Hannah defines fast fashion as, "An approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers."
The interview gave me an opportunity to focus on Stoic philosophy as it can be applied to our modern decisions on what to wear, trends, consumerism, and the virtue of moderation, all topics I hadn't directly considered before. The final product has made for some interesting reading, and I hope you'll check it out:
Epictetus speaks on personal adornment in the Discourses, 3:1. A young man came to Epictetus finely dressed and with his hair elaborately ornamented. Epictetus engages him in a dialog meant to establish that beauty in people is based on virtuous character, not on fine clothes. "What [of] a man? Must it not be the excellence belonging to a man? If, then, you would appear beautiful, young man, strive for human excellence," Epictetus states.
2) What do you think a Stoic would say on the current realities of fast fashion in modern society?
I'd speculate that the ancient Stoics would probably be flabbergasted by, and critical of, the immense amount of consumer products that some people tend to purchase today. Ancient Greece in particular was a very austere culture compared to our own, so we must seem very decadent.
3) In Stoicism, the idea of focusing on what's within our control is fundamental. How might this concept guide one's approach to consuming fashion in a world driven by trends and rapid turnover?
We both control our purchases, and our perceptions about what is important. Rather than worrying too much about trends and then consuming excessively trying to keep up with trends, we can instead exercise control over what we choose to by. We can choose to purchase fewer, higher quality pieces of clothing that are always in fashion and don't need to be replaced the minute trends change. A few examples of this could be a good quality blazer, Italian linen pants, basic jeans and similar items that don't really go out of fashion.
Another idea for avoiding excess consumerism is to keep certain key pieces of clothing that we already own (and love) long enough to see them come back into fashion again, because trends are cyclical.
One final idea is a capsule wardrobe, which is a more minimalist approach to clothing focusing on key pieces that match or can be interchanged with each other. Who needs 20 shirts, or 30 pairs of shoes, if you can get buy with 5 or 10 for various purposes?
4) The fast fashion industry often promotes impulsiveness and excess. How might a Stoic individual navigate this landscape while staying true to Stoic values?
It can help to remember that clothing in it's essence is for protecting the body from the elements. In his Lectures and Sayings, (20), Musnius Rufus, who was arguably the most austere of the Roman Stoic philosophers, argues that clothing is for protection and not for showing off. Rufus also thinks that flashy clothes attract the wrong kind of attention, and that we should spend modestly on clothes. He states:
“One should seek protection for the body that is modest, not expensive and excessive. One should use clothing and footwear in the same way as one uses armor: to defend the body, not to show off. The strongest weapons and those most able to keep their user safe are the best, not those that attract attention because of their sheen. Likewise, the clothing and footwear that provide the most protection for the body, not those that can attract the gaze of foolish people, are best.”
5) How can someone incorporate Stoic practices to resist the constant pressure to engage in excessive consumption, especially in fashion?
I will use myself as an example here, if I may. My personal philosophy around fashion is not explicitly Stoic, but is infused with the Stoic values of both moderation and joy.
On one hand, wearing clothes that make you feel good and allow you express your personal style can be a source of joy in life. Joy is a proper Stoic emotion, as opposed to something like elation or excessive enthusiasm derived from shopping or based just on one's appearance. The later two take things to an extreme beyond what is simply joyful, perhaps towards excess and vanity.
I was more prone to excess consumerism and concern with my appearance when I was in my twenties. However, I have learned to be more moderate as I've aged. Now, I try to apply the Stoic cardinal virtue of temperance to my relationship with clothes and fashion. What this looks like practically is that I buy fewer clothes, and I usually only buy what I need. I replace clothes that are worn out only if they can't be mended. I also hold onto certain key pieces of clothing for a long time if I really like them and feel good wearing them, not because they are trendy.
6) Fast fashion is criticized for its environmental impact and exploitation of labor. How might a Stoic consider these ethical concerns when making purchasing decisions?
If one is concerned about exploitative labor practices, it makes sense to spend a bit more on (perhaps higher quality) clothes that are made in countries which don't engage in such practices. One way to mitigate the environmental impact of fast fashion might be to buy vintage clothes, perhaps preventing some textiles from ending up in landfills. There are probably multiple ways to approach these problems from a Stoic or conservationist perspective.
7) Are there specific Stoic practices or exercises that could assist individuals in developing a more mindful and deliberate approach to their fashion choices in the face of fast fashion temptations?
I can't think of a specific Stoic exercise that we know about from antiquity geared towards personal dress. But I do think it may be helpful to meditate on the virtue of moderation or temperance specifically if you are tempted to buy excess amounts clothes that you don't really need. Remember Epictetus' instruction in the Enchiridion to, “Endure and renounce.”
You can still enjoy fashion in a moderate way while renouncing overspending and excessive consumption.
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