My friend James likes to send me (and a circle of his friends and relatives) whatever NY Times articles strike his fancy. We keep telling James to launch his own blog, but he dithers. This is the blog post that James should have written.
Apparently, there is a movement afoot to get people—mostly women—to swear off unnecessary clothing purchases. This Times article details just how small the movement is at the moment—under two hundred people have signed the pledge—which ought to tell us something about how unpopular saying no to buying more clothes really is.
My friend James virtuously says:
I have a simple rule for clothing, and most other stuff: I have a set number of items and if anything new comes in something has to go out. As for the number of items, I just decided one day that, “That's enough.” I don't need anything more.
I am haunted by the Fredrick Pohl story "The Midas Plague."
I haven’t read that story, but I have my own story to relate, about how noxious it is to be in close quarters with men who save money on shirt laundering or uniform cleaning by re-wearing clothes they have sweated in. My god, these men stank. If this is you, stop immediately. Want a date or a promotion? Wash yourself, and wash your clothes, too.
My vote therefore is for people to own enough clothing to have more than a week’s supply, if they leave their homes to go to work. If they work at home and have access to daily laundry, they can have three days’ supply, although this hardly gives much leeway; they’d have to do laundry three times a week. If they live alone, it would be more efficient of resources to own more clothes and do one big batch of laundry once a week.
Who does laundry, you laugh. Okay, so you send all your clothes to the dry cleaners, who mostly still imbue them with poisonous chemicals. I have personally seen people picking up hundreds of dollars worth of dry cleaning. If that’s you, you might want to think about the deleterious effect of the chemicals on the planet and your health, and the deleterious effect of the cleaning costs on your wallet.
Still, I do recommend that if you refuse to learn to iron (it’s easy enough), or if you are in an image-sensitive profession, or if you simply do not have time to do laundry properly, you have professionals clean and iron your clothing. An ambassador I once worked with wore an impressively ironed silk shirt, even though his embassy was basically decrepit. Now he’s the president of his country.
Most of us are pretty good at keeping clean and pressed. What too many Americans do is shop for excess clothing. It’s not necessary, except if you work in the fashion or movie industry—in which case, you should be getting designer duds at super insider discounts, not buying retail. In New York City, you’re considered a sucker if you buy at retail. The city is filled with suckers buying 5th Avenue merchandise. Only some of those shoppers are rich. For most of us, it’s not a good idea to buy on 5th Avenue—or its mall equivalent. That’s the heart of the problem, of course. A preponderance of Americans tries to spend as if they are rich.
That’s what this movement is all about, reining in people who have no business wasting their discretionary income on clothes, more clothes, and still more clothes. By now, those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I am totally anti-cluttering. Owning too many clothes is just another form of cluttering.
Somewhere in between the complete insanity of people who own closet after closet of clothing, and the insensitivity of people who always show up in the same shirt, sanity lies. As I have said before, it is especially important that women, who for the first time in history have substantial discretionary income and plenty of ability to use it to influence our culture and our institutions directly, stop wasting their money on trivial crap. We can be so much bigger than this, if we only let ourselves. The endless search for the next “perfect pair of black pants” is a tragic waste on all counts.