Fast fashion democratized fashion. By allowing us to buy clothes reflecting the latest trends, it gave more people access to interesting wearable design. It also allowed fashion itself to become more customer-driven, by increasing the number of people able to express their opinion with their buying power. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I remember fashion itself as moving more quickly in my youth; hemlines, pant-leg widths, colors – all of these lived and died dramatically, particularly in Italy (at one point our school uniform was forced to change simply because of the impossibility of sourcing grey clothing in a country which had deemed it over). Even the most conservative clothing could look dated from one year to the next, so the market was driven, to an extent, by trends. Now no one could argue that the market is not driven by trends, but it also seems to me (possibly biased by my middle-aged perspective) that there is a certain amount of static; it doesn’t matter how many fashion journalists decree skinny jeans to be over, if people keep buying them. Instead of all suddenly adopting pencil skirts and nothing else, when they reappeared, we just incorporated them into all the other iterations of skirt already in our closets. I’m sure that if I was a 17 year old, I’d argue that the latest shape and color were crucial, but even then, the more frantic fast fashion seems to be a subset unto itself, aimed at teenagers’ pocket money, designed to be thrown away.
Somehow, though, fast fashion ate the world, including itself. Recently I read an article in the New York Times which made me despair, but which also underlined the ways in which the economic power of fast fashion is no longer about the joy of clothes, but plugs firmly into its other hydra head – social insecurity. But where so much heavily-logoed merchandise is a signifier of wealth (or credit), this is the opposite – if you are buying clothes to be shown-off once only, on Instagram, then there is (perceived) merit in spending as little as possible, especially as the item of clothing is badly made, of plastic derivatives, and no doubt involved a deal of human suffering, somewhere far away.