The Most Sustainable Idea In Fashion Is Personal Style

Pop Culture

The strangest thing about this very quiet New York Fashion Week was how disconnected it felt from last season’s environmentally conscious hullabaloo. Last fall, everyone yelled a little bit too loudly about sustainability. This season, people yelled a little bit too loudly about how New York Fashion Week was dead. The shift is strange because one answers the other: couldn’t a little pruning, a little quietude, a little more discretion about who should have a fashion show and why, help us solve the quandary of how to make fashion more sustainable, both as an environmental concern and as an industry?

Two designers told me things this fashion week that seemed like they had very little to do with those topics but that made me think about them in a whole new way. (Now that’s fashion at its best!)

One: Collina Strada designer Hillary Taymour said that she designs things that she hopes people will keep for years and years—and indeed, her sense for print and color, combined with her super-simple shapes, mean that her pieces can be worn in lots of different ways, and that even after years between the closet and the dry cleaner, they’ll still bring the zing that good clothes do. You could put those tie-dye pants with a kinda fancy jacket and go out on a date, or throw one of her short-sleeve crazy-printed button-downs under a suit at work. It’s all about dressing for joy—but doing that by making something truly your own, by making it a part of the wardrobe of your lifetime. (Yes, I am listening to Pure Moods while writing this!)

Two: I asked Rachel Comey how she starts designing a collection, and I was sort of taken back by how pragmatically she answered. “During the pre-spring season, it’s a lot of events,” she said, and I felt like a bonehead standing in the rain who’d asked if it was raining. “And, well, what if she doesn’t want to dress up in a dress? What if she wants to wear a suit and flats and still feel dressed up?” A lot of designers do a song and dance of inspirations—“‘Start Me Up’-era Mick Jagger meets the disciplined basket weaving styles of Edo period Japan!” or whatever—but Comey reminded me that there are a lot of really well-dressed people out there who are looking great simply by buying what they need.

Taken together, both sentiments made me realize that perhaps the only truly sustainable idea in fashion is developing personal style.

Here’s what I mean: the current climate of fast fashion and, for many men, hypebeastiality (hehe!), favors the look over the wardrobe, the moment over the long term. But personal style, not fashion, holds the greatest reward: it allows you to invest in yourself, rather than in a bunch of ideas about who you could or should want to be. The wardrobe has somehow become the least considered part of fashion, in part because a lot of people you see in fashion are borrowing things rather than really owning and wearing and loving them, and in part because we have learned to love and rely on a culture of nonstop novelty. We’ve taught ourselves that our clothing can only bring a sense of joy the first time we wear it. But there are ways to train yourself to love something every time you put it on. The real test for me is: can I put it on, forget about it for most of the day, remember I’m wearing it at 4 pm, and grin? If the thing is really great—and I promise you this—people don’t think, “I can’t believe he’s wearing that jacket again.” They think about how cool it looks on you—and about how envious they are that you have a signature, that you dress like you really know yourself.

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