If You Need It: Winter Accessories

This I Wear | If you need it: Winter Accessories

Lately, I’ve become really interested in what handmade even means these days, and I’m clearly not the only one. In these first few weeks of the year, “artisan” was named one of the “words for the dumpster” of 2013. And the concept of handmade became a hot topic this past fall when Etsy changed its seller rules to allow for outsourcing of production and hiring staff, as many Etsy success stories have outgrown the platform. This has led to some really fantastic conversations wondering if anything is truly handmade anymore and what that might mean (see NYTimes op-ed and this Rena Tom post).

But if you’re interested in engaging in slow fashion and supporting local makers, regardless of your definition of handmade, the perfect entry point is with winter accessories. And now that temperatures have continued to stay at face-freezing cold, it’s time to pull out the scarves, gloves, and hats.

So if you need it, here are a few of my favorite winter picks (clockwise from top left):

Handknit fingerless gloves, made in the USA, for United By Blue, a company that removes one pound of trash from oceans and waterways through company organized and hosted cleanups with each product sold.
A Peace Treaty cashmere and wool scarf, handwoven by artisan coops in Nepal.
Handknit Winter Hat by Emily of KnitSip, based in Illinois.

Stay warm!

A New Year’s Intention

This I Wear | A New Year's Intention

A few years ago, I stopped writing New Years’ resolutions and started writing New Years’ intentions. This may sound like a small difference, but it is actually revolutionary.

Unlike a resolution, an intention can’t be checked off a to-do list. Instead, it’s just a gentle reminder to guide your actions throughout the year. With no way to fail, it’s more of an intention to change and expand your viewpoint or how you approach life.

This year, my intention took a little while longer than usual. I’ve gotten into the habit of starting to think about what my New Year’s intention will be before the December holidays, and unconsciously, I start noticing things that I’m thinking about and collecting ideas, storing them away for when I can sit down to reflect on where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going. And I like to let my intention brew – playing with the wording, trying it on in situations and noticing how it might encourage me to live differently before I commit to it.

Well, I finally arrived at what my 2014 New Year’s intention might be, and I was surprised to realize it had a place here.

As a late-20s professional finding her path, it’s been easy to get lost in the constant changes of life and the struggles experienced everyday. So this year, I intend to see abundance – to see the abundance of love, generosity, compassion, opportunity, friendship, laughter, and even money that can exist when I start noticing it and looking at things in a different way.

Maybe my intention or even the idea of setting intentions is a bit too abstract or kumbaya for you. And that’s ok. But I think it has a place here. After I determined my intention, I woke up the next morning and realized it worked right here within the philosophy of This I Wear and might give us a new way of thinking about the “shopping” problem, especially in the apparel industry.

Fashion is at a point of confronting scarcity. There is and will be a scarcity of resources to prevent producing and consuming apparel (and all the other things we make) in the way that we are doing it right now. And at the same time, maybe companies are scared that there will be a scarcity of profits and happy customers if they change their ways in recognition of this resource scarcity. And today, for many of us as consumers, we may see a scarcity of choice since so many of our options are poor quality, better quality but unattainable, or it’s just plain difficult to find things that we need that are produced in ways that match our values.

But what if all sides of the situation, consumers and companies and all the people in between, saw abundance instead? What would that mean?

It could mean an abundance of new connections, new creativity, and greater meaning in our lives. It could mean an abundance of materials found by creating new technology or upcycling garments and materials. Or it could mean that as consumers we see an abundance of choice in stocking our closets with things we acquire outside of the traditional marketplace – from shopping in our friends’ closets to swapping clothes online or buying secondhand and vintage. It could mean an abundance of opportunity to learn how to tailor our own clothes or make something from scratch! It could mean an abundance of connection in buying from and supporting emerging designers in our own communities. This list goes on.

I know there are a lot more ways that we can find abundance even as we take on the issue of scarcity. I’d love to hear from you on how you think the fashion industry or consumers can reframe this scarcity as abundance. Or share your own “New Years Intention” (or prediction) for fashion in 2014. Comment below to keep the conversation going, and here’s to an abundant 2014 for all of us.

Book Review: Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture

This I Wear | Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture

Welcome to 2014! Lazy days spent with family offer the perfect time to catch up on reading, so we’re kicking off the New Year with a new read! Enjoy!

“In the world of Cheap, ‘design’ has become a stand-in for quality.”

In today’s shopping world, the middle ground is gone. Our options seem to be luxury goods that cause us to be suspicious of price and discounted (but “designed”) items that give us suspicion of quality. As consumers, we often feel manipulated when we shop, because we don’t actually know what we are buying. In fact, according to Shell, “we believe that merchants habitually overcharge us just because they can, and the difference among products represents not a difference in quality but in the varying ability of salesmen to fool us.”

Why are we so suspicious? And is our suspicion warranted?

Ellen Ruppel Shell’s book, Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, indulges our greatest consumer fears that retailers are taking advantage of us. Starting from the history of the department store and down to the invention of the price tag, she follows the growth of our cheap-obsessed American culture.

