Yet another argument for Quality over Quantity

i am shamelessly reposting this from Dead Fluerette this morning because it resounded so strongly for me.
The original article ran in the Vancouver Sun.
I hope it’s not TOO annoying, but I bolded the parts that spoke to me and reflect my philosophies.


The same way we’ve forgotten how to save our pennies, we’ve forgotten how to invest in our wardrobes. For the past decade and more, we’ve been on a reckless spend-o-rama, maxing out our credit cards with cheap, chic, disposable fast fashion.

But now — with rising concerns about the economy, the environment and worker exploitation in developing countries, not to mention a season of temptingly timeless modern classics — investment dressing is chic again.

Good thing, too. All those cheap Prada knock-offs were not only clogging up the landfills, they were overflowing the closets in our tiny condos, too.

The investment dressing trend is major news all over, according to everyone from the editors of fashion magazines to tastemakers like Holt Renfrew fashion director Barbara Atkin, to the designers themselves and right on up to politicians.

Just last week, England’s House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee released a report that condemned cheap and chic insta-fashion, calling it “costly and socially unacceptable.”

The report pointed out that clothes from retailers like Britain’s uber-popular Primark and Top Shop are so cheap that there is no incentive to repair them, or even to hand them down or recycle them. And that, they say, is just wasteful.

Of course, the Brits aren’t the only ones who have been revelling in a frenzy of cut-price poly blends. International chains like Spain’s Zara and Sweden’s H&M have conquered the retail world by not only knocking off designer duds minutes after they appear on the runway, but completely restocking their stores with brand new fashions every two weeks or so.

That’s right: Where once there were two fashion cycles a year (spring and fall), now there are two a month. When clothes are this cheap, why not?

The thing is, when a dress costs only $20 or a pair of jeans is a mere $15, someone is paying full price for it, even if it isn’t you.

That someone is typically a garment worker in a developing country like, say, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. There, millions of people — most of them women and children — work brutally long hours sewing clothes in squalid situations for less than $10 a week, which may be the legal minimum wage, but it’s not exactly a livable one. That’s all manufacturers can afford to pay, though, if they want to keep prices as low as customers demand.

The other way clothing companies keep costs down is to use cheap fabrics, typically energy-wasteful cotton or non-biodegradable synthetics. Producing these fabrics can create massive amounts of pollution — especially in regions with lax environmental standards.

Admittedly, it can be easy to forget about conditions half a world away when you’re looking at an adorable blouse that costs little more than your morning latte. To bring the harsh reality home, consider this: A closet crammed with cheap, disposable clothes is more expensive than a wardrobe of well-made, long-wearing classics.

It comes down to the cost-per-wear formula. Take the cost of your garment, divide it by the number of times you wear it and that’s what its actual value is.

For instance, a $20 top you wear once has a $20 cost per wear. A $500 jacket you wear every week for a year has a $10 cost per wear. The better value? The $500 jacket. Besides, those inexpensive garments just don’t last — which is why, back in the day, fashion guidebooks always used to say that women on a budget can’t afford to buy cheap clothes. That’s definitely something to consider given the current economic meltdown.

Something else worth considering: One of the reasons we all fell for fast fashion in the first place was to express our personalities through our clothes. Ironically, all we’ve managed to accomplish is looking like everyone else out there.

We’ve also devalued the very designers and labels we’ve been ripping off.

Given all that, it should come as no surprise that there has been a backlash against all this gross over-consumption of clothing. Just as fast food inspired the slow food movement, so has fast fashion inspired a new “slow fashion” movement that encourages shoppers to buy locally produced, ethically made, high-quality clothing that will last more than one season.

In fact, that’s how the world’s most stylish women have always shopped.

French and Italian women don’t buy a lot of fast fashion; instead, they are famous for having a few well-made basics that they update with well-chosen accessories. They look inside North American women’s closets and wonder how on earth we manage to dress ourselves with so much junk. Men don’t typically buy a lot of fast fashion either. Instead, they often expect to get a decade’s wear out of a coat or suit, so it has to be top quality — and that’s why menswear stores offer expensive, beautifully made clothes and complimentary tailoring.

Meanwhile, we women have been dressing ourselves in nasty, flimsy, scratchy, badly made and ill-fitting clothes, all for the sake of being on top of a trend that lasts about two minutes.

Sure, we want to have fun with fashion, and fast fashion can definitely be fun. And it’s great for teens, who are still trying on new styles to learn what suits them best and have small allowances to pay for it in any case. But for the rest of us, shouldn’t we know better by now? Shouldn’t fashion be a bit more luxurious than this? Shouldn’t it make us feel good? Shouldn’t it be, well, nicer?

