Cultural Musings, Italy

Cultural Notes #2: Why cashmere is worth the price

noun_82222_cc“You have too many clothes” the boy said as I tried on my 10th outfit for our date. “I want to look good for you” I said, rather pathetically. It took six more tries before I found something that satisfied  me. Later, I began pulling out clothes from his closet. Four items of clothing had been bought in the last year; I had bought them all. In my own closet, 5% of my wardrobe is more than a year old; nothing is more than five years old.

Why is it that I cycle through my wardrobe so quickly? What is it that allows me to throw away so many clothes so frivolously? Could it perhaps be jealousy, a desire to be someone that I am not? What inspired you to buy the last piece of clothing that you bought? If you’re anything like me, someone probably caught your eye and made you want to look as good as they did.

Most fashion stores play on your desire to be someone else. In fact, Zara produces nearly 75% of its clothing based on what’s trending. If Madonna wears a white leather skirt, Zara will sell it in its stores 2 weeks later. But what happens to your clothes once you get tired of them, where will they go?

“I’ll donate it” you say. Someone in need will receive it. The truth is, Of the 2.5 billion pounds of clothes that Americans donate each year, as much as 80 percent gets sent overseas. Those “donations” have undermined Africa’s own textile industry. No tailor can compete with free clothes.  Many African cultures have become ”a used culture.” In Kampala, “to dress African, Ugandans have to have money.” (1) This has happened because of our voracious appetite for the newest, best and most fashionable items, overwhelming our local used-clothing market.

Perhaps we should start thinking about clothing as Italians, not as Americans. No one can deny that Italians are fashionable, but do they buy as much as we do? My shopping is fueled by a desire to be someone I am not. When I see someone well dressed, I spend hours online finding similar styles without even considering how they would look on me. I buy constantly until there is no room for any clothes AND I hate everything I own.

Why does this happen? For me, three tendencies affect these habits: 1. I spend very little money on clothing and therefore don’t feel wasteful when I throw it away a few months later 2. I buy on impulse and mostly in hopes of looking as good as other women 3. I have no relationship with any of the pieces.

Italians have taught me this: Buy less, spend more. A great principle in theory, but I can tell you, it takes effort to not click the “buy-now” button. Italians are fashionable because of how they shop. First, they shop for specifics and spend more money on few items. Secondly, Italians make sure to play up their assets. The survival of the tailoring tradition ensures clothes fit their bodies. Lastly, Italians spend much little time shopping.

I started the story with a boy, so I will end it with the same boy. The boy in question is Maltese. In the eight months I knew him, he bought the following items: 1. a bed 2. a bike 3. four pieces of clothing and 4. Magic cards. Of course, he spent money, but for him it wasn’t about tangible gains, it was about experiences. Money went to plane tickets, dinners, flowers for me, he invested in his life rather than  on his wish to be someone he wasn’t. If you’re going to buy clothing, spend the money, but if you can, resist and invest it in your experiences instead. After all, you’ll remember experiences when you are 50, not your clothes.

If you’re interested, here is the most informative article  I have found about the second clothing industry.

More thoughts on Italian fashion found herehere and here.

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