Poppin' Tags: Vintage, Thrift, and the Value of Slow Fashion


The Vintage Shop Window by slightly everything, Creative Commons
Photo by slightly everything, licensed under Creative Commons. 


This afternoon, to reward myself for a morning of hard writing work and because I couldn’t stand using my brain for one minute more, I went looking online for a new winter coat. Online shopping is fun where real-life shopping is stressful: I don’t have to get all sweaty and frustrated in a fitting room, and I don’t feel driven to buy something to justify the time I’ve spent negotiating crowded stores. I can just look.

But on this occasion, actually, I wanted to buy. I had seen an ad on some fashion blog for these gorgeous cloaks made by designer Lindsey Thornburg. That’s what I want!, I thought. Not a dorky old coat like I’ve worn every year, all fastened into it like a Stay-Puft straight-jacket. I want to swoosh around in soft fabrics that sort of wrap around and hang off me, all cool and chic. Visions of Denise Huxtable danced in my head. But talk about getting sweaty: The cloaks cost between $600 and $1200, and as beautiful as they are I couldn’t justify spending that much money on one piece of clothing.

Maybe other people make nice cloaks / capes / cape-coats, I thought. I toggled the terms and did some Google searching and to my surprise etsy shops kept popping up. I like etsy, which is an online craft marketplace where makers of all kinds of things can sell them. I’ve had my own etsy shop for quite a few years now; I use it to sell my zines and other paper crafts. But to my total dismay I soon understood that many of the stores that were offering the—trendy, cute, and inexpensive—coats I liked were being sold by overseas clothing manufacturers posing as craftspeople. The vast majority of these were located in China. The same thing has happened on ebay, if you’ve noticed, though this doesn’t have quite the same meaning since that site has no requirement that the things sold there be “handmade.”

Today, and for the last twenty years or so now, most of the clothes we Americans buy have not been made in the U.S., but in poorer countries where the legal hourly wage is much lower. I know that you know this. But did you know that Americans now buy an average of 64 pieces of new clothing a year? That one reason we’re able to get clothing as cheaply as we now can is that huge “fast fashion” retailers like H&M and Target can order clothes in previously unheard-of quantities, a production rate that is devastating for the environment? Or that more than 40 percent of the clothing now produced worldwide is made of plastic in the form of polyester and other synthetic fabrics?

Boombox Bling, photo by Aih, Creative Commons

I didn’t, not really, until I read Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth Cline. Cline, a journalist and first-time author, talks about sweatshop labor in the tradition of books like The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy. But she goes beyond this and looks at something else: Our hunger for excessively cheap clothes and trends that cycle in and out every week or two, and the massive machine that keeps it all moving.

Rachel Bethke
3/19/2013 11:43:43 PM

i am curious if you would be interested in 'guest posting' this EXACT post on my blog.....i would LOVE it i think this was just so thoughtfully written....i cannot stop thinking about it! please email me at theyearofslowfashion at gmail dot com if interested!

3/19/2013 11:41:20 PM

i loveeee your article. this exactly the point of my blog www.theyearoflsowfashion.com i read her book and was just OVERWHELMED by how awful the fashion industry is. i feel like fashion is way overrated and instead am opting to discover my personal STYLE. (my blog will become 'slowyourstyle.com' when the year is over) most people i find who like clothes really could give two craps less where it comes from so i am just so overjoyed to hear the opposite :)

Genevieve Griffith
12/28/2012 9:19:59 PM

Ahh...Wabi Sabi...i love it....and the operative word "thoughtfulness" ...we need more of this..I've been shopping second hand for years and have one of the most interesting wardrobes around..guilt free shopping...highly recommended

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