Thursday, 9 October 2008

The credit crunch / the recession / the impending depression / the end is nigh

Curious that as the media blare shock-and-awe headlines about the credit crunch, fashion is unapologetically back on the mainstream radar. Compare fashion coverage seven or eight years ago with the frenzy now. [Maybe this has something to do with fast fashion, Topshop, Primark, the accessibility of good design etc]. I remember as a teenager feeling awkward among my peers for liking Fashion with its designers, fashion houses and iconic history, while my friends were more tribal about the clothes they wore.

Now fashion is in fashion again [is that like black being the new black?]. Every day it's all over the free London papers and the TV [Gok, the Fashion Show, the incoming Frock Me with Alexa & HH], and every teen seems to know her Miuccia from her Marc Jacobs [and own some of it, too. Jesus!]

And as governments bail out reckless bankers, on we shop, from Primark bargains upwards. Meanwhile the fashion press contextualise clothes economically, analysing designers' responses to the crunch via their collections, and telling us how to style and save at the same time.

But UK Elle's November issue is the proverbial straw on my imaginary camel's poor overloaded back. I can deal with repetition of a theme, but I can't deal with being sold idiocy under the guise of 'top tips!!'. The running theme is 'beating the credit crunch', bargain shopping, sneaky savings etc; timely and helpful, one might think. Sadly, quite the opposite, to a laughable degree.

They're not encouraging us to stride defiantly into our nearest Tiffanys and and load jewelled diadems on our cards. Nor are there helpful ideas to maintain some style when all your money is going on bills and basics. No 'More Dash Less Cash' here.

Rather, empty & idiotic advice; the hypocrisy of encouraging a fashionista spending habit under the guise of saving money. Plenty of us do this, but I don't need to read journalism to the same effect, without writers even questioning why. Their advice is the equivalent of giving someone a fiver and asking for five pounds change.

If November Elle is a joke, the punchline sees their Mademoiselle columnist venture into Zara [a little-known, backwater boutique the eagle-eyed among you might know] for the first time in years and registers surprise at their stock and prices. These people live on another planet.

Buying a K by Karl Lagerfeld sweater because a diffusion range is cheaper [an actual Elle tip] than the main line is not saving money! Nor is buying £135 men's indoor slippers instead of a pair of shoes, or a new bag because, thrills!!!, you can use it both day and night. I know they have to be seen to sell, but not one shred of their style advice this issue practically encourages the reader to spend less or observes that fashion can be fun without costing much.

Vogue has never made any pretence about affordable fashion - they separated the cheap from the luxe with their occasional Cheap'n'Chic features, and are thoroughly and honestly aspirational - and a good read for it. By contrast, and of all the real glossies, Elle always seemed like the credible, accessible option - couture here, high street there. If they want to encourage people to lavish their way through the current times, fine, but this kind of journalism is insulting.

A double page spread about the psychology of shopping in the high street supplement, based on an Elle survey, notes that despite the crunch, we're shopping as much as ever. The tagline led me to hope it might explore why we all seem so shopping addicted, and ways of replacing it with a less costly kick. Sadly not. Just a handful of statistics and cheerful 'Off you shop!' encouragement.

It can be done, and it can be done well, from individual blogs to mainstream TV. I liked the observations over at Make Do and Mend, on the reality of living on a real budget [as opposed to a diffusion-range-only budget] and how she does it, and Twiggy's Frock Exchange on BBC2 the other night, if a bit WI-esque and sugary, proved a joyful hour of swapping, out-of-town thrifting and reinventing, with not a penny spent by the 100 women that participated.

If Elle let me write an article on saving money, I'd advise:

- sample sales through Fashion Confidential et al
- recon high street missions - as soon as you see the new season's clothes, if you must shop, hit the high street with no cash/cards, just a notepad and camera. Try things on, note who does the best versions of high-end clothes, note prices, and work out what you really need.
- smalltown charity shops [and charity/2nd-hand stores if you happen to be abroad too - almost always cheaper than UK ones]
- identifying what you will never wear again. What you can't sell on eBay/thriftstoreuk etc, alter - especially if you'd have thrown it away anyway. Success = new clothes, failure = nothing lost.
- part-exchanging good quality unwanteds for vintage goodies in shops like Bang Bang
- clothes-swap parties with similarly-shaped friends
- learn to dye your clothes [practice on unwanted bits], choosing and mixing subtle hues to avoid the limited high-street palette
- make clothes if you can, or befriend the dressmakers/tailors in your local dry cleaners. [I did this tonight, potentially to great effect.]

It's not exactly rocket-science, but when Elle's advice amounts to 'spend hopelessly and pretend you didn't', I wonder how much grasp they have on common sense.


enc said...

They don't seem to have much sense, do they? I'd be flabbergasted if they did go "Make Do," like the rest of us have.

You gave good suggestions to those who want to make smart decisions during a tough time.

Make Do and Mend said...

Not that I'm biased but a brilliant observation and post! did you read the Lorraine Candy slumming it in high street wear in Observer Women mag. Then you'd know why Elle are on a different planet - shame though.
I expect to see a rise in notepadded camera wielding peeps!

althea said...
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Charponnaise said...

enc - I don't understand, with the competition they have from other magazines, how they can run not one piece but a whole issue like that, and expect to be taken seriously by their readership - young women, a huge proportion of whom will be independent, working women with at least a basic grasp of their finances. Frequently they run 'does this sound like you?' articles about women who can't control their spending; and now of all times they're encouraging exactly that. It's jawdropping and insulting.

make do and mend - Indeed I did read it, and linked from your page in fact. A more interesting piece. On the one hand it's a insight into how other women's expectations & reactions to each other affect how we dress and spend. On the other, it still strikes me that if you need to buy designer to look suitably stylish/directional, you've lost your way a bit. One of the most stylish women I know, a close friend of mine, always looks elegant and very striking, and she rarely shops above H&M prices. Much high-end fashion justifiably costs more [though Lacroix's 4 plastic bangles for £800 nearly floored me], but remarkable style does not!

Ohhhh. I'm ANNOYED. In fact in an attempt to curb my spending, perhaps I should stop buying Elle for a while.

Sister Wolf said...

I love it when the US Vogue does profiles about how the high society women are learning to live "more simply." It reads like satire.

Charponnaise said...

In their defence, it takes a steel will and some serious character to downsize your staff to one nanny, one personal shopper and one manicurist. We must all do our bit.

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Dressed and Pressed said...

Brilliant post. I've been thinking along the same lines per shopping lately and I'm definitely buying a lot less, the upshot is that I'm getting a lot more creative with my wardrobe and what I do have and less likely to buy stuff just because it's shiny and new.

I think there is growing movement of people who are now embracing the "Slow Shopping" ethic (is it an ethic yet?) to coin Make Do's phrase and I think it will bring about some really interesting developments in the times ahead.

Shini said...

great post, I enjoyed thoroughly your tips on saving - it should directly be published somewhere that can make a difference really. For now I plan to boycott purchasing Vogue or Elle, all I see nowadays is less of fashion as art but fashion as way to sell bucks...
Loving your blog btw, I've had yet to find a UK based blogger with some noteworthy critiques.

Gillian said...

Your blog is aces - are you on LJ?

I am so glad someone else feels this way. The Evening Standard is worse for this - 'Some things in London are free! Like museums and things! You don't need to take cabs, you can take the tube!'

Your suggestions are excellent - I use the camera one for books a lot, or if I see an idea while out that I can use to customise my own clothes. Particularly in Topshop - when did it get so expensive?