Clothes Shopping in 2018: what’s the answer?

TL;DR? These questions that I want answers for: What’s up with all the discounts? Are designer brands worth it? Is “Made in Italy” actually better than “Made in China”?

Since I hit 30, I’ve been trying to buy less but better. It would appear that, by the power of osmosis or some other form of wizardry, all those articles on “staple pieces” and “minimal wardrobes” have actually sunk in.

Not that I’m going to start harping on about the benefits of open wardrobes and whittling down to just 10 items. Don’t worry; there’s no chance of that! Because my clothes range from office suits to harvesting garb, Texas cowboy boots to cute shoe boots, plus all the beautiful scarves that I picked up while living in Paris, I need space… and because I’m not the tidiest of person, I need that space to be able to be closed off and hidden away.

I think my recent approach to clothes came from a more environmentally-conscientious place. I couldn’t – and still can’t – understand how shops like Primark and H&M are able to sell at such low prices without at least under-paying for the raw materials and exploiting their workforce. 

There’s a large, independently-owned, department store near me. I’ve only been in a couple of times but I went back last week to look at fabrics (for reupholstering my dining chairs.)

As it was also the sales (saldi, in Italian) I decided to take a look around the Women’s Clothes section too. In particular, as the weather was slightly cooler and I wasn’t feeling too bloated (after 3 weeks of the FODMAP diet…) I decided to go looking for a new pair of jeans.

[It should be said that in Italy and in France, the sales are much more restricted than in the UK. January and July are the start of the strictly regulated sales period where they continue for four/five weeks, with different discounts at different stages. In the UK, however, take a walk down Oxford Street or Regent Street in London at pretty much any time of year (early December in the run-up to Christmas might be the only exception) and you’ll see shops advertising their discounts. As a result, I rarely ever buy full-price any more because I know I would find it discounted later on.]

Going back to the matter in hand. Jeans. More precisely, the ongoing quest to find jeans which are the right fit, flattering and, most importantly, comfortable.

The jeans – or rather the price tag – pictured above caught my eye. How are a pair of skinny jeans from a designer/brand that I’ve never heard of before (nor has Google, btw!!) worth 168€? (That’s about £150 and $190, FWIW.) They’re made in Italy but clearly no-one bought them at full price, because I picked them up for 29€. Even then, whilst they’re cut well, they’re not The Perfect Fit… but I’ll keep ’em.* (Maybe just because I like to feel I got a good bargain.)

Among the other jeans that I took into the changing room with me were more common names such as Ralph Lauren and Sisley. I was excited about trying these brands because (stupidly) I consider them grown-up… but honestly, there was nothing special about any of them. One had pockets which didn’t seem finished and the other was cut in a way that, to put it simply, was just plain awful. Have the brands taken a cut in quality in order to compete with the high street? 

I brought this up with a friend over lunch on Sunday. She’s far more knowledgeable about the fashion industry than I am so I wanted her opinion. While asking if the higher price point on Made in Italy clothes was justified compared to garments made in China, Bangladesh or Indonesia, she interrupted me straight away.

She then recounted a visit she made a year ago to what she thought was the company’s office… but it turns out that two storeys under the ground-floor office is a factory with a large number of Chinese workers working late into the night with very poor lighting. In Italy. Making clothes which bear the Made in Italy label and a higher price tag.

Apparently there are similar situations in Prato (Tuscany) with secret underground factories supplying Italian leather goods to the tourists in Florence.

So, what’s the answer?

* I know that doesn’t fit entirely with what I said at the very beginning on buying less but better. But I have another wardrobe condition called But-What-If which means that I hang onto clothes which are well past their use-by date because of this blighted “but maybe they’ll come in handy one day…” voice in the back of my head. Having these new jeans means that I’ll finally be able to seperate myself from at least 3 other pairs which are gathering dust. 

P.S. Any clothes that I no longer want either get passed around to other family members or they get recycled in my village’s clothes bank. 

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