11.12.2012

Your thoughts: what the right clothes mean to you

Yes, it's long and texty but I'm hoping to hear about your emotional or rational feelings during shopping.  

What follows is probably an outline of some not-right thinking on my part.  

Recently, after an impulse bulk buy at American Apparel, I got to thinking about why we buy. I consider myself a relatively sane consumer. I resent the words "nabbed" and "snapped up" as self-congratulatory shopping verbs in most cases and I try not to use them because I think it fosters a shopping-as-sport mentality. I try to limit my consumption and weigh out it's effect on the world - animals, people, the environment. I consider that serious business. But when I walked into American Apparel to check out their backpacks (I wanted a sturdy backpack larger than my Baggu) I began by checking out some of the staples on my "wardrobe wants" list. Leggings to replace worn out leggings. Trousers because I'm still without a decent pair.

And on the way to the fitting room I found some shorts I'd wanted last season at 50% off. They were much like the shorts I wore all the time last summer, but better and more versatile. Basically, exactly what I'd wished I'd had all last summer.

So there I was. In the fitting room with trousers, leggings and shorts when I had only planned to look at backpacks. It is all stuff I'll use and all stuff on my list. But as I tried things on and decided what to purchase, something came over me. The shorts fit so I wanted both of them - they're on my list and I was inconvenienced all last summer by not having them and having to make do with crappier shorts in one color. ($25 each.) I could use the pants for work, especially in the fall/winter and I've been leaning on non-denim jeans which are on their way out. ($78) Leggings are "essential" and I wear them all the time until they're falling apart. They were buy 2 get-one-50% off so I should get three black pairs to wear under skirts and dresses during fall/winter. Not only did I want all of it (and more - I looked for additional trousers) - but I couldn't mentally knock anything that fit and that I wanted out of the running.

Why shouldn't I have it? I "needed" it to be comfortable and appropriate for work and the weather (all seasons). Some of these would be integral to me having an aesthetic I like. Some of these would make getting dressed easier and give me some dressing flexibility, which will help me feel more "me", right?

I couldn't make myself put a damn thing back - not even the $12 duck brooch I clearly did not need. I was in such a state of mental justification that I was beyond reason. The very idea that I was asking myself to prioritize and limit what I had in my hand actually enraged me. Do I have the money? Sure, somewhere. Was this different when I did not have the money anywhere? No. I just bought the stuff on my credit card and ripped off all the tags as soon as I got home so I couldn't return them because they were mine, damn it. I am not proud of that.

Somewhere along the path of me becoming more responsible with money (and getting out of a lot of consumer debt), I got better at moderating these spending binges. And when I really started focusing on buying clothes that don't negatively impact others (re-use, non-sweatshop, "green" materials and of course animal-parts-free) it certainly limited what I could buy. At that point what I wanted to buy went from a free-for-all (oh, the pleather Payless shoes by the dozens!) to a pretty limited pool. My $80 monthly budget was enough to support it and I tracked it. And, for a while, I was pretty good at it.

Still, every once in a while the Ghost of Consumerism Past rears its ugly head in my life and I end up on a shopping binge. And often that opens the floodgates to buy more, even though these are all still squarely in the "want" vs "need" category. Do I have enough clothing to be appropriately clothed in all areas of my life (socially, weather-wise)? YES. But sometimes the very act of buying makes it easier to buy again. And again. If we're keeping track, I bought not one but two Vaute Couture pre-order coats. (And I own a 1st season Vaute coat already!)  Then there was this shopping incident. If I'm being honest, that's a little under $1k in two coats, the American Apparel stuff and a random denim motorcycle jacket I picked up -- all between September and November.

While I'm totally excited to support Vaute Couture's business and I feel okay about buying from American Apparel (here's why)...and just that one jacket was sweatshop, I am not okay with this much shopping and my inability to curb it. It's a ton of new materials, which always have some kind of impact and I'm afraid it'll put me back on the wrong track.

What I can't quite put my finger on is WHY I slip into such mental justification and exactly what I'm afraid of (or what I feel like I'm missing) if I put some or all of it back? What is the big deal about looking a certain way? What is the big deal about feeling comfortable (body-wise and personality-wise) in my clothing? 

