Fast Fashion Destroyed Our Concept of Price and Value

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how fast fashion destroyed our concept of price and value by wardrobe oxygen

In 2000, you could go to the mall and buy a pair of jeans at Gap, Levi's, or Express for less than $50. If you went to buy a car, on average it would cost $21,000 and gas for it would be about $1.50 a gallon. If you bought a home in 2000, on average, it would cost $200,000.

In 2020, gas was about $2.17 a gallon. The average price for a car was around $40,000 and the average cost of a home in the United States was $329,000. Life in the United States cost almost twice what it did two decades prior, yet we were still buying jeans for around $50.

How Companies Make Cheaper Products

The price of an item drops when there is a way to make it cheaper. And there are a lot of ways to make things cheaper:

  1. Cheaper materials (wood laminate versus hardwood plank floors)
  2. Buying in bulk (McDonald's fries versus fries made by your local independent cafe)
  3. Cheaper manufacturing (overseas factories where cost of living is lower and regulations are not as strict versus made in the U.S.)
  4. Technology innovation (replacing paid laborers with machines)

The reason jeans are still $50 two decades years later is a mix of these four methods, but primarily numbers one and three. And this is because fast fashion completely fucked up the apparel market.

Fast Fashion Destroyed Our Concept of Price and Value

In 2000, we had fast fashion but it wasn't as popular or accessible. Forever 21 existed, but it wasn't until 2005 when it seemed to be in every American mall. Amazon was still a place to buy books, and if you weren't shopping for clothing in brick and mortar stores, it likely was through a mail-order catalog. Clothing in big box discount retailers like Walmart were mocked for being cheap and unstylish.

In 2000, budget-friendly fashion came from the thrift store, the sewing machine, or the clearance rack at the back of your favorite mall shop. You touched clothing, tried it on, and got a feel for it before you decided to buy it. While returns happened, they weren't as often because you had the ability to try before you buy in a fitting room.

Two decades later, malls are dying. Independent stores are struggling to pay ballooning rent, and Amazon is the top apparel retailer. And Amazon can tick off all four cost-saving methods because it is so big, so profitable, it permits brands of questionable origins and ethics to sell on its site, and it knows a 2020s audience cares more about how their outfit looks on the ‘gram than how it feels on the body, wears through the years, and coordinates with the rest of their closet.

With Amazon, Shein, Temu, and these other mammoth companies with questionable practices, how can other retailers compete? How can they make their jeans match inflation in this decade and still keep customers? They can't because customers can't fathom a pair of jeans costing $100 when they can find them elsewhere for $25.

We have lost all concept on value and cost because of these fast fashion megacompanies. We accept that houses cost twice as much, cars cost twice as much, gas costs twice as much, but not that a t-shirt, pair of jeans, or a retailer we have worn for decades would double the price of their apparel. And because we're not being realistic with the cost to make clothing with halfway decent materials, manufacturing, and practices, we're destroying our style and the future of fashion.

How Much Should That Blouse Actually Cost?

Recently in the Wardrobe Oxygen Community, someone remarked on the cost of an item at Lilly Pulitzer. I am writing this while Facebook is down so I can't find the post, but recall the piece costing about $125 and the individual finding that surprisingly expensive and someone mentioning the top was 100% cotton.

barbara cotton top from lilly pulitzer

Examining the Barbara Cotton Top from Lilly Pulitzer

The Barbara Cotton Top from Lilly Pulitzer is $128 and 100% cotton poplin. A style that has been popular for several years, the Barbara Top has a crewneck with a single button closure in back to help get it over the head. With shoulder pleats and elasticized cuffs, the top has full statement sleeves that are 3/4 length. The bodice is a straight fit; the description states it's fitted at the hips and bust but looser at the waist. It is available in two prints and sizes 00-16.

The Company Behind Lilly Pulitzer

Lilly Pulitzer was a real woman who asked her dressmaker to craft colorful shift dresses to hide stains from running a juice stand. She soon started selling more of her colorful dresses than juice. In 1959, Pulitzer became president of her own company. When her friend Jackie O came to visit, bought some of her shift dresses, and wore one on the cover of Life Magazine in 1962, the fashion brand took off.

In 1993, the Lilly Pulitzer brand was bought by Sugartown Worldwide, Inc., which maintained boutiques and licensed apparel to be sold in major department stores like Belk, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus. In 2010, Sugartown was bought by Oxford Industries, Inc., a publically traded company started in 1942 that also owns apparel brands like Tommy Bahama, Duck Head, and Johnny Was.

While Oxford Industries, Inc. wouldn't be considered an icon of sustainable fashion manufacturing, the company does uphold a Manufacturer's Code of Conduct for each of its brands, conducts regular supplier audits, and as a whole each year changes practices to run the business in a more sustainable manner (Oxford Industries 2021 Corporate Reponsibility Report).

Unlike many companies that are primarily online, Lilly Pulitzer still has 63 brick-and-mortar boutiques across the United States and sells merchandise at almost 150 boutiques and major department stores. This means U.S. labor and U.S. rent, both which are not cheap (though labor is another thing that hasn't kept up with the cost of living in this country). Oxford Industries, Inc. employees, which include Lilly Pulitzer staff, receive benefits like various types of insurance, 401K, tuition reimbursement, stock purchase plans, and domestic partner benefits.

