Disposable Clothing: From The Archives And Still True

This article in the New York Times from 2013 is still relevant, and 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. If one can afford it, and recycles, well I do get the thrill of novelty. You can find novelty at the consignment store, too, and avoid all the waste.

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

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.

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 stretch bras, but I don’t toss them after a couple of wears. In fact, I’m wearing a Target tank top today that has seen the light of day at least a dozen times already.


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  1. I occasionally purchased items from places like H&M years ago, but not any more – the prices may be cheap, but so is the fabric and construction, and the things look like a rag after one washing, which is probably why people wear them once or twice and get rid of them. Now if I feel the urge to shop I go to a thrift store, or a couple of small stores owned by friends.

  2. Hello Patti,
    I find this topic fascinating and I have written about it in the past as well.
    I agree that the prices can be high for some items that are so fleeting, and I hate the idea of waste. I have seeen the landfills overfilled with clothes and it is a ghastly thing that does not bode well for the planet or reflect well on its citizens.
    And yet, I do love all sorts of clothing!

    I do not shop Zara though I do adore the designs,
    I buy second hand or support small and / or local shops.
    And I do have rather commodious closets, ahem!
    I guess I may br a grumpy hipster too.. or maybe just old enough to know better?
    Xx, Elle

  3. You have to ask yourself why the clothes are often so cheap. It’s because they’re made in sweat shops, sometimes by children, in countries like India, Cambodia. Occasionally the stores are exposed and they always claim they had no knowledge. But that’s why a lot of clothes on discount fashion shops are so cheap. Avoid.

  4. Spendthrift ways when younger may result is impoverished older years. It may mean never owning your own home and always financing large purchases, with lots of $ going for interest. People who are truly wealthy and live within substantial means even if extravagant can support artisans, couture etc. but the rest of us would do well to remember lifetime monetary needs, not just immediate wants.

  5. Honestly fast fashion makes me ill but even I can be lured back into purchasing a couple of “trendy” items a couple of times a year. It’s a habit I’m trying very hard to break. Now that I shop thrift I prefer it. I hate to think of people wearing something once or twice and then getting rid of it. That might be why I prefer vintage clothing. There is a real history attached to it and I feel an obligation to wear the piece as lovingly as it was made.


  6. Maybe it’s because my parents grew up in the depression, but it boggles my mind that people would get rid of clothing after wearing only a few times. I was the youngest in the family, so always wore hand-me-downs. Considering, I was the only girl, my wardrobe consisted of flannel shirts, tee shirts and jeans. After the clothing had gotten to the point where it couldn’t be patched anymore, it would have the good parts cut out for patching, the buttons and zippers clipped and saved, and the remaining parts ripped and sewed into strips and made into rag rugs.

    That was my childhood; as an adult I don’t always rework clothing for myself, so I donate it. I prefer to make my own clothing because it fits better, but I currently have mostly purchased items in my wardrobe. I like to dress nice, but I will wear a good piece hundreds of times.

    • Agree Diane, I, too, am a child of a child of the depression. I didn’t get lots of hand-me-downs as I had one sister 5 years older so her generally went to a neighbor closer to her age. My mom sewed and she could rework a dress like a pro. So many times the top of a shirt waist dress was removed and replaced with a larger, longer one that made the whole dress fit again. I was probably in first grade before I had a “store bought” pair of panties. LOL Fabric scraps that Mom couldn’t use were taken to my Grandmother who made quilts. Loved those quilts as I could remember all the dresses mom made because of those lovely scrap quilts. Good memories.

      I have dresses in my closet that I made years ago and still wear–classic sheath dresses. I don’t make my jeans, but I wear them out. Clothing disposable? Not in my book!

  7. Well, if you sound like a grumpy old hippie then I must sound like one too. A $50 shirt or $100 dress is not a disposable item to my mind. If I spend that much on one item then I expect to get a LOT of use out of it. I do buy less expensive clothing items that are probably deemed “disposable” by others. But I wash my clothes in cold water, hang them to dry, don’t use anything but vinegar as a fabric softener and use my own homemade detergent, I find that even less expensive items last a remarkably long time. And by remarkably long time I mean years, not months. I have a Goodwill that’s close to me where all of the spendthrift’s bring their expensive, worn for only one season clothing. This Goodwill has a $1.49 a pound store where a lot of those fancy brand, expensive clothing ends up. Nothing tickles me more than paying $0.75 for a nice linen item that cost anywhere from $50 to a couple of hundred dollars a few months ago. Handbags and purses that cost a couple of hundred dollars for 50 cents to a dollar! I tend toward very simple lines and sillouettes in my clothing so usually have no problems finding nice things that won’t look dated any time soon. Love those spendthrifts!

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