While this isn't specifically about ethical fashion, it speaks to how some of us consume and that has a direct relationship to how we shop and therefore what gets sold and/or manufactured so it definitely falls into  the ethical fashion blogging arena.

And no, I never got a backpack there.  (The hardware looked pretty weak.) 

11 comments:

  1. I still buy very little and cannot remember my last binge ( I think it was when I was still living in Washington) but I have been feeling social pressure to buy lately. When in Chicago, I was surrounded by mostly guys. Dominic, his friends, and a majority of my coworkers at the used bookshop were all male and very frugal with their money. I worked with one shopoholic woman and we all joked about her spending habits every time a package was delivered at work. Now I work real retail and the consumerism in my coworkers ( most of them female) is alive and spending. One woman has over 100 pairs of shoes, another is constantly buying stuff from modcloth that ultimately never fits. The shoe girl looks to me as insperation for being frugal, while at the same time urges me to buy stuff for myself. I haven't been able to completely resist either. I try to buy things I need (black boots, black jeans, socks) but I feel like I have bought so much stuff I don't need since moving to Indy. It is upsetting and I really want to stop. Hopefully the student loan that I finally have to start paying off will keep me from buying useless stuff.

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    1. I totally empathize - I buy so many basics that my mind says "Of course you should have this basic! It's not superfluous! This is the building block of a wardrobe."

      And definitely agree that there is a social expectation. I think for the most part, blogs I like/read are inspiration in the other direction at least.

      I think what blows my mind is the seemingly zero control I have over it IN the situation once I'm there. And that I can go for so long without consuming like that and then it just all comes back in some weird bastard faulty synapse.

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  2. I still think that whatever it is that makes us keep collecting/buying/splurging/consuming is hardwired. Something to do with hoarding for survival (you know, in old homo-erectus-early sapien times) I'm not trying to give us all a cop out. But I just can't find a solution even though we have all the logistics worked out. Why do we want more? Even the stuff we "need" - we all know that if it came down to a bottom line, we need very little, a lot less than we tell ourselves we do.....but knowing this doesn't stop us buying. Intellectualizing why we overspend, or overbuy...doesn't diminish the urge. Isn't that what it is....an urge? Sorry dude, not sure I'm helping here. I know that I personally can't stand the thought of buying all the time to keep in style just to throw it away.....and I've had people look at me like I'm crazy when I tell them to buy shoes that last. I think people get feverish over something that is "cheap" - the whole quantity over quality thing...that seems to be a mentality more than an urge. I'm interested to read other's views on this!

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    1. I absolutely agree about people getting feverish (great word) about deals and I'm probably rilly rilly old because I'm often horrified by those Forever 21 haul videos!

      I do agree the shopping thing is an urge. But what I can figure out is if it's just hard-wired (as Liz mentions below, too!) and just as ingrained as a fight/flight response or if it has some kind of emotional undercurrent as well. It's a bit of the chicken and the egg - I can feel emotional justification popping up about what I have and how I'd like to see myself in clothes but I don't know if THAT's where the urge is coming from...or if the urge is there and that's what my emotional mind pulls up to convince my rational mind to act on my instinctual urge to gather?

      The weird thing is that it's like a muscle memory - I used to shop CONSTANTLY. It was my leisure time and my social plans often. Once I realized that and cut that back I felt less "social pressure" to buy (meaning I wasn't constantly putting myself in a store situation) and my spending greatly decreased. The interesting thing is that I was at the same American Apparel a few weeks prior and DIDN'T find anything on my list so I left, buying nothing. So I'm definitely not just buying to buy.

      I do wonder if it is partly that I had 2 of those things on my list for so long that I just snapped and a BUY ALLL OF THE THINGS (before they're gone again) mentality kicked in?

      Anyway, thank you for your thoughtful comment! I think you make some good points.

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  3. I just started reading the 2005 Temple Grandin best-seller about animal behavior. (speaking of clothing, google some of her fashion choices. Wow!)The other night, I was reading through her list of hardwired animal behaviors, one of them being a need to "seek". For there, she went on to talk about the importance of "newness and novelty" within the lives of animals (humanimals included.) So... maybe you can just blame our flawed evolution for episode of "not right"ism?

