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It’s time to rethink our approach to luxury fashion

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An elegantly dressed blonde woman is holding a handbag.  She has a desperate expression
Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine Francis, a fallen Manhattan socialite in ‘Blue Jasmine’ (2013) © Alamy

In September 1982, The Face magazine ran a cover story titled “Hard Times”. It was written by Robert Elms, now a radio presenter on BBC London. Elms identified a tough, thrifty look emerging in London clubs: old ripped Levi’s 501 jeans, tough leather boots, “tattered” plaid shirts. It was the third year of Thatcherism in the UK. Elms wrote that “everyone who can feel is feeling pain right now.”

Forty years later, I’m writing this piece home in a scarf and sweater, not wanting to turn on the heating, in an attempt to save on energy bills. There are economic parallels: 1982 was the last time UK inflation exceeded 9%. At the time, I was a child without responsibilities, who looked at fashion as a means of self-expression. Today I have a family and a mortgage.

Fashion is psychological. Shopping is often presented as a pleasure for ourselves. But even for those with above-average salaries, disposable income is disappearing. Funds that used to splurge may now be swallowed up by higher mortgage payments, gas bills and the inflated cost of groceries. In this time of “deep economic crisis”, to use an expression of the last Prime Minister, it could be useful to wean ourselves into new patterns of thinking about what we buy, when.

For this, we need new strategies. I have often shopped at luxury fashion brands, but most of the time I enjoy them like a wheelchair football fan. LVMH and Kering quarterly results are my football scores; show reviews are my match reports; browsing e-commerce sites is like playing Fifa 23; watching what stock remains unsold at the end of the season has the drama of the relegation zone. I can enjoy luxury fashion without buying any luxury fashion.

This weekend was my semi-annual wardrobe change, delayed this year because it stayed hot for so long. Before, the change had been rapid, exchanging T-shirts and shorts for thermals and fleeces. This season, I took my time and went through everything. I wanted to build a new wardrobe from what I already had.

There was a navy blue cardigan of fine merino that I had forgotten, bought last year at the Sunspel outlet in Long Eaton; a chunky black cashmere sweater from The Elder Statesman, deliberately fluffy and already beautifully messy, had also slipped my mind.

Two young men stand next to each other in a street wearing worn jeans.  One man has a black bomber jacket, the other a worn leather jacket and hat

The thrift store look, seen on a London street in the 1980s © Universal Images/Getty Images

I took everything off, so I’m going back to my daily work coats, too thick to be worn during this summer’s heat wave. Some were purchased new, from places such as Labor and Wait; For the past few years, I’ve bought second-hand hickory striped blouses from Here After on Brick Lane in London.

Some old luxury purchases have returned to circulation. I bought an olive green utility shirt jacket from Saint Laurent when Hedi Slimane was at his helm, which I haven’t worn in years. I’ve worn it pretty much every day since the summer finally gave way. I’m still wearing jeans from the first season of Slimane at Saint Laurent ten years ago, and I’m having more fun wearing them this year than ever.

We can also take inspiration from those who appear to be wealthy. It’s a tradition among the British aristocracy to be titled but broke. It’s an age-old way of presenting to the world that is based on frugality: the old worn tweed jacket that has passed through the generations; used knitwear; a Barbour dragged on for one more season. Chic frugality is a style often imitated by fashion, but it’s usually about looks rather than sensibility. Rather than buying pieces that look already worn, maybe we should wear what we own ourselves.

Frugality could also lead to a more serious commitment to sustainability. Fashion has been stubborn in its resistance to more conscious practices, no matter how much environmental concerns are paid lip service. If consumers change their behavior to buy less and buy better, we consume less. If we get to this point by taking pleasure in our own actions, sustainable behavior is more likely to become long-term.

A blonde model on a catwalk wears what looks like baggy jeans and a plaid shirt over a white t-shirt

Kate Moss wears Bottega Veneta Spring/Summer 2023 jeans, plaid shirt and t-shirt, actually in leather ©Filippo Fior

The truly frugal will always benefit from a wise purchase. One of the most anticipated looks from the last Spring/Summer 23 shows was worn by Kate Moss at Bottega Veneta. It looked like she was wearing a thrift store plaid shirt, white t-shirt, and blue jeans, but it was all printed leather. When it hits stores next spring, the whole set will cost thousands of dollars to buy. Getting the look now is easy. It’s similar to the “Hard Times” style of four decades ago. Go to a thrift store and buy a plaid shirt, a white t-shirt and good old faded blue jeans.

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