Fashion Evolution and Our Wardrobes

If I were to describe my wardrobe, I’d definitely say it’s eclectic, because I dress to tell a story with my clothes instead of adhering strictly to trends. Since I’m a professional fashion/feature writer who often needs stylish gear for interviews, store profiles, fashion shows, and other events, I buy and collect according to the industry’s dress code requirements for individuality. That could mean anything from a secondhand suit bought from an online store, to a vintage dress from Etsy.com, Goodwill, or Council Thrift Store or a jumpsuit from Target, T.J. Maxx, or Ross Dress For Less. Even though I have a wide range of clothes in my wardrobe, the three areas I’ve noticed that reflect significant changes in the field of fashion too include, fast-fashion, secondhand, vintage clothing, and personal style.

Bow-front blouse from Ross Dress For Less

“Fast-fashion is a term used to describe an industrial phenomenon associated with companies that accurately and instantly track consumer demands in order to rapidly manufacture and offer trend-driven clothing and accessories at exceptionally low costs,” writes Sara Idacavage in the article The Development of Fast-Fashion. When I examine the fast-fashion merchandise in my wardrobe, I notice quite a bit from Forever 21, H&M, and Uniqlo. While I doubt the sustainability of Forever 21 and don’t agree with how they’ve incessantly copied others, I still enjoy wearing their clothing, especially when paired with something vintage, secondhand, or designer.

“Fast-fashion is a term used to describe an industrial phenomenon associated with companies that accurately and instantly track consumer demands in order to rapidly manufacture and offer trend-driven clothing and accessories at exceptionally low costs.”

Sara Idacavage

Although I also agree it’s true what Idacavage writes in The Development of Fast-Fashion about “the fast fashion business model often relying on manufacturing in low-wage countries such as China and Bangladesh” I also believe they provide employment and goods to those in society who might otherwise not be able to obtain either due to where they live, their socioeconomic circumstances, or their race.

Unfortunately, the growth and change of fast-fashion in the “late 20th and early 21st centuries” haven’t been sustainable and have added to clothing’s disposability. H&M with their Conscious Collection is attempting to right some of these wrongs by transforming recycled plastic bottles, etc., into new merchandise. The fact that a lot of fast-fashion ends up at thrift stores and on secondhand websites poses a new argument about its lifespan, because instead of going into a landfill it goes into the wardrobe of another owner, reducing its instant disposability.

Red and white gingham shirt and multicolored pants from ThredUp.com

As a long-term thrifter and sartorial storyteller, one practice I still adhere to and partly learned from shopping fast-fashion, is combining inexpensive finds with expensive ones for a unique look. “Fashion and social histories have noted that it became increasingly popular to mix “high” (designer) with “low” (mass-produced) fashion during the 1990s,” writes Idacavage.

For me that could mean a Ralph Lauren shirt with a pair of jeans from Forever 21 or a tunic dress from Prada (Miu Miu) with a pair of joggers from Fallas. By buying clothing to fit in with my existing wardrobe I’m also practicing sustainability because I rarely discard anything after repeated wearings, giving my fast-fashion pieces an extended life.

Secondhand Rules:

Secondhand, or as Nicky Gregson and Louise Crewe call it “commodity revalorization” in the e-Book Second-Hand Cultures, is an area that has impacted the fashion industry as well because the resell market is almost as profitable as the retail one. Promoted by fashion bloggers like Sarah Chuck on Instagram, it’s become a reliable way to sustainably acquire and exchange clothing.

Personally, I’ve successfully added things to my wardrobe from various thrift shops and the online sites ThredUp.com and Swap.com and plan to continue as long as the quality of merchandise is maintained. Besides the budgetary plus of the practice, buying secondhand is one of the most constructive ways to extend the life of clothing. Since I’ve learned more about sustainability, I’ve consistently bought clothes this way from H&M‘s Conscious Collection.

White Dress from H&M

Vampire’s Wife x H&M:

Recently, thanks to COVID-19, Zoom meetings, webinars, and working from home, I’ve had to mostly shop online so I’ve become more cognizant of sustainable clothing and accessories on the internet. One dress I bought from H&M was even featured on T.V. as part of their Conscious Collection. Perfectly on-trend, the white fabric is made out of recycled polyester.

Another dress I recently bought from them, a black lace mini (The Mystique Dress) from their Vampire’s Wife x H&M collaboration, is also sustainable and the lace is “made from recycled polyamide”. Basically, what I like about the line is that it’s “mainly made from sustainably sourced materials” and the styles are distinctly gothic and Victorian.

“The collection consists of desirable statement mini and maxi dresses made from recycled nylon or recycled polyester, accompanied by covetable jewelry.”

Susie Cave

Susie Cave, the company’s founder and Creative Director told H&M in an interview “The collection consists of desirable statement mini and maxi dresses made from recycled nylon or recycled polyester, accompanied by covetable jewelry.” She also later states, “Sustainable fashion means that the entire life cycle of the product aims to reduce any unnecessary environmental and socio-economic harm.”

