Vintage clothes offer a solution to our ecological and fashion crisis, writes Madison Duddy
In today’s world, fashion is one the largest polluting industries in the world. With severe ecological damage caused from ink that contaminates local streams to the unrecyclable plastic that ends up in the ocean or a landfill, dealing the fashion business in general is a cumbersome chore for our suffocating planet. And while it’s admirable to be on the frontier in chic clothing, doing so at the expense of both our well-being and the planet is all together a questionable endeavor.
The glaring problem with our fashion industry was all the more heightened in 2017, when some designers burned tens of millions of euros worth of clothing and cosmetics. Many high-end designers claim they burn their garments to prevent brand devaluation and counterfeiting. If their designs ended up in outlets or were marked down substantially, the designers said their brand would lose its exclusivity and high-end status. Also, they would be open to the possibility of people copying the designs and selling them for cheap.
Since the issue of fashion companies burning clothing was brought into the public eye, the world has wondered why designers would not, alternatively, take advantage of the abundance of charities, up-cycling companies and consignment stores available.
Designers, however, are not the only ones at fault for the negative effects of the fashion industry on the environment, though. The consumer mentality of needing to wear the newest outfits and hippest trends feeds into a problem of more and more clothing being produced and bought when there is readily available fashion for sale in consignment and vintage shops. This problem is not far off from Pope Francis’ claim about society’s ‘throwaway culture’ that disregards the environmental impact and human need. He says that while humanity should be “cultivating and protecting creation”, people just “exploit and neglect it” for their own desires. While in the past, clothes would be passed down from one generation to the other – not just Communion or wedding dresses – today the mentality is often that indulging in the newest fashion fad is forward-thinking.
With the inability to control the big fashion corporations from disposing of their garments, it’s up to the everyday citizen to think sustainable. Although ‘circular fashion’ can often connote ugly or old garments, consignment is very popular, especially vintage clothing.
Like history, fashion repeats itself, so vintage garments always come back into style. For example, this year the 1980s and 90s are all the rage as people fight over distressed Levi’s, neon windbreakers, and bright colored blazers.
Vintage clothing serves as a time machine to a different era. Many people feel as if they were born in the wrong time period, so their style will reflect that. When someone wears something like a 1970s smock dress, they can be transported to a different time and connect with history. It’s like trying on different versions of yourself from the past, sometimes dressing as your parents did when they were young.
Reth Ni Loinsigh, owner of Om Diva vintage clothing store in Dublin, says people can style vintage garments to align with current trends, sometimes mixing them in with new garments.
Shopping at any boutique, department or chain clothing store can be expensive and unoriginal.”
“Everything goes in circles and something that was once dated definitely will come back around again. It’s all design and aesthetic and I suppose the way we look at clothes,” Ni Loinsigh says. “Also, the way we style them has a big impact. So, if you style something ‘vintagey’ in a very vintage manner, it will look vintage, but you can very easily mix vintage clothing in with contemporary pieces, contemporary accessories, and give it a really modern feel.”
Shopping at any boutique, department or chain clothing store can be expensive and unoriginal. More often than not, people walk around seeing person after person wearing the same outfits they just bought. With vintage clothing, the buyer is nearly guaranteed that their new outfit will not be draped over every person on the street because ‘pre-loved’ garments are out of production for many years.
Owner of No. 38 clothing store in Dublin, Armelle Mitchell, dresses women who want to be fashion forward on a smaller budget. Thanks to stores like No. 38, designer garments in good condition are available for a more affordable price. In many cases, the outfits were barely worn or still have the tags.
“What I sell are pre-loved items that are probably only a few seasons old, so I’m catering to women who are very current and fashion-conscious but maybe don’t have the budget to splash out in Brown Thomas all the time,” Mitchell says.
In a society where fashion mostly outfits the ‘ideal skinny/tall body type’, vintage clothing can be a great option because most previous designers focused on dressing all women and flattering their individual figures.
Mitchell’s favorite era for fashion is the 1930s because she believes this time period made all women look their best.
“I think it [the 1930s] was the kindest to women. It was endlessly flattering and it just it seemed to accommodate all shapes and sizes rather than just a very thin or the very long of leg,” Mitchell says. “I think the time when women wore dresses was definitely nicer than trying to squeeze yourself into skinny jeans all the time and feeling bad because your shape has changed because you’re getting older. I look at photographs of my grandmother’s generation and they’re just all these lovely, kind of round looking women in flowing dresses, and you never really knew what shape they were, they just look really well.”
In addition to the vintage fashion’s more inclusive fit, compared to the majority of clothing available now, Mitchell says older garments were made to last.
“I mean long before sustainability was a word or eco-aware… I always had a thing that clothes that were older were made better with better fabrics and before fast fashion took over the world,” Mitchell says. “Something like a dress that I bought when I was 21, which was probably 40 years old at that time, is still in perfect condition, is still wearable and I’m 46 now, so I think the lifestyle was better and craftsmanship and longevity I suppose.”
Thanks to vintage and consignment clothing, people can be stewards for creation in style.”
In our era of mass produced ‘fast fashion’ where most brands focus on making their clothing with cheap fabrics in large factories, the garments wear for a year or so before they fall apart. Vintage clothing was usually hand made with higher quality fabrics and more attention to detail. Back in the day, people got what they paid for.
Thanks to vintage and consignment clothing, people can be stewards for creation in style. Instead of dressing like every other person on the street, vintage can offer consumers a way to wear beautiful and well-made garments that are in with current trends. Vintage wear can highlight a person’s individuality, giving them the option to handpick unique items they could find nowhere else. Dressing in popular clothes washes everyone into a pool of generic fashion while vintage styling can be like putting on a costume from a different era that melds into present day society, seamlessly.