Lilly Pulitzer's parent company, Oxford Industries, is a member of Better Cotton (BC), a global cotton sustainability program. Better Cotton is grown in 22 countries across the globe, creating 22% of the world's cotton. This program benefits laborers, the environment, and the communities where cotton is sourced. It's a bit of greenwashing, but it's also more effort than a lot of companies put forth in sourcing cotton. And that effort costs.

Let's go back to the Lilly Pulitzer $128 Barbara Cotton Top. No, it's likely not made by empowered women business owners in a developing country who were paid as much as equal workers in the States. The cotton is likely not organic, and who knows how the inks were manufactured to get that bold iconic print. The size range is better than many companies, but not extensive to dress a good percentage of the U.S. population. But let's compare it to similar blouses from a range of retailers.

Comparing The Lilly Pulitzer Barbara Top to Similar Blouses on the Market

Below are nine printed blouses with full sleeves that are currently for sale at major retailers. The Lilly Pulitzer top is the most expensive of the nine. Below the image, I share details of the fabrication, size range, retailer, and price:

collage of 9 printed blouses

one | two | three | four | five | six | seven | eight | nine

  1. One: This is the top from Lilly Pulitzer. It is 100% cotton poplin from Better Cotton, two prints to choose from, machine wash, sizes 00-16 for $128
  2. Two: This blouse is from CeCe. It is 100% polyester chiffon with a polyester lining, machine wash but dry flat, sizes XS-XL (with XL a 14) for $79
  3. Three: This blouse is from Jones New York. It is 96% polyester, 4% elastane, machine wash, sizes XS-XL (with XL a 16) for $59.50
  4. Four: This blouse is from Boden. It is 100% cotton also from Better Cotton, four prints to choose from, machine wash, sizes 2-20/22 for $95
  5. Five: This blouse is from Ann Taylor. It is 55% ramie, 45% cotton with a 100% cotton lining, machine wash, sizes XXS-XXL misses and petite for $94.50
  6. Six: This blouse is from Amazon's in-house Essentials line. It is 100% viscose, 19 colors and prints to choose from, machine wash gentle, sizes XS-XXL for $30
  7. Seven: This blouse is from The Pioneer Woman collection at Walmart. It is 100% cotton, two prints and one solid to choose from, machine wash, sizes XS-3X for $19.53
  8. Eight: This blouse is from J. Crew Factory. It is 98% regenagri®-certified cotton and 2% elastane, two prints to choose from, machine wash, XXS-3X for $39.50.
  9. Nine: This blouse is from Chico's. It is 100% polyester, machine wash, sizes 0/2-20/22 for $99

Why Do These Tops Cost Less?

Finding similar tops at a similar or lower pricepoint was harder than expected. As you can see, most are from synthetic fabrics, and few have the same exact concept of sleeves, neckline, and closure. Let's go over the four ways to cut costs and how these were able to retail for less than the blouse from Lilly Pulitzer:

Cheaper Materials

Polyester and viscose (which is a type of rayon) cost less than natural fibers like cotton. You will find such fabrics in clothing at all pricepoints, but viscose especially is one to watch out for.

While it may feel silky and nice and sounds like a sustainable fabric (made from wood pulp from quickly growing trees), viscose takes a lot of toxic chemicals to produce and only a very small percentage of the deforestation is done in a sustainable manner. Viscose is also prone to shrinking, especially when agitated in a machine so while it's cost-effective, it can be high-maintenance and easily damaged or shrunk with washing.

As for cotton, not all cotton fabrics are created equal. You've likely noticed the difference between percale and sateen sheets; different thicknesses of threads, the number of threads woven in a square inch of fabric, the softness, and durability determine cotton quality. The rougher the cotton, the cheaper it is.

Buying in Bulk

While Lilly Pulitzer is owned by a bigger company, it can't hold a candle to behemoths like Amazon and Walmart. When you are supplying millions of customers and own your real estate, you're able to buy in bulk, mass produce, and sell things for less while still making a profit.

It is impossible to compare something from Amazon to something from an individual retailer. The business practices are so drastically different, it's truly unfair. Just keep in mind each purchase to these megacompanies is making them stronger and causing the smaller companies to struggle to find ways to cut costs and stay afloat. You determine the future of retail with your wallet.

Cheaper Manufacturing

Manufacturing is hard to determine. In this day and age, retailers know they are being scrutinized and are excellent at greenwashing. Also, in this day and age, the country where a garment is created does not determine the conditions of the factory, the treatment of the workers, or the ethics of the business.

However, a sign of cheaper manufacturing is the choice for simpler design. Darts and pleats are more expensive to recreate than a more relaxed fit. Small buttons and a loop of thread or elastic at the back of the neck isn't as easy to mass produce as a wider neckline or a placket of buttons down the front.

