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Fashion Disrupted: Addressing the Unusual Shift in High Street Clothes with Decisive Action

Thursday, 01 February 2024 19:30 Lifestyle

In the realm of high street fashion, a noticeable shift has taken place – buttons dangle, fabric hangs awkwardly, and a sense of rushed production permeates the industry. The decline in small but crucial details like darts, pockets, and proper seams has become glaringly apparent over the past decade or so. Shoulders hang strangely, and intricate cuts like bias cuts are increasingly rare. It's a far cry from the craftsmanship and durability that used to be synonymous with high street clothing.

In response to this concerning trend, I've taken decisive action to rebuild my wardrobe with secondhand gems sourced online. The change is not just about personal style; it's a response to the larger issue of fast fashion's impact on quality and sustainability. The current state of high street clothes has turned charity shops into graveyards of discarded, unloved items from major brands like H&M, Primark, and Zara.

Fast fashion's consequences extend beyond the cluttered shelves of charity shops. Take-back schemes, designed to reduce waste, often result in a convoluted global journey for returned items. In a study by the Changing Markets Foundation, a skirt returned to H&M in London traveled 15,467 miles, passing through a processing facility in the United Arab Emirates, only to be ultimately discarded in Bamako, Mali. The environmental toll and lack of transparency in such practices highlight the urgency of reevaluating our approach to high street shopping.

Personally, I've almost entirely phased out high street shopping from my life with minimal effort. My commitment to ethical buying, reinforced by events like the Rana Plaza factory disaster in Bangladesh in 2013, aligns with a newfound understanding of my own style preferences. As I fold up once-trendy floral dresses from fast fashion giants, now destined for a charity shop, it becomes evident that their quality no longer justifies their price tags.

The current state of high street fashion leaves consumers feeling fleeced, both in terms of quality and the environmental impact. This shift in perspective invites a reconsideration of our shopping habits and a collective move towards a more sustainable and mindful approach to fashion.

When addressing the challenges posed by the high street, accusations of snobbery often surface, with some arguing that individuals on low incomes rely on affordable clothing outlets. However, my grandmother held a different perspective, emphasizing, "Poor people can't afford to buy cheap things." Having grown up in a household where my mother frequently shopped in charity shops, I understand the stigma attached to it, especially before the era when vintage became a celebrated trend.

Contrary to assumptions, people with limited financial means possess a keen sense of quality. During my A-level revision days, a courier delivered a suitcase filled with my godmother's clothes – exquisite dresses, jackets, and skirts, some of them museum-worthy. While I still cherish many of these pieces, a 1960s Balmain dress succumbed to moths, prompting me to cling to the hope of affording repairs one hole at a time in the future. Unfortunately, in the age of fast fashion, skilled clothing repair practitioners are becoming increasingly rare.

Despite the occasional moth-induced heartbreak, there's immense joy in pre-worn clothes, a sentiment echoed by the popularity of platforms like Vinted and eBay. While charity shops still harbor hidden gems, the online realm has become the go-to destination for those seeking quality, sustainable fashion. The perplexity of spending £80 on a Zara dress becomes evident when you can invest the same amount in a vintage Dolce & Gabbana piece. In my wardrobe, a collection of enduring, beautifully crafted garments stands as a testament to the notion that quality need not come at a staggering environmental or financial cost.

Moreover, for those occasional high street desires, patience pays off. Waiting a few months or weeks often yields the desired item on platforms like Depop or Vinted. In a world dominated by fast fashion, embracing pre-loved treasures not only fosters individual style but also aligns with a conscious and sustainable approach to clothing consumption.

The decline in quality on the high street becomes an undeniable reality once you've observed it. During my pregnancy and nursing days, vintage St Michael buttoned dresses were my sanctuary – not only more affordable than fast-fashion maternity wear but distinctly better crafted. Clothes, I've learned, are vessels of memories. Recently, I shared on social media the story of my mother's vintage boots, now deemed irreparable. Those boots witnessed countless experiences and took me to remarkable places. It's a stark contrast to the fleeting nostalgia evoked by a cheap ra-ra skirt, redolent of snakebite, from nights out.

Reflecting on the sentimental value attached to clothing raises questions about the fast fashion industry's impact. A discarded ra-ra skirt, while a source of fun memories, pales in comparison to the profound sentimentality of well-made, enduring pieces. As it finds its way into a bin bag, I can't help but ponder the hands that crafted it and the price they paid for my fleeting Friday night fashion fix.

The wastefulness inherent in fast fashion, especially considering the environmental toll and exploitative labor practices, leaves a bitter taste. Even without the bellyful of lager, cider, and Ribena from those nights, the realization of this industry's excessiveness induces a sense of profound discomfort. In a world where disposable fashion has become the norm, the nostalgia of a well-made garment holds far more substance than the transient joy derived from its fast-fashion counterparts.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, Guardian columnist, succinctly captures the poignant reflections on the intertwined narratives of our clothing and the environmental repercussions of the fast fashion culture.

In conclusion, the observation of the high street's decline in quality is not just a matter of aesthetics; it's a poignant recognition of the impact of fast fashion on our memories, values, and the environment. The shift towards well-made, enduring pieces, such as vintage treasures, becomes a conscious choice that transcends mere fashion preferences. The author's personal experiences with vintage St Michael dresses and her mother's irreparable boots highlight the intimate connection between clothing and cherished memories.

As the author discards a once-beloved ra-ra skirt into a bin bag, the narrative prompts reflection on the human cost and environmental consequences of the fast fashion industry. The contrast between the evocative sentimentality of enduring pieces and the fleeting nostalgia of cheap, mass-produced garments underscores the need for a shift towards more sustainable and mindful consumption practices.

In a world saturated with disposable fashion, the discomfort induced by the wastefulness of fast fashion lingers. Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett's insights serve as a poignant reminder that our clothing choices carry profound implications, not just for our individual experiences but for the broader issues of environmental sustainability and ethical manufacturing. It beckons a reevaluation of our relationship with fashion, encouraging a move towards conscientious choices that prioritize enduring quality over transient trends.

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