On fast fashion and good buys

My Aunt Linda likes to tell a cute story of the time that she babysat my sister and me and brought us with her to a department store. We were each between 3 and 5 years old, obviously too young to really evaluate prices-- but we spent the whole trip toddling around the racks, looking at price tag after price tag disapprovingly, clicking our tongues and saying: "Too much. Too much." We were parroting the behavior we'd witnessed in our mom-- a very savvy shopper, never fazed by marketing and never accepting less than a "good buy."

Cut to the present day: I've just become a wage-earning adult in the media-saturated, post-Sex and the City world, where womanhood and femininity are ostensibly defined by buying $150 designer jeans, "investing" in a $12,000 Hermes handbag, and wearing ridiculously overpriced Victoria's Secret "lingerie." Thanks to my mom, for the most part, I'm just not buying it.

And I'm not alone: Last week, England's House of Lords published a report criticizing the environmental and societal effects of the present "culture of 'fast fashion" in which consumers "dispose of clothes which have only been worn a few times in favour of new, cheap garments which themselves will also go out of fashion and be discarded within a matter of months."

It's terrific that the Lords are confronting this issue-- but I'd disagree with the interpretation that patronizing stores like H&M and Forever 21 should as a rule be eschewed in favor of buying from more "quality" fashion houses. The reality is that today, fast fashion happens equally at the highest and lowest ends of the market.

The majority of stuff sold in mainstream stores is fleetingly trendy rubbish, at all price ranges. Frankly, if I'm going to buy a cheaply-made imported garment, I'd rather spend $20 at H&M instead of $400 at Barney's.  I know the workers are treated poorly and paid very low wages, so I'd prefer to line the pockets of the executives overseeing it all as little as possible, you know?

But that is only a lesser-of-two-evils approach. More and more, I'm trying to get away from buying new clothes at all, just because it's such a flawed system and the products are such crap. I like the concept of always shopping, but rarely buying-- continuously being on the lookout for nice pieces so that I don't have to buy fast fashion out of desperation.  This idea seems very French to me-- in the aforementioned Elegance book, Madame Dariaux cautions the reader to "never be seduced by anything that isn't first-rate."

It's not easy, but Jezebel.com writer Sadie Stein is now "three weeks clean" from fast fashion, and I like her logic: "The small after-work of pleasure of a cheap top... is something we've become accustomed to very quickly -—such a thing would have been unheard-of a few generations ago -—and I'm guessing that, together, we can weather the withdrawal."  Anyone else in?