Finishings are sometimes added to hide cheaper manufacturing. Embellishment like bows, lacing, embroidery, buttons, and bedazzlement are used to distract you from shoddy construction and cheaper textiles. Don't be blinded by the bling.

Finally, stretchy fabrics hide shoddy construction. It is harder to fit a stiff cotton top than a polyester chiffon blouse with a stretchy synthetic lining.

Technology Innovation

Some finishings and designs just can't be done with a machine. Crochet, for example, can only be done with human hands so low low prices of crocheted garments is a major red flag of unethical and likely inhumane working conditions.

Simple design that can be whizzed through a sewing machine will reduce cost for items that require more detailed work. Again, notice fitted cuffs versus straight, pleats versus smocking or a-line design, and other methods to reduce the need for human eyes and hands on every step of the process.

Technology costs money; you are more likely to find that megacorps like Amazon, Walmart, Target, Shein, and Temu have the funds for tech innovation as they can use it across more channels and for more orders. The smaller the company, likely the simpler the technology which can increase the purchase price.

Taking all we know about the brand, the manufacturing process, the fabric, the design, and the reviews on fit and quality… I personally find the Lilly Pulitzer Barbara Top to be a reasonable price in 2024. And this entire exercise is proof of how fast fashion has destroyed our concept of price and value.

how can we afford the fashion we deserve by wardrobe oxygen

How Can We Afford The Fashion We Deserve?

So a cotton top in 2024 is $128. That's a lot of money. For $128 you can feed a family, fill the gas tank, pay a utility bill or buy a prescription. The thing to factor is need and personal value.

Let's be honest, no one NEEDS a colorfully printed balloon sleeve cotton blouse. Sure, it would look adorable with white jeans or a pair of wide-leg trousers or even some adorable pink shorts. But it is not necessary. This is a want purchase. And want does hold merit.

I See It, I Like It, I Want It, I Got It

But when it comes to wants, we've become a society who sees it, likes it, wants it, gets it. We feel the need to wear something new to every occasion versus repeating favorites to emphasize our personal style. We get so frustrated with the lack of selection, size, and fit we buy mediocrity and end up with an overflowing closet and nothing to wear. We scroll through social media and stream series where temptation is every 30 seconds and a device is in our hands to buy that look within minutes. And we have influencers telling us that dupes are stylish, looks for less are attainable, and life will improve with a purchase.

Is Your Closet Growing, Too?

In 2000, I worked for a company that sold jeans and several times a year I would get 55% off. Even so, I only owned a handful of pairs. Each pair was a different color or style and served a different purpose. Some were for going out, some were for weekend. Some worked with heels, some with flats. They all were worn, and all purchased with purpose.

In 2020 during Lockdown when I did a closet cleanout, I had over a dozen pairs. Taking the time to try them on, I realized I only liked two pairs. Most of them didn't have the best fit but I didn't have anything else to replace them. Some were duplicates because it had become so hard to find great jeans that didn't wear out super quickly and I feared a blowout or other form of denim destruction. But most were mediocrity bought and kept because I felt it was the best I could do.

The world has reopened, and I am back to only a handful of jeans, each with a different purpose. I don't care how good of a price, if they don't make my ass look great they're not staying in my closet. If they slide down and give me diaper butt by noon, they're not staying in my closet. Returns suck and stores don't have my size, but that doesn't justify me owning crap.

And all that crap purchased is keeping me from the money for quality. And tailoring. And energy to carefully launder and care for what I own so it lasts as long as possible.

scenes from the movies Clueless, Pretty Woman, and Valley Girl where the protagonist is shopping with armfuls of bags

When Has Fashion Been Easy?

When has fashion ever been easy? We have some Pretty Woman Clueless Valley Girl fantasy in our mind of spending all day at the mall and leaving with the ultimate dream closet. But I don't think any of us experienced that ever in our grown-ass woman lives.

I know when I was an adorable 20-something I'd often go to the mall and come home empty handed. Okay, I'd come home with an empty Nordstrom Ice Storm cup and a random pair of earrings or socks, but no perfect apparel to change my life. Jeans didn't fit my ass, shirts didn't fit my bust, blouses didn't fit my arms, necklaces didn't fit my neck, sunglasses and hats didn't even fit my head. But back then I left them at the mall.

You don't need half the stuff that is in your closet, and you likely don't need more. You're rarely buying out of need, you're buying out of desperation and FOMO. And I know Wardrobe Oxygen is part of the problem, recommending silver chrome shoes and showing off handbags that were wants not needs.

But buying crap and complaining how clothing is too expensive is just destroying our concept of price and value and veering us so incredibly off course from finding personal style.

Does Cheap Quality Fashion Exist?

I love clothes and fashion, and if you're here reading Wardrobe Oxygen you likely do too. Fashion is an art, it's a hobby, it's a form of self-expression, and I know I'd be utterly miserable wearing the same thing over and over and over, especially if I didn't love it in the first place.

I am not expecting you to trudge through life wearing your current closet until it wears out or you rip it off your body, throw it into a bonfire and race down your city streets in your skivvies screaming, “I'm finally freeeeee!” But I am asking you to realistically consider the price of things in 2024 and compare them to the current cost of clothing. You'll see things aren't adding up and by succumbing to these fast fashion prices, you're making things even worse.

