Opinion

Dress for Less

Today, the real way to dress for success is actually to dress for less... Less clothes, less impact on the planet, less pieces that won’t last... and maybe even less embarrassment for your partner.

Today, the real way to dress for success is actually to dress for less...
Less clothes, less impact on the planet, less pieces that won’t last...
and maybe even less embarrassment for your partner.

Fashion. Just another thing on a very long list of things that I’m not qualified to talk about.

I’ve been variously described as dressing like a South African diesel mechanic who aspires to
be a real estate agent, someone who enjoys home chemistry and glass barbecues, and a
northern Californian skate dad. While none of the above are particularly flattering, the last one borders on bullying.

But nonetheless, the clothing industry has been on my mind of late. I recently said goodbye and goodnight to two favourite items of clothing (a hoodie and a pair of chinos), both of which started
out black and lasted five and 11 years respectively. The Levi’s hurt the most, they’d seen me through the birth of three children, starting three jobs and moving from the west coast to the east coast.
They didn’t just look lived in, they were lived in! They would have stayed in regular rotation, but they ended up with so many holes in them, my wife was embarrassed to be seen with me in public.

So after a brief grieving period, it was time to find replacements. Sounds simple right? Nope.
I might be doing it wrong, but I couldn’t find anything to buy, not a stitch. I was totally overcome with decision paralysis. Too many options is an understatement. Between online shopping and retail stores, a man could drown in cotton and denim — “water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink!”

Chlöe Swarbrick’s politics are about as predictable and interesting as the School Strike 4 Climate action group disbanding because they decided they were racists — but I can’t fault her dress sense, especially when she was running for the Auckland mayoralty. Three white t-shirts and a pair of
pants. Genius! Didn’t have to think about what to wear in the morning, instantly recognisable, an understated nod to French fashionistas and cheap too. Plus, it was on-brand, as the rag trade — fast fashion in particular — is absolutely terrible for the environment. In 2018, the global clothing industry was apparently responsible for more greenhouse-gas emissions than France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined.

I’m not suggesting that we need to all start wearing uniforms à la The Handmaid’s Tale — how
boring would that be? Not to mention counter productive. Most of us are already shuffling around
like barely conscious labour units, the last thing we need to do is to start dressing like it.

While a lot of the current on-trend fashion has me scratching my head, this is the natural order of things and totally correct. A forty-year-old should be looking at the way teenagers dress and thinking, “What the hell! You look ridiculous, get a job and tighter pants, and pants that touch the top of your shoes!!” They say the feeling of nostalgia is like training wheels for grief and kids these days (particularly at the skate park) have me stuck in a nostalgic late 90s feedback loop.

Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with shopping for new clothes. A bit of conscious consumption is a good thing, keeps cash flowing through a community. Just like Barry Crump’s cheque, buying that t-shirt could end up paying for someone’s mortgage, garden hose or even medical costs. So maybe it’s just as simple as buying less, buying better and keeping it for longer.
And in a world of eco-shaming and climate guilt, if wearing a pair of pants for an extra year means
I don’t have to catch the bus, I’m all for it!

By Sam Cummins
Illustration by Christopher Duffy