It was a black halter dress bedecked with very ’50s red cherries and matching piping. Flattering in that fit-and-flare way that has me wishing I was born in an earlier era, the dress was a vintage dream.
“Where did you get that?” I gasped, admiring the red patent leather belt.
“H & M,” the girl replied in a rare burst of haberdashery honesty.
At the time, there was no H&M within 100 miles of me – a thought that seems preposterous these days when they are as ubiquitous as K-Marts once were – and so I simply filed it away in my mind. Several years later when I moved to a city with an H&M, I made it my goal to go find me my own LBD.
Upon first entering the store, I thought I might have a seizure. My dingy thrift store mind was overwhelmed by the exploding lights, neon patterns and pulsing music. But once I found my footing – and saw a price tag – I was hooked. I could finally afford clothes that looked like the ones in magazines! And with all the assortment and high merchandise turnover, I would finally be Unique! I’d get my own style and nobody else would look like me.
I’ll wait while you stop laughing.
Because of course everybody looked like me. Sadie Stein from Jezebel sums it up nicely: “But the reality is that we are far more homogeneous in our distinctively-printed designer knockoffs than we would be in simpler basics. The idea of high style comes to us pre-packaged, complete with eclectic jewelry and accessories, and I’m guessing this paradoxical illusion of the unique is at the expense of individual creativity.”
But that’s not the worst of the Forever 21 sins. Not only are we not as cute as we think we are, we’re not as thrifty as we think we are either. Sure that dress only costs me $25 (oh, excuse me – that’s $24.99 in industry parlance) but it probably came from one of the multitudinous garment districts, a.k.a. slums, like “Dhaka in Bangladesh, home to 2.5 million garment workers, 75 per cent of whom are women and children.” Liz Jones of the Daily Mail goes on to explain the human and environmental costs of throwaway fashion. Workers, often underage children, are paid less than $5 a week and live under canopies of plastic bags to bring us those cheap-n-trendy lovelies. The problem, according to Jones, is compounded by the belief “that women (it is particularly women who have fed this trend for ever-cheaper clothes) now think very low-cost but fashionable designs are their ‘right’ because they are ‘worth it’.”
I’m not sure what to make of all this. I love cheap clothes. (Especially cheap workout clothes!) I’ve never owned a designer anything in my entire life and don’t plan to start now. I’m also not into potato sacks. Is there a way to look cute on a budget (and I do not mean that in the Vogue sense where an $800 dollar purse is a steal because they compare it to a $4,000 one) that doesn’t exact this kind of toll on people and the environment? Help me!
Originally posted on The Huffington Post