Juliet Schor, Clothes Encounters (October 2004)

(author of Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture, Scribner 2004)


        Schor loves clothes, enjoys shopping and likes to look fashionable

                  Won’t admit this to her env. friends who are fashion minimalists

        Fashion minimalism: Clothes are utilitarian objects whose presence in our lives should be tolerated grudgingly

        Americans buying (and throwing away) clothes at record rates

                  2002 average am consumer acquired 52 new items of basic apparel (from 42 in 1996)

                  Entered era of disposable clothing

                  Average household throws away 1.3 pounds of textile waste a week

                  A billion pounds of used clothing exported each year

        Rock-bottom prices explain this in part

                  .99 cent shirts at Old Navy

        Price decline due to

                  Relentless pressure on wages now as low a seven or eight cents an hour in some Asian countries

                  Unaccounted-for env. costs

                    -        Toxic chemicals used in nearly all dyes

                    -        Commercial cotton cultivation is pesticide intensive

                    -        overgrazing and desertification in Asia go along with falling price of cashmere

                                      Is $40 dollar cashmere sweaters a good thing?


        She rejects fashion minimalism because it

                  Trivializes clothes

                  Fails to comprehend our deep fascination with them

                  Clothing has been key to class struggles for social status

                    -        Individuals used fashion to construct own identity

                    -        Form short skits in the 20s as a way of flaunting conventional morality

                    -        1980s punks style as a statement against hypocrisy of mainstream culture

        Nothing shallow about expressing values through what one wears

                  Depends on the values? Or if one expresses values other ways too


        Clean Clothes Movement (in Europe) aims to express values of sustainability, justice and solidarity via clothes

                  Has resulted in some leading apparel chains committing to principles of labor rights and env. accountability

        Schor is a fashion maximalist

        Has a vision for clothes industry that includes

                  Re-localization of production

                  Growth of small-scale, designer-run workshops

                  Anchored in communities

                  Shift to higher-priced

                  More aesthetic garments

                  Made from sustainably produced, nontoxic fabrics

        “Investment apparel” she owns

                  Nicely tailored pants with invisible double button to accommodate fluctuating waistline

                  Sumptuous wool scarf doubles as a shirt or headwear

                  Custom made linen tops and bottoms sewn by local producer

                    -        Picks exact colors

                    -        Clothes fit perfectly

                    -        Repaired quickly and w/o cost

        Wants to show her friends can have personally expressive, ethically responsible wardrobe

        Not that contemporary consumers are too maternalistic, its that there not materialistic enough

                  When we choose disposability over respect, love, and commitment for the objects we fashion into our material world