Why We Should Pay Far More for Clothes

CC BY 2.0. Mike Mozart

A fashion reporter argues for the creation of a minimum spending limit when buying new clothes.

Shopping for new clothes is a pleasurable experience for most people. It feels good to acquire stylish new items for one’s wardrobe, especially when those clothes don’t cost much. But as soon as shopping means handing over hefty sums of money that really gouge your wallet, the experience becomes less pleasurable and more painful.

This mercurial relationship between buying and paying is at the root of an interesting suggestion made by Quartz’s fashion reporter Marc Bain. Bain has set himself a goal of spending at least $150 whenever he wants to add something new to his wardrobe. This amount – which would vary from person to person – has to be enough to “make you sweat a little.”

“It causes me to seriously hesitate, which is the real point. It forces me to think about just how much I want that item of clothing, how much I’ll wear it, and whether I think the value it offers is worth a significant cost. Importantly, $150 is also enough that I can’t make these purchases all the time, at least not without sacrificing elsewhere or going broke. It’s an investment, rather than the cheap buzz of getting something new.”

Bain is concerned about the effects of fast fashion. When clothes are cheap and you can find t-shirts for $8 and jeans for $20, it’s difficult for shoppers to resist the urge to stock up – not because they particularly like an item or need it or think it’s well-made, but because it makes them feel good. It provides immediate gratification.

By buying into this broken system, though, we perpetuate the countless problems that wrack the fashion industry, making it the second most polluting industry on the planet after fossil fuels. Polluting dyes and tanning chemicals, excessive landfill waste, plastic microfiber pollution in the oceans, cotton fields that poison the surroundings and require huge amounts of water, not to mention the rampant abuse of garment workers, who are usually poverty-stricken women working long hours, separated from their families, are just a few of the problems that afflict the fashion industry.

Buying expensive items does not solve all these problems; in many cases, you risk paying a huge markup just for a brand name. But it can help you to buy less, to stop treating clothes as disposable items, designed like a thin shirt from H&M; or Zara to be worn maybe five times before stretching out, getting stained, and ultimately tossed.

Depending on how much your minimum limit it is, you could also afford to explore ethical fashion picks, which cost more than conventional items, but that’s because the workers are paid fair wages, the pieces may be handmade, or the cotton is organic. (TreeHugger has featured lots of cool designers and ethical fashion picks over the years, so check those out.) Bain has also been inspired by Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

“By forcing myself to seriously consider my purchases, I’ve been more likely to buy clothes I genuinely like and appreciate, rather than accumulating low-cost impulse buys.”

He says, since setting this goal, that his clothes are noticeably better made and he likes them more.