Having been inspired by posts (like this one at from two to one) that detail the sustainability considerations that should go into clothes purchases and the way that shopping consciously can be ethically driven both environmentally and as it relates to working conditions, I've been trying to be a little more conscious of how and where I buy.
So I went to visit a second-hand shop today.
I used to wear a lot of second-hand clothes. In fact, growing up I wore almost exclusively used clothing. I shopped at Goodwill and my mother was an avid (really, the better word might be rabid) garage saler. And I still like the idea of buying my clothes second-hand, it's just that the practice of it hasn't been working out so well. It's hard to find clothes that fit well that are also professional. And the places that do provide clothes that fit well and are also professional are usually prohibitively expensive. It's a challenge.
I didn't have much luck today. There were a ton of clothes that I would wear at this store, but it was all casual stuff: t-shirts, funky skirts, and jeans. I was shopping for professional wear. I did find a couple of dresses and a skirt to try on and headed for the dressing room.
The first dress didn't fit well. The skirt was too big. The second dress fit great and looked cute. It was a simple black dress with a flattering cut and a deep v-neck that had the potential to be worn over a myriad of colorful tops I already own, so it was versatile. The problem? As I was pulling it off, I noticed the label: American Apparel.
Let me be clear. I am under no impression that everything I purchase is of the utmost ethical caliber. I do my best to buy meat that's raised humanely, clothing that's created in acceptable working conditions, and products that are economically sustainable. But I don't research every single purchase I make, I am operating on something of a tight budget, and I know that making ethical purchasing decisions is a game of give-and-take and a process that happens over time.
But I hate American Apparel.
Hate. I hate them. They have hands-down the most sexist, exploitative, and downright disturbing advertising strategy of any mainstream marketer I have ever seen. Here, let me illustrate:
American Apparel consistently portrays women as dissected body parts in a type of visual synecdoche that reduces them into something less than human. They also constantly portray women as sexual objects, and--while I have no problem with women's sexuality--I don't think there's anything "sexy" about being turned into a glorified blow-up doll. These women are not portrayed as human beings experiencing sexuality; they are portrayed as pieces of flesh for others to sexually use. (You can see more of their most disturbing ads here. You can read some commentary on them here or here.)
I hate them.
So, I put the dress back.
I was thinking about it as I left. Purchasing the dress wouldn't have actually benefited American Apparel because it was second-hand. But I still felt like I would be promoting them as something of a walking billboard for their product. Clothing is somewhat uniquely problematic in that we wear it with the intention of being seen, and when we make decisions about what we display on our bodies, we have to be a little more aware of what messages we're sending. I couldn't be comfortable sending a message that a company who profits from that kind of advertising is okay.