On Wardrobe Philosophies
If you're into Fashion on the Internet - which, make no mistake, is a totally different thing than Fashion Anywhere Else - you're aware that the cool thing to do these days is to have a wardrobe philosophy. Like, the "French Wardrobe" which involves buying only five key pieces a season, or "seasonal capsule wardrobes" in which you only wear a selection of specific pieces for a given period of time. The overall emphasis is on limiting blind consumption and curation - which in this context really only means intentional consumption. A lot of them call themselves "minimalist" and you can decide if you think that's a fair term. I think it's ultimately a pretty respectable goal, especially if you're trying to create a wardrobe that's more cohesive and/or curb a shopping habit. Or even just challenge yourself for the sake of it. Whatever, do what you want. Still, I'm curious about the social trends behind it.
We're in this age where I think people are trying more and more to apply a sort of methodology to their consumption and especially to their clothing. I'm of the mind that it's because we're overwhelmed by choice - with the rise of fast fashion, stylistically, clothing has never been more democratic than it is now. The concept of the brand has long abandoned the cage of the tangible product - the idea of a brand as a holistic personality, a worldview in and of itself, is now a given. We're faced with all these options, and at the same time, we're increasingly asked to create a singular, cohesive personal brand for ourselves. There's something so appealing about the suggestion that we can opt-out by choosing to regulate our consumption in very specific ways. By saying, "I will not buy, I will exist with only these things," we're affording ourselves the luxury of imagining that we're removing ourselves from the question entirely: "This is who I am. I'm escaping the 'Fuck, who should I be?' pressure of consumerism."
I'm not immune to this myself. I've sat on some really high horses throughout my interest in fashion. There was that phase where everything was supposed to be Buy-It-For-Life as a conscious rejection of materialism, which was ironic because I really only ended up more obsessed with the properties of the material. Then there was that phase where everything was going to be really "high quality" and sustainable which was laughable because I was not spending the kind of money to required to actually make a difference, and I'm horrible at taking care of my clothes anyways. Oh, then there was finding a label for my style. And having a uniform. Also that time I decided I was going to live out of a carry-on suitcase for two months. I don't regret that one entirely because carrying it around still sucked, but the sanctimonious smugness with which I packed that shit was ridiculous.
On one hand, I'm on board with clothing philosophies - perhaps more accurately, consumption philosophies - because I think it's a really cool thing that people are starting to get into the idea that what we wear and how is something that we can actually apply thought to. There are a lot of really, really good reasons to think critically about clothing consumption. It's not impossible, but it's also not easy to find clothing that's manufactured in an ethical and environmentally friendly way. By checking consumption, we avoid feeding into those processes. We prevent waste. We can focus on dressing ourselves in way that's conscious, and sends a clearer message, if that's what we choose. You can actually fit all of your shit into your closet.
But then, on the other hand, I'm not like, "Hey this is a problem" concerned, you know, but I have some doubts. Liiiiike for example, I think in a lot of ways, it perpetuates this myth that there's a "right" way to consume. Or not even consume - a correct way to be and dress. I just finished my senior thesis (kill me) on the emerging luxury industry in China. In my research, I found that the discourse from major Western fashion players was overwhelmingly disparaging towards Chinese consumers because of their tendency to buy brands "they can't even pronounce, just because it's expensive." First of all, LOL at the idea that people don't do this everywhere else. But the suggestion that this reflects an unsophisticated market is narrow. Conspicuous consumption of Western brands is a matter of function and utility. Unbranded-yet-high quality goods don't mean shit. I don't intend to suggest that clothing philosophies encourage ethnocentrism, but it can be really easy to slip into this idea that what's functional and meaningful for one person is necessarily the same for anyone else. There is no blanket "right way" to consume - something I have to remind myself when I see girls with bad fakes.
And following that, I think there's also a danger of moral superiority. In a lot of ways, conscious consumption can be morally good. At the same time, you're not eliminating materialism from your life, if we're talking about a concern with consumer products. Wardrobe philosophies - especially those centered around curation of, say, a very specific aesthetic - can lead just as easily to brand obsession as anything else. Personally, I don't find that immoral, but you see my point. There are also some weird, icky class things lurking under the surface. Like, I just have so much clothing and so much disposable income that it needs to be controlled, somehow. Of course, conscious consumption can be really useful for those on a small budget. But at the same time, again, you can't apply a blanket "right way to consume" to everyone. In a lot of situations, having more is a matter of utility.
So I don't know. At my internship today, I had a conversation with my boss about how the minimalist packaging of cosmetics reflects the pace of society - black, sleek, disposable, can be used in a cab, as opposed to gilded powder cases meant to live on vanities. We wondered aloud if aesthetic minimalism was a reaction to the increasing rate of change - buy it, use it, throw it out. And that makes me wonder if the same is true for minimalist consumption. Is consuming consciously an attempt to opt-out of that speed of change? And is there a way to marry modern day utility and also calm down and enjoy our clothes? Dunno.
Personally, I refuse to stress about it. As much as I take clothing seriously, and I obviously do, I'm of the mind that we can't really opt out of the system. Relax, enjoy it, consume; just don't get crazy. There's no right answer. Do whatever the fuck works for you. If you need me I'll be buying my fourth mariniere.