Day 29 :The Dirty Little fashion Industry Secret, Ageism & Sexism

Day 29: Tomorrow is the last day of the 30 Static Wardrobe Fashion Experiment. As days go for a wife, mother of three, entrepreneur and devoted friend, the craziness of life never ends. I have been very happy and content with my static wardrobe and not missed my other clothes too much (having a few cheat days with Rent the Runway has certainly helped), but why do we feel as a culture we always need new things, new clothes, new trends? I have been talking about this with retail and how it has been affected by the internet and the faster pace of life and change. People get bored more quickly than they ever did before.

In the late ’90s I was designing for a huge fashion company that owned many different lines. The idea was if they diversified their portfolio of fashion lines they would always be somewhat on trend and always make some money – give up some of the boom, but at least remove the bust. The CEO would call our team of Designers into meetings to remind us we had to think ahead, we had to have vision for the future even beyond the line we were working on. If we were designing for what was going on in fashion now, we were behind the trend … we were losing. We would trend shop in Europe and Asia because they were always a year or so ahead. Knocking them off was ordinary course for the American fashion industry. The business reality of American fashion is that creating styles from nothing was unheard of – you gleaned your inspiration from trends of what was happening in markets elsewhere. Or you went “vintage.” We shopped vintage all the time. Do you know why all those eighties trends are back so strong? Designers are shopping vintage and bringing it back!

But it’s not from designers like me who actually wore those trends the first time around, it’s new young designers who maybe saw their moms or teachers wearing the trend in the eighties. The very sad commentary on the fashion industry is that ageism, sexism, and the objectification of women are all still very much alive. Women in fashion approaching their 40s are forced into management roles, basically sent out to pasture (from a design perspective) or fighting tooth and nail to keep their jobs and resorting to all the backstabbing and conniving of the lowest life forms … all just to keep their jobs. An industry that says it’s “for” women and “promotes” women … even occasionally puts a token grey haired model or plus sized model in some ads … well, really, behind the scenes that industry is all about the young. Meaning: the inexpensive. As a designer, putting 15 to 20 years’ experience on your resume is a death sentence. Thankfully I chose to get out before I hit the glass ceiling, but even in my early 30s I could see it on the horizon. Sadly, my friends that chose to stay have a great design resume, got their degree from the top design school in the world but they can’t land a job in fashion. They are having to go back to the drawing board and figure out what to do with the rest of their life. Do they go back to school? Do they start in a different field at entry level just to get experience?

I think ageism and sexism play a huge role, but there is another elephant in the room. I was talking to my husband about this a few weeks ago, and then he sent me a news article on how even the fashion industry trend setters are scrambling to keep up with the pressures of the digital age. With access to every trend at the push of a button, new styles flooding on the scene literally every day, and the consumer having incredible information access enabling their ability to shop and compare, getting the current trend for the cheapest price has become a cinch. The old methods of retail (and the fashion industry that was built to feed it) look like a dinosaur. No longer is it good business to create styles, sell them in a showroom and ship them to stores months later. People and trends are moving too fast for the methods that have worked for decades. This is just one of the reasons retail as we know it is dying. Stores are not keeping up with the fast pace of the internet. “Change or die” has been an almost trite-sounding (and obviously self-serving) mantra from fashion industry gurus for a long time … but now it’s true. And the pressure is on them. The balance of power is squarely on the side of the consumer.

It’s so hard to change when something has worked for so long. I hear it all the time, and it has come up consistently in the context of my experiment. “Static wardrobe? Don’t you get bored? That seems so different.” “I’m good, I like having tons of options, and I don’t mind the time constraints.” “It really doesn’t bother me too much, running around in spandex and a tee shirt.” But sometimes you have to apply (or at least consider) the lessons of changing up your paradigm. It might not work for you, but maybe it does … and then you’ve found a game changer that gets you ahead of the curve in some part of your life.

Tip of the Day: Try a static wardrobe for a week. Consider the freedom it gives you time-wise, and the space of having one less thing on your mind. Not having to make excuses for your appearance when you run into someone (and you will, it just works out that way) because the static wardrobe has you at least somewhat put together rather than looking (and feeling) unprepared. Think about how that might set you on the path to minimizing your wardrobe and creating time and space for the things that really matter to you.

Last day of the Experiment is tomorrow. A moms event for my preschooler! Do I ditch the static wardrobe on the last day or do I stay the course and finish strong?

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