Budget-Friendly Reliable Retailers

Some retailers do cheap fashion better than others. I often recommend Old Navy and Target because while they may have problematic practices, they offer size inclusivity, natural fibers, the occasional sustainable practices, and a way to embrace trends and newness without looking dated or having garments fall apart in less than a season.

Secondhand is so Chic in 2024

Current trends are perfect for thrifting, consignment shops, vintage fashion, and buying secondhand online. The return of '90s and Y2K style, how runways are embracing street style and creativity, and bajillions of TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram tutorials to DIY tailoring, upcycling, and customizing clothing for your needs are all ways to add newsness to your closet without spending a fortune.

When it comes to brands like Lilly Pulitzer, head to Poshmark. While writing this piece, I found so many Barbara Tops on this resale app as this is a style Lilly carries often, just in different prints and fabrics depending on the season. You'll also find quite a lot of Lilly Pulitzer on eBay and can often rent styles at Rent the Runway.

If this sounds time consuming, remember how it was to shop in 2000. We didn't have stores at our fingertips. We took time, touched fabrics, made lists, did comparisons. It may have taken weeks or months to find the right something. Life is faster in 2024, but that doesn't mean your closet has to move that quickly. We can't slow down time but we can slow down our shopping.

Fashion is Art… and a Hobby

I know as a grown-ass woman, PostPan I have felt unmoored and overloaded. Experts will say you need a hobby that isn't connected to screens or your job. Why not take up sewing? Or knitting? Or embroidery? Or paracord knotting? Or crocheting? Or quilting? It can calm your mind while keeping it working into the second half of life while also adding a badass personal touch to your style.

Shop for You, Not Them

Fashion is so accepting in 2024, it's a good time to embrace your roots or try something new. Who were you in college? What did you love to wear in your 30s? What style did you always admire but feel wasn't for you because you were too much something or not enough something else? Now is the time to try it.

I saw a woman on the Metro last night wearing an oversized denim jacket, dark denim jeans cuffed over combat boots, underneath a black turtleneck. Her jacket was covered with patches and pins, her salt and pepper hair was in a messy updo, her earrings didn't match, and her tote was made out of hot pink fake fur. The only makeup on her grown-ass woman face was brows and a berry stain on her lips.

She looked so incredibly cool and chic and current, even though I can believe she has had those boots and that jacket for decades. And the jeans and turtleneck were so simple they could have been thrifted, or bought at Old Navy, or at Saks.

Start small with what is in your closet. Tuck in that which you usually wear out. Play with proportions, pairing volume with volume, long with short. Try a combination of colors or prints that normally wouldn't come to mind. Add a belt. Or a wacky sock. Even if you just wear it at home, get a feel for this change, and catch your reflection in glass cabinets, windows, and mirrors.

We often shop when we feel stuck. But sometimes freedom is already in our possession. I write this, wearing big chunky silver rings on my fingers like I used to as a teen but stopped because I felt it emphasized my stubby hands. I'm wearing an oversized button-front shirt untucked over ankle-length barrel jeans and square-toe silver flats that make me look like a genie. My hair is in need of a root touchup and instead of styling it to try to hide it, I wore my hair up, silver right along my hairline. My shirt is white, my bra is black, and I like the look.

Tomorrow I may find such a look horrible. But so what? The world will still rotate and I did something different with what's in my closet. It challenged me without costing anything and it helped me figure out who I am now. Because we are not who we were in 2000, nor are jeans.

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. I feel this article is not accurate. I ask that you take the time to read all I have posted so that you will be better educated on the facts. The writer talks about “fast fashion” as if it is only about “price and value”. Value is the result of a reasonable price, exceptional quality, long-lasting design, and functionality. Fast Fashion is inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends, usually worn only a few times before being discarded. Fast fashion is more about trendy designs (it could go out of fashion in a month, thus disgaded), or is so recognizable (print, silhouette, or color) that the consumer may only wear it a few times in fear of repeating this look, therefor disposing of it. Bottom line they are dressing for others and not developing their own sense of style. Style refers to an individual’s unique way of expressing themselves through their clothing choices.

    While fashion trends may come and go, style is timeless and enduring. By focusing on developing your personal style, you can create a wardrobe that reflects your individuality and makes you feel confident and comfortable in your own skin.

    Mid-tier retailers like J Crew, Gap, and Anthropologie are grappling with the problem of rising their prices and lowering the quality of their products, causing customers to question the value of buying name-brand products who offer little to no difference in quality then stores like Target or Old Navy. I agree with the writer here, why pay more for something just to support the antiquated business practices of inflated overheads and unchecked return policies (specifically, the unethical process of “wardrobing”, where consumers buy it wear it multiple times and return it; 1 in 4 people practice this today) that adds to their cost and higher retails and lower quality. Wardrobing accounts for 50% of all returns today and adds to your cost when buying from a company that supports this practice.

