What’s the Schmatte?

(Originally blogged April 30, 2009)

There are days I hear my parents in me — I didn’t grow up in the Depression nor have to walk a mile to school in shoes with holes in the sole, but I was taught the value of a dollar. I remember as a child spending Saturday mornings in my parents’ car as they drove around doing errands – having small appliances repaired, shoes resoled, and coats relined. When something was broken they fixed it, they didn’t buy new because it wasn’t a cheaper solution like it is today. Clothing was bought with longevity in mind, including a garment’s ability to be easily altered, cleaned and repaired.

An article in the Globe and Mail caught my eye a few days ago because it was one of those pieces that expresses exactly how I see things. The article was called ‘Purveyors of Tat Beware: Consumers are onto you’ and the author Karen Von Hahn feels there is “…nostalgia for the days when more attention was paid to the production of quality merchandise rather than to marketing their prestige” I couldn’t agree more.

I remember my mother shortening skirts to meet the fashionable hem length, especially a Chanel style camel hair wool Davidow suit, she told me in later years, she had acquired on a trip to New York in 1958; I remember when it was finally sent to the Sally Ann in 1972 – remodelled at least twice during its 14 years of service. Although I have to say I was happy to see it go because it was the suit usually donned when going to visit my classroom teacher or the school’s principal.

Today’s fashion doesn’t change in the same way it used to; there has been no definitive hem length since the early 1980s, but the fashion industry still manages to create a buzz each season with new ‘must haves’ for the fashion conscious woman – a tartan skirt, turquoise flip flops, a French beret, a white rabbit fur collar… the dictates of fashion are more specific now than when fashion was about just hem lengths. As Karen Von Hahn quotes from what one of her readers wrote her “…people can’t catch up unless they buy cheap. The fear is, if you spend a lot on a really good item, will it still be relevant next season?” That is, if it lasts that long!

I once paid $45.00 for a Calvin Klein T-shirt that shrank and fell apart in the first washing. Brand name and price tag no longer offer any guarantee of quality. Why have clothing prices not dropped since they started being made off-shore? Why did top designer shoes go from $400 to $1,200 (or more) in less that five years? How do you determine quality these days?

The days of cheap labour are coming to an end – more people around the world can buy into mass democratization and that means we will have to pay proper wages for proper work. Eco-woes should also eventually bring an end to overabundance. Let’s face it, there is just too much crap in our lives! There is a call for consumer reformation on the horizon – and its not like we are going back to the Middle Ages — only the 1960s – a time when the relationship between the production and consumption of fashion was more responsible.

Fashion is about style, beauty, quality and design, not attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The new consumer will have to buy goods that support creativity, design excellence, and superb craftsmanship in order to balance the quality with the higher prices we will have to pay for clothes in the future.

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