The aesthetics of several fashion shows recently held in Paris have captured my attention. Fashion is something that’s held my interest for a long time. By “fashion” here, I tend not to mean everyday style, though I enjoy thinking about that as well. Much of my interest rather lies in the designing of garments that are pieces of art in themselves, like those displayed in fashion shows worldwide.
Why appreciate fashion design?
I’m fascinated by the artistic process that lies in creating incredibly detailed pieces, from the way designers and makers produce a garment to the life that the garment takes on when a person wears it and gives it movement. The world of fashion is one that I’ve often seen dismissed by those seeking more “serious” art. Fashion often has a reputation for being shallow, vapid and petty. To an extent, that can be true (the competitive and social aspects might have those qualities).
I want to focus, however, on the art itself. Fashion design is woefully underrated, I think, yet is worth our consideration. I think that it warrants our time and attention because there are few other arts quite like it.
clothing is art, brought to life
We view most of the other art in our lives from a distance and with a certain kind of stillness. In fashion, we can engage so intimately with the art itself. More than that, even, it is necessary that we interact with it. Clothing requires a wearer! This means that beautiful garments take on unique lives of their own, and are animated in a certain way when they are worn. No designer creates garments that are meant always to be still. Much of their thought, in fact, lies not in how the garment appears when still, but rather how it moves and looks when worn.
One of the shows that prompted me to think more these things was Rodarte’s Spring 2018 presentation in Paris. Rather than present on a typical runway, designers chose to hold the show in the gardens of a 17th-century Parisian abbey, backed by the quiet music of Yo La Tengo. I love the intention to create a meaningful experience in a show like this. The ethereal profusion of baby’s breath in swathes around the models connects them visibly to the life in the gardens. They become like flowers themselves here, enveloped in tulle and lace. Such a presentation makes the garments come alive beautifully.
I’ll never say no to a good day of secondhand shopping. It’s one of my favorite things to do on a lazy Saturday afternoon. More than anything, I believe in the power of secondhand shopping. I believe that it is a much-needed antidote to the absurd culture of fast and effectively disposable fashion. It supports slow fashion, the preservation of timeless styles and the elimination of waste. It’s also rewarding and financially practical. What’s not to love?
first, thrifting is good for nature.
Environmental impact is an enormous reason to start shopping secondhand. According to a 2016 McKinsey & Company report, there are over 100 billion new items of clothing produced each year. Within the year, 3/5 of those items will end up in an incinerator or landfill. (Threefifths.) Environmentally speaking, that’s a sadly unsustainable rate of production. The garment industry is unique because it touches so many other industries, such as agriculture (cotton, hemp), animal agriculture (leather, wool, cashmere) and petroleum (polyester and synthetics). Since the garment industry affects so many others, it is especially important for us to consider its environmental impact.
The sad thing is that a great majority of the hundred-billion-plus pieces produced by this industry aren’t even expected to last! Think about it: clothing produced by industry titans does not pretend to possess quality, longevity or any elements of sustainable production. (That $2 camisole is there for the immediate gratification of the consumer, but no one expects it to last for more than a small number of wears.) Secondhand shopping is an excellent way to refuse to support such unsustainable practices, helping Mother Nature out as she needs it.
Second, it’s good for people too.
Fast fashion comes at a high cost for many reasons. In addition to supporting the unsustainable practices mentioned above, it hurts humans. I’ve wandered through a local H&M absentmindedly wondering how so many things could be so inexpensive. The answer has since hit me hard: it’s cheap because garment workers are often treated like slaves. The garment industry is a known supporter of human trafficking. Workers are woefully underpaid and forced to work lengthy days without breaks in poor conditions. Stepping away from supporting fast fashion is a small step towards eliminating this particular kind of human trafficking. Obviously, there’s still work to be done to eliminate human trafficking completely. If, however, by my practices as a consumer I can make a small difference, I’m happy to do it.
why else should i thrift?
The reasons are still plentiful! Here are the other main reasons I choose to shop secondhand:
+ It’s inexpensive. I’ll admit that his was the reason that initially drew me to shopping secondhand. In college, when the majority of my funds went to tuition, thrifting provided a budget-friendly way to suit my changing sense of style. This reason was also immensely helpful in my decision to step away from fast fashion. Although there are innumerable small, ethically-run businesses that produce beautiful clothing, it isn’t practical for me to fill my closet with those pieces at this moment (though I’d love to). Thrifting means that I can shop ethically without spending more than I think is reasonable for my current budget.
+ It’s unique. Another reason I’m happy to thrift is that it allows me to acquire pieces of clothing I haven’t seen on anyone before. (A pair of high-waisted ivory silk & linen pants, a broad-lapeled camel coat and unique leather riding boots are a few of my favorite finds.) While of course not everything in a thrift store is novel and exciting, I’ve found some truly beautiful pieces that I’ve yet to see new in a typical store.
+ It’s satisfying. Finally, I love shopping secondhand because I find it to be a gratifying experience. I believe that fashion shouldn’t be something that is lost with time (as fast fashion would have it). Secondhand shopping promotes a sense of longevity in fashion, which I love. It’s important that the art that we create lasts, and since fashion is an art, why shouldn’t it be treasured?
Where to start?
Finally, a few favorite sources for buying secondhand:
+ Local thrift stores. I frequent these types of stores once or twice a month. They’re my go-to places when I don’t have a specific idea of what I want. Often I find things I wasn’t looking for specifically, but end up wearing multiple times a week.
+ eBay. I love eBay. If I’m looking for something very particular, eBay is where I turn. I routinely find high-quality items for 25% or 30% of their original price. While items don’t usually end up being $3.95, like they might at your local thrift store, I always find it worth it to spend a bit extra to fill a need in my closet (in the interests of choosing quality over quantity).
+ thredUP. While I’ve only used thredUP a handful of times, I’ve always been pleased with my experience. I use thredUP similarly to the way I use eBay, that is, when I’m looking for something in particular. I’ve often end up paying a mere few dollars for a high-quality item (like the merino wool sweater from my last purchase).
Do you shop secondhand? What’s your experience been like?