What would happen if we opted out of fashion? If we simply refused to buy anything new and just wore what we had in our closet even as it grew out of date?
Earlier this year, Buzzfeed published an article about Gen Z mocking Millennials for wearing skinny jeans and the predictable thing happened: the “debate” reverberated across the internet.
This moment gave me pause. We are social creatures and fashion trends have been a part of human societies and culture for centuries. At one time it was the court of Louis XIV in France that dictated fashion in the West. Now that power rests in the hand of social media influencers. As social creatures, we have an innate need to conform to these rules for status and success.
In modern times, ever-savvy marketing experts have perfected the means by which they manipulate consumers using this need. It would not surprise me if the story of the skinny jeans and Gen Z had been concocted in the boardroom as a strategy for bringing back clothing sales after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Decades ago, keeping up with cutting edge fashion was expensive, but that all changed with “fast fashion.” From 2000 to 2014, clothing purchases increased by 60%. Since the beginning of this millennium, fashion seasons have increased from the handful that used to come out every year to 52 annual “microseasons.” According to Greenpeace, clothing consumption is set to rise by 63 per cent by 2030 if trends continue, even though those clothes will be worn 40% less than clothes we bought ten years ago. Ultimately, more textiles than ever are being tossed in landfills, despite the overwhelming amount of resources and human cost in their production.
However, there is a growing backlash occurring with more people buying second-hand and vintage clothing, mending their old clothing and learning how to sew their own using upcycled materials. Many are also choosing to stop shopping for new items altogether. I’m one of them.
We can logically assume that, better than buying from more sustainable brands and buying secondhand, is just sticking with the clothes you already have. I mean, they’re right there, in your closet. They’ve already been shipped. Better than buying something new but sustainably-made, these clothes already exist.
The only problem is the question of fashion.
What do we do with those skinny jeans? Can we live with wearing a trend that has suddenly been pronounced “uncool?”
For me, I have had to practice more mindfulness when it comes to the consumer-based messages we’re each receiving all of our waking lives. We are soaking in these messages from when we first look at our phone in the morning to when we are relaxing in the evening bombarded with commercials for cars and prescription drugs. It hasn’t come easy, but I try to pause and question essentially any message telling me I need to rush out and buy something. We each have an innate desire to keep up with our social group. But what if we shift that desire to focus on being better citizens, living more meaningful lives, and thinking of ourselves as people, not consumers?
When we start thinking that way, whether we are wearing skinny jeans or baggy 90s-style jeans doesn’t matter at all. There are more important things to think about: the people and activities we love, living curiously and creatively.
Creativity is the opposite of consumption. It is the opposite of taking on someone else’s ideas about how to look and live.
So what am I going to do with my skinny jeans? Well, I’ve decided to use at least my favorite pair to practice a number of visible mending techniques such as patching, sashiko, and other forms of embroidery. There are many other things to be done with old denim, including making bags and hip packs, pillows, wallets and so on.
Of course, you could just go on wearing them if you like them. Why the hell not?