Fashion and the GFC – is your wardrobe feeling guilty?

Whether it’s technically over or not, the GFC has certainly caused many of us to review our, er, spending habits. Do you ever look in your wardrobe and see money? Not actual money but money that could have helped pay your mortgage or sent you on holiday to Fiji. Instead? It’s all stuffed into shoes and jackets and dresses that seemed like a good idea at the time but really really wasn’t.

Spare a thought for those who work – or have worked – on the coal face of fashion. My friend Wendy Squires is one such person. She recently wrote a great piece for The Punch about how she has emerged from the fashion tunnel and now looks at her designer wardrobe with horror, guilt and regret.

Wendy writes…..

Oh the horror. If I could have slapped myself across the chops without it hurting, I would. Lord knows I deserved to.

Instead, I slammed the wardrobe doors in disgust, sat down on the bed littered with shoes, dresses, bags, belts and other crap I don’t need, and had a long, hard think about where it all went wrong – how I had found myself in a global economic crisis with what could have been a year off my mortgage in bits of fabric and leather tat.

I had not always been a label queen, nor had I ever aspired to be. As a young cadet journalist on newspapers, designer clothes were never a consideration or a possibility – not if I wanted to actually eat regularly.

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I simply couldn’t afford those pricey outfits I saw in fashion glossies, nor could I envisage a day when owning anything that came wrapped in tissue or a fancy box would be a remote possibility. Instead, I trawled op shops and markets, finding vintage pieces for bargains which I would put together to create what I believed was my own, unique style.

Pointy shoes from the sixties teamed with 30s and 40s floral day dresses, contrasting scarves, tartan skirts and ankle boots were my staples, teamed with an old knitting carrier I used as a handbag. I look back on those days and think I was hip. I was certainly happy. But then, I moved on to fashion magazines.

There, I was promptly told, my outfits were not chic and, as a result, neither was I. While my look was certainly my own style, I had made the fatal mistake of not being “fashionable”. It was then I learnt that it’s not what I like that counts, but what designers, stylists and editors deem “in” that is desirable, a uniform of sorts that signals acceptance. What’s more, I didn’t have one decent label in my wardrobe.

I was a sad case, a fashion failure. It was time to invest in my wardrobe, hence risk sartorial suicide in my ambassadorial role for the magazine.

It was here it began. The handbag that cost as much as my first car which was a nasty black nylon redeemed by a small metal triangle that read Prada. No holiday for me that year. Then came the coat d-jour which, I was assured, the right people would recognise as the real thing despite chain stores selling an exact copy for a quarter of the price. Then the shoes, ugly chunky things I deluded myself were anything but because they had Miu Miu on the sole where no one could see. From there it was unflattering pants I was assured were directional, billowing blouses that made me look like I was after a job at Darrell Lea but, as they were Chloe, that didn’t apparently matter.

I looked like crap but received compliments from so-called style arbiters wherever I went. However, upon reflection, it was never me that got the compliment as such. It was Miucca Prada, Marc Jacobs, Stella McCartney – all I did was buy their clothes and, as such, their signature.

Now I look at these worthless bits of fabric, I feel ill thinking of the money that was outlaid to be accepted as fashionable amongst my peers. I look at some of the shoes I own and feel like sending them to back to the designers with a note saying “next time try leg irons – they would be more comfortable”. I realise, once again, that fashion is not about style, it’s about sheep, as I put my old vintage frocks and handmade nanna sandals bought for a bargain back in easy reach.

In fact, as I take a break from piling all the clothes I no longer wish to look at rather than wear into plastic bags in hope I may regain some of the money I wasted by selling them on eBay, I leaf through a magazine and am repulsed.

There is Madonna, at 50, in an outfit that makes her look like a showgirl on crack that would cost a house deposit.

I look at those handbags stamped with designer logos so no one can question the aesthetic merit, just the label. I look at pouting air-brushed twig models in tissue-sized pieces of silk they don’t even look good in, yet we mortals are supposed to aspire to wear, and I cringe.

It was bad enough when money was flush and the economy rosy. Now, in the current economic crisis, these images are in my mind vulgar, like porn for those with no class, style or sense.

I have learnt my lesson. I am contrite and determined to never be seduced by the slick sheen of this shallow world again. Now, when someone asks me “whose’ handbag I am carrying I will answer my own. And if that’s not good enough for them to approve of my purchase, well and good.

I know the only label that person needs wear is the one that says: “loser”.

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