Has Fast Fashion Gone Too Far?

14/11/2011 12:08 | Updated 22 May 2015

To mark the 150th anniversary of the tuxedo, Primark is releasing its own version for £40, complete with a wing-tipped collar (an extra £7) and bow tie to see you through the Christmas party season, any winter wedding you may be invited to, and beyond.

bridesmaid-dressA replica of Pippa Middleton's bridesmaid dress on sale in Debenhams. Photo: bauergriffinonline

Considering suit hire somewhere like Moss Bros starts at over £50, this doesn't sound like a bad investment, especially if the fit is decent. It's not the only wedding-wear that's been given a fast fashion makeover recently, either. Duchess Kate's replica sapphire engagement ring is currently a bargain best-seller at £18 (plus 25 percent off) at M&S, Pippa's replica bridesmaid dress (and the emerald green Temperley gown she wore for the royal wedding reception) are available for £170 and £99, respectively, from Debenhams, and a £1000 copy of Kate's McQueen wedding dress has been on sale at House of Fraser since May.

So if you thought the demise of fast fashion was imminent, hold your breath. The demand to wear what our celebrity icons do, get a catwalk hit into our closets and try out trends (or formal wear) on the cheap is still prevailing. There's no point in trying to save up for an item you love anymore when you can just hop over to H&M and buy the cut-price version (or wait for your fave designer to collaborate on a line with the store). And when you think of all of the designers creating cheaper collaboration lines, from new couturier Giambattista Valli for Macy's to Karl Lagerfeld for everyone from Sephora to H&M, you realise that designers need the mass market nowadays as much as the rest of us.

Our need to consume the immediate - what's hot, now - and to emulate those whose style we admire means that shopping has become a rather desperate pursuit that is often about instant gratification rather than creativity, exploration or adventure. When we can (in theory, not that we could afford it) purchase a catwalk look minutes after it's debuted for the first time, it's no wonder the idea of waiting (to have something made, or saving up to afford something we really want or need) seems foreign.

Savile Row tailoring is steeped in history and in the one-of-a-kind, creating bespoke suiting for gentlemen the world over from the 19th century - it's the site where the tuxedo originated, created by Henry Poole in 1860 for the Prince of Wales. Which isn't to say that it doesn't belong on the high street, but perhaps its existence there means we've lost the capacity to respect something that was once a craft?

However, it seems a necessary evil; Savile Row may still exist, but the prices for a bespoke suit make it increasingly unapproachable for most people, and designer costs are extortionate, so where else are people going to get their formal wear? Moss Bros, Next, Austin Reed... why not Primark, too?

While one may lament that the tuxedo would receive the mass market, factory-made treatment, I think it's no more offensive than seeing replica glitter Miu Miu shoes on every shop floor. In fact, it's probably more useful to find a cheap £47 tuxedo on the high street than the more dubious items like printed harem pants and sequinned bra tops, which seem to be ubiquitous there.

Because yes, one of the best things about fast fashion is that it offers customers the chance to try something fashion-forward and risqué, to cover themselves in snake print and ponchos and PVC like the a/w 2011 catwalks showed (without the tragic cash commitment of spending hundreds of pounds on something that will quickly wind up in the bin before you can say 'next season').

But fast fashion stores are also where regular, normal people shop - those not particularly interested in the latest trends but who are just looking for a skirt or a jacket or a trouser suit for the office, or clothing for their kids, or something decent and inexpensive to wear to the holiday party. It's where most people shop because designer duds are too dear and eco-conscious clothes are, too.

Of course, the view that fast fashion is irresponsible and the antithesis to sustainable living exists. It's wasteful on the environment and promotes an unnecessary consumerism (the whole point of the high street is that you can afford more than just one 'investment' piece per season), and buying fast fashion means that you're endorsing something that's potentially (or highly likely to be) unsavoury: who is making these clothes and under what conditions?

The truth is, we don't like to think about the reasons that made it possible for our latest dress purchase to be so cheap (and many wear their cheapo high street finds with as much pride as their designer duds). Not only is it easy to ignore wear lots of our clothes come from, it's also still a lot harder to buy the 'right' kind of clothing.

It still feels like no matter how many sustainable eco-initiatives there are out there, ethically produced fashion is still only a viable option for some – those who have done the research and can afford to spend more money on that T-shirt or pair of jeans.

And eco-friendly tuxedos are still few and far between. The other options are high-end, Savile Row-fare or something designer, by someone like Tom Ford, who incidentally is completely against fast fashion (that's why he doesn't allow the images from his fashion shows to be released until moments before the clothes hit stores). "All of the fast-fashion companies that do a great job, by the way, knock everything off. So it's everywhere all over the streets in three months and by the time you get it to the store, what's the point?" he has said.

Well, for some, there isn't much of an option otherwise, so there is a point. Even if your Primark tuxedo falls apart after a few wears, you've gotten more out of it than a rental. Or, if your conscience won't allow it, there's always vintage (still sometimes expensive) or the charity shop route. You can shop knowing it's not harming the planet and is easy on the wallet, and there are often quite a few retro tuxedos milling about on those racks.


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