Tag: Consumerism

Personal Style and Consumerism

“Behind the perfection of a man’s style, must lie the passion of a man’s soul.”
― Oscar Wilde, Reviews

Consumerism, both personally and more broadly speaking, have been on my mind for a while now. Several years to be honest, though my thinking and habits are in a state of constant revision. I thought it was worth dedicating at least one post to exploring the topic, especially given my framing of style as a series of choices we make about how we present ourselves.

Until the Star Trek future of infinite abundance arrives (or until the current world order collapses), capitalism is the predominant game in town. Though it’s the system we all live in, it’s not without its challenges. We are able to consume information and goods at a pace never before seen in human history, and as fashion has become more accessible, demand has grown to match. This is having a lot of interesting effects on consumer of society.

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To be clear, I’m not wildly keen on the fashion options.

For instance, one of the biggest conversations in the fashion world right now is how the traditional mode of designing and showing clothes several seasons in advance to allow for the production  is struggling to keep up with fast fashion. In a world crafted around instant gratification, it’s not entirely ridiculous for consumers to expect to be able to see-now-buy-now; we’ve been trained to expect just that. At the moment, the fashion world logistically can’t keep up with this. You could dismiss that demand as selfish and impatient consumerism, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but it also leads to questions of ethical labor, production methods and environmental costs.

When sweatshops can churn out dupes of products for consumers now instead of making them wait months to get their hands on the designer version, the customer may be happy, but the cost is cheaper materials, usually badly sourced and badly made, with short shelf lives that result in more waste when they are thrown away, all produced by people not making enough money and often working in awful and unsafe conditions. This is a disturbing social reality and most of us are complicit in it.

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Sorry, fellow attempting-to–be-woke white people. We’re usually the worst offenders.

On the other hand, given the current media age and it’s technical advances, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think fashion and style to be as accessible as possible to as many people who want to follow and participate in it. And if so, how are we to achieve that with an out of date design and production system originally designed to cater almost exclusively to the wealthy and privileged? To pull a Tevye, on the other hand, what does it say about our value for design, artisan skills, and art if we want the “look” but aren’t willing to wait for it to be produced by the designer who created it, or pay the money for original pieces instead of illegal knock offs? There are a lot of big questions to ask about what we consume and why.

Lest you think I’m trying to lecture, I’m not! My point is not necessarily to convince anyone to change their behaviors or habits, but rather to be a bit more opened eyed about the fact that our style choices are not made in a vacuum (as that iconic scene from The Devil Wears Prada so fabulously puts it), and that our day to day decisions of what we buy, why, and how we use it has much bigger footprints that most of us realize. Style choices are informed by economic, political, social, and industrial realities just as much as they are by cultural trends. Recognizing those facts means that in a small way, we have an ability to impact how those economic, political, social, and industrial systems work if we choose to, based on making informed purchase and presentation decisions.

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I think we’re living in a period of peak consumer savvy and choice. There are more ways than ever to command your personal presentation, and do so with goods that align with the values you prioritize. Actress Emma Watson, for a high profile example, has famously chosen to wear and promote fashion and beauty brands that promote sustainability and natural ingredients. WAY down here in the proletariat I’ve written before about my decision to shop almost entirely secondhand to avoid fast fashion. But both of us have made choices that affect our consumption…and the way we look in public as a result.

Even though I love following fashion, I will very rarely ever look “trendy” as a result of my shopping choices. Buying mostly second hand or vintage means that I’m of necessity buying clothing that are several months to decades old. I’m fine with that trade off personally, where another person will make totally different style choices for totally different consumer reasons. Moving forward, I want do be better informed on the new items I do occasionally buy: who is manufacturing them, where, and in what circumstances. I’d like to improve my beauty game as well (keep an eye out for Beauty Week, coming Monday!) and do better at researching and buying from female owned, black owned, cruelty free, and boutique brands, as part of my effort put my money where my mouth is.

