Done any shopping for clothing lately? I bet you have. Satisfied with your purchase?
I lost some weight and in my quest to find a pair of black slacks and a pair of jeans that fit me, I went shopping. I tried on slacks at the Van Heusen outlet, and it made me mad. Is it just me getting middle-aged and grumpy, or is the quality of much of the clothing available to us getting worse and worse? I mean to say! Loose threads everywhere, fabric you can just tell won’t hold up to many launderings, pucker-y, crooked seams. And, yes, the price is low, but I’ll have to do this whole process again in only a few weeks if I buy these.
I recently read a book called Overdressed: the shockingly high cost of cheap fashion. Katha Pollitt at The Nation said, “Overdressed does for T-shirts and leggings what Fast Food Nation did for burgers and fries.” I read this in fits and starts and find I can’t stop thinking about it. The author, Elizabeth L. Cline, posits that we are trading quality garments for cut-rate overseas goods and labor. She says my guess that those Van Heusen slacks would need to be replaced after only several wearings is right on – where manufacturers and retailers used to entice consumers to buy new clothing annually or seasonally, now they produce and market their wares to encourage shopping every week or two!
That’s just silly if you spend ten seconds thinking about it, but then ten more seconds’ thought makes me realize that is exactly what too many of us do and have done – shopping first became more hobby than thing we did to procure necessities and retailers quickly responded by giving quicker and quicker turnover of new things to browse. Quality plummeted, and now even those of us who want a life beyond shopping find ourselves having to hit the stores more often to keep ourselves supplied with decent looking and functioning clothing, home goods, and even what are un-amusingly still called “durable goods.”
Also, according to Cline, this decades-long descent from quality clothing mostly made in America to disposable clothing mostly made first in China but now increasingly in very poor countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam is totally unsustainable. She points out that for the first time in a long while clothing prices in the US actually rose in 2011 because of higher costs for fibers and growing demand in developing countries. And yet the quality is still low and in many cases got even worse. She predicts that we may see a trend in the opposite direction, one in which consumers will have to re-learn the previously-assumed principles that clothing is valuable, must be saved for and invested in, and can and must be cared for to make it last.
Whether society accomplishes that shift in mindset or not, it is one that I appreciate more and more in the last few years and am trying to adopt for myself. I am done with badly-constructed garments that fit poorly, are made with inferior fabrics and notions, and die too young. I am starting to demand better of myself and for myself. I have decided I will pay more for fewer pieces and appreciate what I do have more.
In the days since I started this essay, I dug out my old pair of black slacks that I loved (Talbots, lined, and with washable fabric that has held up well) but are now a size or more too large. I had reluctantly added them to the donate-to-charity bin, but I realized I can have them altered to fit my new frame and keep using a basic garment that brings me pleasure and has a lot of life left in it. I took them to a local seamstress yesterday and she pinned them up and will call me when they are done. Before my appointment with her I went to a Joanne’s fabric store to check out the fabrics and patterns. I was pleased to see they have wrinkle-resistant cotton “bottom weight” fabric for a fair price. I asked the seamstress if she makes clothing for people. Sadly, she said she only does alterations. I haven’t really enjoyed sewing in the past, but I just may take it up again.
Cline herself recommends sewing as a viable antidote for the sorry state of today’s garment industry and a skill that deserves resurrection. My mother made all of our clothes except jeans when we were children, all of her own clothes, and even some of my dad’s. She used her creativity, ability, and time to make beautiful, durable outfits for us. Many people today think sewing is too expensive when ready-made items are available for so little. I thought the same thing, but maybe the expense is justified by the quality end result.
What about right now, however? Mom and I are leaving in a little while to go to an outlet center. She has a Coldwater Creek gift card to use and I need some jeans that fit. I do not know if I will come home with a pair today, but I do know I will be scrutinizing seams and fabrics and labels much more carefully than I used to do.
Talk to me. What brands do you like? What do you think about this idea of demanding higher quality in our clothing, owning less, and loving what we do have more?