Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Disposable Clothing: The Preamble

My experience at F21 was delicious/concerning in the way that most scandalous things are: I was high on the moment with a niggling sense of doubt about consequence.

Let me start by cataloguing the purchases:

  • A butter yellow, thin, deep-V cardi with pleated shoulders. Proviso: It's thin - not for the gauge of the wool but for the cheapness of its construction. Nonetheless, for the season it will last, that won't be particularly observable.

  • A slate-grey shell with interesting knit detail at the shoulder / on the back. Also thin. Proviso, above, applies. A really smart, shrunken knit vest in black. This one, while cheap, has staying power.

  • A rip-off version of the short shorts we've seen everywhere this season.
  • True, super high-waisted skinny jeans - Given my age and stage, these are stylistically analogous to drag-racing while completely smashed on cocaine. I sense rehab is in my future :-)

Note that pictures will appear over the next few posts.

The damage for these 5 rather substantive garments was a shocking $110.00 - and yes, that includes tax. Herein lies the skeeviness. I'd like to tell you that I'm the kind of consumer who always saves to purchase only the designs of designers who charge a lot of money, not simply for their creativity, but for their ethical manufacturing practices. In truth, I do care, and because I'm usually getting really expensive, diffusion and designer things for less (based on my ability to bargain shop), I imagine that the retailer is taking the hit. (Note: This is something - based on the overwhelming success of those companies - I'm prepared to live with.)

However, when one purchases half a new wardrobe for 90 bucks plus tax, one cannot deny on whose back the profit is being made.

Look, I'm very much in favour of the democratization of fashion - on the creation of popular-trend garments which are affordable at most price-points. But seriously, I'm disturbed by the sheer disposability of it all. I mean, F21 makes Zara look like YSL. It makes me wonder: Where does it end?

Having said all this, I was kookily thrilled at the thought of getting some crazy-ass denim I might only have the nerve to wear 3 times for $34.00. And I know I'll wear the black knit vest into the ground, making it the best 12 bucks I'm likely to spend this year. And, for sooth, the stuff fit rather stylishly, which is to say not cheaply.

Here's my take: Over the years, I've bought 2 things at H&M, 3 things at Zara and had this little spree at F21. I'm not principaled enough to return the loot, but I'm not proud. Can't say I'll never visit these places again - can't say, either, that the places I frequent don't harm vulnerable workers the world over. But I won't be going back soon. At least that's what I tell myself.


  1. Does Le Chateau still exist in Canada? It used to be a good source of super trendy, fairly affordable clothes that could possibly last a season, if you took extra careful care of them.

    It's funny: I feel that I can't afford to buy inexpensive clothes any more, since I have three children who need new wardrobes every season (different body types makes hand-me-downs now difficult).

    So I tend to buy quality pieces (ideally on sale, though those are very hard to find where I live) and wear them forever (like the French example you cited earlier).

    I never would have imagined holding this philosophy in my twenties when the newest shape was what counted. So I'm thrilled to live vicariously through you and your smashing shopping adventures!

  2. This is such a great post for so many reasons, the main one being that you hit the F21/H&M/Topshop shopping experience from all angles.

    I don't think you missed anything. It's complicated shopping in these places when we have a conscience about all the issues involved. I don't know how we can really shop entirely ethically in any form these days: designer, high street, or in between, someone is getting squeezed.

  3. Ok, I guess i read the last post before this one, where you answer my query kind of.

    I thoroughly share your feelings, esp, that F21 makes Zara look like YSL. (I have to confess I am QUITE the fan of Zara)

    As an aside, you definitely describe the items to make them sound way more appealing and plush than I would imagine...

  4. It's funny, I was in Portland this past weekend and F21 was one of the few places where I found things I liked. I own very few things from there as the majority of my shopping tends to be at Anthropologie, Nordstrom Rack & thrift stores. I really try to apply the same standards at F21 that I do anywhere else. Do I love it enough to throw something in my closet out? Will I wear it to death? If it can't meet those criteria, it's not coming home with me.

    The ethics is such a hard call. So little is made in countries where you know decent wages are a given--and the few who don't, I have problems with for other reasons (looking in American Apparel's direction.)

    Great post.

  5. Great post. I can't help but wonder how my guilty pleasure that is F21 affects those made it. It's hard because YSL is not something that I can afford on a grad school budget. And while I do believe in quality and not quantity and am trying hard to live in a quality not quality mindset my bank account cannot always afford the quality price tag. It's a hard call without a clear solution

  6. We have a shop called Primark in the UK and it's dirt cheap and terrible quality. Although the clothes are usually really on trend they just scream 'Primark', not to mention the ethical implications. I don't have money to burn but buying clothes there gives me no pleasure whatsoever! Topshop on the other hand...

  7. Miss C: Le Chateau does indeed exist. It just doesn't have the cache of, say, H&M - though the stuff is largely the same. Buying quality on sale is totally the way to go, IMO. I'm just on a bit of a bender this year :-)

    Enc: Why thank you! You are totally right about someone getting squeezed. It kind of makes me want to live on a textile commune. A really fash one.

    Riz: Today I'll start posting the pics and you can decide for yourself whether I upsold them (it's possible I had crazy glasses on). Zara is scarily appealing.

    Thanks Ambika - I think those standards you apply are so sound. I do think I'll get quite a bit of use out of the sweater and vest - at least until they fall apart!

    Miss White: I read a few Brit blogs and Primark is inevitably mentioned (as a contrast to "nice" places like TopShop) I think it must be something like our Le Chateau. Pretty crass but cheap and au courant.

  8. Diva: Somehow I missed responding to your comment in the other response. I really appreciate what you are saying about the dilemma of dressing well on a mini (shall we say, transitional) budget. It's a bitch, quite frankly. Something I like to do - to mitigate my feelings of ambivalence about conglomerate clothing - is shop vintage. It too can be cheap, but it's like recyling!