    Let’s discuss the writers claims about quality. Yes, there are many levels of quality, but to make blanket statements about “Viscose” is irresponsible and unfounded. there are many viscose fabrics that do not fall into this category. here is where I will educate you. We have heard of Modal, Tencel and if your in the designer market Tanboocel, all of these materials are “fast growing plant based” (Bamboo, Eucalyptus, birch, pine, etc.) that makes them a sustainable fabric. All of these fabric’s use what we call a “closed loop” production process this is environmentality safe and retains 95% to 99% of the chemicals used to manufacture these materials. There are many “Viscose” materials that are manufactured in this same manner, however, you should note that is a manufacturer is using the term “viscose” and does not specifically state “Closed Loop process”, then yes you may very well be buying a subpar fabrication. Futher more, just because someone uses the term Modal, Tencel or closed loop process does not mean the entire manufacturing process is without a chemical impact on our planet. Additionally, if a company specifically tells you that their material is made from Bamboo (Modal, Tencel, Viscose”, this is the best you can buy. But why bamboo fibers specifically? Compared to other plant-based fibers, bamboo fibers are longer, preventing pilling, shrinking, fading, stretching-out and ensuring better moisture-wicking properties, breathability, and absorbency, keeping you cool in warm weather. It is truly the superior choice, so look for “closed loop” made from Bamboo.

    Now, let’s talk about cotton, as the writer said there are many qualities of cotton. Again, if you do not see specific terms like “Pima or Supima” then the quality of the cotton can be as ambiguous as the writers term “Viscose”. Who knows how its been manufactured and if it’s going to stand the test of time (shrink, fade, stretch-out, etc.)? Cotton can be cheap and used to make cheap clothing. The difference lies in the length and durability of the cotton fibers used to make “cotton”.

    If you are looking for quality then choose Pima or Supima Cotton. Through careful spinning and weaving processes, Pima cotton fibers are longer, reducing the presence of exposed fibers on the fabric surface. As a result, Pima cotton fabric is softer, smoother, and less prone to pilling, while maintaining its shape and luster for a longer period. Both Pima and Supima cotton are higher-end versions of cotton fabric that have better qualities than traditional cotton. Clothing made with either of these two fabrics is softer and more durable than traditional cotton clothing. When it comes to premium cotton fabrics, Pima and Supima Cotton are two commonly mentioned terms. While there are some similarities, there are also notable differences between them:

    Differences in Certification, Origin, and Quality- Pima Vs Supima:

    + Pima: For brands using Pima cotton, there is no specific certification; it simply refers to this type of cotton. Consumers need to be mindful to purchase products from reputable and trustworthy brands. Even your Temu, Shein, Amazon, Gap, Old Navy, etc. use these terms, but there is no regulation on how and where its produced, no certification is needed.

    + Supima Cotton: In contrast to Pima, Supima Cotton has a legitimate certification awarded by the Supima Association. To be labeled as “Supima,” the product must be made from 100% pure Pima cotton and grown in the United States. This instills consumer trust and confidence in the origin and quality of the product.

    We have talked about the base materials, now lets talk about the “Dying”. We must also look as to how the fabric’s has been died after the “Close Loop” process we mentioned and or cotton. You can find cheap Cotton, Modal, Tencel and Viscose in the market from the Temu/Shein/Amazon/Gap/Target, Old Navy/ J Crew/ etc. of the world, but have they defined the dying process? Dying the material can be equally as destructive to our planet with the chimerical run off, not to mention very harmful to the workers. This is why you look for brands that use these certifications like Okeo-Tex and others, certifying this dying process. If you are truly concerned about “quality, sustainability and eco-friendly” then all boxes should be checked.

    Quality and Value. As I stated before Value is the result of a reasonable price, exceptional quality, long-lasting design, and functionality. How does something become long-lasting? By purchasing a “Timeless” design that never goes out of style, and will last for years without fading, stretching out, and resists pilling (much of which is determined on how you wash and treat the garment, follow the washing instructions), this is value.

    Please do your homework, learn why it is we pay more for higher/highest quality clothing. Value is when you can pull out of the closet years later and still love it, you will not remember the price you paid because you are still loving and wearing it.

  2. Thank-you, yet again, for a very interesting and revealing article.
    To quote: “We have lost all concept on value and cost because of these fast fashion mega-companies.”. Err, no. It is because mega-companies have customers. If no-one bought from them, they wouldn’t survive.
    It is the greed and hypocrisy of the fashion consumer (largely female – call me a misogynist, if you will) who fuels the trade.
    You are holding up a mirror to the majority consumer. Well done.

    1. I think that *is* misogynist. Where exactly do you think these mostly female consumers get the idea that they need new clothes all the time? Push on your assumptions a little bit and you’ll see the *man* behind the curtain. The money here is still, as always, in mostly male hands.

  3. If I may, I’d like to quote the essay
    “So a cotton top in 2024 is $128. That’s a lot of money. For $128 you can feed a family, fill the gas tank, pay a utility bill or buy a prescription. The thing to factor is need and personal value.”
    Now I’ll confess. I am the original poster of the now infamous complaint about the $128 blouse.
    I wish I could spend $128 on one blouse. I am sad that I can’t.
    But I’ll keep wearing what I have and live vicariously through those that are able to afford $128 for one blouse.

