Written by Alice Porter
The cost of living crisis means writer Alice Porter can no longer afford the investment pieces she was once buying and has turned to fast-fashion for sartorial quick-fixes. Here, she writes about how she’s regaining her personal style on a budget.
It can take years of failed attempts and outfits that you realise you hate to discover your own personal style. Because let’s face it: figuring out what you enjoy wearing and what suits you can take serious effort, but it’s something I felt I’d achieved in recent years.
I had a number of outfits in my wardrobe that I could always fall back on, and I knew which items I needed to add to my wardrobe in order to enhance the clothes and outfits I already had. Often, they were garments I was investing in – not just investing money in but time too. Like the leather blazer I have spent hours of my life hunting down in charity shops or the linen trousers I had handmade on a holiday in Vietnam, for example.
But with the cost of living crisis becoming increasingly worse, this summer, I’ve found myself with less time and money on my hands than ever, and as a result, I’ve fallen into old habits that mostly involve popping into high street stores like H&M every so often or scrolling through ASOS’ “new in” section at the weekend.
The reason fast fashion is so widespread is because of how accessible it is. And when the afternoons I once spent vintage shopping are now filled up by taking on extra hours at work, as well as making the most of post-lockdown life, it’s easy to fall back on fast-fashion retailers when I’m looking for new clothes. This is especially the case when the pieces I feel like I really need in my wardrobe are totally out of my price range for the foreseeable future.
But buying into trend pieces for the first time in a long time has made me lose sight of my personal style. I almost feel like I’m back at square one when it comes to figuring out what my style really is, because a lot of the pieces I’m leaning on at the moment for summer outfits are Y2K-inspired garments or bold prints I would have never considered wearing this time two years ago.
These pieces are fun – I like them and I feel good about myself when I’m wearing them. But the problem with focusing on trends rather than your personal style is that often trend items don’t have stamina in your wardrobe. I end up disliking the fast-fashion pieces I buy before I even make a dent in their cost-per-wear, which means I’m back in that harmful cycle of buying more low-cost, badly made clothes to fill the gaps in my wardrobe.
22-year-old Rebecca has also started buying more affordable fashion as a result of the cost of living crisis, particularly from ultra fast-fashion sites like SHEIN. “I just can’t justify buying one expensive top when there is an exact dupe and cheaper elsewhere,” she says. “If I could shop sustainably I would but it’s just not the reality for a lot of people. Even shopping second-hand these days is more expensive than it used to be too.”
It definitely feels more difficult to make moral decisions when it comes to sustainable and ethical fashion when the cost of living crisis is so pressing. And although I’d love to give up buying clothes altogether, which is something I’ve tried to do in the past, this option feels impossible when fashion is such a big part of my identity and how I express myself. Plus, this is the first summer since the pandemic I’ve had filled with plans, and I want to be able to feel good about the clothes I’m wearing while out and about doing new things.
So what’s the solution? Natalie Binns, a sustainable fashion brand consultant, says this mindset is common right now: “With the cost of living, it’s a false economy to buy things cheaply that you don’t really wear and don’t go onto love,” she explains.
Her biggest piece of advice in order to combat this is to avoid impulse shopping altogether. “Always wait at least a week before buying something you like,” she advises. This is something I haven’t been doing, as almost all of my fast-fashion purchases have been last-minute panic buys for holidays or events.
However, one of Natalie’s tips is something I’ve already taken on and that’s to borrow clothes from friends. “Attend an organised swap shop or do one with your friends. Or rent from an app like Loanhood or borrow something new from your mates,” she advises.
Borrowing my friends clothes means I’m still getting that fast-fashion fix, without actually spending money on the products. In fact, I recently borrowed my friend’s brand new Zara linen dress for a night out and it was one of my favourite outfits I’ve worn all summer.
On top of this, she suggests setting up eBay alerts for fast-fashion items you like instead of buying them direct from the brand. Again, this is something I’ve done in the past – I’ve bought a white & Other Stories denim skirt on Depop, which has become one of my favourite items in my wardrobe. I assumed scrolling secondhand sites was something I no longer have time for but setting up alerts is a quick and easy way of making the most of the secondhand market.
So is it ever a good idea to buy into trends? According to Depop’s trends and category manager Agustina Panzoni, it is possible to find a balance between maintaining your personal style and getting involved with trends. “Incorporating trends into your wardrobe can be daunting and costly, both to your pocket and the environment,” she says. “A great way to trial a trend before committing is through accessories. For example, colourful handmade jewellery, like the pieces sold by @applepiejewellery, allows you to try out the dopamine dressing trend we saw emerge earlier this year before investing in pricier pieces.”
This is something I’ve been experimenting with, purchasing a bright pink pair of sunglasses to see if the Barbiecore trend was something I could pull off (turns out, it is, and Elle Woods is now my fashion muse for 2022).
The cost of living crisis spans almost every part of our lives, and while the clothes we’re buying might not be anyone’s biggest priority right now, it’s certainly something women like me have on our minds. Thankfully, there are still some ways to make shopping sustainable from a financial perspective and for the planet.
Images: Alice Porter, Getty
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