For the everyday fashion consumer, purchasing affordable styles is essential to maintaining a wardrobe that is fashion-forward without breaking the bank. Whatever your personal budget may be, it is very rewarding psychologically to purchase an on-trend piece at a bargain price. With the wide variety available on the high street and online, the pattern of shopping for savings is increasing, and literally, addictive.
It has been shown that when bargain shopping, our neurotransmitter activity is altered. When purchasing that soft, beige cashmere sweater for 70% off its original retail pricing, the reward pathways in the brain are active, and dopamine is released. Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter that is associated with the development of all addictive behavior – including smoking, drugs and caffeine.
This dynamic enables the institution of "fast fashion", defined as "the approach to design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers". The omnipresence of fast-fashion brands, coupled with the psychological impact of shopping for the best deal provides an entirely new implication - that as we buy these pieces, we are more likely to purchase more and more of these pieces at an expedient rate.
As hazardous as the effects of fast fashion are on the environment, making the industry one of the biggest polluters of the planet, the positives of fast fashion to the consumer are apparent. Certainly these brands are very present and widely available at prices that are hard to pass up. One can build their seasonal wardrobe or simply add accent pieces that they wouldn’t want to necessarily invest in. But with a system such as this in place, we need to discuss the ways in which throwaway fashion psychologically affects the consumer. Do such bargains come at a mental cost?
1. They Feed An Addiction
The perceived need for the "latest" trends, combined with the low price to attain them, can contribute to mindless shopping, or even addictive shopping. Fashion by nature is fast-paced, and trends shift and change quickly over time. To keep up, fast fashion must develop new pieces constantly in order to continuously offer something to its consumers. This quality of fast fashion is typical, and simple when it comes to consumerism in general, but it can cause unrest, and anxiety in its consumers. When a bargain-shopping trip comes to a close, the buyer could arrive home, feeling subsequently guilty, or low levels of depressive symptoms for indulging in such a way. What comes up, must come down. This pattern gets increasingly reinforced and detracts from the necessary self-work required to understand one’s own aesthetic better, an exercise that will lead to more fulfilled, longer-lasting purchases.
2. Amassing of Quantity Over Quality
While most can agree that in theory, it is preferable to purchase higher-quality items that are more durable over time, having the funds to do so is not always ideal when said funds could be allocated towards necessities or other areas of life – such as a gym membership. Due to the high rate at which fast fashion pieces are produced, the fabric, and stitching of each piece created is not meant to hold up over time. Often times the materials sourced for garments are of low quality, in order to keep the retail price for each piece low. Upon taking stock of one’s wardrobe, the consumer can be left feeling regretful about amassing so many items of low-value, and potentially negatively self-reflect by associating this with their own persona.
3. That Environment Guilt
Perhaps the most well-known negative impact the fast fashion industry is responsible for is that on climate change. Fashion itself has been credited as the second-biggest contributor to global warming. The production of fashion pieces is specifically harmful due to its use of harmful chemicals, copious amounts of water, and emissions from cars, trains, and various means of transportation in order for the garments to reach their distributors. Several authors and industry leaders have penned books and articles discussing how important it is to invest in more sustainable brands. However, the cost is not always affordable for most. Morally, it is difficult to reconcile these thoughts. It is of utmost importance to protect the planet in which we live, but sustainability and fashion rarely coincide harmoniously. Especially for that of the environmentally minded consumer, thoughts of worthlessness, and even hopelessness when shopping fast fashion can wreak havoc on the mind, and potentially bring about symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Fast-forward ten years: the ideal fashion and retail system would offer beautifully and sustainably made things - ethical fashion would be the norm. A fashion psychology framework will help consumers understand their style sense of self better and decrease mindless shopping. Until we get there, let's push for better practices at all levels of retail and production, better design and more attainable prices from sustainable brands, as well the ability to apply mindfulness when considering new purchases.