Today's consumer culture churns out an ever increasing amount of material items in a manner that is not sustainable. The use of finite and toxic resources such as petroleum along with the pollution caused by large clothing factories, adds even more of a burden to our strained environment. And using new materials, from cotton to metals for jewelry, when we already have so much vintage clothing in existence doesn't always make sense.
An article in the March 16, 2014 edition of The Observer of London by Lucy Siegle had this to say about the ethics of wearing vintage:
If we think of a hierarchy of ethical ways of dressing, vintage is near the top. It is the antithesis of throwaway fashion, being rare, covetable, and tradeable, Rewearing old clothes also displaces the need to make new virgin fibres -- manufactured with oil-based petroleum or using cotton, both with hulking environmental impacts (add in dyeing, finishing and the use of factories with dubious ethics).
Although even new clothes can be coveted and traded, she does have a point. Obviously the market for new clothes will never disappear, nor should it. Fashion Week depends on it! But there is room in the clothing industry for lovely vintage pieces to be brought back into use again. The throw away consumer culture that we live in can perhaps be tamed a bit if we all began thinking about the way our newer clothes are being produced and the harm caused by not only using petroleum products in new fibers, but the unsustainable agricultural practices used to grow massive amounts of cotton to make clothes that will end up in a landfill after a season or two. Clothes made out of petroleum and chemical products don't degrade well. What if we stopped chucking our perfectly good clothes when the fashions changed? (giving them to thrift stores is a fine idea! Then they are vintage!!)
We aren't all fashion designers and there are vintage pieces that don't fit today's aesthetic. But a push to begin rescuing older clothing and either wearing it outright or reusing the fabric would go a long ways in giving the planet some breathing room. Perhaps someone can enlist the likes of Tim Gunn to do an entire new television design show using only vintage clothing and jewelry!! Get the current Ralph Lauren interested in the clothes the younger Ralph made. Take vintage right to the center of Fashion Week!
Wouldn't it be wonderful to see top fashion designers begin to "repurpose"old garments? The same fabric could be used to keep up with current trends. Or to use the original beautiful garment as it is and just kick it up a bit to so that women (and men) would be scouring thrift stores and garage sales to get the "new" look?
There is also a growing market for vintage jewelry -- so many older costume pieces are strikingly beautiful -- and they already exist. Bringing them back into circulation lessens the need to consume precious materials and generate toxic waste by making new. After all, the older pieces were made to be thrown away -- and yet they are more popular than ever! The old saying that everything old is new again is very true when it comes to fashion, so let's use the old as much as we can and not reinvent the wheel.