Fashion in the Fast Lane

By Veronica Phillips


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You know this scene, every college girl does. You walk into the brightly lit store and you’re instantly greeted by racks of clustered clothes and cluttered hangers. Tween girls are running around in Nike shorts and laughing into their phones, while a Katy Perry remix buzzes through the air.

Those first few steps are so neck-jerkingly stressful that you immediately do a pivot turn and exit the store. A week later you repeat the process, maybe making it a few more steps into the fitting rooms, hoping you’ll unearth a dream closet assembled for under $30.

Yes, Forever 21 offers an entire into the world of fast fashion and its weekly rotating trends. How have we sunk so easily into this superstore quicksand? Through our social media habits, celebrity-obsessed culture, and lack of satisfaction with wearing our favorite shirt twice.

“Fast fashion” defines the short length of time it takes for a catwalk trend to reach mainstream stores. Brands like Urban Outfitters, H&M,Zara and TopShop are all examples of mass-produced lines classified as fast fashion. Competitor sales might spur this fast-paced mentality, however, self-competition might be another factor. Brands funnel out runway styles so regularly it forces store management to rotate the racks every three days.

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As shoppers, we often buy into the thrill of purchasing “new” goods. As a culture, we are obsessed with anything “new” in general. In my opinion, this is why social media flourishes. Social outlets like Facebook and Twitter thrive on our obsession with new trends. Because fashion and celebrities are constantly new and trendy, the cogs of fast fashion and social media react and spin off one another.

For instance, if you post a picture of yourself with a group of friends to Instagram — and you’re wearing a favorite green dress in the photo, the chances of your posting another picture in that same dress are slim to none. Why? Once it’s published the image is no longer new and fresh.   

The ultimate question, however, seems to be who in influencing whom. Does fast fashion cater to the hanger-snatching needs of our fast-paced society, or does it accelerate the rate at which we make our trips to the mall?

Levy Palmer is a London-based designer with a successful line of fashion-forward clothing for both men and women.  He believes that fast fashion discourages good design. “Fast fashion destroys fashion,” Palmer says. “In three weeks you throw it out and don’t like it. But if you love fashion, then you invest money in it and it lasts forever.”

The difference between mass-produced and luxury garments lies in the quality of the goods. There’s no comparison between a button-down blouse from Neiman Marcus and one purchased at Charlotte Russe. The shirts may be identical in cut and color — but made from two vastly different materials. The price reflects the quality and ultimately how long the shirt will durably remain in your wardrobe.

But Chelsea Bell, fashion professor and freelance designer, notes that consumers wield real power in the fashion wars. “It’s a big industry,” she says. “The only way the cycle will end is if consumers break it with their buying power.”

Have we bought into the thought that we no longer own this power? Do we continue to shop these name brands based on convenience and pricing? Maybe it’s time we start considering these factors before we hand over our credit cards. Maybe it’s time we slow the pace, savor our purchases and dare to wear our favorite shirt a second time.   


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