    1. I am glad you wrote what you did. You are not alone in not being able to afford a $128 top. Retail is all out of whack and it makes a bigger disparity between the haves and have nots. The middle class is disappearing and forcing us to resort to questionably created apparel.

  4. Thanks for this great post–it’s so true! I used to regularly purge my closet twice a year, but in the past 5-10 years I’ve stopped because once I get rid of something, it will be nearly impossible to replace with the same quality. Most of my clothes are 10+ years old. I have wool and cashmere sweaters from 1980s/1990s that are still in great shape, but have paid $100+ for similar sweaters in the past decade that either pill or get holes within a month.

    Close to retirement, working from home and leading a very casual life, I barely need any clothes anyway. I’m not really on socials so I’m not seeing the “influencers.” Combined with the fact that shopping just isn’t fun anymore (either travel to stores with a dearth of selection and sizes, or buy a bunch of clothes online that end up not fitting and schlep them to UPS), it’s become very easy not to buy new stuff. Thrift shopping/resale websites are too much work for me.

    All of this has helped me kick the retail therapy habit, which has streamlined my life considerably. That said, I still miss the days when a trip to the mall was exciting and fun!

  5. I’m really glad to see you write on this subject. In addition to unequitable and downright abusive manufacturing practices, fast fashion is one of the biggest polluters in the world today. It is contributing to the destruction of the environment and of local markets and economies–it’s just that it is primarily affecting people in the global south, so we are able to ignore it from our comfortable lives in the U.S.
    It’s nearly impossible to avoid fashion brands that have questionable (at best) labor and environmental practices, and it can be so hard to find real, hard facts of each brand’s impact because they work very hard to obscure them. And even those brands that tout their sustainable and fair labor practices can’t wholly control or ensure visibility into their manufacturing partners’ practices. Some very large popular legacy brands also even cheat their manufacturers out of payment for the product they’ve produced. It sucks all around.
    As someone who has sewn a lot of my wardrobe, I’ve had to face the fact that even that practice isn’t as sustainable as I’d like due to fabric manufacturing practices and environmental impact, and I have a decided preference for natural fibers. But I also love rayon and bought a lot of it in the past before I understood the impact of its manufacture. It’s almost impossible to find any good information on a specific big-box fabric’s sourcing.
    It’s all a little depressing and a lot frustrating. The solution seems clear: buy less, use less, repair more. But it’s very hard to resist the draw of new new new. Especially when so much of it is rock-bottom cheap. I keep reminding myself and anyone within earshot that if an item is so cheap I feel like not buying it would be stupid, then at minimum someone is not getting paid and that someone probably really needs to be paid for their labor. The whole “cheaper COL in X global south country” is a bit of a red herring. Corporations have a vested interest in influencing the politics in those countries to ensure continued cheap manufacturing. It’s the East India Company all over again. And unfortunately the people most adversely affected are women and children.
    Sorry for the novel. It’s an incredibly vexing issue and you’ve covered a large portion of its problems in this post, and I’m really glad to see you bringing this topic to your audience.

  6. Thank you for writing what I have been thinking for the past year or so. Your article is well researched and presented.
    I appreciate the effort and sentiments expressed.

  7. Have you gone back to school? This reads like a well researched term paper! If I were grading it, you’d earn an A+! Well done.

  8. I appreciate the way this article places value on sustainable manufacturing, paying a living wage, and sustainable consumption but I think two additional important truths were left out at the beginning that also factor into the way people have increasingly turned to fast fashion over the years:
    1. Salaries have not doubled in the past 20 years; and
    2. The increase in the price of gas, housing, and cars has just as much to do with artificial shortages (see, e.g. housing crisis) and corporate profiteeing (see, e.g., the amount of inflation driven by profit in the past 2 to 5 years versus the past 20 to 50 years) as with increases in the costs of raw goods, manufacturing, and labor.

    Unlike housing and, in many parts of the country, gas and cars, clothing (particularly as fashion) is a much more fungible and discretionary purchase.

    With these factors in mind, I think that buying secondhand and buying a few quality pieces over numerous cheap fast fashion fixes makes even more sense.

    This was a great read, and you are one of my top 3 favorite fashion bloggers because of how you keep it real. Thank you!

    1. Yup. This. While everything Alison says is true, fashion is not the only industry where average people can no longer afford the quality that they once could. Restaurants and retail stores are all finding that the middle is gone–we have Nordstrom or Target, but department stores are going bust; fast food or high end restaurants, but chains like Applebees are really struggling. Influencers or people who follow that aesthetic and want to wear a new outfit every day certainly exist, but not in large enough numbers to drive the demand for fast fashion. A much bigger problem is how much the middle class has been squeezed, and for how long. Alison’s analysis applies well to shoppers who have choices, but much of the demand for FF is driven by those who don’t.