I don’t want to dampen anyone’s mood or playfulness when it comes to style, clothing, and fashion. As I’ve said before and continue to defend as a concept, style is supposed to be fun! But I do think that there is room for all of us, when putting our outfits together and our faces on, to consider our product choices in a wider context. After all, if we’re just throwing any old substance on our skin or clothes on our backs without any thought or intention, I’m not sure we’re being stylish so much as “sheeple.”

 

Your turn, what are some deliberate consumer choices have you made when it comes to clothing, and why? Do you eschew fur, cashmere, or leather for ethical purposes? Are there certain brands you shop at or avoid, and why? Have you tried a capsule wardrobe collection to experiment with closet size? Do you have a specific budget for clothing, and if so, how do you allocate it? 

Style Isn’t Shallow

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”
― Gore Vidal

What do we talk about when we talk about style?

I deliberately chose the theme of “Style” for this month over fashion or beauty because, even though the terms are often used interchangeably, I don’t believe they are perfectly synonymous. When I talk about style, and this is the framework I want to use in discussing it this month, I am talking about the series of choices we make everyday in how we choose to physically present ourselves in public. The manifestations of these choices are what we wear and buy. Sometimes these choices are informed by trends, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes these choices are intentional, sometimes they are reflexive. But whether you look like you just stepped out of the pages of Vogue, or have built your wardrobe entirely thanks to Goodwill, style is fundamentally personal and individual.

In a very real way, whether we are conscious about it or not (and goodness knows I haven’t always been), the myriad of day to day decisions about what we choose to put on our faces and bodies or in our homes are markers of how we are choosing to spend our resources, attention, and time. Not only that, our physical personal presentations encompass a lot of broad notions, including gender identity, political and social values, and consumerism in general with all its attendant issues.

I think that people who turn their noses up at style and fashion often betray a reverse snobbery that’s dismissive of the very real concerns and issues of consumer culture, an ignorance of how deeply impactful fashion and style are in almost everyone’s day to day lives (regardless of race, income, or any number of factors), and often a casual misogyny against seemingly “shallow” women or prejudice against gender nonconforming men.

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Style–the everyday choices we make–is not shallow. It’s the physical manifestation of both unique identity, and an awful lot of human realities. Hopefully, by framing it in this active way, we’ll find some interesting aspects of style to talk about this month. I’m opening up my closet and bathroom shelf for scrutiny, and hoping to gain a bit of insight into my own choices and habits, as well as learning more about yours in the comments.

 

Your turn, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this month’s topic and on this post. Let me know what the term “style” means to you, and if you agree with my definition or not. Who meets your definition of a stylish person, and how you define your own sense of style?

Style Month

“Fashion changes, but style endures.”
― Coco Chanel

Welcome to Style Month at SDS! Throughout April we’re going to be talking beauty, fashion, makeup, identity, psychology, marketing, and consumerism–because style is anything but a shallow concept.

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I’m hoping to shake things up with some new post formats, a bit of personal writing, and of course to continue to work towards being  smarter, savvier consumer overall. Even though we’re going to be talking about what’s often considered a frivolous topic (false), this very much falls under the yearly theme of: Less But Better when it comes to spending and consuming in general.

Like unto Money Month, I hope you guys will play along, comment, share your own posts and writing on similar topics, and signal boost other content worth sharing. If a book has changed your thoughts on style, share it! If you’ve developed a signature look, let me know how you found it! I hope to tick off a few more of my 101/1001 goals but mostly I’m looking forward to discussing an oddly personal topic in a hopefully broad and interactive way with the minion coterie. I really enjoyed my last month-long project and am hoping you guys enjoy this one just as much.

What Do You Already Have?

