Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Is Affordable Fashion Bad for Us?

With all the recent media attention and promotional power behind this book "Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion" by Elizabeth Cline, it was actually this article on the Huffington Post website that really caught my eye and interested me in wanting to read this book. 

Basically, the premise of this book surrounds the negative effects of overbuying a lot of cheaply made and foreign produced clothing and the effects on our environment and our views toward clothing and fashion.  A phenomenon labelled "disposable fashion."  In the Huff Po article above, the author also discusses the First Lady's affordable fashion choices and how they shouldn't be celebrated as these choices perpetuate the idea of disposable fashion.  She also offers praise to Kate Middleton for re-wearing many of her outfits within short periods of time.  Although the argument can be made that the First Lady also re-wears her outfits and the Duchess of Cambridge also wears a lot of affordable fashion, Ms. Cline did get me thinking about the overall effect of disposable fashion and its effect on the public perception of fashion in general and how this is similar the effects of fast food on our mentality.  Are we just supposed to expect cheap/affordable designer labels that are so easy to pick up on a whim that we become dissatisfied and bored with our wardrobe so that and feel we have to have something new and hip to wear on a weekly basis?  Are clothes just supposed to go in and out of our closets and replaced with newer things on a continual and regular basis?  What happened to buying quality clothing which lasts and owning fewer but better quality articles of clothing?

I actually feel that perhaps in college to some degree, I had developed that mentality of buying cheap and buying often; particularly when it came to wearing tees, tank tops and tops to go out from.  They were so easy to afford at Forever 21!  Back then, when you're 18 to 21 (oh-so-many years ago! *Sigh*), dressing cute and staying on trend is huge!  In fact, people always want make a good impression and a lot of that has to do with clothing.

The older I've gotten, the more I have steered away from trying to buy a lot of cheaper clothing and have been more discerning with what I put into my closet.  This makes sense to me because I can afford to do so and, at my age, and wearing classic and well made pieces is more appealing to me now than it once was.  Just a few years back when I had started working outside of law school, I was shopping at Target more often because there was one in my neighborhood and I couldn't afford a lot of the nicer clothing I wanted but I still wanted to look nice and put together.  Isn't that what most people who buy the affordable items want?

The idea of bargain shopping at Marshall's, T.J. Maxx or Ross still appeals to me, but in reality, these days there end up being very few items that I really love at these stores anymore.  I recall that I would shop at these places and just settle for certain things because they were things which I at least liked and, at their prices, they were a great deal.  Even today, when I hear of friends collecting pairs and pairs of jeans because they had been on a major discount when they bought them, I wonder why, for probably the price of a few of those jeans combined, didn't they go out and get one really great pair of jeans they would absolutely love and wear all the time.  I knew they did not stay happy with any of the great deals they bought and would go out and buy another pair of jeans that were on sale because of the designer label and the fact that it was on sale, rather than discerning how it fit their body type, whether it looked great, whether it was the right wash for them or how many times they would actually wear it.  I mean, I own probably 10 pairs of jeans at least, but I accumulated them over time and bought each one because they looked great, and some were definitely not so cheap.

Here are some of the best jeans I've ever owned.  The trick is to always get them hemmed and altered once you find the right one to fit your butt, hips and thighs (as in, makes the butt look amazing, accentuates the curve of the hip without feeling constricting and makes the thighs look toned and lean).  Then you can get a tailor (or even a willing mom with a sewing machine and time) to hem the length and, if need be, take in the waistline.

Seven Jeans, one of my favorite brands and pairs. 

AG Stevie, ankle jeans in plum.  

True Religion skinny jeans.  Love this pair.  Definitely had to get the length hemmed.

With all of that being said, I do still love bargain shopping, but I am much more picky of what I would buy.  If it's not an absolute "love it, must not leave without it" and I cannot picture myself wearing it in at least two different situations on more than one occasion for each, I'll pass it up.  Sometimes when I've passed something up I wasn't sure about and keep thinking about it for a few days afterwards, I'll go back and buy that article of clothing or shoe.  This is how I've gotten some of my favorite wardrobe pieces!  Loehmann's is one of my favorite bargain stores because they carry great pieces that are well made and marked down because they're from an older season and designers want to stock the shelves with their new things.

I must admit, the more designer collaborations appear in the stores, the more I question whether I want any of what is available there.  I definitely did not want to wait in line outside of Target for the Missoni pieces that I knew, might not fit with my own style.  And to some degree, I questioned whether it is worth it just for the label.  I know it's cheaper and designer, but it's also not as well made as the original fashion house pieces.  Here's an example.  I kind of liked the Missoni shoes that were made for Target, I even put them in my basket online, but when they ran out online, I just let it go.  It wasn't that big of a deal to get them in the first place.  Then later, I found out that a girlfriend who had never heard of Missoni, who went out and bought a bunch of things from their Target line that she wasn't sure she even liked, but just because of all the hype.  She even kindly offered to sell me the extra pair of shoes she grabbed, that happened to be in my size, but mostly because they weren't going for a higher price on Ebay anymore.  Of course, I took them since they were there, I thought they were pretty cute still and I had eyed them online.  But now, I realize, they've gotten a lot looser with just a bit of wear so I keep them in the office as back up shoes.

