Fashion is a funny thing. We all wear clothing; for the most part, it’s inescapable. We all participate in ‘fashion’ by either choosing to participate in particular styles or making a statement through refusal to participate.
On one hand, fashion is a way to express ourselves that is fun and light-hearted.
It is the most visible way that we tell the world who we are. It’s exciting to try on new outfits, to experience new ‘looks’, to see what compliments our unique figures. We feel empowered or more focused when we have dressed in a particular way. I know that I dress with more thought and care for a special event, an important meeting, or a night out with my husband, and the confidence I gain from feeling put together can help me succeed or have a good time.
On the other hand, fashion can be superficial, expensive, and unnecessary, and for some, it can be a burden.
We obsess over what celebrities are wearing, what is trending, what color is hot, and the next new thing. Fashion can be trivial in light of more serious matters in the world. I frequently feel the tension of needing to look put together or ‘cute’ everywhere I go, when sometimes, going to the park with my son doesn’t need to be a fashionable experience. My identity is not in what I wear. Nor should it be. We are all much more than the clothes on our body.
Additionally, clothing production is full of paradox and contradiction.
It’s easy for companies to hide acts of exploitation in their supply chains, feigning ignorance and citing their company’s Code of Conduct like a shield, while supplying to the wealthy public the latest fashions for a steal. Fast fashion. Their catalogues show models living what look like picture-perfect lives, clean and sanitary, but the reality of clothing production is that the factories are far from clean and sanitary.
Once factories took over the creation of our clothing and the majority of what we wore was made outside the home, our clothing purchases became a moral act.
Our fashion choices do have social outcomes and meaning.
As westerners, we are linked with those factory workers in developing countries by our desire for fashion, whether you acknowledge it or not. Your purchase contributes to how they are treated, the well-being of their families, and how they spend the majority of their working life. It is easier to choose not to focus too closely on the people that make our clothing and the state in which they live. But easy isn’t always best, right?
“Most of our lives are spent in clothing. It’s a basic need, but more than that, clothing and style are a huge and integral part of our everyday lives. Clothes are an essential part of the economy and easily the second largest consumer sector, behind food. Dressing sharp, dressing up, and caring about what we wear existed long before the fashion industry, and these values can exist outside it as well.” (Overdressed, *affiliate link)
Because our lives are spent in clothing, and by proxy, in some kind of fashion, it’s worth diving in to look at the true costs of clothing, which can range from the exploitation of people because they are poor and have few options to the empowerment of whole communities. There are so many choices that support empowerment, sustainability and transparency – let’s keep exploring them!