“Buy what you don’t have yet, or what you really want, which can be mixed with what you already own. Buy only because something excites you, not just for the simple act of shopping.”
― Karl Lagerfeld

This weekend and next week I am going to do a wardrobe review of my closest with an aim of putting together that lookbook project I have for myself. Why? Because–not to brag–I have great clothes and I want to use them better than I do. It’s taken me years to do it, but I’ve put together a wardrobe with which I know I am happy and that serves almost all of my needs. It was a purposeful project too, I didn’t sling money around willy nilly. Over time I found the styles that I liked and suppliers who provided clothing I found attractive in ethical ways. I put together lists of gaps in my wardrobe and filled them a piece at a time. I bought from second hand or consignment shops, eschewed fast fashion, invested in quality brands and well made products.

I am on record as being content with my wardrobe where it’s at for right now. I am not looking to buy the next furniture pieces for our apartment for months. I don’t want any household goods at the moment. I’ve cut myself off from frivolous spending for months.

So, why am I still subscribed to a seeming infinite amount of mailing lists?

Since Christmas I’ve been unsubscribing left and right from suppliers who seem to bombard my inbox daily with discount codes, offers of gifts with purchase and, in more than one sneaky emotional attempt at my wallet. “We miss you! Come back and check out our store.”

Consumerism, you are not subtle!

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image via StockSnap

It got me thinking though, about all the ways we are surrounded by messages telling us to spend to buy more. It’s constant. From window displays to pop up ads, even arrangements of goods and signage at grocery stores, it is everywhere and a lot of it is subliminal or emotionally based. Trust me, I work in marketing! There are companies spending huge amount of time and resources to get us to spend our time and resources on consuming their products and come back regularly for more.

And I know I’ve been suckered by these kinds of messages more than once. I’ve bought the 2 for 1 deal on groceries and ended up throwing out food that I didn’t manage to cook fast enough. At this moment, I have multiple bottles of the same spice in my cupboard because at some point another I was either too busy (or more likely lazy) to double check if I already had it before putting it on a shopping list. I’ve been lured by the siren song of discounts. Hence my desire to eliminate as much advertising as possible from my life, as part of this conscious attempt to shift in my money mindset and exert a bit more effort in planning out my spending in advance.

Not only that but these days it’s frighteningly easy to spend money. I’ve mentioned in the comments section before that one of the inspirations for this project was a day where between a trip the dentist, dry cleaning, and groceries, I dropped over £100 in a single afternoon. I didn’t even have to leave my neighborhood to accomplish this. Almost everything in Western consumerist culture is built around the idea of eliminating a customer’s reason to say “no.” As a result, products are cheaper and more quickly to hand than ever before. In some cases this is great–I for one like regular and affordable dental care! But in many, many others, it’s bad for us.

If you are buying fast fashion, especially as a woman, you are buying crap. That stuff is practically designed to fall apart the first time you wash it, requiring you to make another trip to the shop and drop some more coin on a replacement that was probably produced by low wage labor at tremendous environmental cost. If you are buying cheap and processed food, you are again buying crap. It’s enjoyable as hell, yes, but it’s not providing you a quarter of the nutrition you need and very likely contributing to any of the vitamin deficiencies and physical ills that affect our society. 9 times out of 10, if you are buying a branded product for your home, a chunk of your spend is for the name of the item rather than any intrinsic material value.

Now, I’m wholly not opposed to some of these as tradeoffs. We might have bought our sofa on sale, but we still bought it from West Elm. I’m just as guilty as anybody of being susceptible to style or brand cache.

But in my day to day life? I know intellectually that in many areas I have all I need for right now. Hence my decisions to be aggressive about monitoring and clamping down on my less-conscious money decisions. Eliminating emails beckoning me to buy things I don’t need was one step. Putting together a lookbook documenting my wardrobe is another, and I’m also in the midst of a kitchen audit to keep a better stock of my food basics so I can use ingredients I already have to hand in cooking. It’s small potatoes, maybe, but I want to be very conscious and more intentional about knowing and using what I already have.

How about you guys? What do you already have that you could use better, more often or more intelligently? Have you ever tried specifically to reduce your waste or consumption? Are you susceptible to any particular temptations and, if so, how have you staved them off? And have you ever gone on a massive unsubscribe spree?