I keep having the same experience. I'm walking down 34th street, or one of many shopping hubs here in New York City, and I'm inevitably drawn to the fashionable and artfully curated window displays in stores like Forever 21, H&M, and Zara, among many other chain retail establishments. At that moment, I'm filled with a childish glee, anticipating a definite purchase in the form of something unique and up-to-date. But it's all an elaborate rouse, a deceptive maneuver in the name capitalism.
My enthusiasm slowly begins to wane as I sift through the racks. Little by little I start to lose hope that I'll be leaving with anything, realizing that these clothes offer nothing similar to the allure of its well-executed window displays. It's as if the wool as been pulled from over my eyes. Everything looks disposable and uninspiring, a sea of cheap imitations of the noveau trend or reincarnates of classic staples that sort of miss the mark. Nonetheless, I'll grab those few pieces that somehow capture my attention and bolt to the dressing room, albeit not in vain, because you never really know how something looks on you unless you take the time to try it on. But alas, the outcome is almost always the same. If it's not ill-fitting and poorly constructed, it's either completely bland or bombarded with trite and extraneous details that more often than not, looked better on the hanger. I am left feeling truly dumbfounded, asking myself, why aren't these clothes as cute as the storefront and indoor aesthetic promises?
It's times like this that I've even gone so far as to talk myself into liking, and therefore buying something, not only for the sake of time well spent, but for the low price tag. Still, I've come to realize that, for what these clothes make up for in affordability, they lack in substance. Granted, there are those rare times when, by happenstance, I come across a really great piece that I instantly know will be in my closet for a very long time, i.e. a pair of high-waisted, army green drop-crotch trousers from H&M, or a thin, belted grey jersey maxi dress from Forever21. It's these understated, yet stylish pieces that despite being cut from the same cloth, gives off a truly stylish air, akin to something you may find in an unpretentious boutique.
But the reality is that outlets such as these are nothing more than low quality-manufacturing, fast-fashion machines that churn out mass produced rags, allowing you to look like just about every other average Jane in your demographic. What you're left with is a costume, a symbol of the dissolution of artisanal creativity that is so widespread in America. The mass-market approach to clothing, which almost always involves production in other, more poorer countries under sub par conditions, is a prime example of how the large corporations' allegiance to shareholders trumps that of the consumer.
So I've devised a solution in which integrity and style can naturally coexist.
- Buy American-made, therefore eliminating your contribution to the sweatshop trade in which these large companies capitalize on. Places like American Apparel where you can find cool, simple basics that make for a great foundation to any wardrobe.
- Shop at thrift stores, especially now since just about everything from decades gone by has become de rigueur. Not only do places like Goodwill and The Salvation Army contribute to the greater good, but it's economical as well as Eco-friendly given the the fact that it's basically recycled clothing.
- Invest in high-quality, sturdy basics. Yeah, it may cost you more upfront, but you eventually save money in the long run by purchasing items that will last ten times longer than anything you'd find at Club Monaco.
- Learn to sew (Yeah, ma...I'm working on it).
Photo courtesy of DimePiece Clothing: http://www.dimepiecedesigns.com/ Made domestically in Downtown Los Angeles