By Alice-Azania Jarvis
Saturday, 21 June 2008
Fashion and frugality just don't mix. It's frustrating, but true. Which is why I'm so sick of hearing the phrase "recession chic". Ditto "chic-o-nomics," "future-proof fashion" and all the other silly neologisms the fashion world has begun to spout as the cogs of our developed economy grind to a halt. They're offensive on two counts: one, they're irritating; and two, they're wrong. By which I mean fundamentally misleading.
Why? Because – surprise! – recessions aren't chic. That's the whole point. They're not some fun-filled game whose only purpose is to allow the Tatler classes to dabble in thriftiness and ride bicycles. Recessions are bloody awful. They stop you getting pay rises. They cost you your credit card. They introduce terms like "credit-crunch" into daily parlance and force everyone to think about their overdraft. That's why they're called recessions: they come after "stability" and precede depression. How could they ever be chic?
But I'd still like some new clothes. Chic clothes, actually. Chic-but-cheap clothes. So this weekend I'm going shopping – which, I should mention, is something I find rather difficult. Indeed, while my antipathy towards economising is well documented (as is my corresponding need to do it), I've yet to mention my dislike of retail. I love the end product – a nice new outfit, compliments from friends, a variation in my Facebook photo – but the actual process makes me miserable.
My boyfriend finds this surprising. After all, he says, don't all women like to shop? This is a myth. Women don't like to shop – it's only women who have lots of money who like to shop. Victoria Beckham likes to shop. And Paris Hilton. And Nicole Richie. Shopping is nice when you can shut down an entire Armani store and have it to yourself.
But back to the point: I need new clothes. The whole thing becomes even more complicated when I consider the morality of it all. Wait! Don't turn the page; I'm not going to become some preaching macrobiotic do-gooder. But I do find it off-putting when I discover that my nice new dress didn't just plop off a production line in some shiny happy textiles centre, but in fact reached me by way of Sweatshop Central.
Unfortunately, a vast proportion of the dresses – and everything else – on the high street did just that, and avoiding inhumane items means boycotting half the stores you rely upon. I'm generally pretty good at that, but you'd need real stamina to keep it up.
Is there a solution? I'd like to think so. And while I'm reluctant to gloat, I do think I'm on to something. Vintage. I know, I know, hardly an original idea, we've been hearing about it for a good five years – but there's a very good reason for that. Not only is it cheap (£12 for a dress?) but it's also cool. Kate and Sienna do it. And, after a bit of practice – one unfortunate outing left me with a highly functional wardrobe made up entirely of floral tea-dresses, moth-eaten trench-coats and wide-brimmed hats complete with netting and plastic flowers – perseverance is rewarded. Not only can you be certain that no one else will arrive at the party in the exact same Topshop dress, but you can also enjoy the inimitable satisfaction of responding to an innocent "Where did you get that dress?" with a smug "Oh, this? It's vintage." It might not win you many friends, but it'll certainly win you admirers.
It's also a uniquely accessible trend. Without doubt the best vintage I've ever come across is in London – particularly in the market stalls of Camden and Shoreditch – but I've yet to visit a town (or even a village) that doesn't have some secret source of hand-me-down clothing, be it the local Oxfam or an older relative's wardrobe.
Plus, if you're buying second- or third-hand, you're not reliant on atmosphere-polluting factories, and neither are you patronising Third World sweatshops. If all of this sounds simple, that's because it is – and all the better for it.