Monday, July 9, 2012

The High Cost of Cheap Fashion (Part III)

My blogging conscience (better known as my husband) has been asking me when I'm going to update the blog!  Serves me right for choosing a topic that is almost too big to cover in this venue!

I've thought a lot over the past couple of weeks about my approach to fashion and it's origins.  And I've tried to think about how that approach might be different if I were in my early 20s today.  (I don't have an answer to that one!)

As a child of parents born during the Great Depression, they instilled in me the value of good clothing that would last for years.  While my father might have different types of ties he wore to work (who can forget the sock tie era?), his suits were always well-made and classic.  My mother also had a timeless sense of style - I can remember her changing her hair with trends but never her wardrobe.  They had a strong belief in quality over quantity.  Clothing was meant to be purchased, worn, and maintained for years.  (Hence my keeping of the paisley rain coat that Jim didn't like FAR beyond it's normal lifecycle).

As a newly employed young woman out of college (in a time when everyone dressed up in a business environment), my parents made sure I had a base professional wardrobe to start but it was up to me to maintain and develop it.  I was ashamed at the time but am not ashamed to admit now that I kept notes on a calendar as to what I had worn so that I made sure not to wear any certain combinations too close together.

When I would add to my young career woman wardrobe, I was fortunate to find mid-priced, fashionable items at department stores such as Lord & Taylor and the now defunct Woodward & Lothrop and Hechts.  Each had unique, well-made offerings that could be managed on a not large budget.  Today, it seems that many department stores carry the same, poorly made items in large quantities at low prices.  The things that made them fit in that middle ground are gone.

At the time, a store like Ann Taylor was considered aspirational.  I longed for the day that I could afford to shop there with regularity.  Sales were few and far between and styles were sharp, flattering, and classic.  I looked but I couldn't buy.  I was thrilled when I could afford to shop Ann Taylor as my career progressed but found I was less and less satisfied with the offerings in recent years.  Where was the middle ground between the H&M's of the world and Neiman Marcus?

Now, that's not to say that I didn't sometimes spend money on things that I probably shouldn't have!  My partner in crime was my co-worker Cary (who reads this blog - hi dear!)  He, like me, was a new college graduate who wanted to dress well.  One of our days of shopping together resulted in him buying an $80 tie and with me buying a $70 headband (in my defense, it was suede and had beautiful embroidery on it!)  Not only did our co-workers give us grief when they heard about this, but we've given each other grief about it for years since!  I still have the headband (20+ years later) although I haven't worn it for a while.  Looking back, not really a moment to be proud of on a limited income!

With the demise of the department stores and stores such as Talbots and Ann Taylor fighting the battles against cheap fashion, the middle ground seems to be missing.  In our desire for fast fashion and the "deal", we've not only lost countless textile and garment related jobs but we've lost our sense of individuality.  One of my favorite statements from a Zoe customer was "I like shopping here because I know I won't see myself coming and going on the street."  Meaning that she knows that if she buys an item at Zoe, she can wear it and know she won't be wearing the same thing that 10 other people in her building are wearing.  We are all special and unique when it comes to what looks good and feels good on us.  Don't be afraid to embrace it!

Next up:  Fashions Night Out Alexandria!

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