Disposable Clothing

This article in today’s New York Times has me contemplating “disposable” clothing. This is truly a recent concept, as even in my lifetime, clothing was viewed as much more an investment than a daily expenditure. Go back a generation, and the tiny closets of the era tell the tale: a couple of “good” outfits and several everyday dresses are all that would fit. New walk-in closets would make a cozy spare bedroom.

The article describes the shopping habits of some young New York women. They dash in and out of the low-price shops like H & M, Forever 21 and Zara and stock up on a “season’s worth” of tees, tanks, sandals and maxi dresses. They often view the  clothing as “disposable”, as in wear it once and forget it. I have no strong judgment against this, if one can afford it, and recycles — why not enjoy the novelty and abundance?

I do have two questions though, and would love to hear what you think:

    1. Are these price points really “disposable” for most women? Look at the slide show if you have a chance. Yes, there are very affordable items from Target et al. But is a $50 skirt or $98 sleeveless shirt just a trifle? Or do I sound like an old, grumpy hippie  : > ? If I pay $100 for a shirt (and I might) it’s going to work its butt off in my wardrobe, not get forgotten.
  1. Is this an occasional way to add to one’s wardrobe, as a filler to the more substantial pieces? I think it can be, and can even turn up some workhorses. I do browse in Zara when I’m in a city, and I like a few of the trendy pieces. I swear by Target’s Mossimo tees and love their jewelry — but again, I don’t toss them after a couple of wears. In fact, I’m wearing a cool Target bracelet today that has seen the light of day at least a dozen times already.
So, do you have any reaction to the throw-away clothing phenom? Do you have a price point that’s clearly an “investment” versus a frivolous buy? Love to hear from you, and have a happy Thursday.
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  1. well, I definitely fit in with this group!  I kept thinking that there has to be a way to keep your wardrobe fresh but affordably AND easily AND sustainably AND in an eco-friendly way…then it hit me! I created http://www.DesignerExchanges.com for me and people like me who may wear something a few times but know it has an afterlife, just not in your closet!

  2. Two years ago when I consciously tried to build me a basic wardrobe bought all my basic pieces from zara.Two years later i have to buy then again as they didn't stand the test of time. So zara is not the place for basics most of the time.
    But it's very alluring when i visit and i want …everything.
    Now the bad conditions of labour ,the waste of natural recources and the pollution have been a huge turn off lately.
    I love remixing so the longer i stay away from zaras the more creative i become.

  3. Wendy – I have never seen those paper dresses in real life and would like to get my hands on one too! An idea that never quite caught on : >

    Paula – Great point about the quality of clothing, and it's not always correlated with the price. I had a nice $$$ velvet jacket fall apart after a handful of wearings.

  4. I am of the Cindy faction also–a litttle of this and a little of that. I have also made note lately–much clothing seems to be made cheaper lately–whether or not its due to the recession or not. Cheaper fabrics, smaller seams, etc. Without some quality, many more items have that wear-until-you-wash standard.

  5. Throwaway isn't for me…if I like something, I want to keep it forever! Though I do want one of those '60s disposable paper dresses to hang on the wall as art!

  6. Marsha – thank you for reading and commenting. Your story about Africa is very thought-provoking. We do need to examine our consumer-crazy ways, and think about the global picture.

    Allie – I know your philosophy by reading – and studying! – your blog. Vote with your wallet, yes?

    Terri – Good point, and most likely your daughters will become more aware, and adapt their habits over time. You're a terrific role model.

    Cynthia – Welcome to the old grump club! (kidding you) I think a mix is sensible; every piece can't be a work of art. Taking care of our clothing is the key – don't you hate it when the washing machine eats your shirt?

  7. I must be an old grump. I like variety and abundance, but I don't waste clothes, I keep them around until they wear out or I change sizes. I buy a mix of better-quality clothes and some that are probably considered "single season" or disposable, and take care of everything as best I can. Thus I have some Target and Old Navy things that have lasted many wears. I don't really want to consider anything "disposable", but I guess $20 is about the price point where I just sigh and toss it if an item falls apart in the wash after I've gotten a few wears out of it.

  8. Partly I think it is a generational divide. I noticed that my younger daughters do this…and they show a similar level of care for the disposal clothes. If one is the least little bit aware of the working conditions in which these clothes are made, one wouldn't treat the items disposably.

  9. Well Marsha, if you (and Patti) are old grumps, I need to join the flock! I despise the concept of disposable clothing. Like you Patti, I can find cheap clothing at cheap stores that I wear for YEARS, but I stay far away from the stores that encourage disposable fashion (hello Forever 21) because I don't want to support such an awful trend.

    I would rather spend $50 on one sweater I can wear for a decade than $10 on 5 sweaters that can't survive one washing (or one season of trends).

  10. I must admit that the whole idea of disposable clothing (that is, clothing that you can afford to purchase, wear once, and dump) makes my hackles rise and my morale plummet – the waste sickens and embarrasses me as a woman living in such a superficial, thoughtless society. And it makes me sad to see people so willingly manipulated by the manufacturers of fashion that they don't buy things because they make them look good, but rather because they are ever-so-briefly current. Feh! and Ick.

    I remember reading of people in Africa who had no idea what a speaker was talking about when she spoke of "old clothes" – they asked her if she meant dead people's clothes, since the custom there was to wear clothing until it wore out. And we purchase, wear, toss out, and purchase again . . . money well spent!

    I must have some atavistic attachment to the aesthetic of an item being both useful and beautiful, and if something has both of those qualities, why would it only be good for one wearing? Even if you recycle (either by passing it on to someone else, or adding it to your recycle bin for shredding and remanufacture), it still takes resources and human effort to create it in the first place, and these are not without value – how much of our resources need to be allotted to making article after article of throw-away clothing, instead of doing something more useful? Signed respectfully, An Old Grump.

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