A New Mind Set

The criteria we use to measure the value of a successful fashion or product is if it’s qualitative or well-made, attractive, and long-lasting. Today with so much emphasis being placed on whether an item is sustainable or not the criteria we measure it with has changed to include the way it’s manufactured, the materials used to make it, and how kind it will be to the environment when its lifespan is over.

For example, the way Eileen Fisher creates her clothing with the goals to be “comfort driven, quality made, trend adverse, and timeless” exemplifies this new mind set. Intent on a “slow fashion” pace she wants to give her customers something that lasts. In order for the fashion industry to be on board other designers and manufacturers need to do the same.

Feeling Good About Buying Second-Hand: Goodwill and Council Thrift Shops Make It Stylish to Give Back

Two of the most important reasons I shop at a thrift store is to (a) obtain timeless, stylish gear on a budget, and (b) to help others. Goodwill Industries International, Inc. and National Jewish Women Los Angeles are the charities, who have the best chain shops in Los Angeles that meet this criteria.

Not Charity, but a Chance.

Goodwill’s philosophy

While the Mission Statement of each is tailored to reflect the organization, their overall goal is to “enhance and improve the quality of life for individuals and families facing poverty, homelessness, mental and physical disabilities and unemployment.” Goodwill’s history, based on the philosophy, “Not Charity, but a Chance” was founded in 1902 by Reverend Edgar J. Helms, “a Methodist minister and social innovator.” Initially, they provided “indigent citizens with unwanted goods collected from the wealthy they were hired and trained to repair.” In order to provide them with quality items, at no or low cost, the items were then either re-sold to the employees who fixed them or given to them.

Doing Good and Providing Experience

Today their main focus is to provide training to job seekers and offer programs for seniors, veterans, the disabled and others. Ranked by consumers on the 2017 Brand World Value Index as number one in “doing the most good two consecutive years in a row”, in 2016 they trained and secured employment for over 313,000 people in “IT, banking and health careers” with donations and retail sales of $4.16 billion from “more than 3,20o stores and an online auction site.”

Daniella Wallace (goodwillista.blogspot.com) and The Goodwill Blog, with blogs like Spring Closet Cure by Julia Marchand, also make shopping at their thrift stores worthwhile by providing consumers with tips on what to buy and how to coordinate their finds according to contemporary runway trends.

Charles Jackson, 2016’s Achiever of the Year, and General Manager for the Goodwill thrift store in Central Texas for the past 10 years, can definitely thank Goodwill for turning his life around.

“Twenty years ago, before I became a general manager, I was working as a manager for a Rent-to-Own store by day and selling drugs by night,” he says. “I was arrested, and after spending 24 months in jail I had a difficult time getting a job. I felt like I had “convict” stamped on my forehead.” After going to 20 places, and receiving a ‘No’ at all of them, he finally went to Goodwill where they welcomed him with respect. There was a job opening for a manager, so he applied for it, and got it.

“Now, my days consist of making sure we meet our production goals, organizing the clothing so that they’re in their proper category, and encouraging our cashiers to greet everyone who comes into our stores,” he said. Relieved that he isn’t incarcerated any longer, he believes Goodwill also gave him a second chance to be there for his family.

National Council Jewish Women (NCJW)Thrift Shops

Black print blouse by Emanuel Ungaro (Council Thrift Shops)

National Council Jewish Women (NCJW) was originally founded by Hannah J. Solomon following the 1893 World Exposition Chicago. The Los Angeles chapter was subsequently founded in 1909 by Rachel Kauffman. Patterned on the three Jewish values: Kavod Ha Bri’ot: Respect and Dignity of all Human Beings, Talmud Torah: Education and Awareness, and Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof: The Pursuit of Justice they provide services for more than 12,000 people through their Community Mental Health, Youth Educational and Social Advocacy programs. Their annual “free clothing giveaway” is their largest, and most popular charitable event of the year providing additional resources to those attending.

But it’s through their eight Council Thrift Shops where they earn the most significant amount of revenue to support these programs. “The shops are the main money makers for the organization,” said Cory, a company spokesperson at their MarVista, California location. “After we receive our intake, from sales, we then deposit them in the main organizational account daily.”

Known in Southern California, for high-quality designer clothing, accessories, furniture, etc., on April 23, 2014, in homage to Issey Miyake, a writer for their blog celebrated “his designs that came through their stores in the ensuing months.”

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether I luck out with a white Theory sleeveless top from Goodwill or a green Marc Jacobs bag at Council Thrift Shop, because the real payoff is knowing someone’s life will benefit from my purchases.

Works Cited:

Marchand, Julia. “Spring Closet Cure”, http://www.goodwill.org/blog/shop/spring-closet-cure/.

Beverly Hills Courier Staff. “National Council of Jewish Women Sets Annual Clothing Giveaway, Volunteers Sought”, Beverly Hills Courier, November 11, 2017, http://www.bhcourier.com/national-council-of-jewish-women-sets-annual-clothing-giveaway-volunteers-sought/.

Folven, Edwin. “NCJW/LA clothing giveaway makes difference in the lives of thousands”, Park LaBrea News Beverly Press, November 30, 2016, http://www.beverlypress.com/2016/11/ncjwla-clothing-giveaway-makes-difference-in-the-lives-of-thousands/.