Fast Fashion, Personal Style, and the Power of the Thrift

Welcome or welcome back MyXXFam! Today’s blog is but one fly fat girl’s humble offering to the fashion Gods. While we talk about everything from local politics, to community events, and even physics on MyXXFLY, the one thing every post is sure to feature is a fly thrifted outfit.

Fashion and personal style have been a source of joy and means of expression for me since I was old enough to have a say in what I wore. I was fortunate enough to have parents who never stifled my creativity, even when it meant wearing dinosaur prints, stripes, and florals to church (all at the same time). I grew up in a loving environment with larger than life characters who had style and swagger in spades, and through them I learned the power of the thread.

For better or worse

Once a topic most popular with upper-echelon designers, the elite with expendable income, or journalists in the pages of Vogue, fashion in the 21st century is more accessible than it has ever been. With a fast-fashion industry that manages to hock 52 micro-seasons out of what was once either Spring/Summer or Fall/Winter, it’s not surprising that every day there is a new clothing or makeup line by another celebrity pouncing to get in on the business of fashion. We live in a country where you can buy on trend pieces for low prices and get yourself a high-fashion look for a bargain, so where’s the problem?

Well the problem starts with us.

As someone who grew up sketching fashion designs and playing dress-up, going shopping was my absolute favorite thing in the world. Even when I couldn’t find anything in my size, I was like a pig in shit happily browsing through purses or accessories, and if I had the money? You better believe I would spend it on something fly to add to my growing collection of stuff. Like many people with addictive personalities, the rush of dopamine from buying something I loved was impossible to resist. Soon, I found myself with more clothes than I could ever wear but was unwilling to part with because look at all that money I spent.


Fashion, Status, and Perception

Why are American consumers so easily lured into the fickle trend? We wear brand-names as a badge of honor, we upgrade our looks the moment something new becomes in style, and with 52 micro-seasons, you better believe there’s always something new. But why do we care?

The simple answer is status. Like the luxury car or imported bottle of wine, fashion has the power to include, or exclude. Fashion grants us access into spaces that are otherwise off limits. Think back to the hallways of your high school, odds are your style and your circle were entwined. In an environment where you could tell friend from foe based solely on what band was on someone’s t-shirt, or what style shoe someone wore, being judgmental was par for the course. This is the case that school districts make for uniforms due to the power that a simple outfit can have to elevate or ostracize. So what happens after high school?

Well, in some ways, high school never ends. For many people living in America or other capitalist economies, fashion is symbolic of so much more than a simple article of clothing. The monogrammed designer hand-bag, limited edition pair of sunglasses, or coveted time-piece tells everyone around you about your social class, success, and importance, or at least, that’s the idea. There are guides on how to dress for every occasion because it is recognized that there is a profound link between what you wear and how you are treated. Like the mall scene in Selena where the rude sales clerk discriminates against who she thought to be a couple of broke brown girls taught us; status is like the proverbial tree in the forest, it doesn’t exist unless someone else sees it. Selena’s epic clap-back is a reminder of the inextricable link between status and appearance, and this link is why so many people become crippled by debt at the expense of lo plastico.

Like any movement that is part of the mainstream, countercultures will inevitably pop up in opposition. Fashion is one of the best examples of this practice and it happens in the form of alternative fashion. Historically, marginalized groups have taken the exclusivity of fashion and turned it on its head in defiance. From zoot suits, to the punk aesthetic, to androgynous fashion as a statement against traditional gender norms, fashion can be used as a different kind of tool. At the end of the day however, we can all agree that the way you dress says a whole lot about you whether it is your intention or not, so it’s no wonder that the industry reinvented itself for maximum profits.

The True Cost

The problem with how much power fashion holds is that when materialism reigns supreme, humanity suffers. Ethics, the environment, and even human life are compromised in order to churn out garments for low prices and in record time. Eighty percent of exports from Bangladesh are apparel, where garment workers earn the lowest minimum wage in the world -$43 a month-. The equivalent of modern-day slave labor, 14 hour days without breaks, access to water, or bathrooms are common. In order to maximize profits, conditions for factory workers are heinously unsafe. Fires and building collapses leading to the loss of human life are an accepted by-product of being able to sell a top for under 5 bucks.

