Choice and identity
September 15, 2014 § 10 Comments
We’re over halfway through the year so an update on my second year of the Wardrobe Wartime Challenge is long overdue. In the last five months there has been some making from scratch, some making do, a bout of rigorous moth control and, yes, even a few new purchases. All have been focussed on maintenance and replenishment and all have reinforced my views about the modern obsession with choice, or rather the fallacy of choice.
Readers of this blog may have realised that I talk about clothes and wardrobe but never fashion. There is a reason for this. Fashion has a lot to do with economics and a little to do with our desire for identity but nothing to do with keeping ourselves clothed and even less with us feeling truly good about how we look.
The fashion industry, like so much of our growth-based economy, is driven by the need to keep the consumer engine turning, whether we need new products or not. Every season, or nowadays every few weeks, retailers churn out another garment only slightly different from previous ones to induce us to keep buying. Nobody seems to bat an eyelid at minor variations on a theme being heralded as the latest must-have products. Questioning this is almost heresy in an age of supposedly endless consumer choice!
Self-imposed rationing, however, highlights how little choice we actually have or rather where our real choices lie.
The only way wardrobe rationing works over a prolonged period is by knowing your style, building a capsule wardrobe around quality products and satisfying the occasional whim by making your own or trawling through second hand shops. All of this involves choices but not the type that retailers claim we have.
On the one hand, it very soon becomes obvious that for all the frocks, trousers or shoes on offer, what I’m really looking for is not actually available as it is not ‘on trend’ this particular season. On the other hand, I have the choice to ignore the ephemeral styles that will not work with my capsule wardrobe, avoid poor quality products made in questionable conditions and decide where to spend my money. I have this luxury not because of my budget – currently very limited – but because I know what works for me and how to meet my needs and wants in other ways.
In the last few months, despite retailers offering endless lines of new clothes, I chose to buy quality yarn to knit my own ‘warm(ish) weather’ cardigan, this being the only way to replace a worn-out staple with something that works for me and meets my ethical and environmental criteria. Similarly, I chose not to buy a new pair of sensible city shoes. Instead I gave my custom to an independent cobbler so he could extend the life of my black lace-ups with a new heel and sole. And I chose to ignore cute transients styles and prints and instead bought a simple black jersey wrap dress to replace the one I’d worn to shreds, confident that this staple will create various outfits for many years.
At no point has ignoring the endless onslaught of products felt like deprivation. Neither do I feel that my identity is undermined by not having the latest ‘en vogue’ or must-have garment.
Instead I enjoy not wasting my money on poorly constructed clothes and take delight in every moment that I don’t spend tramping around shops, picking over clothes rails or wondering what to wear in the morning. Of course, I have to devote some time (and money) to maintaining a smaller wardrobe but avoiding the fashion treadmill means I have time and pennies to invest in me and my real identity. In my case, that of a wife, gardener, cook, runner, tinkerer and maker of things, perpetual student and, of course, writer,… which brings me to some exciting news.
This summer my interest in writing and sustainable wardrobes resulted in my clothes rationing experiment being featured in Pretty Nostalgic. As the magazine’s motto is “spend wisely, waste less, appreciate more”, I am delighted that the editor of Pretty Nostalgic decided to feature the Wartime Wardrobe Challenge, and in the Goodwood Special Edition* in particular. It feels like this clothes rationing experiment has been given the perfect platform from which to inspire many others!
Apart from the wrap dress (7 coupons) and a handmade cardigan (2.5 coupons), I also invested in a new pair of winter boots (5 coupons) and some underwear and hoisery (7 coupons). I nearly didn’t buy the tights due to poor customer service and ended up going to another, more helpful branch.
In the summer I replaced old sandals with a pair of clogs, which in line with wartime practice are coupon free. Repairing my autumn/smart shoes avoided a new pair (5 coupons) as did unravelling a cardigan that had never really worked for me and re-using the yarn to knit a sweater (2.5 coupons). I also shortened the threadbare sleeves of an old nightie so it will last a few more years, avoiding the need for a new one (6 coupons).
Total coupons spent in 2014: 42.5 of 66
Total coupons saved by making do, mending and being a little bit ‘bloody minded’: 13.5
* Pretty Nostalgic is available online (as a subscription or as a single issue) or from selected independent bookshops in the UK.