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Posts Tagged ‘Shopping’

To some, the concept of wearing clothes found in a box on the sidewalk may seem unthinkable – to San Francisco’s Haight Asubury neighborhood, it’s practically a way of life.  No matter where you fall on the hippie spectrum, though, you probably have some treasures hidden in the back of your closet that could use a good rescuing.

I found this sweater on down the street from my house a couple of weeks ago, and after a good washing and a little bit of planning, it’s ready for a makeover.  It would appear that someone had already tired of it once before, cutting the arms off (luckily, at the seams, so that the body of the sweater did not come un-knit) before tossing it completely.  It’s not the cost of the sweater that is the biggest waste — this cotton/acrylic H&M sweater probably cost its original owner very little, which is why it’s so easy to part with our unwanted clothes these days — but were it to have ended up in the trash instead of in some scavenger’s hands, it would be contributing to the millions of tons of textile waste we consumers generate each year.

I like the olive color that this sweater already has, so instead of dyeing it, I’m going to roll with the olive inspiration and give it a military feel with epaulettes and a cinched sash at the waist.

This is a good DIY project for beginners (or lazy folk like myself).  All it takes is a deserving sweater, cardigan, or t-shirt, a little bit of scrap fabric, and the most basic of sewing skills.  The patterns for both the epaulettes and sash are easy geometric shapes based on simple measurements, and can be tailored to your preferences.

For this project, I’ll be using some of this interior design fabric that was given to me.  The botanical print is unexpected for a military-inspired design, the colors complement the sweater, and (most importantly) I happened to have it lying around.  I’ll also be using some vintage buttons for the epaulettes, and maybe some seam binding or bias tape around the cut-off sleeves if they need a little cleaning up.  I will take step-by-step photos of the upcycling process for interested parties, and the final product will be thrown up on My Etsy for your shopping pleasure.

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While a post on the fallacies of “green” fibers is still in the works, I just don’t have it in me tonight.  What I do have is a room full of looks for my styling shoot tomorrow, and a serious hankering for a good shopping spree.  What turns me off to shopping best, though, is the daily drudgery of working in luxury retail.

At its best, my job gives me great satisfaction.  Gaining the trust of a stranger and seeing them in something that makes them feel fantastic about themselves is a downright warm-and-fuzzy, super lovely feeling.  What intrigues me most about fashion is the divide between what we feel our image choices say about who we are and what the world thinks we’re trying to say.  That divide is something at once personal, cultural, and universal, and is our first (and often only) chance to communicate what we’re about to the world at large.  That being said, I’m continually horrified by the epidemic of insecurities that plague women about their own bodies.  Clothing should be something that helps us explain who we are, not something that hides who we’re afraid you might think we are.  Yes, it’s shiny and fun, and it should make us feel beautiful or even sexy, but not because we’re covering up the fact that we don’t still feel beautiful underneath all of that overpriced silk and spandex.

That I still want to buy the things that I see in shop windows and know I don’t need is a mystery to me.  I’m aware of the ugliness of consumption, I’m not trying to compensate for insecurities, and I love the things I already have, so why do I want to cheat on them so badly with floozy dresses in the Macy’s window and one-night-stand accessories at H&M?  Who knows.  Hopefully over the course of the next six months, I’ll get closer to finding out.

What I do know is that I got a vicarious fix this evening picking up garments for my shoot tomorrow, and man did it feel good! Walking out of work, even with a bag full of my own work clothes, the gears in my head started whirring, planning outfits for imaginary outings at a rate that an entire army of me could not possibly hope to actualize.  Picking out pieces for studio rental at Buffalo Exchange was even worse.  Entire universes of possibilities sprang to life inside my shopping-starved brain, and it took all the will power I had to get what I needed and get out before temptation blurred the line between wardrobe sourcing and personal scavenging.  Picking up hosiery turned out to be less dangerous that I had feared, maybe because the styles don’t vary enough to stray beyond the confines of “vintage hipster”, “film noir ingenue”, and “goth chick”, or maybe because the shop was closing in five minutes and I had to get back to Buffalo to sign the studio agreement, but I escaped relatively unscathed.  Yes, I did technically buy something, but a) I refuse to subject my poor (already unpaid) models to second-hand hosiery, and b) who on Earth would lend a wardrobe stylist stockings?

