I like cheap clothes. I don't know if it's thrift or stinginess or a love of value for money, but I don't tend to spend very much money on clothes. The only time I have spent over £100 for a dress was my wedding dress. (A relative bargain for bridal wear - £140 on eBay for a shop sample, perhaps £40 in materials and alterations by me). That probably explains the love of charity shopping more than an desire to be ethical. It's fun to rummage and find a bargain.
I've never really been fashionable. My personal style is quirkily feminine. I
love dresses and skirts. I prefer natural fibres - cotton, silk, linen as long as it’s smooth,
wool if it’s not itchy - to synthetics.
I knit for myself – cardigans and jumpers. I’ve sewn a few things –
dresses, jackets, skirts – though I’d somewhat out of practice. Right now I am
mostly wearing layers of cotton jersey: leggings under short dresses and tunics
or a t-shirt and skirt, with a wool cardigan or two for warmth. I like heels
for smart occasions, but not for everyday. My current everyday shoes are DMs –
a pink pair of shoes and a red pair of knee high boots.
I do appreciate fashion. I was an avid watcher of The Clothes Show as a child and to some extent I understand how catwalk fashion influences trickle down through high end designers to the high street. If money were no object, I would probably wear Vivienne Westwood. I fell for her 1990 Portrait collection - bustiers and velvet and oil paintings - and I love her fierce style. But I have never had the guts to walk in her shop on Conduit Street in London, even when I worked just round the corner from it. Catwalk fashion is like fine art. It's beautiful and strange and not for mere mortals like me.
So what do I spend money on? Right now, a lot of H&M basics in cotton jersey, dresses from Dorothy Perkins, Simply Be, New Look and Asos. My favourite purchases of this year have been a polka dot trench coat from Asos and those red knee high DMs. Both bought in the sale. That's the thing. I often can't bring myself to pay full price for clothes, especially dresses. T-shirts and things are pretty cheap anyway, but a good dress is at least £50, most of the time and that feels like a lot. (Shoes are a different story, but we'll come to that).
So where does that fit into a quest for ethical fashion? Ethical brands are expensive. This is to be expected. Cheap high street fashion relies on cheap materials and labour. Better materials and good working conditions cost more. On the other hand, ethical brands tend to produce higher quality garments that are designed to last. A £200 organic cotton dress ought to be constructed to a higher standard, wear better and last longer than a £15 high street brand designed for a quick disposable fix. This is a lesson I have learned in shoes. A good pair of expensive shoes is worth it in the long run, as it can be maintained and mended. I have boots I've owned for over 10 years. They're a bit shabby now, but serviceable (and would probably not be shabby had I taken better care of them).
So perhaps I should buy less and spend more on classic, beautifully made clothes that will last? I'm not so concerned with following every trend that I have to change my wardrobe every season, so why not go for slow fashion? But what size? Part of my reluctance to spend money on clothes comes from knowing how prone my body is to changing shape and size. In the last 6 years, I have bought clothes with size labels from 12 to 24. In an ideal world, my weight would be constant (and less than it is now) but even then, what of the effect of pregnancy, of illness, of age?
So, the conundrum remains. I shall continue to buy cheap things, I suspect. But I would like to change that, and make better choices. But what choices? Buy less? Buy better? Buy nothing? I am unsure.