How Fast Fashion Ruined My Self-Esteem

by: Kat Patrick | 6 months ago | Features

The author of this article also really, really loved Arsenal FC. Image Kat's own!

When I was a kid pretending not to be queer, the high street was where I lost myself every weekend. Just near the small suburb where I grew up was another, bigger suburb that had become a town when a shopping mall was built and a train station reopened. It was deliciously sprawling, low-lying and next to a dirty river fringed by cafes selling chardonnays and chicken pesto pasta. Each Saturday I’d disappear into it, dropped off by my Mum on the fancy, Victorian bridge, left with a bit of pocket money and a consumer stamina that could last hours. Browsing Green Day CDs, glossy magazines and brand new clothes before sitting in McDonalds for a ‘well-earned’ rest. Wow. It felt so, so good.

This anecdote makes me sound old. I mean, I am old-ish, but any kind of life before online shopping feels like centuries ago. This was an era of cappuccinos and MSN Messenger. A time when I’d plan nothing and buy everything: boob tubes, GAP hoodies and Hard Rock Cafe tees. Peak capitalism, I guess; a great time to be grappling with sense of self. You could easily shop your way into a new identity; that was the whole point. I buried my queerness in Tammy, H&M, Topshop and Zara when it finally opened. (The GAP hoodie was pretty gay, but people only noticed after the fact.) Saturday evening I’d spend time in-front of the mirror with my new purchases, cheap and uniquely gratifying, enjoying the reflection of someone less weird, someone a little more like everyone else.

Fast fashion, and the rapid-fire trends it spurred, was a sexy nightmare. Every mannequin styled in a shop window offered a dangerously normal idea of who you could become. The ‘right’ pair of crappily made jeans made sure you didn’t stand out at the sleepover party. Being a tween is really difficult and fast fashion knows that all too well. It plays into the idea that sameness is success, or maybe more specifically: that standing out for the wrong reasons is failure, with the industry articulating those wrong reasons at every turn. As someone who was already grappling with the idea that they didn’t feel like everyone else, it amplified my impulse to hide everything about who I was and then gave me the outfit I needed to make sure it stayed hidden.

This meant that it took a long, long time for me to come to terms with anything about myself. While I obviously can’t blame fast fashion for keeping me in the closet, it certainly made sure that the closet was full of matching jeggings and, briefly, a couple of pairs of high-heeled Sketchers. The metaphor is kinda real: I was covering up who I was.

Trends are unavoidable but they don’t have to be evil. How we dress should be an articulation of how we feel, and that makes fast fashion counter-intuitive. The pressure to buy their version of your identity is ruthless and, quite literally, destroys lives. When I finally came out I experimented for a while with more GAP hoodies amongst other hoodies, until I found a way to feel comfortable. Like, really comfortable. Loose pants and tees in tender fabrics, vintage denim and a unique blend of second-hand Oxford shirts and posh new ones. The best part? I don’t even shop as much anymore because I finally feel like me. Yay!

 

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