Honestly, after reading this book, it feels like unless I buy all of my clothing from that price-transparency movement starter Bruno Pieters, I may never know if the cost of my clothes is the result of the price of the materials, the skill of the labor, the import tax, or some concept of “good design” (which in the case of “cheap” is design for disposability).

So why the pursuit of “cheap”? Well, it’s a long (well-researched) history, but this is what’s going on behind the price tag:

Prices are influenced by emotions, not just concrete numbers. And since human beings are pretty irrational, our emotions get a lot of attention from retailers. According to Shell’s research, “a fair price…is one that is ‘emotionally okay’ with the person doing the buying.” Some of this is pretty visible in stores, hence why $2.99 is more common than $3.00. But what about the fact that humans have a really hard time predicting the needs of their more rational future self? Well, we might not be so conscious of that, but it’s why a deal feels so good now. We don’t necessarily know what things are worth or what will make us happy or fill a need, but we do know how we feel when shopping. And a deal appeals to those emotional highs and lows. Our emotions get played to and suddenly, we’ve bought what the store wanted us to buy rather than what we truly needed.

We assume getting a discount “involves a trade-off of quality for price” whether it’s true or not. Even though we’re chasing deals like alcoholics going after their next drink, we actually don’t like the stuff we buy on sale as much. HUH? Think about it: if we buy something that has been marked-down, we start looking for flaws. Of course, something is wrong with it if no one else wanted it and it’s been left on the shelves. And that means that even something on sale that is of good quality has a lower perceived value, which influences how we treat it. According to Shell, “the less we pay for something, the less we value it and the less likely we are to take care of it, with the results that cheaper things – even if well made – seem to wear out and break more quickly.”

We like brands because we are looking for markers of quality, something (anything!) to explain the price. Most of us have no idea what we’re buying when we’re shopping, but a brand name has historically been a reference for quality. In fact, the idea of a brand or marker of quality is the only thing that overrides the previous point: “Once quality is assumed – as it is for many branded products – a lower price is a plus. When quality is in dispute, as it is when we buy things we know nothing about at flea markets or eBay, low price can be a negative.” So we don’t mind buying our Polo shirts for 75% off, but that Persian rug on eBay better be freaking expensive, otherwise it is obviously no good.

And speaking of discount goods, outlet malls are complete crap. Yes, they started off as a mechanism for getting rid of unsold, damaged or irregular merchandise, but now, most chain stores are designing and producing lines for their outlet stores. Yet, we’re still willing to get in our cars, drive hours, and spend an entire day after the pursuit of a deal. Why? Because we think that because it’s no frills and inconvenient, we’re EARNING a good deal. It is not a deal, guys. I REPEAT: IT IS NOT A DEAL. Don’t fall for the trap. And whenever you’re tempted by the distant glow of the outlet mall, consider the Simpsons reference Shell includes in this chapter, straight from Homer’s mouth at the outlet electronics store: “I know a genuine Panaphonics when I see it. And look, there’s a Magnetbox and Sorny.” (Don’t be Homer…)

And what is the result of all of this? We’ve been conditioned as consumers to look for markdowns, so retailers are now scared to stop putting things on sale. Oh well. I guess we’re all just human.

But Shell ends on an unexpectedly optimistic note that we as consumers can set our own standards for ourselves, demand transparency, and set ourselves free from this low-price death spiral. This optimistic conclusion was surprising given how far I felt pulled down the “all retailers are frauds” tube, but if you are a paranoid consumer or into behavioral economics, this book will have you turning page after page. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thanks to the folks over at Well Spent for putting this book on my radar. While it’s more consumer goods focused than just fashion specific, it is hugely helpful in understanding why we buy what we do, and how the market got to where it stands today, which hopefully will inform on how we can make a change in the future. Or God help us, we’re going to run this ship into the ground.

Share your thoughts! How does price influence our buying habits in more subtle ways? Is “cheap” addictive? How can we overcome the allure of a deal?  Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear to share your views.

My Closet: Black Boots and New Style

This I Wear | My Closet: Black Boots + New Style

We are quickly approaching the end of 2013, and there is something about the holiday season that feels simultaneously fast and slow. On one hand, I have just a few more days to find perfect gifts for the people I love AND get all of my work done so I can take off a couple weeks. On the other hand, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, I always find myself immediately slipping into a reflective state, slowing down and thinking about the year past.

This year was filled with big changes, some of which I shared here and others that made me so busy that this blog has been quite quiet. But I have tried to be really open about my own struggles with rediscovering my personal style. And as I’ve slipped into that year-end reflective state, I know that the top of my list in 2014 will be letting my style evolve a little more. Because, honestly, I haven’t really felt comfortable in my clothes AT ALL this year.

Fortunately, I know I’m not the only one with a changing sense of style.

