Today we live in an impatient and insatiable world in pursuit of instant gratification. Everyone wants super charged NBN, express delivery, speedy sustenance and racey ‘Tinder’ romances. Clothes shopping is no exception. Who needs to ‘shop ‘till you drop’ when you can search entire stores’ catalogues at your fingertips? Why rush in store to buy the latest Nikes when you can be notified as soon as they are released and have them sent the same day? The Inside Australian Online Shopping Report, states that consumers now are buying fashion online more than ever, and as the second largest e-commerce category – it’s rapidly growing. With the rise of online shopping, our perceptions and hence ‘consumption’ of clothing has changed, for the worse.

I understand the allure of online shopping – no more daunting carparks, one size racks, endless queues, or conniving retail ladies who insist that a size larger shorts will shrink in the wash. When faced with the colossal horrors of bricks-and-mortar shopping, online shopping can look heavenly. You can buy a feathery pink robe whilst sipping bubbly in bed, bargain-search when enduring the 9 to 5, and scroll through lacey lingerie during lectures (but please don’t). And I can’t neglect to mention the late-night entertainment value of online reviews, my personal favourite being “These jeans made my ass look flat as a pancake, my husband asked if I’d been sitting all day”.

But online shopping is also The Capitalist’s wet dream. No wages, no rent, no worker’s comp, no deal breaker change-rooms and to seal the deal without the customer even having to swipe their card! What a steal. When coupled with the knowledge of notorious sweat shops, all this makes me ask: Who really is winning?

Online shopping has contributed to seismic shifts in the fashion world.  For one, online shopping is practically hand-feeding the “fast fashion” industry; the fashion equivalent to fast food which stresses speed and cheap production costs to deliver looks straight from the catwalk to your condo.  You might be aghast that I make such a distasteful comparison but the bitter truth is that the environment and exploited factory workers end up paying the real price. Online shopping has transformed the way we interact with fashion. Quantity has become more important than quality.  Now the perfect wardrobe is one that’s almost bursting at its’ hinges. When did it become normal to own more than ten pairs of jeans? Why do we engage in such mass consumption?

According to Greenpeace, every year 80 billion pieces of clothing are made worldwide and, believe it or not, 75% winds up incinerated or in landfills. When we shop online, we are so removed from the experience and no longer mindful of our consumption, that we make far more out of control and unnecessary purchases. When you don’t have the ‘try before you buy’ safety net, low and behold, you end up buying clothes that don’t fit and your giggly bits pop out. I can’t tell you how many times I have fallen in love at first sight with clothing on the rack, only to find in the change room I looked like a circus freak. But wait! You get to see models wear the clothes? Let’s be real, some of them would probably even look fabulous wearing fishnet bodysuits.

Is online shopping changing the way we interact with fashion? I think so. Through our clothing we communicate who we are. Fashion is a signifier of individuality, an outlet for creativity, an expression of the self. In a moment of weakness, I once impulsively purchased this mesmerizing red dress online from one of those questionable bargain basement priced sites. The following day I saw the exact same dress on a girl at uni. Throughout the month I saw it on three different people! So maybe the price we pay for buying ‘cheap’ clothes online is, in fact wearing ‘sheep’s’ clothes. Not to mention it appeared to age five years after one wash and the person who made it most likely earned an inconceivable fraction of its price.

Real shopping involves feeling fabric in between your fingers, bargain-hunting in boutiques and trying on ridiculously expensive gowns that you could never afford.  What are we doing when we engage in rampant consumerism and online shop too hard? We feed consumerism, materialism and contribute to wasted clothing. I think we ought to take some pointers from long-time fashionista Vivienne Westwood who once said, “Buy less, choose well and make it last”. So, shut your screens, stroll in a store and smell the fabric.

Cool ways to slow down your clothes consumption!

Susie Charkey

Susie is a retrophiliac who lives for vintage couture.

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