Fashion is for Poor People
Written by Greg Washington. Illustrated by Paul Reiss

Of all the people you know who are really "into" fashion — people who read obscure fashion blogs and magazines, people who are in the know about seasonal trends, people who are super creative with their ensembles — how many of them can you actually say live the "good life?" And by "good life," I don't mean the kind that finds you pissing money away at stripper bars at one o'clock in the afternoon. I simply mean not living cheque to cheque, not living with serious debt, and/or not living off their parents. The answer? Very few. Now think of all the people you know who you would consider to be successful. People whose job pays a decent salary, people who own their own home, drive a nice car, dine out at nice restaurants, travel, etc. I'm sure many of them dress well, but how many of them can you honestly say are "into" fashion? A few, no doubt. But the overwhelming majority have other concerns. What does that tell you? To an outsider, it's a bit like stating the obvious, but for people who are part of the culture of fashion, this may be somewhat of a surprise. Fashion is for poor people. Despite being in debt, having no savings, no investments, no assets, nothing but the clothes they own, people who are into fashion don't consider themselves poor. Broke, sure. Poor? Hell no. But is there really a difference?

People who are into fashion are completely content spending every last dime they have buying up all the lovely little things that make up their image. At some point or another, we've all been there. You feel like you absolutely need that shoe in your life. That sweater?! You would give your left nut just to own it. And somehow, that jacket you just bought for much more than you can afford is the key to defining not only who you are, but who you want to be, and how you want to be percieved. But it always turns out the same. A few weeks go by, even a few months. Eventually you realize that you've only worn that thing once since you bought it six months ago and you probably won't wear it for a long time, if ever again. That's the cycle. And it happens over, and over again until you're absolutely broke. But being broke isn't that bad, right? As long as people continue believing you are the person you appear to be, it's fine.

And what's wrong with that? What's wrong with dressing like the person you want to be? Personally, I don't have any problems with dressing the part, it can even come off a bit insulting if you don't. The truth is, changing your dress is one of the easiest and most effective ways to make a change for the better. I mean, it is a lot easier than changing who you hang out with, the way you think, or the way you talk, right? But that's just it. Because it's so easy, and because it can have such dramatic effects, we've become addicted to it. We just love the response we get when people comment on how well we look, or how well we must be doing in life. Those feelings of belonging and recognition for having "good taste" are so strong that we guard them closely, almost religiously. If our sense of belonging, acumen for "taste," or the general perception of who we are is threatened, we'll do anything and everything to protect it. Even if it means emptying our bank accounts.

If our sense of belonging... or the general perception of who we are is threatened, we'll do anything and everything to protect it. Even if it means emptying our bank accounts.

In order to stay fresh and connected we keep buying shit. And just as we're getting comfortable with our look, the fashion industry changes it up, because that's the way it works. Fashion's in a constant state of flux, forever changing. Each season brings new looks, and with it comes the desire to "evolve" our style, making slight adjustments to our hand-crafted persona. A new pair of shoes here, an additional jacket there. But this isn't some brilliant harebrained scheme fabricated by fashions' elite to keep you spending money. This is just a byproduct of change (or narcissistic ambition, whichever you prefer.) Think about it from the designer's perspective. No designer ever gets excited about reissuing classics because it doesn't challenge their creative ambitions. For better or worse, designers always get a rush from creating something new. So every season they go out and showcase their latest creations. And they do it with so much energy, creating such a show (literally), that everyone gets amped up. Especially us. But all that excitement does something unexpected. It keeps us thinking short term. Season to season, collection to collection. A steady diet of new, new, new. And all we do is lap it up.

But there is an alternative. You can be fashionable without going broke, and it's deeper than just spending less. It may be difficult at first but your future self will thank you. Here are a handful of rules to help reign in the temptation of fashion. Firstly, say "no" to the impulse purchase. Just put it down, and walk away. Impulse purchases are probably the biggest mistake anyone can make but, surprisingly, happens the most often. I know you love it now but give it a week and chances are you'll find something else you'd rather spend your money on. Like rent or food. Secondly, think about your image holistically. Rather than competing with everyone else, and playing the game of firsts, really hone in on your character and build a look that works for you, long term. Think five years, ten years... even twenty years. Don't just buy something because you like it. Buy it because you love it, and because it fits your long term plan. Staying current is cool, but it's also costly. Lastly, avoid making big purchases on anything too out there. Most of you who are into fashion have this deep rooted desire to flex your creative muscles by showing up to the party dressed all crazy and shit. It's cool, and you look good, but generally speaking, the more interesting and unique a piece of clothing is, the less versatile it is and the more likely you won't wear it often enough to justify it's price. I guarantee you that one day you're going to regret spending $500 on a sweater you never wear rather than buying something more fruitful... like Apple stock.

Now, these "rules" are by no means a sure path to salvation, but using them to guide my own purchase decisions has certainly proved to be useful, and I'm confident they can help those of you who have been struggling with the same problems as well. Fashion is supposed to be fun right? But at the end of the day, do you really want to win or just look good losing?

About the author
Washington may be one of the most popular names in American history but this particular Washington (first name Greg) is undoubtedly one of a kind. Hailing from the biggest borough in Toronto, this Scarborough native spent the first half of his life glued to the hardwood before he found his true calling in design. Today he's the Creative Director, serving up the graphic goodness you've come to expect from Inquiringmind Magazine.

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