I like clothes. I like shoes, too. And neckerchiefs. Not purses. But definitely statement coats. But you know what I don’t like? When my savings account is leaner than an In-N-Out burger patty. I have a penchant for looking put-together, but I also want to invest in my future. I’m not saying these two passions are mutually exclusive, but I do think there’s some finesse involved in practicing both philosophies in tandem. You can shop responsibly.
As a young, financially independent woman with a steady job and a bit of a student loan to pay off, I can sometimes splurge on a retail item or two each month, but I’m definitely on a budget. And yet, I still find myself shopping online, scrolling through page after page, an absentminded (but occasionally costly) habit.
After a recent purchase of a few things I didn’t really need, just wanted, I paused to reconsider my priorities. Why did I even buy these things? Why didn’t I put that money in savings? Should I be donating to charity instead?
Ultimately, I decided to stop buying from any major retailer or fast-fashion company for at least the next three months. (And I also recognize my privilege in the fact that for many people, this isn’t a choice.) Instead, I would be relying on thrifted and second-hand items to quench any trend-thirst I might have. While I’m not suggesting that you do the exact same, here are five reasons why I think you should consider a similar fast from fast-fashion (at least temporarily):
While I love many high-fashion designers and have the utmost respect for what they do, I simply can’t afford their products. The most I’ve ever spent on anything was a heavy woolen coat from Topshop while studying abroad, because I hadn’t packed appropriately for the cold (and it was a beautiful coat). What I’m getting at is that cost is generally more important to me than labels are.
Take this trench coat for example: I found it for $7.95 from Valley Thrift in Escondido, California. I’d been wanting a trench coat for a while, like this one from Topshop, but living in LA where it only gets cold for two or three months out of the year, I couldn’t justify the cost. So instead, I hunted for a secondhand one, and found one for a steal (with no stains, and barely any wear). Cost-effectiveness can be achieved, all it takes is thriftiness and a willingness to comb through rack after rack after rack until you find your own personal deal of the day.
Yes, feminism. One of the most memorable lessons I learned during my Gender in a Global Perspective course in college is the theory that consumerism can keep a woman under the thumb of the patriarchy by convincing her she needs to spend money on makeup, clothes, shoes, hair dye, fake nails, plastic surgery, etc. to look like the women in magazines, while men spend their money elsewhere, like on investments and business.
Ellen Willis argues in “Women and the Myth of Consumerism” that “society defines women as consumers, and the purpose of the prevailing media image of women as passive sexual objects is to sell products. It follows that the beneficiaries of this depreciation of women are not men but the corporate power structure.”
While I don’t believe that I bought a trench coat because of the patriarchy, I do think that I’ve been trained to lust after certain style and beauty trends unnecessarily, and therefore I worry about wasting money when I could be saving it. What I’m saying is that femininity, if you want to participate in it, should be defined by your own standards, and making sure that you’re not spending money to live up to other peoples’ standards is a valuable reality check.
In this day and age where I can scroll through my Instagram feed for five minutes and see fashion blogger after beauty blogger with the latest this and cutest that, it can be hard to remember that, no, you don’t need it. You don’t need another pair of jeans if you already have three that you love. Necessity and desire are two different beasts.
It can help to really take a look at your closet and in your drawers once a month. Remind yourself of what you own, what you don’t need, and what you can give away to others rather than letting it collect dust in the back of your wardrobe. In today’s get-it-now culture, remind yourself instead of what you need. It’s probably not something you can simply order online and have delivered next day with Amazon Prime.
Remember my earlier fear that I should have been donating to charity instead of spending what extra cash I had on a pair of loafers? Well, the nice thing about thrifting and shopping secondhand is that many places like Salvation Army or Goodwill provide proceeds to those in need.
You can find the perfect denim jacket for yourself while donating a few dollars to someone who needs your help. It’s a win-win all around.
It can be helpful to remind yourself every time you buy an item of clothing that its production had an effect on the environment. For example, 2 billion pairs of jeans are produced every year, and a typical pair takes 7,000 liters of water to produce. Dyeing processes require chemicals, which find their way back into our environment afterward. And, once you’re done with that Forever 21 blouse that you bought and wore three times before it frayed or ripped, there’s another issue in the fact that not all fabrics can even be recycled.
Buying secondhand clothing means that the process used to create it in the first place gets a second life, rather than requiring a whole other round of production. Mother nature already has a lot to deal with. Let your wardrobe be one less thing.