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.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
My favourite style blogs have the occasional round of ‘Ethical fashion’ – usually a mixture of small, independent labels and Etsy sellers and the better known brands like People Tree. Today I read Lori's post on ethical dresses. As per usual, I found the selection frustrating. As I clicked through to the gorgeous frocks, every single beautiful printed cotton skirt and draped silk dress comes in a tiny range of sizes from super skinny to just about average, i.e. UK8 – UK16, maybe a UK18 if you’re very very lucky. This frustrates me.
I am a UK size 22. I have been thinner. I have been fatter. I’m currently working on reducing that number, but as I’m also trying to get pregnant, I suspect it’s going to be a little while before I can hope to be in what most clothing manufacturers consider 'normal' sizes*. I'm not going to go naked or clothed in sackcloth and ashes until I'm 'normal sized'. I would prefer to wear clothes, ones that fit me and that I enjoy. And I would like to have the chance to think and make choices about the ethics of the processes and practices behind the clothing I buy.
When I'm slimmer, I shop mostly in charity shops and vintage stores. I always buy underwear and shoes new, but for everything else, second hand is fine. Buying pre-owned is one way to shop ethically. Reuse prevents useable items from being thrown away, saves on energy used in manufacturing and transporting goods and in the case of charity shops, provides useful income for charities. But, if you're a larger than average size, your options are reduced. There are fewer things to find in second hand shops and you can forget buying vintage!
So, what does that leave me if I want to be ethical about buying clothes? Well, ethical can mean different things. To me it means that I would like the people who made the clothes to be paid a living wage and to work in safe and fair conditions. It means that I would like to minimise the amount of pollution and waste produced in the process of making and transporting clothes. That might mean organically produced fibres, but I'm not completely convinced that organic is synonymous with ethical. I'd like not to contribute more than necessary to carbon emissions and global warming. There are different aspects to consider. Is it more ethical to minimise transport miles by buying from solely UK-based manufacturers, where the whole process from plant or sheep to garment is carried out with as little travel as possible? Or is it better to support garment workers in Bangladesh or another developing country by buying from a company who ensure that they are properly paid and work in safe conditions? And how do I find out the processes involved in making that awesome dress or fantastic pair of shoes?
I don't know the answers yet, but I want to find out. I have moaned to others for too long. Let's see what I can discover and do. What do you think? Where do you shop?
* I don’t like the phrase ‘plus-sized’ but it’s widely understood to mean anything above a size 16, so I’ll continue to use it. (I like zaftig, but it’s not a common word).
Saturday, November 02, 2013
These hopeful looking kiddiwinks were guests at a surprise baby shower for my sister HB last week. She's got about 3 weeks to go before her firstborn arrives. She lives in Exeter, but came to visit my parents in London last week and since she has lots of friends here too, our other sister Debs thought it would be fun have a baby shower for her.
And there were grown-ups and small children and cakes and scones. All good fun. :)