Kirstie Clements: Vivienne Westwood’s wisdom – buy quality, not quantity – will be her legacy

Image: TND, Getty, Gucci, Nike, Dio

Following the death of the iconic British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood last month much was written about her political stances and how she felt about fashion and over-consumption.

Westwood had been photographed in a T-shirt with the hand-painted slogan, “Buy less” and she often commented on this topic, including “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality not quantity. Everyone’s buying far too many clothes.”

Most of us agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. But the irony is that she was in the fashion business – a business that makes its money telling consumers weekly, daily, hourly that they need a wardrobe update.

Buying quality clothing usually means buying more expensive clothing, and yes, for the most part, it should be more well-made. But not all luxury pieces are perfect. I’ve bought designer jackets where the pockets have come unstitched, or the buttons have fallen off in the first wear.

What of the other factors that influence how many times you wear a particular garment? There are valid reasons why something may stay in the wardrobe with the tags still on. You may decide that you don’t feel really like “you” in it, although you loved it in the store. The fit may not be quite right, you may have lost or gained weight, or not had many social occasions that required you to dress up. The weather could be prohibitive, you could lack the right accessories, or you can simply wake up and unreasonably hate 75 per cent of your wardrobe.

When I think about buying quality, it is not necessarily about a designer satin-corseted formal dress with a bustle or a pirate outfit. It is about basic wardrobe staples, which more avant-garde designers tend to sneer at or at least don’t tend to produce.

Maybe basic is boring, but it does fit into the buy less, choose well ethos. I will carry one classic designer tote bag for the rest of my life, but I couldn’t say the same about a lime green leather bag shaped like an elephant.

Shopping is a constant juggle between needs and desires. I need a new swimsuit, a practical one, but I desire that pretty toile de jouy one that targeted me yesterday on Instagram.

The guilt about over-consuming is real, and internet shopping can be wasteful and addictive. But you can’t look at every piece of fashion as an investment either – your yoga pants, cossies, white shirts, or linen dresses aren’t going to last for decades, no matter how designer they are.

Real investment pieces are cold climate items in general – wool coats, boots, thick knits, and leather jackets. There is not a lot of “investment dressing” going on during a Sydney summer.

So how can we make better decisions?

Apparently, to reduce CO2 emissions and waste, you should aim to wear an item of clothing at least 30 times. Designer or not, the baseline should be that you put the item on and wear it straight away. Don’t leave it in the wardrobe waiting for the right moment. Make that moment happen.

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