Why it's time to quit bad clothes and raise your standards.
Professional women in the U.S. have high expectations. We are Girl Bosses, Feminists, Pro-Agists, living our best lives. We demand respect, to be seen and valued. We quit bad jobs and bad people.
So why can’t we quit bad clothes?
Our clothes have a direct impact on the relationship we have with our bodies. (For many of us, that’s a tricky one, at best.)
Yet we give the fashion industry a pass when it comes to the baseline standards of respect that we demand in other areas of our lives.
Clothing affects our self image
The clothes we wear affect how we feel about ourselves, our sense of dignity and self-worth.
With that in mind, ask yourself: Do your clothes treat your body with respect? Do they make you feel good? Do they keep the promises they made when you bought them?
Or do they let you down after you take them home? Do they remind you of your flaws and make you feel bad? Do they hurt you?
When you think about it, bad clothes can be just as damaging to our self-worth and self-identity as a bad relationship. Why do we put up with this?
A One-Sided Conversation
It's not our fault. It's a matter of who holds the power.
Millions of American women tacitly accept terrible treatment from their clothes, all their lives. We internalize the problem, blaming our “flawed” bodies for why we don’t feel better about how we look. We never stop to consider that the problem might be … the clothes.
The apparel industry would have us believe that it’s the quantity and variety of clothing that we should care about -- how many styles we own, how frequently we get new ones, and how on-trend they are.
Furthermore, they perpetuate the fallacy that our bodies shouldn’t have any curves, or ever change size or shape. Through all the inevitable changes of life–children, age, health challenges--they'd like us to believe we are all supposed to maintain their cookie-cutter industry standard measurements and ratios.
After all, it's easier for them.
Meanwhile, the quality of their products (fit, fabric, and fabrication) and they way those clothes look on real bodies -- is largely ignored. It's something the mass market apparel brands would rather not talk about. Why? Because they thrive on selling more volume, more frequently. With few exceptions, they don’t want to make high quality pieces that last for years. That would cut deeply into their profits. They thrive on the fact that you don't notice how quickly their seams rip and their fabrics pill and fade. Instead, they quickly roll out new colors to keep you distracted from the lack of value in your closet.
We Get The Treatment We Allow
Women’s fashion is a market sector that has been egregiously slow to recognize and meet the needs of tens of millions of its customers—including women aged 50+, diverse and curvy body types, and plus sizes.
High fashion ignores women who are aged 50 or above, are curvy or plus-size. (That's 70% of the adult female population in the U.S.) What other $500B industry ignores 70% of its customers?
And yet, like captives with Stockholm syndrome, many of us think the apparel industry is our friend. We gush about new trends each season, taking their side against our own gut instincts that tell us, “this doesn’t feel good on my body, this doesn’t look good on me.” We deny our authentic reactions and instead eagerly hand over our money out of FOMO and the temporary hit of dopamine from buying something new.
Then we go home and stow our purchases in our closets next to the other 80% of clothes we don’t wear. Daily, we choose between two evils: pain equals beauty, or comfort equals ugly. Either we strap ourselves into constrictive shapewear and clothes so we can look good in the cheaply made clothes (all the while loathing ourselves for having normal bodies with healthy objections to the uncomfortable tightness). Or we throw on the shapeless, soft things that feel good and unsuccessfully try to hide. Either way, we lose. We punish ourselves for how we feel, or for what we see in the mirror.
Meanwhile, we never see the actual perpetrators of both of these fashion crimes: bad clothes, poorly designed, made from cheap fabric, shoddily constructed.
Better Standards *Are* Possible
The generally low quality of mass market fashion in the US is due to companies’ increasing efforts to cut costs and speed up production to sell more. For far too long, female consumers have taken the hit for this by accepting the status quo.
It *is* possible for apparel companies to design and make clothes that are both comfortable and beautiful on your body. (That's the body you have right now, no extreme interventions required.)
It *is* possible for stylish clothes to be versatile, easy to care for, and to last a long time. Once upon a time, that was the norm.
We just need to start expecting it, and accepting nothing less.
It’s time we recognized that clothes are an investment that should return real value, emotionally and financially. Our clothes can work harder for us. They should not merely provide coverage, but should also promote comfort and health in how they fit and feel, and deliver lower lifetime cost-per-wear. Ideally, clothes should be our emotional allies, allowing us to focus on our lives while making us look and feel like the best version of ourselves: at ease, well-dressed, and confident.
How to Raise Your Expectations
The good news is that change is coming. New, independent brands are popping up in the U.S. every day. Many are small businesses founded by women taking matters into their own hands to fill unmet needs that the apparel industry continues to ignore. Forward-thinking customers are learning that “buying less, buying better” pays off.
What can you do? Next time you feel the need some self-care, skip the mani-pedi and instead invest in a high-quality, well-designed, made-to-last piece of clothing. Quit buying throw-away-and-replace clothing that doesn’t work for your body. Search online for your specific needs and interests to find independent brands who care about the same things.
It’s time to elevate your wardrobe, and demand more from your clothes. You work hard, and your clothes should, too.
Shopping tips for taking your wardrobe power back:
Start with clothes made in the USA, which are generally higher quality than most imports. You can find lots of innovative, woman-founded brands which are authentic and passionate about solving problems, as well as small, sustainable independent companies with low climate impact.
Check the care and content labels. You want to invest in high quality fabrics that have a tighter weave and heavier weight. (You shouldn't be able to see through it.) Natural fibers such as cotton, wool, linen, and bamboo are more comfortable, breathable, and longer lasting. Higher quality fabrics will usually be easier and less expensive to care for, think machine-washable and not dry clean only.
Look for careful, neat construction. Check for symmetry in the product, and for more seams, rather than fewer. Look for curved seams (not straight) that are designed to fit and flatter natural curves better. And finally, look for bound seams; they prevent fraying and catching, and won’t poke or scratch.