Still super cute, but very loose...

And here's the other unfortunate thing.  Look at this label on the back:

MADE IN CHINA.  Exactly!  What was all the panic to buy this stuff about?  Isn't Missoni known for being an Italian fashion house that makes all their pieces with work by hand, and that's what the name stands for and people are paying for?  If you're going to mass produce for a large chain like Target, wouldn't you at least keep some integrity with your brand?  Is it worth it to pay even $40 for a Missoni for Target shoe when it's just as cheaply produced in another country (i.e. not Italy or even the U.S. where they're selling out) as their flip flops?  This truly got me thinking.  Of course, I'm not surprised that they're mass produced in large quantities, but the limited edition of it means that they did make a limited quantity, which sold out very quickly.  Couldn't some small, itty-bitty part of this been produced by the fashion house itself?  Like maufacturing the little zig zag stripes across the top for the shoe?   I found this a bit depressing.  I honestly don't think a lot of these affordable designer labels are really that worth it anymore.  I'd much rather spend my money on more quality pieces that I will wear for longer and that will last.  Of course I'll still get clothes, shoes and accessories here and there from H&M, Target, and Zara etc,. but I am much more discerning about what goes into my wardrobe.  I want a closet full of things that I love and would love to wear all the time.  I also strongly believe in shopping your closet whenever possible.

There was someone in my high school who I heard had a serious, clinically diagnosed, obsessive/compulsive problem in that she was not able to wear something more than once.  Of course this is a very crazy extreme but I never understood whether that was just a rumor because that person apparently wore a new outfit everyday.  I didn't notice it myself so it probably didn't matter whether or not she re-wore her clothes.  On the other extreme, I've also personally seen people with a very limited quantity of things from Burberry and which they wore so often it was noticeable.   I don't know if spending all your money on only a few designer things is a feasible idea either, especially when you are not financially able to make those purchases comfortably.  I believe there is a definite balance to having a great wardrobe that mixes good quality pieces such as a nice suit with ones that you may want to pay less for because they need to be replaced often and can be easily replaced, like a simple tee or tank top.

I recently bought a fabulous dress for an upcoming wedding (that will be discussed in an upcoming post), which I really think was worth the money because I know I will be able to wear it to a ton of occasions.

Here are some dresses that have gotten some miles on them in my closet.  While many are years old and have made rounds at weddings, I still love wearing them!

Betsey Johnson.  I found it on back in 2008 and got to wear it to two weddings that year!

Shoes by Max Azria.  Found at DSW shoe warehouse.

BCBG dress from the BCBG store.  Shoes by Jimmy Choo but found at Nordstrom.

I did notice this dress was on major sale on Last Call by Neiman Marcus's website just a month ago!

Dress from the BCBG outlet in Arundel Mills in Hanover, MD.  The stores there sometimes have the best deals ever!
I scored this dress, and another one for $50 each!
I think Tiger likes this last one the best!

Shoes are by BCBG. I got them so long ago (4 years or so) that I don't remember which website I got them from. Probably Nordstrom's. 

These three dresses have been to seven weddings together!

As much as I love blogging and talking about clothes and outfit ideas and I love the items I've posted on this site thus far, I have yet to go out and purchase any of them.  Although goodness knows I've wanted to!

I think there is a nice way to balance out one's personal wardrobe without filling it completely with a lot of cheaper "disposable" items which will wear out quickly and ones that are more expensive and well made but do not get worn a lot.  In achieving that wonderful balance, I came up with some great tips on how to love your wardrobe and find things to cherish:

1.  Alter your items that have been sitting in your closet to make them work for you.

I loved this pair of Calvin Klein capri pants I got on sale at Lord and Taylor and they still fit but were not as tapered as the more modern style of capris are.  So I took them to the tailor and asked her to taper them for me.  After some argument about how tapered I would like them, she agreed to do it.  She was worried the tapered end wouldn't fit over my foot but considering I manage to wear other tapered pants this shouldn't have been an issue.  And my feet are not humungous so I have no idea what she was insinuating!

Now I can wear these again and wear them often.  Rather than waiting for an article to come back in style, it's better to get more use out of your clothing now.  Even if you think that the style will come back, what are the chances that you won't go out and buy a new version of that style anyways?  For me it's slim to none. And what good is that piece doing you while its just sitting in the closet waiting to make a comeback that may never be? 

2.  Re-wear your favorites as many times as you like without shame!

I have this dress.  I wear it pretty often, more so in the cooler weather because of the sleeves. I got it for $25 at Forever 21 about three years ago.  Every single time I wear it, which is almost weekly in the fall, winter and spring for the past three years, I get complimented by someone on it.  I'm totally not kidding!  Perhaps they just didn't see me the week before but it's amazing how a great piece that fits well will attract positive compliments no matter how many times it gets worn. 

