Being a woman, I think it is required that thinking about clothes take at least 2-3% of my brain space (though for some women, this number might be more like 50%). Okay, maybe I’m being stereotypical. I know some guys who think a lot about clothes too. As much as I really don’t care about clothes, I do find myself sometimes envying a friend’s cute outfit and feeling the compulsion to buy something more fashionable and trendy. This happened right before our recent trip to California. We were meeting a client, who is kind of a big name in Hollywood, and having dinner at a fancy restaurant. My self-esteem dropped instantaneously: I don’t know what to wear to a fancy restaurant! What if he thinks my dreads are gross? What if I’m not trendy or hip enough? I don’t know why it really mattered, but I gave into the “need” for new clothes and got a few pieces from Kohl’s.
I don’t know if it’s something ingrained in human nature, but it’s so easy to compare ourselves and the way we look and dress to other people. What is that old statement? Clothes make the man? My guess is that because clothing is such an important aspect of our society, and because we obviously need to have some clothes, buying clothes is something that we don’t really think about unless we are considering whether the pants make our butt look big.
It’s very easy to forget that a human being made those jeans and that that human being probably can’t afford to buy those jeans. It almost becomes a joke to say that the $3 shirt was so cheap because it was probably made in a sweatshop or by some little kid somewhere. I am so guilty of this! I realize the day before an event that I need black pants, don’t have any and only have 20 minutes in my day to get a pair. It’s easy for me to justify that I need the pants and so I just have to buy them and not think about how they were made.
My intention for writing this topic is not to guilt-trip anyone for buying clothes at Wal-Mart or any other store for that matter. I don’t think guilt-trips are going to help anything. Instead I would like to encourage people to ask this question more often: “How was this item made?” And along with asking that question to consider that every dollar we spend is a vote for the kind of world we want to live in. I am writing this for myself as much as anyone else. I have too many shirts and I can easily get suckered in to buying another shirt because it’s cute without thinking about where the shirt came from.
So obviously, one of the solutions is to buy fair trade clothes. That’s a great option, but I would also suggest that a lot of us, myself included, have more clothes than we need and we should make more of an attempt to just resist the urge to buy. Try not to use shopping as recreation or a treat on a bad day. There are other ways to cheer yourself up.
Another solution is to buy second-hand clothing as much as possible. This is something that the hubby and I have been trying to implement, but it requires a bit more work and forethought than simply running to Kohl’s on a whim. It’s important to pay attention to clothing needs that might be coming up. For example, I recently noticed that Brad might be needing more polo shirts soon. With that at the back of my mind, when I found brand new Gap and Express shirts at a garage sale for $4 a piece I knew I had to snatch them up. When buying clothes, the best advice is to not buy anything you don’t need, but when buying used clothes, sometimes you have to buy some things that you think you might need soon. And need is an important word, though there are plenty of times when I think it’s okay to buy second-hand clothes just because you like it. Watching what you buy and how those purchases affect others doesn’t mean never enjoying an item of clothing. But you also don’t want to buy a bunch of jeans just because they are $1 each and then realizing you have 20 pairs of jeans. Trust me people. Less laundry is better. Along with that thought, it’s easier to keep track of what clothes you need when you have less clothing.
One final solution is to make your own clothes. I try to make practical items when I knit, things I will actually use. But it probably isn’t possible to make all your own clothes, especially if you have lots of kids. In any case, I find it helpful to at least try to sew a few things so that I realize how much work actually goes into making my clothes.
Fair Indigo: Lots of fair-trade clothing with stories from workers. There is also a line of fair-trade and organic clothing. Prices comparable to Macy’s.
Pristine Planet: Not the best website, but a fairly large selection of sustainable, organic, and fair trade clothing.
Philip Sawyer: Incredible shirts designed by a relative of ours, made by well-paid workers and artisans in Vietnam.
Shopping for Second Hand Clothes: Great tips on how to buy used clothing
Made in L.A.: A documentary following three women as they battle with their employer, fashion retailer Forever 21, for essential labor rights.