Noelle McCarthy: How not to shop

By Noelle McCarthy

Each week broadcaster and writer Noelle McCarthy will share her thoughts on style.

Coco Chanel in 1962.
Coco Chanel in 1962.

Elegance is refusal. Thus spake Coco Chanel. I like this line, it's the closest thing to a style motto I've got. Better than a motto even, it's a resolve-stiffener. It reminds me how not to shop.

I have too many clothes. You do, too. I know this without ever having met you. I know this because we all do. We've all got more pants, more dresses, more shirts and tops and knickers than we know what to do with, because clothes are cheaper now than at any point in history, since Adam and Eve used fig leaves. Clothes are so cheap that I can do what I did last Sunday, and buy two of the same sweatshirts in Kmart and still have change from a 20. The colour really suits me and at that price, the elegance of refusal pales.

This is the problem. I don't know who made my sweatshirts, but I bet it wasn't an artisan. An ABC news story recently linked four big Aussie retailers, including Kmart, to a string of Bangladeshi sweatshops where international labour standards are a joke. The labels say "made in China" but they could just as easily have come off the line in Bangladesh, or India, or Bhutan. They're mass-produced, in the same way that tonnes of clothes are every year.

Sweatshirts, T-shirts, sundresses, jeans, you name it, I can buy them all dirt-cheap, in multiples, wear them for a few months, and then discard them.

It doesn't pay to get too simplistic about this I know - some people buy $8 sweatshirts because that's what they can afford. That doesn't change my aversion. I don't like that we live in a world awash with cheap, crappy clothes, made under dangerous circumstances for a pittance by people who spend their miserable lives putting together tops that will be sold for under a fiver to people who don't know any better than to want whatever garment Rihanna's nipples happen to be poking out of currently. I don't wish to be part of that world.

Enter Coco. Elegance is refusal. It meant something different when she said it first. Back then, it meant: keep it simple. Coco walked that talk. This is the woman who coaxed the Grandes Dames of Paris into fishermen's jerseys, after all. But now it can have an even more radical meaning. Elegance is refusal means: Stop buying stuff. Stop buying stuff that makes the bad people richer. Stop buying stuff if you don't know who makes it, or if you have a feeling the circumstances of its genesis may not be fair. Stop buying stuff made by retailers who don't care. Elegance is refusal.

I have two blue sweatshirts I bought for $16 dollars that I no longer want to wear. The colour still suits me, but they don't feel good on. I can't get comfortable in them, and what is style without comfort? Not much. Coco taught us that as well.


* Follow Noelle on Twitter here

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