The industry at large is no longer concerned with quality products designed to last for many years, instead, planned obsolescence is the business model of modern history. Garments are designed to fall apart quickly in order to have us back in stores, which we don’t mind of course because the new season is already underway. The sheer volume of cheap clothes has made textile waste the second most polluting industry in the world behind oil. Our discarded clothing is destined to sit in landfills for generations due to the nature of their construction.

What You Can Do

“See Yesenia, this is why I don’t like reading your blog. You’ve bummed me out beyond belief, and now I’ll be faced with crippling guilt whenever I want to buy a cute dress at H&M.” Well darling, that’s the price we pay for being woke. But have a little faith y’all, I’m not gonna drop the bomb and walk away to have you nurse your wounds all alone. There is a way to still be fly and fashionable without doing so at the expense of human life or of the earth itself.

So let’s go back to the beginning, to that wide-eyed bushy tailed kid in love with fashion who spent her adolescence at the mall and lived for the thrill of the endorphin rush that only a new outfit could bring her. How do you reconcile a love of fashion with the startling truth of how most garments are made without giving it up altogether? Simple. All you’ve gotta do is completely change the way you think.

The old “if something is too good to be true, it probably is” adage, couldn’t be more true in regards to fashion. Even when you think you’re getting a steal at an outlet, you’re just being bamboozled with a brand-name on a lower quality garment. The “benefit” or “convenience” of cheap clothes comes at the expense of someone or something else, so the first step is to separate our needs from our desires. Bottom line? No one needs to buy new clothing 52 times a year, or 26, or even 13. Anywhere on Earth, you will only ever have four seasons, if that.

When I started my never-ending evolution into being a more conscious consumer, the first thing I did was stop spending. What are your goals? Do you yearn to travel or to start your own business? Every dollar you don’t spend on things you don’t need can help you reach these goals.

“Wait wait wait, what do you mean stop spending? Like, ever?” Well no, although my goal is to live as a nomad and be as free of earthly possessions as a Tibetan monk, I don’t pretend that yours is. But before you start thinking about buying shit again, take some time to declutter. Sometimes we own so much stuff, that we have no idea what we even have. By sorting through your possessions you can see what’s fucked up, what you forgot about, what you love, and what you’ve got no use for. For me? This process is on-going. I look at everything and ask myself “if I was moving out tomorrow, would I really want to pack this up and haul it with me?”. Your process may be different, but there are literally millions of options, methods, and resources to get this done.

“Wait wait wait, so now do I not only have to stop spending, but I also have to get rid of shit? That’s it. Unfollow. I did not sign up for this. It’s been real babygirl.” Goddamn, y’all are dramatic. Stay with me. Breathe. I did warn you that completely changing the way you think was part of the equation right? There is a method to the madness, and the reason behind it is that I want you to be intrinsically happy everyday. I want you to realize that you exist to do more than work, and buy things, and work, and buy things, and work, and buy things. I want you to value your time, and your purpose, and to break free of the chain of mindless consumerism that may plague you. Instead of impulsively buying things that do not serve you, I want you to invest in what you really love. Use your cash on experiences and things that enhance your mood and way of life, out of necessity, maybe sometimes even out of desire, but not compulsion. So before we can change for the better we’ve gotta sift through and get rid of our past mistakes, keep the good goods, and start fresh. Our environment affects us immensely, and we wield power over it when we choose to buy (or not buy) something and bring it into our homes.

“Ok fine, I guess that sounds alright, because I really love these shoes I saw on sale and”. Hold up, before you get too psyched, there’s one final step. After you’ve put a hiatus on spending, and de-cluttered your space, and realigned your chakras, and realized that mindless consumerism is fucking terrible, you’ve gotta figure out where you will spend your hard-earned cash. If you haven’t guessed already, I’m your number one advocate for the thrift store. With a little luck and just as much patience you can find some incredible high quality pieces for just a few bucks thanks to the generosity of strangers.

