Oh how I wish the second half of this post’s title was “Why I Don’t Shop at Forever 21”. But I can’t write that yet. The earrings I’m wearing right now were purchased from the Christian sweatshop giant. So were my jeans.
I am well aware that Forever 21 and other throw-away fashion dynasties are not paying their workers enough, that cheap labor goes hand in hand with cheap fabrics and poor construction, that they steal their designs from others, and preach with their bright yellow “LOOK AT ME I AM A CONSUMER” plastic bags. And yet, I still find myself wandering in semi-regularly, and often wandering out with some mass-produced somehow already cliché thin-as-a-tissue article of clothing I will only wear a few times before it either rips or bores me because I’ve seen a version of it on sixteen other girls in one day. My point is, I know better. I’m embarrassed that I do it. I beg them not to bag my purchase and instead surreptitiously stuff it into my purse, which I also purchased at Forever 21.
But then I’ll get compliments when I wear these items, which also shames me to no end. I admit my folly in an Eeyore voice with my head hung low, unintentionally advertising for them, which makes me feel even worse. One would think that after all of this remorse, I would have enough self control to stop shopping there. So why do I keep going back?
Well, I’m poor as shit and I want to look cute.
Always the first excuse. I live in Los Angeles. Everything is expensive here, and though some are just fine with riding the bus to the laundromat in sweatpants and holey socks, I am not one of those people.
And I know I could buy used clothing. Thrifting has been in my blood since I was a below the poverty-level 6th grader. But back then, I’d drop $20 for several Grocery Outlet bags full of awesome 70’s blouses, flowing maxi skirts, and kooky wooden parrot necklaces. These days, the only “vintage” stuff you can find at Goodwill (at least in LA) is from the mid-90’s and almost as expensive as it was when it was new. And sorting through the mounds of stained, synthetic, cargo-pocketed nightmares for that one gem you just know is in there somewhere is exhausting and time consuming.
Excuses, excuses, right? I could make excuses all day. But being broke does not a saint make. Sure, I’m broke. Most of us are. But buying “affordable” new clothes is such a waste of money in the long run. Not only are these purchases physically not going to stand the test of time, Forever 21 and its competitors release so many new collections a year that by the time their cutesy 21 day return policy runs out, your adorable new jacket is already “out of style”.
I could also go on a diatribe about how even the name of the company is unsettling, how the focus on eternal-just-of-drinking-age youth is enforcing that “little girl in the form of a woman” stereotype I so despise, dismissing the idea that there is any point to life if you aren’t young and attractive, but I don’t want to get angry. Again, WHY do we (I) keep going back?
We (I) forget.
It’s the first warm, sunny day of spring. You weren’t prepared for the weather, since you left home early this morning. Now you’re off work, which happens to be right next to the mall. You have a date later and the thought of bare legs on a balmy beachy afternoon with your lover sounds too divine to deny. You could go home to change, but there are at least 150 different brand new dresses in one store 30 feet from you that could be yours right now in exchange for the meager tips in your pocket. And even if thoughts of sweatshop labor and copyright infringement pop in to your head, hey, its only one dress. And three necklaces. And four pairs of tights. There are so many adorable items at your fingertips (that someone else designed first and that were sewn by workers making less than minimum wage)! And this dress is only $19.95! And this is the last time you’ll ever shop here. You swear.
Every little bit adds up. And if you’re like me and you impulse buy when you have a spare few bucks, you end up with a closet full of mass-produced junk.
If only I put that petty cash away, I could afford to buy quality clothing. I’m not talking about overpriced just-because-its-designer items, but a few well made trend-proof pieces that will last. Jeans, versatile dresses, jackets. Sure, they’re a little pricier, but that’s because the company who made them thought enough of their employees to pay them a humane wage.
Buy quality staples, and if you’re craving seasonal pieces and good deals, don’t lazily duck into the mall. Shop like you mean it. Take the day and drive out to estate sales, where all the awesome vintage shit is in pristine condition. Or hit up thrift stores in weird little mountain towns, where they haven’t been picked over and the dresses are only six bucks. If you must stay in the city, visit buy-sell-trade places, where everything is still cheaper than at the mall, but the mountains of junk sorting has been done for you and you’re still recycling!
I am making a resolution to never buy from Forever 21 again. And if you’re reading this, I hope you’ll join me. Consider it spring cleaning for your conscience.
Even though the number of ethical reasons for making this stand is out of the ballpark, the main reason I’m making it is that I don’t want to be a cookie-cutter American Millennial. In high school, I showed up to school one day in the same shirt as a classmate’s and something in me snapped. After that, I prided myself on dressing “different”. I came back after winter break wearing layers of my dad’s discarded 70’s clothes, mixed with weird pieces I made myself before I really knew how to sew. I may have looked bizarre, I may have been acting out, but I was 100% me. My style has since balanced into a neutral heavy, travel inspired, vintagey-modern, subtly feminine mix. I don’t have a concept of my style. We’ve all seen those “what’s your personal style?” quizzes that only have like 5 outcomes. Why do I have to be categorized, I wonder? Because then I can be put into a target market and advertised to. Please join me in saying a very ladylike “fuck that”.
Don’t let anyone tell you what you want to wear. And the next time you find yourself staring in the window of a Forever 21, watching three cloned girls with ombre dye jobs try on the same dress, you can proudly turn your back because you are trend-proof. You are uncategorizable.
I’ll leave you with this bit of brilliance:
When I ask for a garment of a particular form, my tailoress tells me gravely, “They do not make them so now,” not emphasizing the “They” at all, as if she quoted an authority as impersonal as the Fates, and I find it difficult to get made what I want, simply because she cannot believe that I mean what I say, that I am so rash. When I hear this oracular sentence, I am for a moment absorbed in thought, emphasizing to myself each word separately that I may come at the meaning of it, that I may find out by what degree of consanguinity They are related to me, and what authority They may have in an affair which affects me so nearly; and, finally, I am inclined to answer her with equal mystery, and without any more emphasis of the “They” – “It is true, they did not make them so recently, but they do now.”
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Now go change into something “weird”. If you feel like it.