'How to Break Up with Fast Fashion' Calls for a Slower, Saner Approach to Shopping

We can't keep consuming the way we do, and this book presents good alternatives.

thrift shopping
A woman shops in a second-hand shop.

Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

Have you ever found yourself in a clothing store and wondered why you're there? Perhaps you're a hot sweaty mess, in an awful lineup, late for an appointment, tired or hungry, and suddenly the whole situation feels absurd. You know deep down you shouldn't be spending money on clothes, but you want to because you're more bored than anything, and buying pretty new clothes just feels so good!

It might be time for a ban on fast fashion—or at the very least, a new approach to buying clothes. That is where Lauren Bravo's new book comes in handy. Titled "How to Break Up with Fast Fashion: A Guilt-Free Guide to Changing the Way You Shop—For Good" (Headline Home, 2020), it is meant both to educate fashion lovers in the many evils of the industry they love and to empower them to break their less-than-favorable consumption habits in favor of better ones.

The "guilt-free" caveat in her subtitle is key, however. Bravo recognizes that clothes are a necessity, as well as a form of identity and creative expression for many individuals, so they're not going away. Rather, we can learn to buy in ways that create less harm for the environment, our bank accounts, our mental wellbeing, and the distant garment workers who make the clothes.

To achieve this, Bravo delves into the benefits of vintage, consignment, and thrift shopping (and how to do it effectively), of fast-growing fashion rental companies, of community clothing swaps and the value in sharing clothes among immediate friends and family. 

She lists and interviews various social media influencers who are prioritizing rewear and repair, showing others how to get more looks with fewer pieces, buying second-hand, and supporting sustainable and ethical labels—which, Bravo feels compelled to point out, have come a long way from the scratchy beige sack dresses that used to be most commonly associated the category. But admittedly it hasn't yet come all the way, with much ethical fashion focused on "boring sustainable staples," rather than the "flamboyant, sassy, flirty, outlandish, camp, disco-fabulous or unabashedly feminine" pieces many of us want. Bravo writes,

"Look, I understand that there are practical and logistical reasons ethical clothes can't look exactly the same as the ones in Zara, but I also kind of don't. If the food scientists can make vegan burgers that bleed, surely the ethical fashion pioneers should be able to give us the clothes we really want to wear? Ethically."

At times the book feels more like an excuse for a comedic romp through Bravo's own shopping escapades than a how-to guide. She is clearly a devoted fashionista who lives and breathes clothes. This makes her year-long ban on fast fashion shopping (which she did in 2019) all the more impressive, but one gets the impression she wasn't lacking for options in the meantime. Her descriptions of past shopping adventures and wardrobe malfunctions are indeed humorous—there were times I laughed out loud—but occasionally it feels like a diversion from the main message of the book. 

Still, it is nice to know that the author of a book like this understands the allure of the shop, the hunt, and the thrill that comes with any new addition to one's closet. You read feeling safe in the knowledge that she won't ask you to do anything impossible.

Throughout the book Bravo offers tips for better shopping habits. These ones stood out for me:

1) Shop alone

Don't take friends along because shopping partners will cloud your judgment. They'll almost always say "yes" when you ask if you should buy something "because it's what we do, particularly as women. We validate each other. We enable."

2) Never go shopping unless you're well-dressed and feeling great

You're asking for trouble if you hit a shop in sweatpants with week-old unwashed hair. Bravo cites writer and stylist Aja Barber, who says, "You're more like to take home a purchase you don't need." But when I wear my nicer clothing to go shopping, I compare what I'm trying on to what I'm already wearing. If the quality isn't a match, it doesn't go home with me."

3) Name 3 items you already own that will go with the new piece

This was Bravo's mother's rule, and it must be applied before the purchase is made. "If you force yourself to identify the role a new purchase will play in your life before you buy it, you can keep continuity up and wild aspirations down." It will also train you to incorporate pieces into your wardrobe, which is a dwindling skill these days. We have a tendency to shop for items in isolation: "And because we don't know how to put things together, we think we have nothing to wear."

4) Remember that clothes are auditioning for you, not the other way around

"Don't waste your time on the ones that aren't trying hard enough." Always remember that there are far more fabulous pieces in the world than you could ever possibly try on, so if something is less than fabulous, forget it and move on.