A few days ago I saw this astounding Mastodon post which says that the average item of clothing is worn only seven times, and that if we could just double the number of times we wear an item before discarding it, we could lessen the environmental impact of that piece by 49%.
It’s really been living rent-free in my mind for days because I just can’t get over it. I wear items of clothing over and over again and only ever discard them if they get holey. Excluding recent purchases (of which there aren’t that many), the only items I wouldn’t have worn seven times are really formal gear. Hell, for some kinds of items (like winter coats which don’t come into direct contact with my skin), I probably wear them more than seven times before I wash them. Vivian is the same, although IDK, I guess it’s more “expected” for a man.
It’s not like all my clothing is high-quality expensive stuff, either. I have a bunch of basic cheap stuff from Kmart – $4 ¾-sleeve tops, $10 jeggings, etc. It’s just about the epitome of fast fashion (well, except for being basic staples rather than “fashion items” I guess), and yet I still get way more than seven wears out of these things before they’re falling apart, lmao. I know there are other problems with dirt-cheap clothes (like the pay and working conditions of the people who make them) but in my experience they’re not actually so bad that they have to be thrown away that fast. Even for $4 I would be pissed about that degree of fragility. From the thread, it seems like the problem is more that some people buy super gimmicky clothes and then don’t want to wear them many times. Not something I can relate to…
Anyway, then just a couple of days ago, the same person posted another Mastodon thread about how the clothing industry has changed since the 1950s. Basically, at that time, the average American household spent 10% of their household budget on clothes. Clothes were more expensive than they are now (the thread cites an example of a dress that cost $30 then, equivalent to $260 now), but they were also produced domestically by unionised workers, and made to a high quality so they’d last for longer. These days, of course, the industry is totally different. In Australia and the US both, it seems, there are still some scattered boutique fashion businesses that make fairly character-filled garments that retail for a three-digit price in dollars. But the production of “basics”, those staple items you wear day-in, day-out, that’s all offshore now. It’s also not always easy to tell which garments are built to last, or were manufactured in more ethical conditions (price is definitely not always a reflection of that). The thread author seems realistic about all that.
In general, I think I’d prefer it if clothes were produced by highly-paid and respected, unionised workers, and could be trusted to last for a long time even if they were more expensive upfront. I don’t chase trends, and (aside from the not insignificant number of graphic tees, jumpers and hoodies I own) I prefer more neutral clothes that can’t ever really seem “dated” – so, my tastes are basically perfect for buying fewer, longer-lasting items. I also have clothes that I wear for their comfort over their style, haha. That said, I also think it’s a total deflection strategy for liberals to blame “the market” for buying cheap mass-produced clothes instead of ever blaming penny-pinching capitalist scumbags for treating their workers with cruelty, or designing for rapid obsolescence in order to sell more product (with the later disposal of those products being very much Not Their Problem under our current econonomic system). Why blame ordinary people, mostly overworked and struggling with the cost of living, just wanting to buy something affordable to wear, instead of the people who actually caused this problem with their decisions about how to structure their businesses (and the economy in general)? (And to be clear, the author of the Mastodon posts I linked to did not blame ordinary people for this! This is more of an additional thought of mine.)
I certainly do have some clothes that were (by my standards) on the pricier end of the spectrum, and that had better last me a long time. This includes winter clothes, in particular. If you ever want to go outside in Melbourne during the winter then your clothes need to be warm, and there is no such thing amid “fast fashion” – you have to invest in something decent. My expectation, though, is that my “cost per number of wears” for any kind of everyday clothing should end up being low. If something’s expensive, I want it to last. And if it lasts, then in the long run it’ll be more economical than buying cheap clothes I have to replace every year. It’s the same as the Boots Theory but with clothes! (Also, I haven’t had as much luck applying the Boots Theory to boots. Whether I’ve bought a $30 pair or a $200 pair, their lifespan has always seemed disappointingly short.)
Well, this post got longer than I intended and now I don’t know how to wrap it up. I guess cycling back to the idea of “fast fashion” and what I called “gimmicky clothes”, I don’t want to leave it implied that wanting to wear gimmicky clothes is inherently bad (that’s not really what I meant!), but clearly there needs to be a better way of doing it. Maybe fashionistas should learn to sew, so they can revamp their own garments instead of discarding the unwanted ones and buying anew. Or at least, maybe they could pay a fair rate to someone local to do that. I think there’s totally a way of being a trendsetter but not consumerist. But the current situation as described in that first thread, where the average Australian buys 26kg of clothes a year and throws out 23kg (???? how) is clearly not ideal. Nor is it ideal that “fabric recycling” mostly just means “ship it off to Ghana and let them deal with the rubbish”. I don’t want to say everyone should be as fashion-indifferent as me, but the industry really needs a radical overhaul, and one of those overhauls would be ceasing to make clothes that are only intended to be worn seven times.