Rosemary McLeod explores the changing face of fast fashion and how she makes her clothes last for years.
The revival of false eyelashes among young women delights me. It runs so counter to the more solemn concerns of their lives, like cancelling people, that it makes me hope they still have a sense of humour and can lighten up.
I saw a pair of tarantula lashes on a young woman recently that looked astonishing. So did she. Such images, like wildly mismatched op shop clothes, lift your spirits on a bad day. Life is tough when you’re paying huge rents for basic living spaces, working with no job security for a minimum wage, believing you’ll never own your own home. The happiest response is playful creativity.
The fashion industry everywhere is challenged to get women to buy clothes the way they used to, back when people got paid enough to live on and didn’t have to repay student loans for the rest of their lives. One odd response from the high fashion industry has been to make clothes that look as if they’ve come from a charity shop, but cost hundreds of times as much. That hardly makes sense.
Fashion isn’t dictated with a loudspeaker from the top of a fabric pyramid anymore – it’s what you make it. My mother used to come home from shopping declaring, for example, “It’s purple this season”, as if it was one of the 10 commandments. She was always broke. Knowing what was fashionable in expensive shops was, at least, a consolation.
Fashion isn’t dictated with a loudspeaker from the top of a fabric pyramid anymore – it’s what you make it
She’d never have worn second-hand clothes because she’d lived during the Depression, when poor kids like her were mocked by nasty rich kids. But my grandmother was more of a realist. She was delighted when I found knitwear for her. I was just as delighted when I found it for myself. I’ve op shopped since I was a teenager.
I’m bemused by fashion commentators who report that an actress looking glam at an awards ceremony wore the same designer dress a whole five years ago. They can be accused of taking conspicuous consumption for granted just when the world deplores how much clothing ends up in landfills and rots there.
You can buy throwaway new stuff cheap, but a vintage version of the same thing has already lasted for years and will last a few more – especially if you know how to mend it. That’s how I learned to darn, take hems up or down, and patch things. Around home, where the cats sit on me and shed fur, I wear a jumper with multicoloured darns.
Morwenna Ferrier, a fashion editor of British newspaper The Guardian, recently wrote about getting nauseous in Topshop, surrounded by racks and racks of clothes. To be fair, she was pregnant at the time, but it was a pivotal moment. “Everything is commodified and nothing is sustainable. This truth overwhelmed me,” she wrote.
There are also the working conditions of the makers in developing countries to consider, but what other work will they get if we stop buying? And what are we to make of the 40% of clothes in European wardrobes not being worn?
I’m guilty of that. I rush out and buy colour sometimes to relieve my endless black, but I also wear coats that are 25 years old, and have a dress that’s older than God, but I can’t bear to throw it out. Who hasn’t thrown a heap of clothes they no longer want into a rubbish sack to take to an op shop, left it in the garage, forgotten about it, and months later made exciting discoveries rummaging through it?
That’s how I have a favourite black crew neck pullover older than my oldest child, and another, just the right length, where the darns practically hold hands. And I am not ashamed.