  9. I am glad you wrote this post. I used to like Talbots, but I feel like most of their tops are some form of polyester. With some input from my daughter, I now try to buy second-hand items that are cotton, linen and wool. I did order a Universal Standards box and two out the three items were rayon or Viscose. Ugh! I miss clothes that don’t stain, keep their shape and last forever. I am willing to pay more for better quality, no fast fashion for me anymore. I wear what I like and don’t worry about current trends.

  10. I think the article is very interesting and true. The perception is value. You can buy less expensive, and sometimes that even makes sense. But you get what you pay for. Personally, I like the wardrobe capsule concept. I can build my wardrobe around a set of clothes, pay the higher prices, get the quality I want, and most importantly, I wear the pieces. Do I have some pieces in my closet just sitting? Yes, and I need to purge those!

    1. Maybe purge, or maybe see if you find them in a new light with a new year! I don’t necessarily think a smaller closet is always better, but I do think we can’t find our style in a cluttered closet!

  11. Thank you for writing this – it’s excellent. I haven’t bought fast fashion for many years now, but I was guilty of sometimes buying an article of clothing just as a way to fill my lunchtimes when I worked a corporate city job. Then I moved to a property in the country a few years back, where I don’t need nice clothes and there’s certainly nowhere to buy them except online. So I buy almost nothing. Just recently I have really been feeling that I would love a couple of things that make me feel excited about getting dressed, so I’m going to scour the thrift stores and an amazing consignment shop in my nearest city, I really appreciate the timing of your article because it’s reinforced my determination not to just ‘add to cart’ because I’m feeling bored or restless.

  12. Well said and so true. I try to thrift most things other than technical clothing and underwear and I’d rather have fewer better things. Fast fashion is all too often made by people who are essentially living in slavery or abject poverty so indulging in it is bad for people as well as bad for the planet. Disposing of all the junky fast fashion people wear a few times and dump is an increasingly terrible environmental problem. Articles like this one help since we all need to be more aware – the value proposition of clothing reaches further than our own closets!

  13. I am VERY appreciative of this article! I do not order clothing from Amazon and so many influencers promote Amazon clothing. When I shop in my local boutiques, I know that while paying more, I am helping keep small businesses going. Plus what a sad world we would have if our ONLY source of clothing and shoes are from mail-order Amazon. No thanks!

  14. I’m so glad you wrote this post. It’s also extraordinarily timely. PrePan, I was making a serious effort to ensure that nearly all my clothing purchases were secondhand. Then, beyond the usual bad things that impacted all of us during the pandemic, truly terrible *additional* events hit our family. I have found I’m self-soothing STILL with cheapo purchases for that dopamine hit. Your writing here is a good reminder to reconnect with what I love about fashion and to save up for the better things that last … and actually make me happy.

    1. I often write pieces like this as a reminder for myself, too! I do find I shop far more when I am stressed or dealing with really terrible things. It’s a quick dopamine hit but has so many negative side effects.

      1. Absolutely. So true. I was just listening to the podcast Maintenance Phase and they identified a quick self-test to at least slow your roll when you’re about to make a bad decision — HALT. Are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? Then maybe wait to do the thing.

        And if you still want that dopamine hit? See if your local thrift shop, eBay, or Poshmark can satisfy it 🙂

  15. Here, here. Do so appreciate this well-written article, Allison. You really brought your expertise to bear. Like reader Kelly I am almost entirely buying my clothes used. The clothes I buy all have natural fibers and are still in pretty good shape after twenty-plus years because they were well made to begin with. I find shopping new and in-store much more difficult since stores are all cost-cutting and swapping in nasty 5-material blends and rayon and polyester because they are cheaper. It’s a discouraging future that lies ahead of us if fast fashion continues to dominate.

    1. Fully agree. I am so glad that social media darlings are really making vintage and thrifting so chic. But what will be in thrift stores in a few years if folks keep buying cheap crappy clothing?

  16. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on how the Great Recession (07-09ish) may have played into or accelerated this trend. From my perspective it felt like before that was the last time I remember having consistently higher quality clothes in stores, then the recession happened and I remember many stores having to put things on super sale…everything always 50% off, etc. to get people to buy. Recession ended but brands claimed consumers weren’t willing to pay the old prices again, that they still wanted everything for cheap and the always on sale prices. But as a consumer it felt like stores wanted me to pay the old high prices for quality that was no longer there and the idea of that was unappealing. I remember having beautiful wool dress pants from Ann Taylor with lining that I’d splurged on but didn’t mind because they fit, moved well, lasted, etc., yet suddenly I had to pay the same price for something cheap and thin with no lining. It felt like the upper end stores did a bait and switch. I don’t actually know how much quality pants like that would or should cost today but I’m willing to pay for quality…I just can’t find it anymore. Even really high end brands are using bad fabrics, shoddy sewing, etc.

    1. It could be that, but I also know around that time a lot of retail brands filed for Chapter 11 or were bought by bigger corporations. Ann Taylor was one of them; they got bought by a company that also owned like Dress Barn and the quality and style dropped dramatically. I can’t recall perfectly, but I feel that New York & Company, The Limited, and a few others got hit hard by the recession and tried to come back but at a cheaper scale. I need to go through my archives at that time, I feel I wrote a lot about the change in retail due to the recession but it has completely slipped my memory (though I recall my high school best friend’s phone number!)

