Hello dear readers! It’s that time of year again where I am blissfully on an extended vacation from work and have some time to myself to reflect on the year behind me. 2020 was weird and bad, I think we can all agree on that. I wasn’t in this space very much because I was too busy trying to hold down my job and my life while keeping the depression at bay. #dark, but true. I’m sure a lot of you have felt the same way.
Since I was barely getting dressed this year, I thought I wouldn’t have much to say in the way of annual wardrobe reflections, but it turns out that I do.
On a personal level, the overall theme of my year-in-clothing was apathy. It was hard to care about getting dressed when I couldn’t leave my house and when I felt suffocated by a constantly tragic and alarming news cycle. I was just putting one foot in front of the other day after day like a zombie. I reached for the same black leggings and bike shorts and had literally nothing to say about them.
In addition to not caring about getting dressed, I became completely disillusioned with ethical fashion after my former favorite clothing company Everlane was caught blatantly union busting and ignoring serious allegations of race-based workplace discrimination, all the while continuing to preach “radical transparency” and making very public charitable donations. It was the moment that clarified for me that I need to stop letting brands lead conversations about ethics and sustainability. I’d been feeling uncomfortable with the brand-led brand of ethical fashion culture for a while, but the events of 2020 cemented it for me.
Brands trying to play out business-as-usual on the stage of a global pandemic really laid their faulty systems bare. Instead of letting the brands I buy from mark me as a morally good or bad person, I think it’s more helpful to see the brands themselves as neutral, and to do more effective advocacy at a higher level (i.e., advocating for policy and legislature to make supply chains more transparent, to protect the environment against bad materials sourcing and manufacturing, to assure garment workers have fair wages and safe work environments). I’m just going to make the best choices for my wardrobe based on budget and style and durability, and, separately, will find ways to engage in more meaningful activism than shopping.
I didn’t read as much this year as I normally like to, because again, depression/apathy, but there were a few books and articles this year that I found really influential and that altered my previously held opinions about ethical fashion, influencer culture, capitalism, and activism. Here are the ones that are particularly relevant:
- Bloomberg Opinion: Welcome to Your Bland New World by Ben Schott. This article is about how direct-to-consumer brands that all claim to be disrupting, fixing, and saving our world are really just converging on sameness and capitalizing on an aesthetic and murky set of values that are very marketable in our current consumer climate. Think ubiquitous Instagrammy brands like quip, Away, and even Mejuri.
- Atmos: The Twilight of the Ethical Consumer by Elizabeth Cline. One of the OG ethical fashion journalists and proponents of ethical consumerism describes how voting for our values with our dollars is not the solution it’s cracked up to be. She gives an important historical overview of how we got from consumer activism, an effective form of collective activism that creates real, meaningful change, to ethical consumerism, an individual, shopping-based movement that does more to distract us and assuage personal guilt than to improve our world.
- How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell. In this book, writer and artist Jenny Odell describes how participating in the “attention economy” i.e., allowing our attention to be constantly occupied, bought, and sold by corporations, leaves us less able to organize, connect, and find contentment in our day-to-day lives. I found it to be a good companion to the Elizabeth Cline article, and it was probably the most influential book I read this year.
So, what do all these 2020 reflections mean for my 2021 goals? I think first and foremost, I want to stop aspiring to be a personal brand and instead just remember what it’s like to be a person. The keeping up with the Joneses of influencer culture is exhausting, and as much as it claims to foster community, it mostly just pits us all against each other in competition for followers and brand collaborations. Getting away from brand-led ethical fashion culture means getting away from brand-based incentives to keep blogging and posting on IG. I want to get back to the roots of this project, which were about doing the most with what you have, and building a satisfying and long-lasting wardrobe on a budget. I’m not saying I’ll never post another affiliate link or clothing review – I totally will, because I really enjoy testing and reviewing clothes and I personally rely on blogger reviews for nearly all my own purchases – but I don’t want the cash and the brand collabs to be the goal anymore.
I also want to kick start my year on a creative note, maybe with a true capsule wardrobe again or a different type of personal wardrobe challenge. I avoided IG challenges all last year because I didn’t really care about what I was wearing, and I didn’t feel like the challenges that were going around had anything of value to offer me. But now I feel like I’m ready to crawl out of my depression hovel and have fun getting dressed again, so let the wardrobe science commence! There will be experiments, and like all my experiments, they will probably mostly go sideways and unfinished. I’m okay with that. If you’ve been here a long time, you are probably fine with that too (thank you, patient and gracious readers!).
Last year at this time, I was anxious because I had no idea what 2020 would hold. I know what’s coming in 2021. We have plans, and they are big and scary but also life-altering and amazing – stuff we never thought we were capable of at this time last year. The pandemic was and continues to be awful, but it has helped make us more resilient and more determined. I am slowly clawing my way out of the bad place that 2020 put me in, and I’m genuinely looking forward to the year ahead.
I think my future sister-in-law said it best in her Christmas card to us this year:
Happy holidays, and I hope you are surviving the trauma of the American experience!