    Otherwise, I try not to stress about material indiscretion within my personal expenditures because a)I can afford it and b) I have a stubborn and non-addictive personality so I've never really had to worry about my bad habits spiraling out of control and crash landing in fiery carnage. Thrift stores make it hard and I've learned to spend the final ten minutes of any shopping trip editing my day's take (Do I need this? Do I already have a better version of this? Would I rather have this or the $7? Will I have forgotten about it tomorrow if I put it back? Is it just ugly and not "charming"?)

    Things exist to be used so, if you are using them to their fullest extent it seems like a "no harm, no foul" situation. Otherwise, cultivate an even more stringent sense of pickiness and let that be your umbrella.

    (also worth noting is that a lot of times any of my clothing "splurging" is nipped in the bud because retailers still insist on ordering, like, 3 size smalls and extra smalls for every single size large or extra large. I have no clue how truly plus sized ladies do it because shopping retail for clothes over a size medium is an exercise in humility and frustration (but at least it gave Cathy Guisewite a career!))

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    1. I started reading that last year but never made it all the way through - I'm curious to hear what you think about it. (I liked it but I think I just got tired of reading about animals at some point, believe it or not.) I got the book after seeing her speak and at the time she was wearing a button down and slacks - it wasn't until later that I saw pictures of her in some get-ups that made me disappointed.

      I do wonder if making the same purchase at a thrift store would have made me feel as uneasy afterward. I do think that because I spent $220 vs $30 it triggered a knee-jerk response in me...because I have certainly done the same in thrift stores in the past. Strangely, I've gotten really good at editing at thrift stores because I've learned my lesson about fit and likelihood-of-usage. I was actually in a thrift store 3 days after that and edited from 10 items to two without any muss or fuss. I think I was just presented with a number of new retail goods that fit the bill and I wanted to buy them all before they disappeared. (Teeny's comment above got more of my backstory - but I'd been in the same AA a few weeks before and walked out with nothing because they didn't have anything on my list that I was interested in.)

      I think you're right in that I'll use them and it is what it is. What gets my goat is that rageful NO...I WILL BUY ALL OF THE THINGS! feeling vs "Oh, yes, this is a logical and measured approach and all of these things are useful. Tally ho to the register." I am just not sure if that feeling is coming from ego (because I don't want to see myself as a shopper or because I WANT all this stuff to feel more like "me" in them) or from the have-nots of trying to be conservative with buying (new) stuff? It just seems to strange to be raging about buying or not buying clothes. Thankfully, I don't think it'd ever get so bad that I'd be in debt or trade off something important for clothes shopping like I've done int the past (I was once one of those girls who bought a $220 white sundress against her rent money).

      I know, the way buyers order sizing is insane. I was just skimming Tim Gunn's Guide to Style (my friend worked with him and gave me a signed copy) and his response to this is to shine it on because it's a good excuse to focus on your personal style and not trends to build a nice "very you" capsule wardrobe. But what if you can't get any of those "capsule wardrobe" pieces? Oh, Cathy. I don't think comic artists make that much money but I just imagine her sitting on a pile of gold bricks. AAACK!

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    2. I think that my general lack of being a consumer is what causes my flare ups of all but standing in line with an armful of goods yelling "I FUCKING DESERVE THIS." Kinda like the idea that keeping kids away from alcohol creates binge drinking 20-somethings.

      But, yeah, sizing. Most of the best dressed ladies I know are regular-plus-sized to super-plus-sized who MAKE IT WORK (shoulder wiggle. pout) like no one else. A while back, I was discussing with one of these flawlessly styled friends about why it was such a big d that so many plus-sized bloggers focused on the "fatshion" and not just the "fashion". Isn't tokenism kinda whack? I asked. Her reply was something that I never thought of: large women are so underserved by clothing companies in general that every cute dress or shirt or thing-that-isn't-a-tunic/mumu is like a victory. That being fat and looking good is a huge FU. That even finding these clothes, that straight sized ladies take for granted, takes an exhausting amount of work and money.

