Back to school, back to fashion

It’s time to go back to school. This detail might be easily overlooked, since temperatures are still warm and we can still wear our summer clothes, yet slogans in storefronts and media campaigns remind us while suggesting we buy new fashion accordingly. September might mark a return to school, but stores would rather prefer you didn’t go back in old clothes.

The industry is well-prepared for this shift. Winter collections were delivered to retailers in August, fashion magazines publish their thickest volumes of the year, and retailers send flyers with the newest trends and coupons for savings, but what are we saving if we spend on clothes which we might not need? As a fashion addict myself, I know all too well how easily we convince ourselves that want is synonymous for need.

Where clothing was once dictated by seasonal need, such as needing warmer clothing and multiple layers in winter, fashion has developed towards phases independent from seasons. Depending on the retailer, there can be as many as 8 to 12 phases to cover only 4 seasons. Many of the clothes we will find right now in our stores are not warmer than our summer clothes, very often the biggest difference will simply be a darkening of tones. The fashion is oriented more towards mood than function.

With the rise of consumerism, the significance of garments has shifted from clothes with a physical function towards fashion with an emotional value (Fletcher, 2008). I’m no stranger to the feeling of luck and joy when I buy a new garment, unfortunately this feeling never lasts long, which is why it’s important that we prepare wisely, otherwise we might end up like the average American consumer who bought 62 garments in 2011 (The American Apparel & Footwear Association, 2012), or about 1.2 garments per week. The following are some tips to consider before shopping:

  1. Know your closet. By the end of summer we often forget what we wore last winter. Before you go shopping, have a look first what you have. Often we have a tendency to buy the same or similar style again, like another black sweater, either forgetting or overlooking its striking resemblance to the four other black sweaters in the drawer back home.
  2. Think about what you wear now and how you can transition it to the winter season.
  3. Make a checklist of clothing you might need and keep track throughout the year. There’s nothing wrong with shopping off the list, but having one will help keep impulse buys to a minimum.
  4. Take your time before you purchase. There is no rush; stores have intakes every other week — they will not be empty.
  5. Rethink the product. Before you purchase it ask yourself whether it fits with the rest of your collection, is the garment really comfortable, does the colour really fit you. Most of us have clothing which are never worn. A study of Norwegian women found that as much as 13 percent of their total wardrobe was dedicated to clothing that had never been worn (Klepp, 2001). It’s not uncommon for textile collectors in Canada to receive donations that have still a price tag attached.
  6. Rather than going to the shopping mall try buying from a range of retailers (second-hand, internet, chains, high-end). This will bring diversity to your closet, allowing you to create your own vibrant style by mixing second-hand, organic, craft with conventional clothing.
  7. Before you purchase a garment check its composition and look for alternative fibres such as bamboo or linen or new fibre blends like organic cotton and recycled polyester.
  8. Be creative. Make new combinations with your current garments, or try adding accessories.
  9. Think of clothes as an investment. Rather than buying several inexpensive garments, invest in something timeless, something that works in multiple contexts (like formal and business-casual) or something you think is really special.

Putting Theory Into Practice: A Case Study of My Personal Shopping Investment for the upcoming fall.

I’ve wanted a black biker jacket for some time now. You all know the look, the kind that Marlon Brando made famous in The Wild One, the masculine shoulder-straps, the tapered waist, the side-swept zipper that sets it apart from all the rest. Black biker jackets are a mega-trend worldwide. The style first gained traction two years ago and now the style dominates the market and will stay about two more years until the fashion changes. Though I’ve wanted one since the trend began, I couldn’t find the right piece. These biker coats are typically made from Polyvinyl Chloride, more commonly known as PVC and are available at mainstream retailers between $39 – $79—affordable and therefore popular. My problem is I have an aversion to fake leather jackets as this toxic goo does not only create Dioxin during its manufacturing process, the fumes harm workers and these coats will stays forever in our landfills since they don’t biodegrade. If all this weren’t enough to discourage its use, PVC is also not breathable–it’s like wearing a heavy garbage bag. So what is the alternative? A proper biker’s jacket in leather, with a cost that starts at $300 and can reach into the thousands of dollars. The cheapest genuine leather jacket is certainly made in China, which carries with it the heavy environmental impact that comes from the tanning process—the most deadly of which is Chromium VI, which can pose serious health risks. The EU even proposed a restriction of the use of Chromium (VI) in preparing leather in 2013, but this still remains just a firmly worded suggestion to manufacturers. Therefore, I decided to invest in a high quality leather coat made in the European Union (and so hopefully without Chromium VI). Nonetheless, any kind of leather products will also cause intensive farming and animal rights issues. As a result, I tried to find a coat that had that real motor style—the kind of classic look you only need buy once.

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You may be thinking to yourself, good for her – but I can’t spent so much money. Alternatives are still available. Look for the same style but in fabric, or as a patch coat (the body of the jacket might be in fabric while the sleeves use fake leather to achieve a similar look) or shop vintage.

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Happy shopping.

Written by: Sabine Weber

Sabine Weber worked as an apprentice to a tailor, studied apparel engineering in Germany and has recently earned a Master’s degree in Environment and Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo. Her thesis is about textile waste and her main interest is how can we foster a more sustainable fashion consumption.

FLETCHER, K. 2008. Sustainable Fashion and Textiles Design Journeys, London, Earthscan.

KLEPP, I. G. 2001. Hvorfor går klær ut av bruk [Why women stop using clothes ?]. Avhending sett i forhold til kvinners klesvaner Lysaker, SIFO Rapport. Oslo, Norway: Statens Instittut for Forbruksforskining.

THE AMERICAN APPAREL & FOOTWEAR ASSOCIATION. 2012. AAFA Releases Apparel Stats 2012 Report [Online]. Arlington, VA The American Apparel & Footwear Association. Available: https://www.wewear.org/aafa-releases-apparelstats-2012-report/ [Accessed October 2014].

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