I’ve loved articles this year from Garance Dore and Jess Lively on what they’ve learned from wardrobe mistakes and their own journeys to filling their closets with clothes that truly represent their personal styles.

I’ve been trying to do this on my own, but I decided to speed the process up a little bit and hire a professional. Luckily, I was inspired by an article by Jee on Oh How Civilized and set up an in-home appointment with a personal stylist. Beyond looking through what I already had, we made a list of what I needed to look for.

And at the top of the list, which I knew already, was a pair of black boots.

The shoe industry is not pretty. I’ve never had a great passion for shoes and I’m extremely concerned with comfort, but as I’ve learned about the toxic glues and solvents present in many factories, I’ve felt really hesitant to buy shoes since I’m not sure what I’m buying into. I also happen to own a pair of black booties that I saved up to buy and are in perfect condition but absolutely murder my feet. So perhaps subconsciously, I’ve been punishing myself for at least two years by not letting myself buy a new pair of black boots that I can actually wear.

But it became clear that a new pair of black boots would be a game-changer and totally take my existing outfits up a notch. Not an easy task, however, as I was looking to hit at least two of Garance’s rules:

1. Perfect piece = eternal joy
2. Quality = longevity

So what’s a conscious shopper to do? Buy the best quality pair of shoes you can afford. Seriously.

Here’s why: Your shoes can be repaired almost endlessly if they are of good quality. You will likely wear this pair of shoes multiple times a week (if not every day). You do not want to have to buy a lot of shoes and therefore support more factories that may or may not have healthy working conditions. And also quite important is that you do not want to end up an old lady with bunions.

In my case, a serendipitous text from my sister told me that one of my favorite brands, Rag + Bone, was having a sample sale. I like them because they do a fair amount of domestic production, the clothing is a perfect fit for my body, and the quality is high. It turns out the same is true for their shoes (minus the domestic production). I bought this pair for $200, which is objectively a lot of money but based on how many times I will wear them, the cost is relatively little. (See Zady’s article on measuring cost-per-wear)

But the work isn’t over. In the new year, I’ve got a list of new pieces I’ll be looking for and I can’t wait to share what I find (and how I find them) with you.

In the meantime, I’ve been turning to Pinterest as a helpful visual reminder of what I want my closet to look like, so I can make compare a potential purchase with that ideal style. Follow my evolving style on my latest board.

What’s the linchpin item missing from your closet? Share below or tweet @ThisIWear and tell us what you’re looking for.

A Conscious Home

I once listened to an interview between design*sponge’s Grace Bonney and stylist Sibella Court where they reached the conclusion that you are either a fashion person or a home person. Well, I work in fashion and I write about fashion (well apparel and style), but I love home decorating too.

Even though moving is the absolute worst, there is something thrilling in the prospect of making a new space feel like home. But after the experience of writing this blog, I knew that decorating my new apartment, which I moved into in August, was going to be different. This time, I wanted to be intentional about all of my purchases, even though I was starting from scratch without even a fork or a chair to my name (literally).

It was a challenge but one that seemed inevitable. If I am so careful to make sure my clothing purchases are responsible and thoughtful, why shouldn’t I do the same for my home?

So I made some rules:
1. Always question whether the purchase is really necessary. (Do I actually need it?)
2. Try to buy used first.
3. If used isn’t possible, search for handmade, local or sustainably or ethically sourced items.

Extra points, of course, if it’s both used and handmade, local or sustainably-made.

And these rules seemed natural: I am on a budget, I tend to prefer vintage home goods with personality, vintage goods are more likely to have been made to last, and shopping used offered the opportunity to connect with people and have things with a story.

So how is it going?

Well, our apartment is only half-furnished, and literally all of my weekends have been taken up with home projects instead of blog writing. However, we have had some amazing finds. Here are a few of my favorite stories:

The couch
I am terrified of bed bugs, so I assumed the couch was the one thing we’d have to buy new, even though the only options seemed to be a disposable Ikea couch or incredibly expensive designer couches. With my friend’s encouragement, we scoured Craigslist and found a perfect lightly-used Room & board couch for half the retail price but no compromise on style. And it happens to be made in North Carolina (bonus!).

Vintage Ethan Allen table
Another fantastic Craigslist find, this table and set of chairs fits perfectly in our tiny apartment, and we got to wish the seller good luck on a new job as he prepared to move to a new city. His mom had picked up this set years ago and stored it, knowing that one day it’d be the perfect apartment-sized dining table. She was right.

There’s something really tempting about going to Bed, Bath and Beyond, armed with coupons and leaving with everything you need (until it all breaks). But that place makes me miserable, and there is such a thing as going home with too much. We needed new pots and pans, but the big box stores want you to buy the unnecessary 10-piece set. We decided that we really only needed 4 pieces, so we only bought exactly what we needed. And buying from a restaurant supply shop meant it was reasonably priced and built tough.

As the apartment becomes more like home, I promise to share photos. And if this is something that you’d like me to share more about, leave a note in the comments or tweet @ThisIWear!

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