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Vanessa Richmond

Vanessa Richmond

Posted: September 11, 2008 12:23 PM

Beauty and the Eco-Beast: Why Disposable Fashion Isn't On the Enviro Radar


No star would have been caught dead arriving in a stretch Hummer to this weekend's MTV awards. But even though disposable fashion is arguably an even worse enviro-crime, no star would have been caught dead wearing something they'd ever worn before. It seems the stigma associated with committing a fashion crime far outweighs that of committing an eco one.

It's a mystery how morality evolves in the public consciousness: some behaviors become sins that draw public shame or good acts that draw public accolades -- like Hummer versus Prius driving -- but other behaviors don't even register. Last week, I forgot my canvas shopping bags and got stink eye from at least three people in the line at the grocery store for my transgression -- fair enough. But this week at New York Fashion Week, I bet no one bats an eyelid at front-row attendees who show up in resource-intensive outfits they'd wear only once.

This summer, Anna Wintour (the queen of fashion, who edits Vogue magazine, and who was parodied in The Devil Wears Prada), was caught wearing the same Prada dress twice (gasp!). The news immediately hit dozens of fashion blogs, some of which weighed in with genuine horror, others with the schadenfreude of catching the enforcer committing an infraction, and still others that commented tongue-in-cheek.

Then she was caught wearing the same Carolina Herrera dress three times in a week! "Never in my wildest dreams could I ever imagine Anna Wintour wearing anything twice. Not even the same lipstick. Yet it happened. How could this be? Has she been placed on an austerity budget? Is she becoming senile? Or is she just toying with us again... Or maybe Anna's going soft in her golden years," commented the Bosh blog.

But no one cheered, or suggested her transgression was in aid of, you know, trying to safeguard the future of the world. Not to get heavy or anything.

Then Jennifer Lopez, who is famous for never wearing the same thing twice, apparently commented to a source that she doesn't even dress her twins in the same outfits twice. Apparently, the twins' designer outfits cost upwards of a thousand dollars a day. Whether that's true or not (it was an unsubstantiated source), what's interesting is that the only aspersion cast in the commentary was that she might be wasting money.

Money pinching is the crime that came up in the reporting of Princess Anne's outfit repeat. A writer accused her of being "thrifty" (quite a sting). But others suggested she got away with it because, well, we know she's pretty wealthy, so she doesn't have to prove it all the time through expensive new outfits; social status, is, after all, one of the main drivers of the fashion industry.

Yes, celebs often wear vintage gowns to red carpet events. But frankly, it amounts to almost the same thing: those robes will be worn once then discarded. And after being worn, no other A-lister (or even C-lister) can wear it again -- or they risk attracting slurs.

In fact, while society is greening up in many areas, fashion seems to be going the other way. Sure, there is more interest in local fashion, vintage and recycled clothes, especially among hipsters, and those kinds of clothes carry more status in some circles. But stores that sell inexpensive clothes, often made overseas, like H&M, Zara and Urban Outfitters, are also becoming ubiquitous. And the social expectation to "keep up" with trends, and therefore buy more clothes, is increasing. Some people call this the beauty-industrial complex, others just call it stress, credit card debt and over-consumption. Either way, it's bucking the now fairly pervasive sustainability trend seeping into many other forms of consumerism.

Why? My first year history professor said there are no conspiracies, just conspiracy theories waiting to be debunked. Right now, there's no incentive for designers to promote recycling in their ads or runway shows. Those shows cost a fortune to put on, and displaying recycled wares is akin to crossing zeros off their bottom lines. And many celebs get paid to wear designers' fashions and to do so, they need to be seen as fashion savvy. So it's not in their best interests to commit The Big Sin.

If you're like me (no A-list celeb), the slur "thrifty" definitely applies. I love clothes, but wear many items of clothing well over a hundred times. And frankly, I'd love more suggestions on how to pull the repeats off with style and freshness -- not just from the alternative fashion blogs I visit, but from the mainstream.

So I humbly submit a modest proposal, one not expected to entirely save the planet but to at least acknowledge sane, real world fashion behaviour?

I'd love to see designers showcase at least one piece from a previous collection in every outfit on the runway. I'd like to see each piece from the current season used at least twice per show -- to inspire people about its different possibilities. I want to see bloggers like the Fug Girls, and journalists generally, review how well stars and models wear the same thing twice, in different ways, with different (also recycled) shoes and purses and cardigans and jewelry -- and celebrate them when they nail it.

Suddenly, cheesy idioms seem to make sense. If the shoe fits, wear it. Walk a mile in someone else's shoes. And a stitch in time, saves nine.