This week Serah-Marie forwarded me a press release from a company called Cakewalk Designer Dress Rentals. It’s a simple concept: the company offers Canadian women the chance to rent “the latest designer duds” at a “serious fraction of the cost.”
Aside from the ill-considered use of the word “dud,” it almost seems like a good idea. It makes elitist fashion accessible and, as the PR points out, it “greens” fashion by recycling a garment that might otherwise be worn only once or twice. Sounds great, right? So why does this leave a bad taste in my mouth?
When I was in high school, most of the kids in my classes wore Ralph Lauren and Bass Weejuns. Our family couldn’t afford that stuff. I remember feeling like a country bumpkin in my cheap, blue-white Bi-Way shirts. When mom and I went to the Salvation Army, I would scan the racks for secondhand Polo and LaCoste. (To this day I can spot a Ralph Lauren button-down Oxford by only a square inch of fabric on the shoulder.) I quickly learned which eras mirrored others and how to approximate styles. In my painfully insecure teenage years I learned to fit in without being rich.
After high school, I realized my skills could help me “make” runway looks, too. I learned to mix and alter, and to skew a season’s lines to suit my body type and liking. I could spot the quality garments on secondhand racks. My tastes matured and my personal style evolved. I stopped trying to fit in and started having fun. When it came to fashion, all that scrounging had cultivated my imagination. I didn’t have the option to rent a designer dress – and I didn’t need to.
The problem with things like Cakewalk (or the SATC-immortalized Bag, Borrow or Steal) is that they perpetuate the notion that Label is King. They suggest it’s better to have a designer dress for a day than to go unbranded, as if association with that label makes us more chic, more worthy. The garment itself ceases to have value outside of the name on the tag and the experience of being seen in it. And, at the same time, the more accessible so-called “luxury” goods become, the less we’ll ever need to think about what we wear or why. Discriminating style goes out the window in favour of passing whim and fad. (If you don’t have to keep it, why consider your choice?)
I’m not saying it’s bad to have great, designer clothes – but the easier it is to have something, the less we bother to consider its meaning.
At WORN, we engage in a lot of discussion about the assigned value of clothing. From our perspective, that assignment is often personal or sentimental; we keep garments that we associate with people or events. Sometimes we love something because it’s remarkably made or fits us perfectly. Maybe a particular style will signify a shift in cultural taste, an era, or a unique and iconic talent – its representative, and we love that, too. But whatever our rating system, these values come attached to experience – and time. If we’re just renting the stuff we like best, what the hell is left in our closets?
And honestly, I’m just not sure I want to wake up after a great party and drop the dress I wore into some return slot like yesterday’s Blockbuster rental.
image from Nun’s Boilproof Thread Catalogue