Fast Fashion and Our Obsession With Perfection

More Can Be Mended Than You Fear

Sam Bush / 1.26.22

The beginning of the year often has the feel of a post-holiday fashion show. Everyone is sporting their brand new shoes, shirts or sweaters from the holidays and, with them, a newly energized air of confidence. With a brand new piece of clothing comes a new identity. “Look sharp, feel sharp, be sharp” my high school headmaster would say to encourage us to follow the dress code. His point was that our innermost beings are largely influenced by our outer layers. To an extent, he’s right. After two years of wearing sweatpants, it feels good to put on real clothes. Even in the age of athleisure, “clothes make the man” according to conventional wisdom.

As much as we attach ourselves to our attire, we sure go through a lot of clothes. Retail may have fallen significantly during the onset of Covid-19, but consumers are shopping more than ever today, pivoting to what is now known as ultra-fast fashion — extremely affordable, cheaply made clothes. The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, up 400% from the amount we consumed just two decades ago. Even in a pandemic, the average American buys a piece of clothing every five days.

The statistics are almost too alarming to comprehend. Beyond their shock value, they will likely fail to keep you from taking advantage of the latest sale or clicking “Add to Cart.” Even the ethical implications of fast-fashion — the extremely underpaid workers who labor in unsafe conditions; the toll on the environment — are often still not enough to sway our impulse purchases. We are slow to deny convenience when it comes our way. Mere information is not enough to change the speed with which we swap out our wardrobe.

In the world of fast fashion, clothing is less of a durable good and more like something we expend. If a bathing suit costs as little as $8, we can justify buying three pairs. In reality, we understand clothing as something that is meant to be worn and then discarded within a few months time. In a world where it is far easier to replace than to repair, the cobbler is as antiquated as a huckster. We don’t patch our clothes, we buy new ones. Even if the pants are still intact, they will likely not survive the next fashion cycle, which today moves at warp speed.

As distressing as it is, ultra-fast fashion runs parallel to the cultural landscape. The way we treat our clothes is often how we approach the rest of life. If a relationship begins to wear or fade, we can unfriend a person. If work isn’t satisfying we check the job listings. The same goes for our marriages, our churches, our faith, even ourselves. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” we say, but if it is broken, then it’s best to cut one’s losses and start fresh. We have mistaken the convenience of buying another pair of jeans with buying a new life. We may change our look, but we still have to face the consequences of our personalities.

The physical things we love are continually on the verge of annihilation. Whatever is cutting edge eventually grows dull. Far too soon, the white shirt stains, the perfect pair of jeans rips, the Christmas pullover snags on a fence post. Just last week, I ripped a hole in a stylish new sweater that I thought would last a lifetime. The hole now serves as a constant reminder that the present form of this world is passing away. Even if I purchased a new one, there’s a good chance I would punch another hole in the exact same place. For this very reason, Jesus said storing up clothes is just providing food for moths. A war on decay is a war on time itself.

At the root of it all lies a general intolerance of imperfection. An article of clothing is either perfect or ruined. Fixing things leaves them functional but blemished. Patched holes may make a sweater wearable but never as good as new. Clothes are just one way of showing that we are mercilessly all-or-nothing. But what of ourselves? Healed wounds still leave scars. We’d rather be a new person than one who limps from past injuries.

Christians often describe humanity as broken. Despite its melodramatic undertones, the word can still be a helpful way to talk about people. In the plainest sense, we don’t often work the way we were meant to work. A broken microwave, for instance, does not carry a sense of shame for not functioning properly. It simply fails to do what a microwave was made to do. The same goes for a ripped pair of jeans (at least if the rip happens in a particularly revealing location). It’s not that we are worthless, destined for the trash heap; our brokenness cries out for healing.

We might long for a new beginning or a fresh start, but there is something to be said for God’s power to heal and restore. As Francis Spufford so famously said of Jesus, “Wreckage may be written into the logic of the world, but he will not agree that it is all there is. He says, ‘more can be mended than you fear. Far more can be mended than you know.'” It is a kind of hope that rings unfamiliar these days; this hope does not shy away from brokenness, but willingly seeks it out. Like an old favorite sweatshirt, God cannot part with us. God won’t throw us away just because we’re defective or showing signs of wear and tear. He prefers the faded and discarded over the chic and trendy. Far more can be mended than we know.

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