3.  Dress up your re-wears with different accessories, shoes and hair styles.

Fashion is about a "look" and your look includes accessories and hair.  Changing up the little things always changes an entire outfit and look.  It'll keep you updated.  Another plus to this method is that mixing up your shoes and accessories and adding a new way to style your hair is cheaper than buying a new outfit.

Compare these accessories to the ones above.  They really re-create a new look.  Especially the colorful shoes here!

Check out this awesome bun I made with some Goody spin pins.

I love a slightly messy updo!

4.  If you don't see yourself wearing an article of clothing or shoe at least to two different situations and on more than one occasion for each situation, really consider whether it is worth buying.  Despite the price, you don't want stuff just filling up space in your closet until you decide to donate it.  The thrift stores are not hurting for clothing donations, they get tons of them.  That being said, I just LOVE an impulse buy!  I've gotten many great wardrobe staples that way, including this dress below.  I guess the key here is to be discerning!  I am getting a lot of use out of this one impulse buy from this past February.

5.  Shop your closet!!  Why not see if you already have things that fit within the new trends.  Chances are you have at least a few things that fit!  Fashion, especially in the past few years, is cyclical and things are re-appearing faster than they did in the past.  Make your hard earned clothing work for you.

For example, this summer stripes, polka dots, peplum, bright colors, neon and color-blocking were all on the rage!  You may not have all of these trends, but probably at least one or two.  Work with what you have, and in the meantime, if you do see something in a store that really catches your eye and fits #4 above, don't be ashamed to get it as long as you are being discerning with what you buy.

Here are some striped articles of clothing that I bought within the last two summers that are keeping my wardrobe updated this summer as well.  It is a great way to recycle and still stay fresh and modern!

6.  Keep things from looking old or out of style by paying attention to the wear and fit of them.  If something has shrunk, just doesn't fit any more (too big or too small) or is worn out, no matter how "in" it is, it will look less hip if it's not fitting you right or is extremely worn.  Fit is key because an older style, like perhaps from another decade, can always be referenced as vintage or retro if that's the look you're going for but if it doesn't fit or is worn out, it just looks old.  If you loved it enough to wear it out, and I mean wear it out to the point that it's got many holes or almost holes, please give that poor piece of clothing the proper burial it deserves!

One of my favorite sweaters that got completely worn out in the elbow. I'm still having a hard time thinking of letting it go because the rest of it still looks so cute!  If I could sew it closed it might not look so bad.

7.  Dress up a worn out open-toe shoe with some fresh toenail polish!  I have these wedges I bought two summers ago and wear them all the time when the weather gets warmer.   They're one of the trusty pairs I keep in the office so that I don't have to always lug around a second pair of shoes with me.

I added in a pop of color with this O.P.I. nail polish called Cajun Shrimp and it somewhat distracts from the worn out front of the shoe!  I feel like this gives it a new life.

8.  Reinvent your looks.  This is similar to shopping your closet.  Reevaluate your clothing and see what new pairings you can put together or how you can wear the same thing differently.  This might seem elementary but it's not surprising how many people do not do this regularly, including myself.  Having just one way to wear an outfit is great if you know it looks good but when you feel it getting stale what do you do?  Finding a new way to pair a fabulous colorful fabric belt that came with one dress to dress up a plain old black dress is a neat idea.  Instead of carrying a cardigan to wear over your short sleeve top or dress, consider wearing it buttoned up over a cute camisole with pants, capris or a skirt.  Fold over your skinny jeans to create a cuffed jean capri.  Wear that button down over a tee and tie the ends of it together and pair with jeans.  If you wear a certain dress or skirt with heels all the time, try taking it into the fall with boots.  A great idea is to experiment with what you have to re-create the popular styles in magazines and on TV today.  I derive inspiration from People magazine and E! News to see what's hip and think of things in my closet that I may be able to put together to capture that style. 

Those are the best tips I have for keeping your wardrobe fresh and interesting while avoiding the lure of spending a ton on disposable clothing and working toward picking out just really great re-wearable pieces.

All this talk of disposable fashion also has gotten me to think about learning to sew and alter my own clothing to update it and make it work for me.  I have hand stitched pieces in the past that worked to some degree but wasn't the best sewing job.  I've actually signed up for sewing classes and want to learn to use a sewing machine and hopefully will eventually be able to make a few pieces here and there.  I would know the quality of these clothes first hand and appreciate the workmanship.  I'd also probably love them until they literally fell off my body in threads!

Are you at all interested in reading Elizabeth Cline's book or is it a pass?  Has it made you think about fashion today and what's so cheaply available in stores?

I personally would love to progress toward a fashion balance where people really loved their clothing for years and swapped out old worn ones with a few new good quality pieces while still being able to get affordable basics.  I'll have to put myself to this test as well!

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