Thursday, July 22, 2010

Should We Stop Buying Clothes?

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.


Anonymous said...

I went shopping with a friend today and he mentioned in passing that he had a month's worth of underwear. He didn't like to do laundry often and when the laundry hamper got full, it was time to do laundry. He knew that he had at least a few more days of clean underwear.

I don't know whether to praise his skills at resource management or be grossed out by a month's worth of dirty underwear. I'm leaning towards grossed out. said...

I don't understand why Hopeful Lily keeps picking on me. I'm so sweet and innocent. The simple truth is that I couldn't have written this blog post, only she could have. I would never have thought of all the stinky stuff she did. In fact I'm glad I didn't. I not sure I'm glad I read about it just before bed. I'll have to wash my brain out before going to sleep.

As for blogging on my own, the world does not need another bad copy of this blog.

Carol A. Strickland said...

This morning's news had a story about a movement in which people try to live with six items of clothing for a month. I paused and then asked myself, "Is this something new?"

I'm afraid I now have to do laundry every three days. I'm that short on clothing. Keep wanting to buy new stuff but not until I lose weight and change my size. (Incentive!) So the old stuff gets older and more threadbare. A lot has finally made its way to the trash recently.

Hope to be a size smaller in two weeks though. I'll buy enough new clothing so I don't have to do laundry but twice a week. After all, I'll be losing another size after that one soon.

Hopeful Lily said...

The discussion continues, with another comment culled from James' informal blog:

Actually I do the six item thing every time I visit or move, it's not hard, and I've gone several years where I haven't
bought anything (including underwear) when the fashions were particularly hideous. I never buy anything I hate, any-
thing really detailed or fussy, colors I don't like, anything uncomfortable or uncleanable, any cut or style that looks bad on me no matter how fashionable it is, or anything faddish looking. Actually there is an exception-shoes-I'm on my feet a lot, and I wear out sneakers every four months or so.

Hopeful Lily said...

Here's another bit of wisdom via James' circle of friends:

How do you quantify how much attention your colleagues are paying to your wardrobe?

Personally, I am working with three apparently oblivious male musician/artisan types who wear jeans and well-worn printed t-shirts all the time and seem to have eyes only for the instruments they're fixing, and a handful of customers (mostly amusingly crazy musicians) per day. Of course, I would vary my wardrobe much more in a normal office environment, but for a luthier shop, I can easily get away with wearing whatever's comfortable, so long as it doesn't involve a long dangling necklace with a heavy pendant that might scratch the guitars.

While I applaud the attempt at streamlining. I'm not volunteering for the six-items-for-a month experiment. Ten items would probably be the least I would voluntarily try. You don't need ten tops, ten bottoms, and ten jackets to assemble two weeks' worth of sufficiently varied looks for most occasions. Who looks hard at the black pants once you've changed the shirt?

Anonymous said...

And even more (Thank you, James. Now start your own darn blog.):

Yes, your fellow office workers do notice what you are wearing. They may simply not comment.

Anytime I reach into the back of my closet or wear something new, someone is sure to comment on it. I don't consider my job high-visibility like fashion or sales, however, I do work in an environment where John Malloy's rules on what to wear never went away. A vice-president of a subsidiary was taken aside once and told never ever to appear at a meeting again without his jacket. Business casual may have taken care of the need to wear a suit every day, but, if there is a meeting scheduled then the men are in suits.

In addition, a friend (female) showed up at her office wearing the same thing two days in a row and someone smirked and said, "I know what you've been doing."