MThe favorite pair of black pants came from Jigsaw almost five years ago. I can quote them because I was on my way to the theater to see the Frances McDormand movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which I remember because I left the bag containing them under my seat at the theater and had to jump off the bus and run back, and Google tells me that the film was released in January 2018. I think they cost around £60.
I paid less than that for the ivory silk shirt I’m wearing with them today, which I bought from Marks & Spencer in 2016 from a collection curated by Alexa Chung. My leather belt is from Gap and may well be older than either of my kids, one of whom is in college.
There’s nothing unusual about this outfit, except that we’ve come to think of streetwear as a waiting dump. The average garment is only worn 10 times before being thrown away, according to the 2018 Pulse of the Fashion Industry report by the Global Fashion Agenda and Boston Consulting Group. Research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation suggested that the average number of attrition before phase-out was lowest in the US, then China, followed by Europe and then the rest of the world. The exact figures are, for obvious reasons, difficult to pin down, but what is clear is that the number of times a piece is used has decreased by approximately 36% over the past 15 years.
Such shocking statistics rightly highlight a pressing problem, but they do not tell the whole story. Telling only the stories of clothes being thrown away risks giving the impression that street fashion is inevitably disposable. If we shrug our shoulders and accept the idea that only expensive designer clothes are made to last, we normalize the treatment of street fashion, the only option on the vast majority of budgets, as a disposable option.
But there’s another story, one that’s illustrated by a rummage through my closet, where designer clothes and streetwear rub shoulders. The beaded chiffon Dior dress I bought at the Bicester Village store for my 40th birthdayth The birthday party hangs between a Kate Moss for Topshop 2014 number with ostrich feather embellishments on the shoulder and the & Other Stories LBD with a deep faux fur band at the hem that fashion party people assume is Prada.
My shoe closet has Choos and Manolos, but for the Fashion Awards last week I reached, as I often do, for Russell & Bromley’s classic black patent flats, which I’ve had forever and are reliably comfortable.
This is not just me. Lucinda Chambers, founder of online shopping site Collagerie, has an archive of designer names built up over 25 years as Vogue’s fashion editor, but also “a Mango bag that I look after as if it were my firstborn”.
A quick poll of friends and colleagues reveals treasured high street treasures: a crimson double-breasted wool coat from H&M, almost a decade old but as good as new; a Jil Sander for Uniqlo blazer as well-fitted, and now as irreplaceable, as haute couture. A timeless cropped tuxedo jacket purchased from the late Dorothy Perkins. My sister often wears a pink and black graffiti print Tammy Girl dress that our mom bought in the 80s.
Finding streetwear pieces that last means knowing how to shop. Price wars in the fast fashion space have lowered production standards and many clothes are not as well thought out or as well constructed as they were during the days of St Michael’s, Marks & Spencer, or the golden age of Topshop under Jane Shepherdson. , or the first designer collaborations at H&M, when limited editions were produced with a minimal cost margin as a loss leader.
But there are still bargains to be found. Buy in store, not online, because feeling it by hand is the only true way to evaluate fabric. Pay attention to the weight and quality of the fasteners: flimsy zippers or chipped buttons are a red flag of cut corners. A caught or unfinished seam will fall into a misshapen silhouette after a few wears.
Think about how the piece will age: I never buy clothes with a stripe or print that includes white, because white can’t stay white if it’s washed with other colors. Shopping in a brick-and-mortar store instead of clicking to buy on screen is also a useful filter for editing out impulse purchases. If standing in line for the locker room seems like too much effort, that’s a strong sign that you don’t love it enough to justify the cost or carbon footprint.
And once discovered, treasures must be treated as such, whatever their provenance. Delicate silks and satins should be washed fresh and air dried; party shoes taken to a good cobbler to replace the heel tips.
Investment dressing is not just for the rich. The crown jewels of your wardrobe aren’t the clothes you’ve spent the most on—they’re the pieces you treasure. The price tag on your new jacket is meaningless from the moment you cut it off and wear it for the first time. In other words, don’t be a snob. The true value of the clothes in your closets is up to you.