When I left home, and my disposable income became my not-so-disposable income, the first thing I gave up was fashion. For someone who’d grown up on a diet of Country Road and had previously been prone to a heady rush of adrenaline on entering Claremont Quarter, it seemed like an impossible task. In reality, it was easy – clothes, it turned out, were not a temptation for me. Bar one unfortunate relapse involving some fabulous black hot pants (no regrets), I, with Sarah Wilson-esque success, quit fashion.

At that time, I saw my financial situation as merely necessitating something I had always believed in. Buying new clothes was decadent, hedonistic, vain, and ultimately, wasteful. ‘The environment something something…’ I would declare, while I wanked off Bob Brown or some such, ‘sweatshops and children in Africa and all that.’ Sauntering around Reid Library in my old school socks and a Gorman jumper from a whole two seasons ago, covered in red wine stains and the stink of my own ego, I was never before more righteous.

As you’ve likely already intimated, I was also, in fact, a massive idiot.

It’s taken several years, but it’s become clear that the issue of getting dressed ethically is slightly more complex than I had thought. Though it might not be news to some, when I looked back on my life, I realised that the moments when I felt the best, strongest, most powerful were the moments when I knew I looked great in what I was wearing. Further, it’s apparently ‘not normal’ to feel utter dread when you open your wardrobe door in the morning, wondering what fresh hell awaits today. For better or for worse (well, just for worse), clothes and self-esteem are inextricable.

We end up towing an impossible line – surviving happily in Australia, and giving a shit when sweatshops collapse in Bangladesh. We go to op-shops and buy secondhand as much as we can, but the going’s not always good. We try to buy Australian made, but the expense is often too much. We remind ourselves that not buying something because it was made in a sweatshop is going to hurt the workers first, and then realise that sounds a little bit too close to a free pass to buy anything and everything guilt-free. You won’t shop at Valleygirl, because surely their ethical practices must be worse than TopShop’s, but that’s just creating your politics out of your aesthetics.

Perhaps I’m just trying to assuage the guilt of a $200 purchase at Myer; perhaps I’m a bad person. Whatever. At least I look great.

Words by Lucy Ballantyne

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