Clothes are going to get more expensive – and about time too

The end of cheap clothing is nigh, and bloody good riddance, say I.

The BBC is running a story today entitled ‘The end of cheap clothes is near‘.

It was obvious this was going to happen. With a worldwide rise in food prices, not only will everyone from east to west have to curb their clothes-buying to stretch the family budget, land that is currently producing cotton will turn back to food production as the prices for food crops increase.

Every which way, clothing is going to cost more to produce. Even third and second-world workers have seen wage rises over the past few years (gee – I thought they were going to eat straw forever), fertiliser costs are rising, and as transport costs increase because of the oil crisis, clothing will cost more to ship from production site to retail outlet. That means the price increase will be loaded onto individual garments at retail level, so we will be able to buy fewer of them.

Getting on my puritan high horse here, I can’t help thinking that a bit of this could be a very good thing. Spending has gotten totally out of control in the UK and – let’s face it – most women in the west have a problem of surplus clothing rather than not enough. ‘Not having a thing to wear’ isn’t due to there being nothing in the wardrobe, just to our crappy impulse-buying habits that fill our closets with unmatched crap that dates badly, wears out or doesn’t go with anything else.

Many women I know in London buy something new to wear every week. Some buy something almost every day. They pick up a new item at lunchtime like a sandwich, they have a bag for every outfit, they have 40 pairs of shoes. We have become individual Imelda Marcos’s.

In contrast, when I was growing up in the far-off days of the 1970s (in a working-class family), you expected to get a new coat maybe once a year. If you could, you stretched it further – my school uniform required a navy wool coat, which I wore every school day for the whole five years I was there, letting down the sleeves as I grew (marginally) taller. If you had older brothers and sisters, you got their hand-me downs as they grew out of them, and if you didn’t, friends and neighbours could be relied upon to pass around their kids’ barely-worn clothing so that some good would come of it. Most of all, you learned to be handy with a needle if you wanted to look more individual.

Nobody wants to go back to the days of – for instance – wartime rationing, but at times, a little necessity can be the mother of invention. If we all have to be a bit more careful about what we buy and how often, maybe women will relearn those good old habits of looking for quality of design and construction, a good fit and high-end materials. Maybe they’ll learn to ring the changes with accessories instead of whole outfits. Maybe they’ll learn to mix and match their clothing to wear the same thing in a different way, and end up with a small wardrobe of fully-co-ordinated clothing, every item of which they actually wear.

Well, I for one hope so…

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