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Is Fashion Canceled? (Op-Ed)

Reconciling the Desire to Dress Nice with the Pressures of Global Warming

As I was planning for this school year’s first fashion section, I came to a real practical issue. If I dressed models in clothing they already owned, I feared that the fashion section would be bland, as the clothes, while fashionable, would be too conventional to provoke audience interest. So, I considered purchasing more unique pieces to add some spice to the fashion section. I shot down this idea because I felt it would not be a sustainable method of designing outfits, as the new clothes would most likely end up in the back of a closet after photos were taken. I wondered if there was a way to engage with fashion while being environmentally responsible.

This dilemma led me down a philosophical rabbithole that I hope returning Palette readers will deem worthy of replacing the usual spread of fashion photography. Can fashion exist in the environmentally-conscious age?

Fashion, as a concept, takes something that is purely utilitarian and adds an artistic lens that requires clothing to not only “get the job done,” but also to satisfy a frivolous set of aesthetic criteria. Fashion ingrains a false sense of necessity in consumers by adding unnecessary qualifications to their wardrobe. Instead of practical, need-motivated purchases, society allows itself to fall into an endless cycle of overconsumption. When one is motivated by style, suddenly every occasion is cause for a new dress, and every new pair of pants needs a matching set of shirt and shoes.

As society comes to terms with the consequences of overconsumption, concerned consumers try their best to mitigate the issue, but viable solutions are limited. Many environmentalists preach the benefits of “thrifting” as a means of buying sustainably. While this certainly aids the fight against overconsumption, the fact of the matter is that buying used clothes is not a sustainable method of purchasing clothing in the long term, especially if wearing current fashion trends is a top priority. Most people want to buy new clothes, and realistically it takes far too long to find a garment in a thrift store that is the appropriate size, clean, and not printed with tacky designs. “Thrifting” will not defeat overconsumption in the fashion industry. Real change requires the acknowledgement of overconsumption and reframing how society approaches buying clothes. 

Fashion operates on the notion that clothes are an artistic pursuit, where one can have fun and express oneself. Thus, one’s buying habits are not motivated out of necessity and a desire to clothe oneself in the most efficient manner. So even if clothing is produced in a more environmentally-conscious way, the demand for clothing will remain extremely high because people buy clothes out of want. People want a lot. There is no way to buy sustainably and pursue stylistic desires unless one simply buys less. 

But don’t you fret. This is not the end of the fashion section. I, like most of you, am not willing to entirely surrender my vices to the impediments presented by the earth’s rise in temperature. I will just have to come to terms with a disturbing reality: leading a fashionable life nowadays simply means acknowledging that one’s interests are sometimes harmful, and sometimes sacrifices need to be made to release oneself from the guilt of setting the planet ablaze. Next steps after recognizing this inherent issue vary, but, ultimately the balance between prioritizing one’s desires and the moral responsibility to preserve the planet is up to each of us to decide for ourselves.

Instead of practical, need-motivated purchases, society allows itself to fall into an endless cycle of overconsumption.

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