By Christina Dean
I’ve just recovered from my December’s whistle-stop travel schedule. This saw me brave the snow as New York’s twinkling Christmas lights winked at Christmas shoppers; cut through Hong Kong’s haze whilst being lured by exuberant mall displays that look more Hollywood than Hong Kong: to cozying up by warm pub fires in Britain oldest villages, where short days and long nights put you in the festive spirit. And I assure you; the party season is here. From the city to the country, whether you’re in the mood for it or not, the world is calling out for celebrations, from office parties, Christmas, New Year’s eve, family occasions to Chinese New Year.
Say ‘party’ to most women (and some men, who are not immune) and the corresponding involuntary inner reflex questions range from; "What shall I wear?", "Who else will be there?", "Have they seen me in that before?" to "Will my outfit look good on social media?".
That's why the party season brings with it relative closet chaos. Because now, not only do we need to impress on the night, but our façade will also survive in cyberspace on our plethora of social media accounts, from Weibo, WeChat, Instagram and Facebook and the list goes on. Social media’s grip on our confidence (and our sanity if you ask me) is presumably fuelling why apparently one in six young people won’t wear the same outfit twice, or why a staggering third of women consider clothes to be ‘outdated’ after wearing them less than three times. Ouch. This misconception is partly why we’re in such a mess globally and why 80 percent of all global clothing purchases end up (way too soon) in landfill. I partly blame the selfie-stick.
And it’s this cycle of over-consumption, short use and rapid disposal, which will rapidly spike up as Chinese New Year’s spring clean rages through closets, which makes the party season so unsustainable. Somehow we’re persuaded by our inner voice that lies to us by saying ‘I have nothing to wear’. This simply can’t be true. We produce 150 billion new garments annually, double than 15 years ago, which we only wear for half the time before ditching them. If our current closet binging followed by Chinese New Year’s closet purging were an illness, bulimia springs to mind.
But this type of uncontrolled fashion consumption and clothing waste - all in the name of looking great of course - isn’t necessary. Instead, there are plenty of ways to look ‘new’ and wow your cyberspace following with more sustainably sourced and styled outfits that won’t burn an unnecessary hole in your wallet or contribute to fashion’s vast negative environmental streak. Clothes are, afterall, one of the most polluting consumer products to manufacture, which causes a horrific global hangover that’s not worth the quick party thrill.
So here’s how I approach my love of fashion – and looking good in the party season – with my love of the planet.
First of all, we must overcome the incorrect pre-conception that looking good can only be achieved by buying truly ‘new’ clothes. Hammer this thought out of your mind. There are many ways to look ‘new’ but without the unnecessary consumption (or the environmental, or economic, price tag that comes with it) that will liberate your personal style in the lead up to the party season.
I’m a massive fan of renting clothes for that special occasion; the Alexander Wang ensemble that I rented for my husband’s office party being one of them. There’s plenty of businesses responding to the increase in renting within the new sharing economy, from umbrellas, bicycles, taxis to hotel rooms. Even Premier Li Keqiang’s promoting the development of the national sharing economy, or gong xiang jing ji, although I’m not sure he was explicitly thinking McQueen. Regardless, line up from West to East; Rent the Runway, Armarium, Village Lux, to China’s Dou Bao Bao, the startup renting high-end designer handbags, Y-Closet, which adds apparel to the rental pickings, Ms. Paris, whose online rental business is backed by physical stores in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, to Hong Kong’s Yeechoo, where I’m often found scouting a ‘new’ look. The joy of renting, whether for a one-off occasion or by monthly subscription, is Vera Wang, Marchesa, Valentino, Channel to...you name it…without the cash cardiac arrest that comes with trying to actually buy it.
Then there’s buying secondhand. Once a taboo, the world is certainly softening to accept – and now love – buying secondhand, especially if it comes with a jaw-dropping designer label plastered with a palatable price point. I’m a fan of Hong Kong’s The Hula and Guiltless, both set up by pioneering and achingly stylish Asian entrepreneurs who can sniff out fakes with near super-natural aplomb. China’s rise in secondhand shops, both online and physical, is also a big clue that people are waking up to ‘new’ ways to look ‘new’. On my radar are Plum. I also regularly scout charity and secondhand shops; and recently bagged myself a gold sequined black cocktail dress in a whooping size 16 – I’m almost eight months pregnant now so the scale of my girth has locked me out from the majority of my size 10 closet - for RMB8, which looks and feels a million dollars.
You can even get the ‘new’ look for free by swapping. I’m an avid swapper with my mother – she has a thing for Vivienne Westwood and the same size feet as me, which always helps. Swaps can be as easy to organise as a catch up over a tea with a solo friend to a larger gathering, so there’s nothing rocket science behind it.
Finally, one very simple approach to the party season is to just re-style what you already own! Thankfully, unlike so much of the relatively fake world of celebrity cybersphere, there are style icons who (shock horror!) rewear their own clothes. Thank goodness for Kate Middleton, or the Duchess of Cambridge as her official title goes by, whose down-to-earth style sees her repeat pieces from her expansive closet, which is ferociously followed around the world. Then there’s actress Kate Tsui, who is so proud to bring back old pieces from her closet styled differently that she’s even hashtagging #wardroberecyling in her social media posts. Hallelujah for the double Kate act!
So wherever the winds may take me this party season, I’ll be party-proofing my closet with care and consciousness. And hopefully I can look as good as the Kate’s in the process.
This article first appeared in Chinese in Modern Weekly magazine in January 2018