Thursday, August 11, 2011

Slow Fashion, Bespoke Suits, and Wearable Art

The other day I stumbled upon a term that I had not heard of before: "Slow Fashion".  It was on an Etsy blog, The Tyranny of Trends, which offered an interesting perspective of how the fashion industry affects our global psychology, industry, and environment.  It's not a "gentle" article--it harshly lambasts society's desire for consumption--but it's perfect for Etsy, the internet's home for handmade goods and the 53rd most popular website in the world.

Clothing Bin of discarded clothing
at a Salvation Army in Nebraska
In the blog posting, they used the term "Slow Fashion" in reference to sustainable fashion that removes itself from trends and rises above the rapid shifts in style to prevail and last over a longer period of time.  Slow Fashion is the antithesis of Fast Fashion.  It doesn't rely upon the latest, coolest look to be sold.  It doesn't encourage rapid obsolescence so a consumer can purchase yet another item in the newest fad 3 weeks later.  In fact, it discourages it.  Slow Fashion is usually ecologically and construction conscious, made with pricier materials, and is therefore usually more expensive.  But it's built to last, and to be cherished for a longer period of time than something disposable from a Fast Fashion manufacturer.

This reminded me of yet another blog entry that I read about a company that is making made-to-order men's attire, Custom Men's Suits, i.e. "traditional tailoring."  The blog, Denver Bespoke, is written by a company in Denver, Colorado, that makes individual men's suits and explains what the difference is between their version of "custom tailoring" and the more contemporary (and manufacturing-influenced) understanding of what that term means.  It briefly describes how men's clothing, in particular, gradually become less individual and more streamlined and similar.  Suddenly men found themselves wearing very similar clothing.  VERY similar.

In fact, I'd venture to say that if a guy were to wear something outside of his perception of the the social norm, he'd feel he's taking a risk that simply isn't worth it.  Wearing clothing that has obvious individual flair is, for men, setting yourself outside the pack.  It's against a guy's instincts.  There's a line that most guys won't cross--a "hard deck" below which they feel they stop looking respectable and lose legitimacy.  That line varies for different people in different situations, but there's little worse for a guy than to be socially ostracized, which instinctually translates into being without a pack and therefore no future.  It's dangerous.  It's simply instincts.

As a general (and oversimplified) rule, men avoid bright colors except as punctuation or accent to their wardrobes when appropriate to the social parameters of individual situations.  If they wear clothing that is stylish or trendy beyond the norm, they usually belong to a social circle where it's potentially appreciated.  If they belong to a sub-culture (goth/punk, etc) the pressure to dress in a manner that demonstrates one's membership is even more overpowering.  If men take risks in their attire, they've usually decided they can handle the disparagement if they make a wrong choice, or their desire for their own preferences has over-ridden their deep-seated genetic instincts.  For as careless as men may seem regarding their appearance, underneath that haphazard disregard is a hard-wired concept of what they perceive is ultimately socially acceptable and what is not for their gender.

Perhaps women are better at handling a wider variety of styles and trends, somehow being more permissive and appreciative of difference in attire and variation.  I know that's a vast over-generalization, and I know that women struggle with their own burdens regarding appearance, judgement, disparagement, and acceptance.  But it is still overtly obvious to me that females have a much wider variety of socially acceptable garments than males do.  The option to wear attire from different cultures and still "fit in" in a wider variety of social situations is an example.  Cross-gender attire is another.  Jewelry, headwear, and shoes are all examples of types of garments where women having a wider socially-permissible variety of styles and trends to select from for their wardrobes.

It's logical that our instincts are driving our need to fit in by looking the part.  It makes sense that having the right garment and looking one's best settles a number of what Maslow called our Hierarchy of Basic Human Needs.  It's clear that the desire to belong and engender respect is deeply rooted in our psychology.

But do we, as a culture, need to give it so much credence?  Are we that insecure?  At what cost have we wrought such economic, environmental, and emotional havoc on our globe?  Haven't we learned that a person is more than the sum of their parts?  Haven't we learned that appearances can be deceiving?  What we wear informs others about who and what we are, true, but that's easily manipulated as well.  How informative is it?  Does it really legitimately tell us anything in the end?

Perhaps that time has come for us to embrace a slower pace of fashion.  Perhaps we should start considering that we can wear what we like, not what others tell us we need to in order to make them feel comfortable around us and secure of their own place in the "pack".  Perhaps it is finally time to stop our consumerist ways, and embrace our individual and unique wardrobes in a non-disposable manner, and as extensions of our own personalities not as connections to insecure and ever changing societal trends.  Is it really about us, or them?

Recognizing, embracing, and demanding one's own preferences is the first step in appreciating someone else's.  And when we can do that, imagine what possibilities open up to us!!  Maybe slow fashion is the beginning of that?  Who knows?

Until next time, Live Life with Relish!

Top image by kate* via Flickr.  Creative Commons License.
Middle image by hectorir via Flickr.  Creative Commons License.
Bottom image by henryjose via Flickr.  Creative Commons License.


  1. Absolutely wonderful post, Corey. I agree with you and like the notion of slow fashion but that comes from a long time hippie who wears nothing but jeans and tee shirts! My nod to fashion would be the hand made art piece, loved, worn or hung on the wall.
    Hope things are lovely in your world.

  2. Thanks, Susan! I absolutely agree with you--why bother wearing something you can get through a mass manufacturer when a unique, cherished piece says and means so much more? I think you hit the nail on the head. I'm starting to expand my wardrobe by making pieces for myself. I feel better when I wear something I made, you know? And that filters into everything.

    I'm starting to feel my instincts slowly shift from fitting in with the pack by looking similar, to fitting in by "standing out" or being individual. It's amazing how that simple mental shift can polarize people into two groups: the ones that find you actually threatening to their own comfort by your own presence reflecting on them, and those that can embrace your creativity and expression. It's interesting seeing it happen in person...

    Thinking back, that's sorta what happened (simplified, of course) with the hippies, didn't it? I think I might have been a hippie if I had been my parents age--I was born in '69 so I sorta missed it... hehe... But hey, I'm one of those "free-thinkin' liberal elitists" now, so I guess things haven't changed that much... Haha!

  3. I'm so sure that you know of this already, but looking at the fashions,especially the mens, at the Sartorialist photo site is so very interesting and inspiring!

  4. I actually subscribe to that, and you're right--they're amazing!!

  5. For more information and news about the Slow Fashion movement you can check out or sign the pledge to show your commitment to slow, local, sustainable style!

  6. I have been reading into this topic quite a bit recently, and I liked the fact that you brought the attention to the "natural instincts" of human kind to blend in. The notion of wearing sustainable clothing or reducing the number of pieces hanging in your wardrobe puts the environment in focus.Reduce your footprint.Yes.

    What about learning to be proud about who you are, what is your personal "fashion statement"? I really think that there are way too many chain stores that are offering the newest trends, creating a mass of fashion look-a-likes. But there are so many slow fashion brands out there! People should learn to appreciate hand made designs and one-of-a-kinds again. It seems that the fashion industry is shifting towards this trend, slowly. I personally love vintage fashion and fleamarkets, you can not only find some real gems but you also reduce the unnecessary shopping and do not support the H&M's and Primarks of the industry.


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