I’ve never been what you call ‘fashionable’. As I write this, I’m wearing an old pair of Levi mum-jeans (they’re cool now, right?) and a flannel (because they’re obviously always cool).
I tend to watch fashion trends from afar, either laughing at them (fishnets under jeans, anyone?), or secretly envious of the effortless fabulousness (basically any chic blogger ever- just how). It’s easy to feel unaffected by the quickly changing seasonal fads, but as Miranda Priestly so cuttingly put it in The Devil Wears Prada
…it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of …stuff”
The fast fashion industry has built itself on the constant drive for next, new, better. Thanks to the development of cheaper synthetic fabrics and processing techniques, the latest trend can make the transition from catwalk to storefront in a matter of weeks. With some chain stores currently accepting deliveries of new items as frequently as every other day, we’re seeing a glut of shopping options that no previous era has had to negotiate.
Unsurprisingly given this turnaround, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index has shown that while the amount of clothing that we own has skyrocketed, the percentage of our income that we spend on that clothing has completely bottomed out. In 1901 the average American was spending 14% of their income on wearables- in 2013 that figure had dropped to 3.1% and has continued to fall since then.
Apparently these days, we shop cheap and we shop fast. But why?
According to a number of studies, the mere sight of something we want to buy fires up our nucleus ambens (the pleasure center of the brain). Flip over that price tag and our brain enters into a battle of pleasure at the thought of owning the object of our desire, and pain at the thought of parting with our hard earned dollars- apparently a heady cocktail of emotions. In fact, the anticipation of the purchase has been shown to bring us more pleasure than actually owning it. And if that item happens to be on sale or you feel like you’re getting a bargain, those pleasure centers are going to be super saiyan at the thought of getting your hands on that sweet sweet deal before anyone else!
In a world where we’re constantly under stress to excel in every aspect of life, our poor little nucleus ambens can sometimes need all the love they can get. If we haven’t created healthy habits of self care, a shopping spree might seem like the perfect hit to get us through a rough patch.
Apart from the neurological pleasure of the purchase, there’s apparently also an animal desire to clearly mark who we are through what we wear. The latest trends might prove that we’re cutting edge and financially well off. Certain styles might mark us as eco-conscious, or alternative. Even my second-hand mum jeans probably send out a message (whether that I’m a slob, low maintenance, or too cool to care is up for discussion).
Clothing is an easy way to prove exactly where we fit in- a throwback to our tribal days that the human race has apparently never been quite able to shake. I look around my circle of close friends, and it’s easy to pick that we belong together- we’re a quirky bunch, with a penchant for patterns and (at the moment) enamel pins. Our fashion proudly proclaims our status on the edge of the ‘cool kids’.
If you come up to me dressed like an instagram fashion shoot, I might be dubious of our ability to get on for more than a casual conversation. Why? Because the clothing you have chosen has marked you as part of a tribe that I don’t belong to.
The Tribe (basically the best TV show of my childhood)
The hypothetical fashion plate and I might talk a bit more and eventually discover enough similarities lurking beneath the surface to become the best of friends, but in a world where we can engage in dozens of trivial interactions a day, clothing is one of the easiest (and fastest) ways to project a sense of self. As that sense of self changes, it’s logical that we would also reinvent our outer image.
And when we’re feeling that urge, you bet your bottom dollar the fast fashion industry will be there to help us.
If you want to read more on the topic, here are some of the resources I drowned myself in: