So, as far as I can remember I haven’t bought anything new except consumables (food, drink, toiletries) but I haven’t really succeeded in cutting down unnecessary consumption either.
Yesterday I bought a dress, even though I have more dresses than I have friends, just because, well, I don’t have a vintage safari dress and it was $5. And I would probably have got more if they’d fit me (heads up, if you’re size 8-10, there’s two fabulous ball gowns at Lost & Found Market on Smith Street, for $10 each — one is strapless with a black velvet bodice and magenta taffeta trim and skirt, the other is long-sleeved, off-the-shoulder black velvet). My darling friend also bought me the killerest shoes when on holiday, which are no less an extravagance for being second-hand.
I agree with what Felix said about op shops operating as a pressure valve for any guilt we feel about new purchases. Op shops don’t represent, and have never represented, a closed cycle — the majority of goods sold are second-hand only, donated by their first owner, and in terms of clothing, usually only a few years old. Even if I never buy anything new, I usually only buy things that are effectively new — no holes or stains, not too faded or worn. (A princess aesthetic is less suited to this project than a punk’s, I think.) And though I take pretty good care of my things (I am still wearing a dress I had my Confirmation in, twelve years and many ideologies ago), I have to acknowledge that the things I donate to op shops tend to be in poorer condition than the things I purchase from them, if only slightly.
Op shops actually justify fast fashion, in many ways — though op shops have much more trouble selling last season’s chain-store threads compared to anything that can be classed “vintage” — because just the motion of tossing something that’s nearly new into the garbage might be enough to make us think more about our consumption. Putting your unwanted things into a donation bag instead of the bin gives away the responsibility for waste — in many cases, simply to the op shop staff, who throw out unmarketable items. Like any recycling system, op shops depend on the uptake of post-consumer waste, but (like most recycling systems), far more people contribute to the input than purchase the outputs.
My and Felix’s relationships to clothes make for an interesting comparison. I probably have ten times more clothes than ey does. The average length of time we’ve had each item is probably similar — I acquire new things all the time, but Felix doesn’t have anything old. I can’t remember the last time I wore through something, though Felix’s clothes are always falling to pieces. This is mostly because any one piece in my wardrobe is on such low rotation, but I think I do take better care of my things too. I polish my shoes, hem my trousers, replace buttons, and have shoes resoled (only in China though because here it costs more than my shoes ever do). But once things start to look ratty, I don’t wear them so much – I am aware that my style is less suited to environmental consciousness than others. And I don’t accept that it’s simply a style, a preference; I don’t accept depoliticising aesthetics in that way. I prefer to present myself in a way that is associated with higher class, greater wealth, and which requires more resources — regardless of the direct financial cost, I like to look expensive. I think that’s a problem.
The concept of style is clumsy when applied to what one wears: Arguably, designers have style, but a consumer’s aesthetics are more appropriately called taste. And taste is never quite individual. This is especially apparent when talking about taste in people, particularly lovers — I think everyone could quite easily critique what they find sexy, for example, by reference to popular constructions of sexiness. And it’s probably quite obvious that a taste for, say, the classic quilted Chanel handbag with the chain shoulder strap is not purely aesthetic (especially this season). But alternative tastes are equally situated within an aesthetic culture. This isn’t to say that your tastes aren’t genuine. I have never believed that knowing why you love what you love diminishes it. But I don’t think it’s possible to draw a line between one’s aesthetics and the status we try to achieve through our consumer identities. Less I shop therefore I am than you are what you buy. And I think this still goes for things you don’t pay for.
I really want this project to be something other than the ultimate in rebellious consumption for counter-cultural status, but I don’t have high hopes. I think there are still some choices that aren’t consumer choices, but late capitalism is constantly compressing that space.
P.S. If you click on one link in this entry, that last one is the best. Or for some light entertainment, watch Katy Perry versus Karl Marx.