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How many new basics do I actually need?
Inês Fressynet is a French and Brazilian writer, model and presenter specialising in sustainable fashion. In a bid to wean her audience off fast fashion, she launched Slow Fashion Weekly, a newsletter dedicated to the art of personal style and independent slow fashion. She is our guest writer for this post, sharing with you her thoughts on fashion consumption.
I had a beige trench coat once. It was from a fast fashion brand but looked almost like the real thing from a luxury one, as they all commonly do. The material was a soft polyester, and the more I think about it, the more I recall the colour as a dirty-looking beige rather than the luxurious eggshell hue I thought it once was.
It was oddly shaped. Too small at the shoulders but great everywhere else. Since shopping for this type of ‘boring basic’ felt like a chore, the idea of spending more time and energy researching one that would fit me perfectly simply wasn’t conceivable. The trench was also very cheap and so I shopped, and moved on.
Except it was pretty difficult to move on, in it. I couldn’t raise my arms or cross them in front of me without feeling the fabric dangerously tightening across the entire back. I once sat in the tube with the trench still closed and the side seam burst open along the pocket.
The idea of mending it crossed my mind more than once after that. Actually, every time I glanced at the big bag of clothes ‘to repair’ hung on my bedroom’s door.
I never did it because deep down I was relieved not to have to wear this ill-fitting, frankly boring trench coat. I ended up donating it. It found a new life on the racks of an overwhelmed charity shop, thus adding to the never ending pile of clothing discarded every year in the UK. About 300,000 tonnes per year according to Wrap, the waste charity.
Basics as a trend?
The boring beige trench coat didn’t end up in my wardrobe by accident. Years of reading fashion magazines and producing shopping selections for diverse publications have conditioned me to believe I needed to invest in ‘basics’ in order to dress well. These basics needed to be beige, black or white as these pieces could magically go with everything else in my closet making my life easier and my dressing experience more ‘sustainable’.
Not a day passes without an email from a fast fashion brand or fashion magazine demanding me to spend my hard-earned money on “timeless essentials” and “classic basics”. The question is: how many basics do we need? On Instagram, the ‘minimalist aesthetic’ is everywhere with beautifully arranged flatlays and neat piles of jumpers in different shades of grey.
I heard Andrea Cheong, influencer, content consultant and founder of sustainable mask brand @fleuroselondon talk about it on the Sustainably Influenced podcast: “The interesting thing about minimalism on Instagram as a trend”, she said, “is that you’ll notice they (some influencers) having a new minimalist piece and every week the swipe up links are different. They might not even own the piece.”
So I stopped and asked myself: minimalism or greenwashing?
Tirelessly pushing new timeless looking products that won’t last towards shoppers is something I’ve seen fast fashion groups master. They even launch sub-brands fully dedicated to doing it. Most of these have the similar ambition “to democratise fashion through widely accessible, well-made, durable products, designed to be used and loved for a long time” according to their website.
As I write these words, one of these brands offers 154 different types of dresses, 97 pieces of knitwear and 217 tops. Another has 1022 items available on its website for us to shop! Faced with such a huge amount of new products to choose from, knowing from experience that most of them are poorly made and will need to be replaced, it’s hard for me to buy into their message of durability and longevity. My conclusion is that massive stock, regularly replenished, is incompatible with my perception of minimalism.
To me minimalism is living with enough items to have my basic needs met, and not much more. It’s refusing to accumulate material things and reducing consumption. It can be a good strategy to build a minimal wardrobe (and life!). However, from my experience, routinely discarding and buying new low-quality minimalist looking clothes isn’t one of them.
Personal style versus the system
I have nothing against basics. They come in handy sometimes. However, the idea that I have to buy a certain number of pieces and that they need to look a certain way based on a set list prescribed by someone else doesn’t sit well with me. Beige doesn’t suit my skin tone for example. I like white but it’s not super practical (i.e. needs to be washed often) and I’m ok with wearing black but that can quickly become depressing. Let’s say my conception of what a good basic looks like is very different from what magazines and brands try to sell me.
Looking back, I’m not surprised that the beige trench coat I bought out of fear of not having the staples I’ll keep for a lifetime ended up in the donation pile. Yes, it was practical and reassuring (99,9% people around me wore the same thing) but it wasn’t really me. May it have been from a luxury brand, my opinion could have been different but I doubt it. I have similar stories with every trendy item I’ve ever purchased based on external influence, either from the press or celebrity influencer.
The only trench coat I wear nowadays is a black and white gingham printed vintage Laura Ashley I bought for under £30 in a charity shop in London. It’s the exact replica of a trench coat I spotted a few seasons ago in a lookbook. Believe it or not, it goes with a lot of things in my wardrobe and I may very well be on my way to keep it forever.
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