Monday, October 17, 2016

On Sweaters, Being Bad at Minimalism, Etc.

It's no secret that I've always been more than a little ambivalent about whether the conventional wisdom regarding the precipitous decline of clothing quality in recent years is truth rather than canard, at least compared to many other bloggers in the "minimalism" or, put perhaps a bit less generously, the "buy fewer, but much nicer things" genre. Not to say that all or even most minimalist blogs are the latter (and certainly none of the ones I link or read, they're all great!), but I've always been fairly upfront about how I was inspired to begin my "almost-minimalist" blog because I wanted to buy some nice (and expensive) things in a way that wasn't entirely financially irresponsible. Assembled Hazardly puts this general thought much more eloquently than I can. When one has a fondness for shiny, pretty things, it can be difficult to disentangle a very consumerist desire to buy into "minimalism, the trendy aesthetic" from the laudable "minimalism, the ecologically conscious philosophy." Maybe I'm projecting, but that has been my lived experience.

Note: This post contains affiliate links that could result in a few cents commission for me if you click. Thank you for your support! I also do not recommend purchasing some of the items, which I link for illustrative purposes only. All the sweaters in the Shopstyle widget below are items I do recommend, to at least some extent, as described below.

Nonetheless, there is one category of clothing for which I'm increasingly convinced that fast fashion just won't cut it, if the goal is to get more than a season of wear out of each item: wool sweaters. There's no two ways around it, my record with attempting to pick durable 100% wool sweaters is worse than M. Night Shyamalan's movie-making record (during the period between Lady in the Water and Avatar: The Last Airbender, to be extremely precise). J.Crew merino wool Tippi cardigans (similar) circa December 2013 shrank basically upon first contact with cold water, even when handwashed; the 2014 version of Uniqlo merino wool cardigans that were fine for a few years, when previously purchased in 2008, soon developed mysterious holes that made me suspect moths in my closet despite only occasional gentle wear; and two January 2015 Madewell wool sweaters were somehow getting lumpy and dramatically pilled weeks into the first season of wear. While the Madewell merino wool sweater I bought last year is still fine, one understands why I live in fear of what it would look like if ever subjected to anything but the gentlest hand-washing. That's all of the 100% wool sweaters I've purchased since 2009. Of course, with my experience with wool being so troubled, I may not be that inclined to buying such sweaters ever again (especially when I do have a robust collection of sweaters in my closet, mostly in other materials).

Except that I also am perfectly fine with fast fashion for other sweaters. I have much better luck with even the cheapest fast fashion cashmere, for instance, i.e. H&M Premium Quality (similar) and Uniqlo, all of which is still in fine condition after a season of heavy wear and occasional machine washing in cold water with a mesh bag and drying flat, with no out of the ordinary pilling. Last year was, however, also my first time buying cashmere, so I can't speak to anything's longevity in this category.

Additionally, in the last year or so, I've come to appreciate the utility of a nice synthetic-blended machine-washable sweater to wear to work. Mine are all from Loft, and I have something like this open cardigan and these other sweaters in my regular office-wear rotation throughout the cold weather months. I do still prefer natural fibers for sweaters I wear on the weekends, but when it comes to work clothes, those synthetic-blend, machine-washable ones are some of my favorites. Nothing beats how low-maintenance they are, with just being able to throw it all in the wash and line dry without worrying about whether it will get misshapen. Of course, in any category, I encourage buying only what you need and will really use, with the intention of using it until it can be worn no more.

Am I just incredibly unlucky with picking out sweaters, or are all pure wool ones that fussy? Why do they keep letting M. Night Shyamalan make movies? Any thoughts on the marketing of "minimalism, the trendy aesthetic"? This particular discussion on r/femalefashionadvice touched indirectly on the latter idea, and I agree with the general conclusion that there are certain marketing buzzwords designed specifically to capture customers who fancy themselves "almost-minimalist," like myself.

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