Even picking up shoot supplies at Walgreens satisfied my cravings to an extent.  There’s nothing sexy about safety pins and eyelash glue (at least not as a part of any fetishes I’m aware of), but it’s the prospect of acquiring something new that could, combined with something I already have, become more than the sum of its parts, that really gets me going.

After an hour of collecting wardrobe elements and two hours of prepping looks, I’m sartorially satisfied.  Tomorrow night the clothes from Buffalo Exchange will return back to their rightful home, hopefully to live out their usefulness in multiple someone elses’ closets, and my conscience will be clear.  Hopefully it’ll be a couple of weeks before the cravings hit again, and when they do, I’ll be sure to hit up a swap meet, free market, or some other treasure trove of post-consumer recycled textiles.  In the mean time, I’ll continue to show up at work every morning, ready to do what they pay me to: make conspicuous consumption sexy, while my conscience hides in the fitting room and cries.

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My name is Melissa, and like so many Americans, I am a clotheshorse.  With masstige apparel, quick response manufacturing, and targeted ads that sing the praises of planned obsolescence attacking consumers from all angles, it’s easy to fall into the seductive trap of modern fashion consumption.  Nearly all of us are guilty of buying more than we need and wasting what we have long before it loses its utility, and with Americans creating upwards of 11 million tons of textile waste per year1, less than 20% of which is successfully recycled2, our bad shopping habit is clearly having an impact on more than just our wallets.  For this, and many other reasons, I have made the decision not to shop for a full six months, in an effort to understand what it is about our culture that spurs us to shop until we drop, destroying the environment and perpetuating human rights issues for the sake of instant gratification.

A lovely cotton gown I fashioned out of a vintage sheet. See, kids? Sustainability CAN be fun!

When I say “no shopping”, what I mean is no contribution to the traditional retail economy.  No new clothing stores, no online shopping, no shoes, bags, or accessories.  No used clothing stores, unless I am trading in old clothes for credit towards other used ones.  No independent boutiques or eco-brands (an issue I’ll likely discuss in depth in the near future) unless the textiles themselves are post-consumer recycled, and even then, not unless utility necessitates them.  No thrift stores, street vendors, or even sewing of my own clothes unless they come from resources I already possess or come to possess through the recycling of post-consumer textile “waste”.

For the sake of full disclosure, I will be using my own wardrobe, as well as garments borrowed from stores to shoot a final project for a fashion styling class I am taking this semester.  For the sake of my grade, it may become necessary to buy clothes, shoes, or accessories in order to complete each look, but anything bought will be returned in the same condition I bought it in, tags in tact and shoes taped, released back into the retail wilderness like some kind of cute woodland creature, nursed back to health after some non-fatal accident.

Along the way, I hope to document my observations and reactions to the next six months, from the annoying highs of self righteousness (this is, after all, San Francisco), to the lows of inevitably jonsing for a fast fashion fix.  This blog will serve as a space to drop knowledge (holla back if you love statistics!), share resources (from swap meets to D.I.Y. craft porn), and, hopefully, raise awareness of alternatives to the wasteful industry that so many of us have become complicit  to.

1 The American Textile Recycling Service
2 For all you fact whores, ATRS estimated 1.9 million tons recycled (out of a total of 11.9 million pounds of waste) as of 2006 at a rate of 15.67%. The Environmental Protection Agency has a page on their website from last fall dedicated to textile waste recycling with slightly more optimistic numbers, but they also reference a fact sheet from the Council for Textile Recycling, which cites figures from the late nineties, which doesn’t inspire confidence…

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