is buying with intention; that is the key. It’s easy to get sucked into a good sale or covet something worn by our beloved influencers. If we aren’t careful, that practice can send us down the slippery slope of overconsumption in the blink of an eye. If we shop with intention, we consider more than just the trend; we have to consider (i) our lifestyles, (ii) how we want to show up in the world, (iii) how many times we can restyle it without becoming bored, and (iv) if the item is worth the cost. If the item you are considering checks all the boxes above, then it’s worth having. If not, refrain from buying it even though the temptation of posting an OOTD in the latest trend is almost irresistible. Better for the environment and better for your pocket.
The best way to reduce the anxiety that can come with trying to reimagine new outfits with old items you already own is to view the whole process through different lenses. Instead of being inspired to buy, look for inspiration on how to style. Even when your interests and aesthetic changes through the years, the way you style clothing can adapt to fit your new look. Put together mood boards on Pinterest or save images that align with what you want to achieve. See how the clothing you already own can get close to the look you desire and if you do find there are too many missing pieces, consider swapping a piece with a friend, thrifting, or buying from a sustainable brand. That way, you know that whatever new comes into your wardrobe serves a purpose bigger than just buying for the sake of it. Trends are often cyclical, and there aren’t many new trends that aren’t in some way inspired by the past. Do some research on the trends that do catch your eye and go straight to the source by shopping secondhand whenever you can. Buying/trading the clothes that already exist is the perfect way to refresh your wardrobe without exploiting resources.
I am in no way saying you should hold on to clothes that no longer serve you, I believe we should always let things go when they no longer bring joy. More importantly, I believe in only bringing in items that bring joy for longer than a short stint. Do not settle for a “flash in the pan” trend just to post on social media or to wear once or twice with friends. We are here for a good time AND a long time. You clothes should be too. The more we remember that clothing doesn’t go bad, that we outgrow them over time, and that they go in and out of trend, the more we will use clothing to our advantage to help define who we are and to make us unique.