Lifestyle and sustainability journalist Jo Linehan, a former fashion editor, writes about how she managed to combine her love of shopping with her plan to be more sustainable…
Stressed out? It’s probably your ASOS order.[restrict]
Do you remember the joy of your favourite outfit as a child? The one you refused to take off no matter what? Mine was a green co-ord cardigan and t-shirt from Benetton. When I put that baby on I felt like I could do anything, be anything. God almighty, it was an awful looking thing, but it really gave me so much joy and I commend my mother for allowing such a spectacle to be worn on a regular basis. I know you have a similar memory filed away somewhere, too. Think back to what that outfit felt like, how it made you feel, how proud you were when people complimented you on how lovely your style was.
It felt nice.
What happened to that energy? It’s gone.
Now, we wear a polyester jumper from ASOS or Boohoo once, wash it, notice it’s completely lost its lustre (even though you followed the washing instructions like a good grown-up) and so you retire it to the back of the wardrobe or drawer until the bi-annual obligatory charity shop/recycling centre day out.
I defy anyone, and I really mean anyone, who claims they love fashion to shop like this. That’s not loving. That’s lust. And guess what? Being in a life-long relationship with someone you lust? Mad unhealthy. It’s stressful, costs a lot of money and ultimately leaves you feeling empty and alone.
Whatever happened to great romances? The ones we pine for and cherish forever?
ASOS, Boohoo, and the other fast fashion crew are the bad boyfriends we never asked for. It’s 2021 and I am so over shitty boyfriends. Forget Big. He came around in the end, sure, but let’s be honest – he was a total flake.
Aidan, now he was the real SATC deal. I want the Aidan of wardrobes. I want the Barack Obama of outfits. Ok, let me rephrase all of this: I want outfits and fashion moments that make me feel really, really good. Secure, beautiful, enough. I want to take a piece from my wardrobe and feel a jolt of energy as I slip into it, knowing it’s something I have made memories in. I want fashion I get complimented on over and over. I want pieces that when people ask where I got it from I can say, “Sorry, I got it years ago,” and watch, with total smugness, as the disappointment rises on their faces when they realise they can’t “get the look.”
This yearning started roughly five years ago. As a junior editor at a major Irish fashion magazine, I had been on a merry-go-round of fashion seasons and shoots, press trips, trend reports, fashion shows, look-books, and the rest. I had enjoyed these perks of the job. They facilitated my life as a fashion binger. Armed with a River Island wallet full of high-street store discount cards, I shopped hard. Weekend dinners and social outings offered me the opportunity to try out the latest trends and styles. Love it or loathe it, no matter. On to the next.
The rise of Instagram helped pile on the pressure. No one ever wore the same thing twice on there, which is insane. Suddenly, we all had the weight of a celebrity paparazzi shot on our shoulders, willing us to buy, buy, buy.
And then, one day… I opened my wardrobe and noticed how shitty everything looked. Faded colours, fabrics that made me sweat inexplicably. Pieces I was fond of, but that I couldn’t wear or donate because they had deteriorated so rapidly. I had a pile of misshapen, sad, on-trend pieces that I knew had to go.
The question was, where was I going?
I decided to do some background checks. The reason I sweat so much in that Mango dress deeming it unwearable? The synthetic blend of materials it was made of. Which, coincidentally, also made it an environmental blemish. The misshapen jumpers? I had never given it any thought, but I suppose it stands to reason that if you pay €15 for a cute cropped little number, it’s hardly going to stand the test of time. This wasn’t right.
A pile of Vogue and Elle magazines in the corner of my bedroom began to stare me down. These had been my beloved bibles and talismans that I had leafed through lovingly as a teenager. Fashion editorials that transported me far away from the rainy grey streets of Mallow and into a fantasy land. A love of fashion had brought me here, but now I felt so disconnected from that dream. I decided to take fashion back from shitty retail boyfriends once and for all.
In her new book Stuff Happens, Emma Gleeson, a sustainability professional, extolls the physical toll buying bad clothes takes on us.
“It’s making us all stressed,” she says. “If you invest in things you really value, you have a better life. We are all on this hedonic treadmill of needing to shop, getting that retail hit, and then having it evaporate before we are back to square one. All of the research shows that we’ve been trained to think this way, but ultimately it’s making us unhappy.”
A recent study in the UK by The Biggest Bargain Hunters showed that fast fashion sales are up 30% since the pandemic hit, with ‘buy now pay later’ queries up 86%. These stats correlate directly with Emma’s research. “I’m not surprised. We shop because we are stressed or unhappy, but then those items make us stressed and unhappy, too. It’s a vicious cycle,” she says.
So, how did I break the bad boyfriend fashion cycle? I unsubscribed from fast fashion newsletters. I never buy anything that costs less than a nice takeaway. I deleted shopping apps on my phone. Whenever an Instagram ad pulls me in, I ask myself the following questions:
Do I really need this?
Do I have something like it already?
Can I wear this with things I already own?
Can I guarantee I will get at least 30 wears out of it?
The results of this break up have been incredible. Instead, of buying three crappy t-shirts I have one beautiful Theo & George crew neck that makes me look, dare I say, moneyed. I bypassed a load of threadbare hoodies this winter and instead treated myself to a stunning Patagonia zippy that I adore. I am on the search for the perfect Rixo dress on Vestiaire Collective, which I’m happy to buy because I’m okay with re-wearing it to the myriad weddings and events I get invited to. I’ve started lending some of my things to friends and sharing the joy. I regularly share pictures on Instagram in the same outfit, and guess what? No one cares. No one even notices. It’s a constant fashion negotiation and now that it’s become second nature, it feels so good. I got my fashion mojo back.
I could have used this article to tell you all about sweatshops, and the climate crisis, and how we all need to be shopping sustainably to save the planet, but I’ve learned that for fashion-lovers, beautiful clothes will always draw us back in. So maybe, for the sake of your relationship with fashion, you’ll invest a little more in yourself and your wardrobe. This is how fashion can become sustainable. When we slow down and remember what the joy of dressing should be, we can find it again.