My work colleague is off to buy a prom dress with her daughter. If you know anything about my colleague and proms (I don’t mean the musicfest at the Albert Hall each year) you’ll know the dress is for her daughter.
I don’t know the history of the school prom in this country (it probably originates from the USA) but it’s a semi-formal post-exam celebration for secondary school students. Wikipedia says it’s a shortened version of Promenade Dance. For the girls or, more likely their parents, it can cost £££ for the prom dress and, as my colleague pointed out the other day, ‘all the other stuff’.
I suspect most prom dresses are only worn once; an extreme example of the worst waste of the ‘fast fashion’ industry. (Incidentally, did you know the average DIY power drill is used for only 13 minutes of its life?) Given that the younger generation seem to be more in tune with the climate emergency than their parents, it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any downturn in the (new) prom dress market in the coming years. I’d like to think that campaigns are slowing fashion, alongside the emerging range of alternatives to excessive spending on clothes – renting, sharing, upcycling, donating – making secondhand, pre-loved, vintage (chose your own adjective) clothes not only acceptable, but desirable.
At the high-end of the re-worn clothing market is Wardrobe HQ – a luxury fashion rental and resale website. I say ‘high-end’ and your rented designer coat could still set you back £295 for a week, and a sequinned bodycon (whatever that means!) mini could cost you a maxi £215.
Interviewed in the Guardian newspaper, Wardrobe HQ Chair Jane Shepherdson is quoted as saying the idea of clothing rental is particularly appropriate for luxury womenswear, with ski-wear, occasion wear, maternity wear and kids-wear other areas ripe for rental. Personally, I think she’s got that the wrong way around; maternity wear and kids-wear should come first as it affects so many more people. But then maybe I’m looking at this through an environmental/community lens rather than a commercial one.
A similar but much more affordable clothing option that’s geographically and conceptually much closer to my heart is Nuw. Based in Cambridge, Nuw describes itself as a clothes-sharing app and community; they’re all about sharing, not renting. I met the people behind Nuw at a Swish (clothing exchange event) in Cambridge and they seemed to have their hearts and heads in the right place.
In the west country, the fine folk of Frome in Somerset have taken the community clothes exchange concept a step further. The Frome Wardrobe Collective organise swapping events, but also have a small ‘community wardrobe’ in a converted public toilet (a case of deja loo?) alongside their community fridge and larder – the first such fridge in the UK when it was set up more than two years ago. From 8am to 8pm people can leave their ‘occasion clothes’ for others to borrow.
Closer to home, Circular Cambridge are promoting slow fashion through discussions and events, including a festival and Swishes. Swishes are volunteer-run and usually free and tend to feature women’s and children’s wear (the only man I know who’s into secondhand clothing does his shopping for designer items in charity shops in posh places). Circular Cambridge also organise Repair Cafes and more often than not these include sewing and mending facilities as part of their free offer – anyone for a bit of upcycling?
Not forgetting community exchange platforms such as Freegle (many localities also have Facebook groups for local exchange or sale of pre-loved items) and charity shops are another great source of affordable clothes.
I’m sure I won’t have to persuade my colleague about considering these alternatives to prom-dress-buying – a way to save money and the planet. I suspect that convincing her daughter might be somewhat harder…