Wednesday, October 23, 2019

In defense of buying trendy clothes

The New York Times has a guide called "How to Buy Clothes That Are Built to Last." It's in the Climate section, and so has a slightly different approach than investment-piece fashion advice along the lines of, here are some super-expensive trench coats that you will Wear For Years. Except, is it? Consider the opening sentence: "You may have removed last season’s hot fashion trend from your closet, but the effect of that item still lingers, from the energy used in its production to its continued presence in one of the nation’s landfills." Or, further into the guide: "we can rewear an outfit that our friends saw us in on social media." The idea being that the obstacle to sustainability is trendiness. It's a truism. But is it... true?

The actual reason people keep buying new clothes is that clothes only function properly for so long. Our culture defines 'polished-looking' as 'wearing the sorts of clothes that show wear, so that you can make it clear you have not in fact owned them for years.' So even though my sweatpants (one pair in gray, the other navy) have held up for years and despite tremendous amounts of wear (including I think to the hospital to give birth?) still look and fit as well as ever, these do not, apparently, count as 'dressed.' Our culture expects us to wear clothes that fit properly, which limits shelf-life, unless your build never fluctuates, in which case, by all means do buy a single pair of jeans to get you through the next decade.

And even if you don't think of yourself as trendy, you will very likely find something unclassifiable that's just off about clothes bought a while ago. Not all old clothes, but some, and... it's impossible to know which those will be ahead of time! When I look back at clothes I've purchased or admired over the years, some still seem interesting, others not, and I can't find much rhyme or reason to the divide. While I may have (repeatedly) overestimated my interest in button-down shirts and brown leather accessories, these are personal patterns, not related to trends. If my interest in pleated midi skirts has waned, it's coming to terms with how they look on me. The style itself is still around. If anything, when I've gone for 'classic' I haven't ended up much wearing whatever it was. The strategy of steering clear of trendy-seeming clothes does not work. Which brings us to the point of this post.

If you buy something you really like, you're more likely to wear it. That's the only pattern I can figure out. What does it mean, this really-liking of a garment? Maybe you were persuaded by purveyors of trendiness to like it. Maybe the desire didn't emerge spontaneously and timelessly from your heart of hearts. Maybe your attraction to the garment wasn't pure and untainted by the influence of other human beings. But what of it? Maybe a very of-the-moment look from 2019 will turn out to be part of your look forever or at least for a good long while. I'm sure trendiness influenced my 2011 boots decision but I still have those boots! I still wear that sale-rack athleisure reflective-material jacket! And yep, still on the Breton-striped bandwagon.

Oh, and: still doing the ombré hair even though that's over and would not say no to a skim mocha or arugula salad, either. I spent more than was sensible if still not as much as I feared might be necessary on an Aritzia blazer in this fall's plaid, Frank Costanza-inspired trend and it's so fabulous that I get the sense it has staying power for me, whether or not the college students to whom the blazer is explicitly marketed (I'm not kidding; a "dorm room" is referenced in the description) still wear theirs years down the line. Best to face facts that everything might be a fleeting trend and even if it is, you personally can extend it indefinitely.