  17. I almost exclusively buy secondhand for myself right now. For my kids and husband, I am constantly looking at the quality-price tradeoff. In my experience, I am sometimes pleasantly surprised at how many wears I can get out of a polyester or blend blouse. What makes me crazy is the expensive stuff that still ends up being low quality, but you only realize it after it has faded, shrunk, or developed a hole 30 days in. See also- sweater moths! This is why I sometimes end up in fast-ish fashion; I’d rather be pleasantly surprised vs bitterly disappointed!

  18. I just had to let you know that this was a well- thought out and written piece. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I 100% agree with everything you’ve written even though I am guilty of purchasing fast fashion. Thank you for your thought provoking post.

  19. I grew up with a mom who sewed and in turn I sewed. Thru college and my professional life I made many of my clothes so I could afford more clothes. I also made many of my children’s clothes. Because of this I have a very critical eye toward construction and am often appalled by even expensive clothes that are poorly made. Great article for so many readers. Thank you for all this clarification.

  20. I always appreciate how value-conscious you are and there are so many ways to be stylish and money smart that you mention here. Thanks!

  21. Love this post! I’m lucky to be at a point in my career where I make enough money to be able to be thoughtful about what and where I spend my money. I almost only buy secondhand clothes (except for things like pyjamas— from Printfresh— or underwear). We eat out at local restaurants rather than chains, and make food choices based on treatment of the people and animals who produced it. I’m also thoughtful about how much we buy; we have a house that was built in 1946 and while large by global standards, it’s small to US eyes. Thank you for recognizing the complexity of this issue, but also pushing us to think critically about it.

  22. Awesome article. As someone with a background in the apparel industry, it’s tough out there. Cheers to the US companies hanging in!! I’d rather have fewer high quality pieces than wear cheap clothing made with very questionable labor.

  23. This article is so well researched and so well written. It is so thought provoking and puts into perspective so many aspects of “fashion” and how everyday life has evolved. Thank you.

  24. Thank you for such an honest piece. I appreciate how you call out the fine line between writing about and promoting fashion, and sticking to quality and buying less. As a fashion influencer, I can’t imagine how difficult that is. There’s just so much hypocrisy going on in social media — women pushing body positivity AND ozempic, aging gracefully while getting a face lift, buying the “look for less” while touting quality and ethical manufacturing, etc. This is one of a handful of sites I trust for complete transparency.

  25. Posts like this are the reason I follow your blog. Thank you for this very important, interesting and timely information.

  26. Thanks Alison! Another great think piece on fashion and the choices we make. I ordered something from Wool& recently and on their packaging was written “live simply.consume good.” I love that!

  27. Great article and very well said. I saw the facebook post and it made me grimace a bit because of everything you just wrote.

    1. Thank you, Susan! And I hope it doesn’t seem like I am shaming that person. What they said is how so many feel and I completely understand why! I just wanted to provide some background to help us all become more informed of consumers.

  28. Fantastic article! I often struggle with balancing those cheap and shoddy options with more costly, higher quality ones. Unfortunately with everything else going up in price, the wants that often affect our fashion purchase decisions end up near the bottom of budget priorities and so many people feel forced to buy cheap brands in order to fill those wants. But as a sewer and knitter, I really hate the poor quality of items (my mom always said to me if you are taking the time to make something, buy good quality materials, because otherwise you spend this time and effort and you won’t be happy with the result). This was a great reminder to switch up the way I pair items and to delve a little deeper into the why of a purchase, and then if it’s justified, spend a bit more to get something great. I’ve also found myself going back to more hand made clothing and taking the time between seasons to pack up the off season stuff, that way they feel fresher the next season because I haven’t seen them for a while (and it forces me to put my hands on each item so I see them again instead of them being stuffed in a back corner of the closet)

    1. A personal stylist told me the key to really wearing all my closet is to have all of it in there, all year round. And so I did that. And then my closet got a bit full and I decided to pack away the off-season pieces. And it made me excited to wear them again the following season! It’s like when you find a $10 in your winter coat the first time you put it on after fall!

  29. Thanks for the very thoughtful post. I would add, and I think you’ve said this previously Alison when writing about fast fashion but didn’t notice it in this post, it has a tremendous adverse impact on the environment. It’s also such a vicious circle. It would seem to me that in some cases people embrace fast fashion because of low paying jobs and the stores that offer low wages are the same ones selling fast fashion. Thanks for the insightful post.

    1. You are so right, Marla. I didn’t get into it because some brands like Adidas, which one wouldn’t think of as fast fashion, creates some of the most clothing waste in landfills. Unexpected, right? Overconsumption as a whole is destroying our planet!

  30. Thank you for this – it’s wonderfully informative, and I appreciate the self-honesty and invitation to self-honesty! For me, the exercise of recalling what I wore when I was last expressing myself (instead of what I was told my shape or age called for) was a joyful and healing experience, and is helping me reconnect with what clothing and styling actually makes me happy. It feels worthwhile for that reason all by itself, even if it didn’t also help me be wiser with my spending.

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