Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

The Fungibility of Fashion

Fungible: Exchangeable or replaceable, in whole or in part, for another of like nature or kind.

Fashion: A: a prevailing custom, usage, or style; B: the prevailing style (as in dress) during a particular time.

Americans love their clothes–the average family spends $1700 annually on them, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Girls and women average $663 dollars a year and men and boys $382. While these numbers are lower than years past, our affordable duds depend on cheap, often exploitive labor practices and lax environmental safeguards from the countries that provide them. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, “2.4% of the world’s crop land is planted with cotton and yet it accounts for 24% and 11% of the global sales of insecticide and pesticides respectively.”

But the expense and questionable origins of our clothes might be easier to overlook if we only bought what we needed. Such is not the case. A recent Wall Street Journal article claimed that most people only wear about 20% of the clothes in their closet (the percentage of unworn clothes is greater with women than men). If the utilitarian part of our wardrobe is only 20% of the total, what drives us to buy that other 80%?

Fashion–that ever-changing, impossible-to-pin-down look–is often what drives our decision to buy stuff we don’t need or quickly tire of. Granted, many of us follow fashion by professional necessity. But many times our desire to be fashionable is driven by a need to look good and, by extension, feel good. We might feel emboldened by our new, fashionable outfit…until that outfit is unfashionable.

There’s a reason people say they are “slaves to fashion”–they feel bound to keep hitting a moving target. Just when we think we hit the mark, it’s moved.

If you’re interested in escaping the shackles of fashion or just want to save money and natural resources, we have a couple suggestions:

  1. Try a uniform of mostly classic cut, muted clothing. We’ve covered that topic at length here before. Uniforms save time, space and money.
  2. Realize that confidence makes the outfit, not the other way around. We have seen few better treatises on this point than Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” (G-rated video above). They show that both a $50 Prada t-shirt or a $5 thrift shop polyester button down can make you look and feel great when your right attitude is right. If either work, your pocketbook and planet might prefer you choose the button down.