Monday, 15 June 2009

Is it really time to reach for Designer Labels again?

In a recent issue of the Daily Mail, Naomi Greenaway wrote “Last Thursday, just as I was leaving the house for a business appointment, my cleaner arrived - wearing exactly the same dress as I was. A £15 H&M special. She was about to scrub the loo. I was heading off to do an interview.”
Her headline asked “When you find your cleaner wearing the same outfit as you, isn't it time to reach for designer labels again?”

Here at Make it and Mend it, we believe the answer to that is NO! Don’t get me wrong, this does not mean that we're anti designer clothing. Far from it. We just believe that there is a time and a place for it. Apart from a cringeworthy display of snobbery, Naomi is encouraging people to spend money that they don’t have. We're in the midst of a recession and many people are out of work and struggling to pay their mortgages and household bills, so clothes are unfortunately way down the list of priorities for most people.

To give her credit, Naomi does apologise for sounding like a snob, but, she argues “I'm done with fashion communism. I don't want to live in a world where everyone wears the same cut-price outfit like Chinese peasants in Chairman Mao jackets.”

Which I think most of us would agree with. We like to be individual, but she does rather destroy this argument when she goes on to say:
“But now everyone from your granny to your cleaner is wearing it, too - and I'd rather go out naked, thanks”.

Not only is she being ageist, classist, but later in the article fattist as well:
“We like our clothes to reflect who we are, but when they're also a reflection of the fat woman on the train, the annoying teenager and the cleaner, it creates an uncomfortable dissonance.”

Putting the debate about snobbery aside, within this diatribe there were a couple grains of importance and truth – she does make a fair point about cheap clothing not being cheap when we buy in the ridiculous bulk that some people do, but I think the most important point is - do we all have to look the same?

Naomi claims that “Unlike good old-fashioned snobbery, where subtlety is key, this inverse snobbery about what you pay for clothes and shoes is constantly rubbed in our faces. It's all about buying cheap and bragging about it. That's all very well, but as thousands of other women and I are discovering, it means running into scores of women dressed the same as you.”

It seems she fears that we are all becoming clones. She maintains the only answer to this is to designer-shop our way out of this, but is this answer? Ok you may be getting a better quality of clothing, but you'll still find others wearing the same as you. You will just become a better 'class' of clone.

We firmly believe that this is not the only answer. There are many ways of maintaining an individual style without becoming a clone.

With a little thought, creativity and possibly the use of a needle, you can create and adapt an amazing individually styled wardrobe. It is not about how much you spend, it is about how you wear it and how you put it together. Gok Wan’s programme on Channel 4 demonstrates this brilliantly. Gok is the champion of the high street chic. But he takes a basic item and fashions it into something that looks original and fabulously expensive; week after week winning the catwalk vote against designer labels at ten times the price.

And people are wising up to this. Sales of sewing machines are rising rapidly. Sewing courses are springing up all over the country. There really is no need to go out looking like a clone or to spend your month’s mortgage on a pair of shoes.

Naomi's article suggests that a desire to go designer shopping is more about a need to be noticed than buying quality.

“Research shows that when women shop, it is not necessarily related to how much money they have to spend but what is going on in their minds,” says KarenPine. Author of Sheconomics . She claims that people shop “to cheer themselves up, when their boyfriends have dumped them, when they are not getting on with their husbands, when they've had a bad day. The thinking is ‘I work damned hard, I deserve a reward'.”

Unfortunately it is these emotional triggers that are exploited to sell unsuitable products that waste our money.

Shopping for unnecessary products taps into our need to be validated by others.
“Ever since I bought the Choo beauties a few months ago, I'd been waiting for the perfect moment to show them off - and relishing the purrs of approval they were bound to garner from my female friends” says Naomi Greenaway.

This says more about her possible lack of self-esteem than it does about the shoes themselves. It is about the Jimmy Choos enabling her to become the envy of her friend.

But horror of horrors:
“ ..when I wore them at dinner last week, no one noticed them, they were so bowled over by my other friend's lumps of canvas and cork which cost less than a bottle of wine.”

Sadly this is something we have all experienced – being upstaged by our friends. Let’s face it. How many of us get to be the princess in the school play? But what it does highlight is that even spending a fortune on a pair of shoes does not mark us out from the crowd, or make us feel ‘different’. We don’t need to spend money to feel good about ourselves.

Pine goes on to say in her book “It soon became obvious to me that most women's financial problems were either the result of, or complicated by, their underlying attitude to money, alongside a variety of personal issues or self-limiting beliefs”.

It's unfortunate that the term “retail therapy” has become common parlance and is frequently used by TV and women's magazines in an upbeat, even sisterly way to make us feel it's ok to carry on shopping, without any thought to paying the bills and what other psychological issues we might be trying to cover up.

It's time we started to redress the balance and highlight the fact that we don’t need to continually spend vast amounts of money on our wardrobes. The occasional splurge is great and picking a up a designer bargain is sheer heaven, but in between times, it should be more about how you wear your clothes rather than how much you spend. Creating something out of nothing and an individual style will give you a far bigger and a longer lasting boost to your ego than a trip to Prada ever will. Especially as there is no nasty after taste when the bill comes in.

My final response to Naomi is that she should think about what is motivating her in her desire to be different and why she feels that she has to spend so much money to validate her existence. Making, styling and altering would make her feel much better about herself than the quick fix shopping trip. My advice, girls, would be - Save the money on the Jimmy Choos and buy a sewing machine!

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