As a teenager in Cornwall in the late 80’s/early noughties it’s not an understatement to say that the high street fashion offering was limited. Tammy Girl, Dorothy Perkins, that was pretty much it.
With every teenage girl purchasing from the same very small pool, it was nigh impossible not to see someone wearing the same outfit as you when you went out. This really did matter a lot – to me at least.
By way of a solution I turned to what is now termed vintage clothing, by shopping on a Saturday in the local flea market in Truro, which was a brilliant place full of treasures. My best friend and I would trawl through the rails for fabrics and colours that caught our eyes, often cutting stuff up and attempting to sew things back together to make new creations. It was not uncommon for us to use safety pins to hold everything together. Staples if time was tight.
There was something about these one-off pieces that not only gave me a sense of identity at a time where it really truly mattered, but also instinctively felt more solid, more well-made, better quality. I found myself naturally drawn to silks, cottons and wools, repelled by synthetic fabrics. This has continued to be a ‘thing’ for me.
My love for clothes and how an outfit can make me feel has never gone away. Colour and fabric are as important to me as they ever were. And I still wake up some mornings piecing together an outfit in my head. The best friend that I used to shop with in my teens still does the same. I also still have some of the finds from back in my teens – squirrelled away, just in case one day I might have the right occasion to wear a strip of gorgeous fabric attached to a wide elastic waist band by a dozen safety pins in the vague form of a skirt.
Over the years however as my love of clothes has continued, it has been joined by an increasing awareness of the issues within the fashion industry. Not just the way and the by whom clothes are made, or where fabrics are sourced, but the very nature of the industry, which is of course transitional and encourages us to continuously move our look on.
On an individual scale the fashion industry encourages many of us to change wardrobes with the season, even faster these days. High street shops seem to completely turn over their stock within weeks of a new line coming out, it is never ending. On a bigger scale this need to keep things moving creates situations such as the one which exposed Burberry as having burnt £28m of clothes and perfume last year. It subsequently emerged that Burberry is not alone. Both the luxury fashion houses and high street brands revealed that they destroy unsold stock – often burning items which have not been sold. Which as well as being a horrific waste of woman/man hours, fabric, water, energy etc, also has the potential to release all kinds of chemicals into the environment when they burn.
My partner will testify to the fact that I have a wardrobe that takes up one side of our bedroom. I choose not to have doors on it because I love the colours and textures so much. Every day I wake up to them and it seriously makes me happy. The vast majority of these clothes have been a couple of years in my ownership, many over a decade, some over 20 years. And some belonged to someone else first. I buy only items I love. And I fall in love rarely.
We are all consumers. Some of us have got it under better control than others (my partner) but many of us have a ‘weakness’ for consuming that we find hard to curb.
As we increasingly (hopefully) make wiser, greener, more sustainable choices around the food we eat, the products we clean our home with, the car we drive (or maybe don’t), the way we live, the clothes we buy, I don’t believe it always needs to be about giving up the things we love. We just need to do as Vivienne Westwood suggests, ‘Buy less, choose well, make it last’.
And the good news is that the choice is a world away from what it was for me in my teenage years. Even if ‘vintage’ now comes at a price!