But okay, let’s say you’re not into the idea because you want new clothes, there are still other alternatives that don’t involve buying second-hand or becoming a seamstress. What gaps exist in your wardrobe? Now that you know what you have, you know what’s missing or what needs an upgrade, right? Instead of buying something because it’s cheap, find the best possible option within your budget, prioritize longevity, and pay attention to where, how, and by who it’s made. Paying 30 bucks for a well-made linen top that could last you for decades is better than paying 5 bucks for 6 tops that were made by an underpaid and mistreated workforce under perilous conditions. An even better option? Look up local independent designers in your area, find start-up companies that align with your beliefs, browse the millions of options on etsy, or check out your local flea market where you can scoop up some great one of a kind pieces for great prices.

Personal Style

So what about those of y’all who could care less about pollution or what happens in a third world country on the other side of the planet? I see you over there in the back shrugging like it ain’t no thing. Alright well, here’s my hail Mary pass. Why are thrifted, hand-made, independent, or second-hand clothes better than shit you can buy at the mall? Personal style bro.

There’s the world of fashion and the world of style. One is dictated by money-making conglomerates whose job it is to tell you what’s hot or not. The other is free, subjective, and the most fun you can have with fashion. Be like the meme of that kid who wore a suit to meet his newborn niece, because first impressions matter. Every article of clothing you own can make you look like everyone else, or can tell a story about who you are if you want it to.

I’ve worn a variation of the outfit featured in this blog post hundreds of times. The earrings and Frida Kahlo brooch were gifts from my beloved cousins in L.A., the watch, from my brother and his fiance. I bought the rose quartz necklace from a local vendor at a thrift market and gifted it in jade to my best friend. The skirt, is my absolute favorite, and has seen costumes, concerts, casual trips to the beach, and vacations with friends. The vintage 1960’s backpack was an etsy find, and a birthday treat to myself after I discarded dozens of purses during my first major de-clutter. It’s been featured in multiple blog posts and I’ve worn it more than every purse I had before it combined. Even the water bottle, which was a thoughtful gift from someone unexpected makes drinking water a little more fly, and reminds me to hope for the best in others.

Maybe you think I’m bat-shit for gleaning so much out of something meant to just cover my body, but I? I’ve always been filled with wonder about the world around me, and about the people who cross my path. Whether I admire what they’re wearing, am perplexed by it, judge them for it, or want to get to know them better because of it, I find clothing impactful. It tells me about how you wish to be seen, what you want to communicate, and maybe even how you’re feeling. Clothing has a transformative power. Wearing something you’re uncomfortable in can ruin your day, but on the other hand? Wearing something that makes your feel fabulous can help even the most insecure person see themselves in a different light. Fashion doesn’t have to be about the new, the expensive, or the on-trend, it can be a way to practice self-care in a world that profits from your insecurities and desire to fit in.

Whether self-care to you includes fashion or not, I want you to realize that everything you do matters. Even if we have the means to do so, we do not have to buy into the over-indulgent lifestyle that is expected of us. You may even find that when you start using your time and resources differently, your life changes for the better. I want you to surround yourself with love, and positivity, and live in an environment that nourishes your spirit. I wake up every day, surrounded by the people and things I love. I’ve purchased a handful of items in the last year, and when I have, it’s been under the steadfast rule that if I do, I must get rid of two others. I don’t look for joy externally, while I may claim to love my belongings, I know the their value is in how they make me feel not in what they are. Love is immaterial, and I try to find it in myself every day and share it with everyone who crosses my path. Every day brings us new surprises, sometimes they are wonderful, other times they are not, but the only constant variable is you, and how you choose to see the world and navigate in it.

I hope I’ve inspired you to join me on the thrift-side, or at least have you toying with the idea of buying less and living more. If you’d like to learn more about the practices of the fast fashion industry, check out “The True Cost” documentary on Netflix, it may change the way you shop forever. Until next week, think globally, act locally, and keep your double-x fly.