Ethical shopping isn’t always easy–or even possible–for everyone.

I keep reading articles about how ethical clothes-shopping is so easy, and I’m getting pretty sick of them. They’re well-intentioned, but erase the amount of privilege it takes to be able to find ethically-made clothes in your size and price range. Sure, shopping ethically can be easy–if you have a lot of money, a normatively-sized body, and the time/energy to research manufacturers’ practices, which are often not particularly transparent. Even thrifting, which is often held up an option that has a low impact on both workers and the environment, is fraught with ethical dilemmas, from the Salvation Army’s anti-gay policies to Goodwill’s exploitation of disabled workers to the surplus donations that are exported to developing countries, where they put small local producers out of business and destroy the markets for indigenous, hand-crafted textiles.

It’s pretty painfully ironic that if you’re already marginalized, say by being fat and/or poor, that makes it harder to make consumer choices that don’t harm others. Being able to vote with your wallet for a better world takes a lot of privilege–which is why, even though I support ethical shopping, I consider it neither a requirement for activists nor particularly likely to lead to systemic change, as it doesn’t truly challenge existing power structures. If taken to extremes, it can even become a distraction from the kinds of collective action that can actually lead to change.

This all reminds of me a post Sal wrote a while back in which she explained the market realities behind why it’s so hard to find clothes that fit more than one or two of the following consumer expectations: low price, quality construction, available in a variety of sizes, ethical manufacturing processes, and made locally. I appreciate her explanations, but personally, I’m more interested in changing the system. If, under capitalism, clothing made without brutal treatment of workers is a niche market? Then maybe capitalism is the problem. If, under capitalism, clothing that fits the majority of people is a niche market? Again, maybe capitalism is the problem.

On fa(t)shion blogging, dead conversations, and the potential for transformation

Window display at my favorite jewelry store in Boston, So Good.

I recently came across a great piece by Arij Riahi at The Closet Feminist, Fashion blogging is not dead: our conversations are.

Arij analyzes the critiques of fa(t)shion blogging, which fall into two camps: elitists who look back fondly on the days when fashion was less accessible, and those who are dismayed by the increasing commercialization and depoliticization of the fashion blogging world. (See Natalie Perkins’ critique of fatshion blogging and the conversations it started.)

They note a similar evolution in the world of DIY blogs, including bloggers who sell DIY kits that cost as much as the item itself, and make an important point:

I question…how an idea that grew out of a rejection of mainstream capitalist consumerism could turn so easily into mainstream capitalist consumerism.

Capitalism co-opts everything it touches.

Including resistance to itself.

It’s pervasive and insidious, and incredibly hard to fight.

Arij continues:

I do find that there are a lot of larger, political issues in fashion– I like your camouflage coat, but I’d also like a conversation about the ethics of wearing military apparel. I don’t mind your luxury items, but I want to find out if it is craft(hu)manship or branding. I prefer a full tutorial, because I enjoy the agency that comes with wearing my own skirt. I have questions about second-hand clothing and the effect it has on African textile markets. I want to have these conversations, but I can’t find many spaces for them online.

I think that by narrowing down our fashion conversations, we miss the opportunity of reclaiming the body -the individual and the collective one- and highlighting how its presence, movement, and adornment is as an act of political resistance– not a commodity.

I agree 200%. I’ve found a few blogs that take on the ethics and politics of fashion, but not enough. I want more of these conversations. I’m thankful Arij is starting one.

I also I wonder if the commercialization of blogging is partly a symptom of our post-employment economy: people are trying to make ends meet however they can, including monetizing things like blogs that used to be non-commercial. And professional blogging can seem like a glamorous alternative to dead-end jobs, although it’s ultimately unsustainable for all but a small minority.

Of course, this commercialization is driven by corporations–but maybe they’d be less successful at co-opting everything if people had better job options. Maybe more people would be content to use their blogs for personal reflections if they could rely on well-paying, secure jobs to pay their rent.

And so the system replicates itself.

How do we break the cycle? How do we keep these important conversations going in a system that wants to co-opt and neutralize them? How can we, as fa(t)shion bloggers, get back to our radical roots?

I don’t know exactly how we can do it, but I hope we are on the brink of a transformation, a tiny part of the Great Turning that’s gathering steam throughout the world.

I’ll be right here, waving my sparkly pom-poms for the revolution.

I believe in fashion.

When I first started reading Web Smith’s piece “The Lost Art of Buying Clothing,” I thought I’d agree with most of it. I’m all for making more durable clothing (especially leggings/pants/shorts that don’t wear out in the thighs–are you listening, plus size clothing manufacturers?). I’m all for moving from the unsustainable fast fashion model to a slower one, one that pays its workers a living wage and doesn’t wreck the planet.

But then I got to this part:

But what about the changing of styles? Rules of thumb: (1) if you don’t think you’d wear it in seven years, you may want to put it back (2) if the tailoring that you desire is too “in”, it may be out in a few years (3) and some patterns and colors will remain near the top for a lifetime. See, I do not believe in fashion. I do believe in amazing pieces that remain timeless through the ages.

This is where I disagree.

I believe in fashion.

I believe in playing dress-up, playing with color, texture, pattern, proportion.

I believe in fashion as an accessible art form.

I believe in fashion as a form of self-expression that changes with me. I’m not the same person I was seven years ago–why would I want to dress like her? And who knows what my style will be like in seven years?

There are some trends from my teenage years that I still love–hell, I’d dress like a Delia*s  catalog half the time if I could find that stuff in my size.  And I’m all for having a few timeless pieces, like my favorite little black dress (which, for what it’s worth, was a cheap Target buy at least six or seven years ago and is still in great condition). But the thought of buying clothing for the next seven years sounds stifling.

Smith goes on to list five things to consider when buying, which starts with this:

High fashion has its place, 95% of us do not live in that place. Set aside Hypebeast trends for classic colors, fits, patterns, and heritage pieces: the blue blazer, the tweed sport coat, the brown slim fit dress pant, the selvedge denim, the oxford, durable point collars, the spread collar for when you need it. You may never be the most “fashionable” on the block but you will applaud at your old photos, three years from now.

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