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.