Luckily for all of us, this fall is all about beautiful, modern, updated classics, the kind of clothes you’ll want to wear for a good, long time. Atkin calls it “stealth wealth,” clothing that is elegant and carefully crafted, but doesn’t shout its pedigree with all-over logos and bling.

And yes, it can be expensive, but maybe it’s time to bring back another outmoded concept: the idea of actually saving up to buy something special instead of racking up more debt on a whim.

This is a great season to begin investing in your wardrobe again. It’s a great season to invest in the building blocks of a timeless wardrobe, in luxurious fabrics, beautiful colours and flattering fits. It’s a great season to invest in creating your own unique style, and not following the same trends everyone else is.

It is, in short, a great season to invest in you.


15 thoughts on “Yet another argument for Quality over Quantity”

  1. I saw it, too, and understand why you’d file it away in a post! Because we *can’t* afford cheap trash.

    Does reading this put you in the mind of vintage/consignment shopping soon? wink, wink!

  2. I printed this when I saw it yesterday. The sentiments were just so spot-on.

    And you know, the items in my closet that I enjoy the most are the ones that I spent more money on and went a bit (or a lot) more upscale. I’m really just so over the idea of nickel-and-diming myself to death with things that are less than perfect. I am also really over the idea of my boring black t-shirts, but that’s another story for another day.

    I wish I had a spare few hundred bucks to spend on replacing the boring, boring, boring tops in my wardrobe, plus replacing my skinny black slacks.

    I’m going to San Francisco for six days in June. I’m going to look up some resale shops while I’m there. The ones here in Denver are so dismal. I’ve always been impressed by the treasures you find at your shops, Kristi. Especially those leather slacks.

  3. A very good article – thanks for reposting. It really highlights how buying masses of cheap clothes makes losers out of all of us – the shoppers, the workers, and the environment. Didn’t know about H&M restocking every two weeks! That’s insanity.

  4. Kristi, I soo agree with you and this article. We were taught quality always when we were growing up … meaning getting the best we could afford. We were taught to sew our own clothes and as a result, as adult women, my sisters and I can spot poor quality immediately. Also, a word about fabrics. It is wise to become educated about the performance of fabrics. For example, how Tencel is prone to shrink (no matter what “they” say), how some brands’ finely knit silk sweaters really don’t perform well with hand washing. Also, it pays to shop the stores that have a generous return policy – i.e. no questions, no time limit. Thanks for your post!

  5. Great article – thank you for the repost. I think Cherie said it best about how it makes losers out of all of us. So true. This post is a keeper.

  6. Thanks for reposting this article. When I lived in Boston I accumulated a lot of extra clothes, a mix of good quality clothing as well as a lot of cheaper quality clothes and when it was time for me to move back to Europe I actually left the majority of the cheaper clothes behind as I couldn’t fit them in my bags. I think this just proves the writers point of “disposable clothes” as I didn’t think twice about leaving them behind in favour of bringing the better items with me. I know this is frivolous but I’ve since learned my lesson!

  7. My problem is I have no idea what constitutes “quality”. Is it price? Is it a particular label? I suppose anything at Wally would be out of the question, but do you only find good quality clothes at high end places? I get so irritated with food, too, when I am told to purchase the “best quality” olive oil or vanilla. I don’t know what’s the best quality of either!

    1. Heather, part of it is research and part of it is experience. For instance, if you want a cashmere sweater you can do research on the web to see which brands hold up the best for the best price. Consumer Reports is a great resource for so many things you buy — showing you the best quality for the best price.
      High end places don’t always offer the best quality, either. It just takes time and a little — or sometimes a lot — of research on your part, but it is worth it in the long run in the time and money you save later on. Hope that helps.

  8. Kristi, I adore you for sharing this! I might have to post it on my blog as well sometime this week. I still have family and friends who think my spending more on one piece is nuts!

    Oh, and another note about H&M and why I rarely buy anything there any more (except the occasional accessory, and even that’s been over a year)….they got caught in a big scandal a year or two ago when it came to light their workers were told to destroy the clothes that didn’t sell…..instead of donating them to charities that help the homeless. Ridiculous.

  9. Thank you for this lovely post, Kristi!
    A great reminder that we deserve to feel beautiful and deserve proper high quality clothes! Definitely worth waiting for the right item to come along and not settle for items that are just “okay” – hmmm…just like all other aspects in life? 🙂
    Happy Lent, my friend!

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