In the 1930s women owned about 60 items of clothes, and bought five new items annually.
During the second world war rationing allowed women to buy about ten new items each year.
Currently we buy 60 new items of clothing each year in the UK, and 64 in the US. This means that today each of us has around 300 items in our wardrobes (including tights, socks, belts etc).
You may be wondering if the clothing industry and “fashion” can convince us to keep increasing the number of items we buy and keep every year.
But interestingly, it appears, that shopping for clothes is starting to falter. After year on year increases in clothing sales there has been a marked drop across many UK retailers over the last six months. Kantar Worldpanel, which tracks the clothing purchases of 15,000 UK residents, reports that this year, for the first time in seven years, clothes purchasing has fallen. The effect is strongest among the under 25s. This is in the context of retail spending as a whole increasing.
There appears to a fundamental change in behaviour with people preferring to spend their money on experiences – such as holidays and meals – rather than clothes. Like many people I feel jaded by the reality of shopping, and if I see something I like (such as a pair of shoes) I invariably wait until the sales – and the urge usually passes.
Our largest clothes retailer – Marks and Spencer – with 10 per market share – has seen the sharpest drop for a decade, in clothing sales in July. FCUK has not made a profit since 2012. John Lewis profits fell 75% over the last six months, and Next is struggling. Primark – the most visited high street retailer – noted sales had dropped for the first time in 16 years.
I found this data through the FT.com and no-one really knows why it is happening. It is possibly just a blip, but it may be the start of a trend. Some have suggested the weather is the cause, but I don’t think that is it. What follows is just a guess.
- Competition is so intense between fashion retailers that people just wait until there is a discount, or they shop around for a cheaper version, reducing impulse buying
- The internet can work in the same way. Although it is easier to click and buy to some extent, nearly half of garments bought on the internet are returned due to disappointment with fit, colour, style etc
- Overall the offer is quite boring. Why buy another black coat, pair of skinny jeans or a fleece? Fashion at street level is not moving much and norm core is predominant.
- I have followed fashion for 45 years and I have no idea of what is fashionable at the moment beyond cold shoulders and flared sleeves. I can get a hit of these for a few quid or make a top at home. It’s not like a whole decade of change that I was used to. The 1980s had a strong trend, the 1990s had a recognisable look, but by 2000 there wasn’t really a strong decade-defining fashion.
- My hairdresser told me that the millennials are very reluctant to wear their hair short – they all favour the long-haired look – again the most conservative “easy” style that is not a style and costs virtually nothing.
- Fashion is particularly dull when compared to food, or holiday opportunities. A trip to Bosnia, or a wonderfully authentic Italian pasta resturant raises my pulse. Another navy blazer does not.
- Our homes are smaller as housing gets less and less affordable. In “homes for hobbits” we have less storage space
A number of sewing bloggers commit themselves to a Ready to Wear “fast”. But while they stop buying disposable fashion they can find themselves buying fabric instead. And those with a large supply of fabric in their home often commit to going on a fabric fast too, or promise to “shop their stash” first. These pledges stem, it seems to me, from sewists feeling that their hobby might also be a little out of control. Maybe we are all suffering from the overconsumption bug. This is like experiencing Christmas dinner – you eat so many rich seasonal dishes that you feel like fasting for weeks.
I am talking about myself of course.
I literally cannot accommodate any more clothes in more wardrobe, or any more fabric into my cupboard. I am scared my newest hobby – knitting – could intensify the problem I have by encouraging me to buy more raw materials than I can convert into garments. The “problem” of having too much. This is quite obscene really, in a world where so many have far too little – to eat, drink, wear, and spend. When I think about food waste, obesity, clothes in landfill, the waste of energy and resources, the fact that I am complaining about not being able to stuff any more clothes into my wardrobe, I feel a bit unhappy.
I don’t really know what to do. I have lots of nice clothes that I enjoy wearing. They fit me. The colours enhance me. They are quite stylish and coherent without being particularly fashionable, and don’t feel like they will date. I wear each item relatively rarely so don’t even get bored with my wardrobe. I probably need less clothes not more.
So why do I keep on making clothes?
The truth is I so enjoy the process, especially in terms of learning new skills or improving the ones I have got. Knitting has been a revelation as I know that – potentially, and in time – I can produce a knitted garment as well as a sewn one. Maybe the answer for me is to move on to new garments – socks, hats, tights, shoes, bags. Or to learn new crafts – crochet, weaving, spinning, jewellery making.
What do you think?