Fashion and Economy

Luxury Lunacy

Capsule wardrobes, Primark hauls and everything in between. How do our fashion buying habits echo the socio-economic climate we live in?

Some people like to be swaddled in the safety blanket of a routine existence, supported by stacks of savings and carefully considered decisions…

I am not one of those people.

Until last year when I was struck by a lightning bolt sent down from the Gods of Sortyerlifeout and consciousness filled my mindless body, when it came to money, my philosophy was always spend, spend, spend. Managing a budget in the office – yes, managing a budget in real life – no.

I’d always had a strong aversion to checking my bank balance and it didn’t really matter what our socio-economic climate was looking like, or how far I was digging into my overdraft;  I would still splurge half a month’s wage on a pair of Valentinos, spend my weekends fondling vintage textures in second hand stores and could still be found at Zara three times a week handing over crisp notes in exchange for a wardrobe top-up.

Although I may be a little on the extreme side, having worked in the fashion and retail sector for over a decade and paid close attention to shopping habits, I knew that I was not suffering my fashion addiction alone.

Although there are, of course, some subtle shifts in consumer behaviour during a recession or an economic boom, the majority of reports show that fashion is one of industries least impacted by the state of the economy.  

During a downturn, we’ll see a very slight reduction in our fast fashion purchases while we keep tight hold of our treats. We might live on carrot sticks and hummus for a few months if it means we can still get our hands on a pretty new frock for Friday night.

But because it’s a recession, we won’t buy as often as we would normally. We’ll cut back to maybe just one outfit per week. And then if we’re shopping less we might as well make it something more of a treat, so we’ll slowly start sliding up the scale of luxury away from Primark and further towards Prada.

There’s an anecdote from Hannah Kaspar, the Heritage Manager at Smythson’s of Bond Street, a luxury leather company founded in London in 1887 that perfectly sums up the lunacy of luxury when times are hard.

She said that “During the Second World War, the shop was only allowed to open for two hours a day and there were often queues outside the door. Even when there was rationing for everything else, people still wanted their Smythson diaries.”

Bombs were being dropped, sirens were sounding and people were living off a few ounces of butter, a couple of lashings of bacon and half a loaf – yet they’d queue up round the block to get themselves a luxury leather journal.

During a decline, the preciousness of things is elevated and luxury not only survives, it thrives.

You can see it now in China – the world’s second largest economy with the world’s largest population. While the Chinese economy continues to grow faster than many others, its pace of growth is slowing dramatically compared to previous years and a reduction in spend is being seen across a broad range of industries, from cars to computers to construction.

But in the luxury fashion and beauty world sales are rocketing as their fashion-loving Gen Zers Insta-barge their way through the recession with a Chanel bag on each arm.

There’s just something about fashion that makes it the last thing we want to give up when pocket money is low. It’s emotional. It’s so deeply intertwined with who we are and how we project ourselves out into the world that we’ll find a way to fund it no matter what.

As the UK now battles with the will-we, won’t-we’s of Brexit, I guess purse strings here may tighten a little but on a positive note, this could and should help to strengthen the conscious fashion movement.

As frugality kicks in, we’ll become more cautious with our spending and therefore more conscious. We’ll make sure our precious purchases are sustainable and we’ll go in search of brands that align with our values.

The lunacy of luxury will be a vehicle for positive change. We’ll buy less, we’ll choose well and we’ll make it last.

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