Loose Threads: The shrinking lifespan of high street fashion
It has become common practice to shop for clothes on a near daily basis. Whether it is a quick trip to the high street to see the latest fashion deliveries, or browsing online for the newest looks, fashion's furious pace means we can visit our favorite stores and find new merchandise at any given time.
When the cost of a new, head-to-toe look is little more then the cost of your evening meal, we can afford to shop several times a week. Perhaps we bought a dress for Tuesday's post-work office event, and a quirky new top you saw featured in the freesheets that would be perfect to wear for drinks on Friday night. Then a new pair of shoes arrives in the post from our favorite online retailer, just in time for Saturday's soirée. For the average earner in London, shopping daily for clothes and accessories is part of the millennial's lifestyle.
Of course it's hard not to be enticed, when brands are fighting to compete against each other, introducing more and more collections per year at lower costs, and social media is non-stop beaming images at us of what we should buying and wearing now.
Retailers are responding to fashion trends faster then ever before, at a rate when a dress worn by a celebrity on Monday will see the shop floor merchandised with similar possibilities the following day. It used to be that collections took six months from design phase to being available in store. This cycle has now been reduced to a relentless pace of three weeks, which is why high street brands can easily launch 18 collections per year, and cater to fast fashion's many trends,
Behind the scenes, supply chains are being pressured to produce at an ever quickening pace, but nobody is asking why the quality is so poor, or why the prices are so low. Nobody is questioning why that dress you bought for 15 pounds doesn't survive six washes, when the buttons are popping off, the hems are fraying and that print is looking dull and listless. Or that five pound t-shirt, where the neckline warped after the second wash and the sleeves began to flute. But perhaps this is irrelevant, when the cost was cheap and the garment was meant to only last one occasion. Never was there an expectation of it becoming a wardrobe staple.
Just as the food industry introduced additives, fast fashion took to cheap, blended fabrics
The average lifespan of a high street garment is just 7 wears and as a result the average wardrobe size has quadrupled since end of last century, before fast fashion became the norm. When we shop for vintage clothes, we can see the difference in quality, manufacturing standards, but most of all in the fabrics. High quality clothes are made of natural fibers, like cottons, silk, wool, linen and leather, but not the yarn medleys we see today such as polyesters, stretch, nylon and other filler fabrics. Just as the food industry introduced additives to keep food unnaturally fresh, so did the fashion industry with its blended fabrics, keeping its shop floors quantitatively fresh with a rota of fast disposable fashion, all the while keeping its costs down.
These days, clothes that are crafted with care and stitched with longevity in mind, tend to cost more. But so did clothes in our grandparent's day. Back then you couldn't buy a t-shirt for the price of a glass of wine. Buying better means buying fewer items from the disposable fashion cycle and buying with consideration. The only way to quench our appetite for fast fashion is to look beyond its short-lived satisfaction. Nobody should accept the norm that clothing is ok to unravel at the seams after a single wear. Your grandmother certainly wouldn't.
Photo credit: Coco Chanel tentoonstelling.jpg, source: Wikimedia Commons