I saw a viral tweet a couple of weeks ago that referred to how difficult it was to find anything worth buying in Zara. I found myself internally coming to the defence of, probably, my favourite high street shop. At least, it’s the only one I like looking in and the only one that I struggle to leave without having ‘accidentally’ acquired yet another item of clothing I simply do not need. Clothes shopping has a grip, unrivalled in its tightness, over me, as I’m sure it does over many others. The catch-all remedy to an endless list of ailments- and simultaneously the perfect means of celebrating a plethora of momentous occasions. But this pleasure is guilty; a naughty treat whose pick-me-up capacity is trumped by the self-hatred duly induced with every purchase. A further burden on the bank balance, on the planet and its depreciating resources, on a wardrobe creaking at the hinges. All so far from sparking joy. I need an urgent clear-out…did someone say summer sale?
The “new clothes=new me” belief is what keeps us running back to the fitting rooms for more; we buy again so as to be able to transform ourselves into a yet-unseen variant of the “me” of which we’re all too bored. Like a tattoo, minus penetration of the epidermis, plus the removability, clothes allow us a valuable outlet for characters and personalities often penned in by work and social norms. However, a problem I have always had with the high street big dogs is their emphasis on smaller bodies being better bodies and therefore more worth dressing. Also, that you’re setting yourself up, in shopping at Zara, Topshop, Urban Outfitters, for bumping into someone dressed identically to you. This phenomenon is the antithesis of dressing to express one’s individuality. By definition we are all unique, a fact undermined when a superficial clone of yourself appears at the neighbouring library desk. An obvious solution to this is to dress head-to-toe in charity shop wares. But the magnetism of the brand-new will continue to draw us towards the bigger, brighter and better advertised stores. It’s the relative thrill of custom-bought versus hand-me-downs which anyone with older siblings, cousins, friends will have experienced young. If it’s new for you, you’re special and will profit from greater caché on the climbing frame at primary school. It’s all about status and proving one’s wealth.
Yet when we’re all turning to the same select names for affordable, but not too affordable, trendy clothes, we’re bound to have intersecting taste. The Zara polka dot dress is today’s case in point. Instagram account Hot4theSpot is dedicated to exhibiting sightings of this sartorial sensation, securing its position as “the dress that conquered Britain”. Having escaped the sheltered confines of the provinces for a few days, I was able to test this claim among the inhabitants of our capital city. I counted up to ten sightings per day while I was there. Not a lot, but enough to confirm it as the most frequently occurring outfit on the London streets. Perhaps women everywhere have pounced on this polka dot piece because unlike a lot of Zara items, it is available in up to the equivalent of a UK size 18. I was frustrated to find while jean shopping in said shop last week that few styles exceed a size 14. Why, when the UK average is a 16? Obviously, then, curvier women will have embraced the opportunity to buy an item of clothing that legitimises their body shape. But why should they have to subscribe to looking like hundreds of other women in doing so? If the greater range of sizes in the polka dot dress is responsible for its take-over of epidemic proportions, then we need to see more items that dare to be bigger. The more choice there is for shoppers, with their unique requirements and styles, the more we’ll be able to savour our one-of-a-kind identities.
But in the mean time, maybe charity shops really are the safer option when it comes to protecting our personality as conveyed through clothing, not to mention the planet and our purses.