I am the anti-fashionista
I am not fashion-conscious. In fact, I represent the opposite of the phrase “in style.” I am little more aware of current fashion trends in the West than are the Hovitos of Peru.
Fashion just isn’t something I think or care about. I don’t go to the mall, I do most of my shopping online. I don’t watch broadcast TV and I adblock all the things.
When it comes to clothing, I consider myself lucky. I’m male, in my 40s, I work from home, and I’m married. Nobody really cares how I dress as long as I have pants on.
For me, clothes should be comfortable, functional, and reasonably durable. I don’t do “seasons” or change up what I wear. In fact, I put on the same boring thing every day – grey t-shirt, blue jeans, sneakers. If it’s cold I put on a sweater, a work shirt, or a jacket. If it’s hot I put on shorts. About the only fashion decision I make when I walk out the door is, “which baseball cap should I wear today?” (and I have two choices).
Build to last, buy to last
Part of the reason I’m so out of touch with fashion is that I buy clothing very infrequently. I have been wearing the same 12 pairs of underwear for over a decade. The same dozen t-shirts for over four years. The same jacket for eight years.
I do tend to get only two or three years from a pair of jeans, though. Part of the reason for that, is that they just don’t make them like they used to. That’s not just nostalgia talking, either. Go to a thrift store and find a pair of Levi’s made in the 80’s or 90’s. You can feel the difference, the old ones are a lot sturdier. But mostly, it’s because I generally wear the same pair of jeans for a week or more at a time. And they take all manner of abuse, from treading through underbrush to kneeling on concrete and gravel, to sharp tools stuck in the pockets. I replace my sneakers about every two years for much the same reason (except for the bit about tool storage).
Other stuff lasts longer. I’ve owned six pairs of the same nylon khaki cargo shorts for about five years. I wear them infrequently enough that I will likely never need to buy another pair. I have a pair of leather hiking boots that have held up for over 11 years and are still going strong. My chambray work shirt is seven years old.
The last time I bought a significant amount of new clothes at one time was around 2013-2014, during a period when I began to lose a lot of weight due to some healthy lifestyle changes.
I’m “brand loyal” only in so much as I know what I like and what works for me. I buy Under Armour t-shirts because they are light, comfortable, and durable. Unlike cotton t-shirts, the UA shirts don’t fade, fray, or get white deodorant stains in the pits. Same for my UA boxers, which are still comfortable and functional over 10 years after I bought them. Even wearing a fresh pair every day, I’ll probably get another decade out of that underwear.
When I have to buy new jeans, I always buy the same thing – Levi’s 501. The cut is comfortable and they don’t have zippers that break easily. When I buy shoes, I get New Balance because they are comfortable, durable, inexpensive, and their sizing is very consistent. I can order a pair of shoes online and be confident that when they arrive the footwear will fit properly. I tend to get about seven years out of a pair of sandals, and when they wear out I replace them with the same model of leather-thonged Quiksilvers. I replace socks (white, ankle height) about every other Presidential term, and prefer Gold Toe brand for comfort and durability. For work shirts, I buy Carhartt because they are quality made and hold up to a lot of abuse.
When it comes to fashion, I’m very much of the philosophy “find what works and stick with it.” I’m also (to quote my wife) “boring as hell.” And we’re both fine with that.
Life in the fast (fashion) lane
Being so out of touch, I was somewhat taken aback when I recently learned of the industry trend called “fast fashion“. This is a global paradigm comprised of clothing designers, manufacturers, and stores that is intended to produce, distribute, and sell new, cheap fashion clothing on a rolling basis, and at a rate unprecedented in the history of apparel production.
When I was a kid, there were two “seasons” for clothes shopping. Summer clothes were bought in the Spring, and school clothes were bought in the Fall. As I got older, I learned that for adults (and in particular, for women) there were four seasons for fashion – Spring, Summer, Winter, and Fall – and they corresponded to the calendar seasons. As the temperatures changed so did the clothing, and new brands or styles this year supplanted last year’s brands and styles in a cyclical game of “What’s In This Year?”
In recent years, that old model has fallen away to be replaced with something far more ephemeral. Under the fast fashion paradigm, fashion “seasons” now last only a matter of weeks, with new styles and trends hitting stores on a monthly – even weekly – basis. The new styles are constantly marketed through social media and entertainment channels, product placement in TV wardrobes, and celebrity “wore it first” endorsement in appearances and events. As soon as any new style hits, it is immediately and systematically broadcast to the widest possible consumer audience. The message is loud and clear: “that rag you’re wearing is so last week.“
With styles and trends in a constant, calculated churn, fashion-conscious shoppers are nearly always buying new clothing. The fashion industry has become a huge global economic driver. Employing 1.9 million people in the United States, the fashion and apparel industry represents $1.2 trillion dollars in global economic activity. The United States alone imports over 1 billion garments from China annually, and in aggregate Americans spend more than $250 billion dollars per year on fashion.
Needle and the damage done
This explosive trend in the fashion industry also comes at a terrible ecological cost. As quickly as styles come into fashion, they also go out of fashion. This dynamic has resulted in Americans on average purchasing five times the amount of clothing today as they did in 1980. That level of mass consumption has created a surplus of used, unwanted clothing – to such a degree that pre-owned clothing has become effectively worthless. Rather than being sold, used clothing (still serviceable, often only months old, and perhaps worn once or twice) is donated or simply discarded. An aggregate of 10.5 million tons of textile waste is produced annually in America, to be deposited in our country’s landfills.
Ironically, it’s likely that some of the same self-styled environmentalists loudly decrying the impact of global climate change due to fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are themselves unwittingly contributing to an enormous ecological disaster simply by chasing the latest fashion trends. In addition to landfill waste, the fashion industry is responsible for about 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions – as much as the global aviation sector. In addition, global apparel manufacturers produce a tremendous amount of harmful polution in the form of runoff from chemical treatments and textile dyes.
So save the planet, hipsters – and wear that outfit a few more times. I won’t judge you, I don’t even know what’s cool anymore.