      I used to get real nihilistic and think that things like clothing and spending time on dressing were just a waste but spending more time talking to plus-sized folks, trans folks, and plus-sized, trans folks had made me really reconfigure my thoughts on the importance of wearing clothes.

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  4. My attitude to shopping in general is as long as you're not breaking your budget and getting yourself into debt, why feel guilty? I believe in buying things that are staples when they're available, because if you go looking for them when you're desperate, you're not guaranteed to find them. In that case, maybe you spend over your budget one month and then spend nothing for the next two or three to stay on track annually.

    For you specifically, do you really feel like you have an inability to curb your shopping? I'm wondering if you mean that literally, or if it's more of a judgment you're passing on your recent behavior ("I spent this much, I must have no control.") Do you really feel frighteningly compulsive or psychologically out of control? Or are you talking yourself into spending more because you feel so guilty over what you've already spent that you think, "I'm bad, I'm hopeless, I might as well keep going"? You know, the way it is when one overeats and then keeps eating out of depression about the eating...that's very self-punishing behavior. The better thing, IMHO, is to say, "The past is past. Maybe I made a mistake but I forgive myself. Tomorrow I will start fresh."

    Of course, I don't know what really applies to your case, just some thoughts there.

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    1. I think you bring up some very good points!

      Re guilt - I think it's more my "eco guilt" over new materials. I realized that I never feel this way when I get the same amount of stuff @ Beacon's, thrift stores or swaps. It's only minimally the money (although I've been obsessive about early retirement blogs these days and they are so unfathomably frugal that I think I was judging myself by their habits and POV). That leads into staples - I definitely agree that if you'll use it, buy it. I think I'm so gun-shy these days because I've thought that about so many things and then I never wear them because something ends up being "off". I trust myself less than I used to around picking things I'll use - BUT there really is no other way to know if it works than to try it. So, point taken about staples.

      I think IN THE MOMENT I *do* seem immmune to reason if I want a specific thing. I do have a pretty obsessive personality overall (sometimes that's awesome and sometimes it really sucks - I'm either getting a lot done or I'm rabbit-holing over something that doesn't matter). So I do feel like once I have all that stuff in my hand, something in my brain clicks and I get defiant about putting anything down. It's gotten better - sometimes it doesn't happen at all. And now it's almost always something I can afford (which is a change from the past). But it's still that feeling of my ego just not wanting to let go of those things! These things! They're MINE! It's fucking weird. It's pretty limited these days so 90% of the time I'm fine with how I am but these feelings/actions throw me for a loop.

      I definitely think there is some of it that is "I'm bad, I'm hopeless, I might was well keep going" in some cases - it's easier to spend money when I've spent money, I noticed. But in small spates - not all of the time.

      I appreciate all of your thoughts - they definitely made me think about how much each of them applied and I think I've realized some things about the actions/guilt/POV I have.

      Thanks, WendyB!

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  5. If you look at the bright side, you didn't really blow your annual budget--you just spent the whole thing in a couple lump sums :) Sure the things are new, but supporting Vaute Couture is a great thing and you know the coats will last and keep you warm for years to come. Hopefully the AA stuff lasts too. In that case, it's not such a bad thing. Yes, I can justify shopping. I'm working on limiting my consumption too and shopping 2nd hand when possible. But look at the big picture. Animal-free, ethically sourced, local. I think you're doing fine. I admire you for thinking about this stuff and making a difference. You're way ahead of most of us and you've got a lot of people thinking too.

    Enjoy the opportunities you have and just amke sure you keep the items in rotation so buying them was a god thing.

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  6. I'm not really into ethical fashion but I don't excessively buy things I don't need. Most pieces I do purchase are well thought out and I know will last with good maintenance. Recently I've bought very little because a) I don't need it, I've looked after the clothes I've had, my personal style is quite classic which ensures longevity and b) there has not been anything that has really jumped out at me.

    Having said that, you also have to consider the role that retails and their retail space plays. Visual merchandising, music the general atmosphere in the store are all well thought out to build you in to a frenzy to actually buy. A lot of stores bombard us with stimuli which results in a sensory overload for some this encourages spending.

    I was just in a new flagship Topshop store the other week and to me it was more like a night club than a store. Mirrors, lights, loud music all they needed was a bar and dance floor.

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