Must Have’s

Posted by Jill Chivers in My Story

Mornin‘ pardners and here we are blog #30. I can’t quite believe I have written thirty blog postings in the last 4 months, but the facts don’t lie sistah. When I’m not writhing in pain about the wisdom of starting and vagaries in succeeding in an online business, I have been reflecting on what I’m writing in this blog. Of which post #30 is appearing live on your screen.

And more specifically, I’ve been reflecting on what it is that has drawn me to write about the topics I’m writing about. I mean, if I were to write exclusively about my personal experiences of not shopping for clothes for 12 months, the posts would be remarkably similar and be along these lines:

Monday. Did not buy anything today. Feeling Ok about it.
Tuesday. Did not buy anything. Feeling vaguely unfulfilled but can’t explain why
Wednesday. Did not buy anything. Was tempted by teal scarf but kept on walking.
Thursday. Did not buy anything. Is anybody out there?
Friday. Did not buy anything. Is it possible to bore oneself to death with one’s own writing?

This 12 month challenge is about more than my personal experience of not going clothing shopping for one year. It is about the meaning of clothing and what lies beneath the surface of Not Shopping. It is about why it’s even vaguely tempting to consider buying yet another pair of jeans when one has 14 pairs in one’s closet already. It is about the role of shopping centres and fashion magazines in creating, or feeding into a pre-existing, sense of want and Never Having Enough. It is about wanting, desire, temptation (and yes, we’re still talking about the challenge here – I’m not reviewing Fox’s lineup of after-8pm-timeslot reality TV shows).

I had a vague feeling when I started it that the Challenge was about more than just my personal experiences and feelings. Like the plastic-bag carrying student in Tiananmen Square in April 1989, this is much bigger than just me. I just hope I’m not shot by a fashion firing squad or charged with “political hooliganism” when the challenge finishes (two of the possible ends the 19 year old student allegedly met after the Tiananmen Square incident).

Fashion Me Senseless. And so today I wanted to talk a little about the fashion industry and its role in leading us to believe that we need More. Every season a new look, or a new twist on an old look, or an old look on a new twist, comes “in”. The “latest season looks” fill up more fashion magazine space than you can poke a stick at.

These magazine pieces are illustrated by clothing that you can sometimes even recognise — this is when the shoot is not in an Amazonian rainforest or a Saharan sand dune or the Great Barrier Reef where the clothing is obscured by not only the natural landscape but by “creative” fashion photographic styles.

Have you noticed how the clothing in fashion shoots is often impossible to make out? Is she wearing a poncho or is that a palm frond? Is that a silk caftan or is she standing behind a curtain? And why is this being shot underwater? – it’s a winter coat piece!! The fashion world clearly has its own rules about the role of photographic clarity. That aside, what’s also intriguing is how we are suckered into believing that our wardrobes need overhauling every six months.

You need more. You do. You really do. The role of the fashion industry, through the twin vehicles of the fashion media and merchandising, is to send the message that what you have is not enough — you need more.

I was walking past a store just yesterday that had a display of jeans on it – they were so alluringly laid out, I found my body moving independently of the signals my brain was attempting to send (stop! Move away from the jeans! Veer left! Left, I said!) toward this display. It was like my legs and eyes were colluding and engaged in an autonomous response to the visual enticement that display of jeans offered.

Only when normal service was resumed (in the form of my husband taking me by the arm and literally steering me forward) did it occur to me that I had more than enough pairs of jeans at home. (and it was only when I went home to fully test out this theory that “I have enough, I’m sure I do” that I counted up the 14 pair of blue jeans that I already have. Yes, that’s right, viewers: 14 pairs (only professional bull riders and sales reps for Levis have more pair of jeans than I do, surely). And that’s one small example of the pull of professional merchandising. We haven’t even started in on fashion media.

Magazines. I wonder if there’s a coincidence that the word magazine is used to denote where ammunition is stored and a publication that is published on a regular schedule? The word magazine is derived from the Arabic word meaning “warehouse”, which is what the publication kind are, right?

Magazines are a storehouse of data, and fashion magazines in particular are crowded with content on Must Haves. Not must have last month or must have for last week. Must Have’s for Now. If you are going to be “bang on trend”, it’s got to be immediate, right?  Pictorials like the one to the left appear regularly, exhorting us to abandon whatever we have in our wardrobes in favour of what is hot right now.  Lukewarm just won’t cut the mustard.

I came across this in a magazine recently:

“Boots are the must-have item for the season. But not all of them will do — tall, to-the-knee boots are the only boots to be seen in this season” Are you kidding me? So if my boots don’t come to my knee, I’ll look like, what – Jane Fonda from The Electric Horseman (1979)??? This is the threat hanging over us, that unless we are wearing what has been determined as “in season”, we’ll be (gasp) Out Of Style. Worse than the plague, the pox and pimples put together, being out of style is a serious condition you need to remedy as quickly as possible. And if style is so fickle, it’s not something we can just check and forget either, right? You could be stylish one day and dowdy the next — what a horrible thought! Is it any wonder that we yield so quickly to the not-so-subtle media messages to keep our wardrobes up to date by continual consumption?

Now, remember that this is me talking here – a seriously addicted clothing and shopping addict, right. I like clothes (some I’m just infatuated with, others it is true love). I’m on their side. But it does make me wonder. Is it possible to be up-to-date and yet still be unstylish?

I want it. Or do I? Much has been written by more scholarly thinkers than I about the sheer brute force of wanting. Wanting seems to have the power of kryptonite over us mere mortals. Clive Hamilton’s book Affluenza eloquently described this “consumption binge” phenomenon and the toxic effect it is having not only on our finances but the quality of our lives. Fabulous – this gives us something other than worrying about the environment to brood about.

But wait! There is an answer. Maybe. The solution to over-consumerism seems to have at least two parts to it:-

  1. shift your attention away from the messages we are fed, primarily through the media. Stop listening to what’s “out there”
  2. turn your attention to what it is your truly want and use your internal voice as your primary source of data. Start listening to what’s “in here”

Like day trading on margin, this is simple in theory, but challenging to execute with any consistent success. Walking through a typical shopping centre is an exercise in sensory overload – you are literally bombarded from every angle to consume, or at least look. Maybe those who wish to shop only for pre-agreed items should be issued with blinkers upon entering those consumption-inducing shopping centres.

Rather than be laying out “must have new season” items, complete with stockists details, magazines could do features on how to use your existing gear to create stylish, snazzy, suits-me outfits? Imagine that – a fashion spread where nothing is for sale! Inspiring us to use what we have in new and exciting ways! How innovative! Now, that’d be worth reading. Right?

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