Despite the fact that the world is full of strife on one end and bad taste on the other, I’m not one to let these things get me too terribly down. But there was one thing that really got me depressed and truth be told, disgusted.
Entitled “Instagram: Retail’s Holy Grail” (behind the FT paywall) the piece reported that “millennial females’ anxieties about appearing too many times in the same outfit in their internet photographs is driving fundamental changes in the way they shop.” Selfie culture is driving Millennialistas to buy cheaper, more often. Says Jamie Merman, an analyst for Sanford Bernstein, “Faster is absolutely better because part of the selfie phenomenon is that women want changing trends, and current trends, quicker.”
So wrong. Vile, in fact.
They sell or exchange their clothes, not because they feel guilty but so they can buy more but by then, all is lost: this behavior drives consumption of low quality, cheaper clothes (and the social and environmental consequences). And it isn’t just about looking fabulous, or looking like you can afford to score the big name brand. No it’s just that you look like you’re wearing something different. Everyday. Forever.
This kind of decadence feels a little bit like Rome, just before the empire crumbled.
I was always put off by the whole selfie phenom but figured it would pass. (For godssakes, a selfie stick showed up in the pages of Vogue recently so I figure the trend must be done). But I’m wondering whether this trend will have longer-lasting implications.
What becomes of these Millenialistas when the selfie phenom ends? Is this like heroin, crack cocaine or meth, where once you’ve had your first high you can’t go back? Will the “habit” they’ve gotten into of buying cheap-fast-often become a life-long addiction? Will it take more and more to fulfill the hedonic thrill? Or will they all snap out of it, feeling guilty, hungover, in-debt,but wiser? Will they learn to be thoughtful? Will they learn to seek out quality? Will they learn to seek out things that don’t just look good, but move well because someone’s put some effort and even love into construction? Will they learn to care for what they buy, keep it and nurture it for years?
I know I sound very old-lady and hand-wringy about this, but this has me wondering. And worrying. And sad.
The immense irony is that I came across this little piece the same week that I got to spend a lot of time with Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin. The made-to-order Alabama Chanin clothes are surprisingly beautiful, look fabulous on all types of bodies, are utterly handmade (hand grown organic cotton, hand picked, hand spun, hand sewn), ingeniously and intricately constructed, beautifully crafted, and yes utterly expensive. Even her less expensive line, A. Chanin, has careful, thoughtful construction, organic cotton and intensive hand/machine work. The clothing has true, intrinsic value. It’s not just a prop.
The women I saw wearing her work looked fabulous and intensely comfortable. And they looked like they were getting a great deal of pleasure from wearing the clothing, and better yet/because of that were feeling really good about who they were in it. The clothing celebrated them, rather than the other way around. They were relaxed, happy, not anxious (cf: the image-obsessed Millenista.)
Alabama Chanin’s clothing is not for everyone, financially or aesthetically. But it is the definition of what great clothing – or any object for that matter – should be: made with love and generosity, beautiful, responsible, elevating, an absolute pleasure to wear, and not made to be disposed of.
A tip to the Millenialistas: why do you think fashion designers wear uniforms? I’m thinking of the men here, who are generally smarter about clothing than women: Armani’s black t shirts and jeans; Lagerfeld’s black suits; Michael Kors’ head-to-toe black; Alexander Wang’s black and white. Because they know that true style is always fresh, never dates. It’s about you, baby, not what you’re wearing.