Fashion Forward? Reflections on the Environmental History of Style

Fashion Forward? Reflections on the Environmental History of Style Abstract Fashion—the never-ending remaking of the style of goods—has become a major driver of environmental destruction. Yet environmental historians have written little about that destructiveness. This essay explores the significance of fashion in American environmental history. Fashion began to shape the American landscape in the late 1500s when growing European demand for stylish hats inspired a 300-year-hunt for beaver in the New World. In the twentieth century, Americans were critical in the rise of the modern fashion-driven economy, where style is part of the marketing of everything from automobiles to smartphones. Now the United States is one of the centers of a global movement to make fashion sustainable, if that is possible. Because understanding fashion requires considering what motivates consumers, this essay sheds light on the environmental history of consumption, still a relatively neglected subject. It also raises new questions about the prospects for greening capitalism. INTRODUCTION Fashion is creative destruction. When styles change, no-longer-stylish things become useless, even if they still are in perfectly good condition. To avoid embarrassment, the fashion conscious must keep buying into the latest trends, and that potentially endless replacing of the old with the new is a terrible environmental burden. We can only consume so much food, but that is not true of fashionable goods. If people have the money and the desire, their demand for new looks can be insatiable.1 Of course, the environmental impact of fashion has changed over time. Until roughly five hundred years ago, only the powerful owned finery. Everyone else had little choice about what to wear. Ordinary folk might have something for special occasions, “their Sunday best,” but otherwise they wore the same clothes day after day. The other objects of life were similarly basic: most people could not afford stylish things. But two historic developments made fashion more environmentally destructive. Slowly at first, and then with a rush in the twentieth century, fashion became more democratic. The realm of style also expanded beyond apparel to include everything from automobiles to phones. As a result, fashion now is central to a global economy that is unsustainable.2 Yet environmental historians have written little about the destructiveness of fashion, the never-ending reworking of the style of goods. The few exceptions show how much more we have to learn. Jennifer Anderson’s Mahogany: The Costs of Luxury in Early America and Jennifer Price’s Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America are especially revealing.3 Anderson demonstrates that fashion was important in the rise and fall of mahogany furniture. The market purportedly began in England with a craze inspired by a duchess. Although North America was well stocked with wood, wealthy colonists soon followed English tastemakers in demanding imported mahogany for their tables, chairs, chests, cabinets, and desks. The characteristics of the wood perfectly suited eighteenth-century ideals of “beauty, gentility, refinement, and modernity.” To be socially “polished” required owning luxury goods that could shine, and mahogany did. But as demand rose, and as the best stands were cut down, the quality of the wood declined. The development of mass-production veneers also undercut mahogany’s appeal. By the mid-nineteenth century, fashionable consumers had begun to desire other woods: mahogany seemed old. But mahogany furniture never truly was a fashion item. Like many luxuries in the early stages of the consumer revolution, fine furnishings were long-term investments. Although the wood was stylish, the designs of the pieces were meant to impress for decades: stylistic novelty mattered less than enduring craftsmanship. As a result, Anderson’s compelling history only gets us partway to understanding the environmental impact of fashion.4 Price argues that feather hats for women went in and out of fashion for centuries but seemingly “had established virtually a permanent perch” by the 1880s. Then a concerted attack by bird lovers made them forever unfashionable. That saved many species because hats were must-have fashion accessories for elite women, who owned different hats for almost every conceivable occasion. By focusing on feathers, however, Price misses the fundamental point about the dynamics of fashion. Although the environmental cost of wearing birds was particularly glaring, style changes were destructive regardless of the materials used by milliners. Every new fashion required stylish consumers to update their hat collection, and that was costly whether the hats were made from animals, plants, or petroleum.5 The neglect of fashion’s environmental history speaks to a larger problem in the field. We have analyzed many kinds of production, from mining to home building, but we have paid relatively little attention to consumption. That is changing. Scholars have begun to connect the demand for a variety of goods with environmental change. To cite just one example, we now know that the rising American appetite for coffee, sugar, bananas, rubber, beef, and timber in the twentieth century led to deforestation across the tropics. The next step is to think more deeply about why consumers bought what they bought. What drove consumption? Fashion is a key part of the answer.6 This essay explores the environmental history of style in the United States. That history is both long and illustrative. Fashion began to shape the American landscape in the late 1500s. In the twentieth century, Americans developed essential elements of the modern fashion-driven economy. Now the United States is one of the centers of a global movement to make fashion sustainable, if that is possible. I begin with a fresh look at a familiar story, the decimation of beaver to meet the demand for hats. Then I consider the role of fashion in the rise of a throwaway culture. I end with reflections on recent efforts to lessen the environmental impact of the clothing industry. Because I range over more than four hundred years of history, I cannot write with monographic detail about the issues I raise. I only sketch the environmental consequences of changes in style. I also slight the role of class and gender in shaping fashion history. Although I am the first historian to consider the sustainable-fashion movement, several sections of my essay essentially are creative syntheses of scholarly work in other fields. My goal is to inspire deeper analysis of a mode of consumption that has profoundly shaped human relationships with the nonhuman world. Ultimately, I hope to provoke further thought about the challenge of greening capitalism. FROM BEAVER HATS TO FAST FASHION The American colonies were settled when fashion was taking off in Europe. As commerce became critical in the competition of nations, merchants demanded fashionable goods to express their newfound importance in society. The first fashion magazines appeared in France in the 1670s. In England, a consumer revolution in the eighteenth century allowed the well-to-do in the provinces to follow trends in Paris and London. By 1800 the status conscious could buy foot-high cardboard fashion dolls or guidebooks of the latest styles. They also could visit a growing number of specialty shops offering a dazzling variety of stylish goods. As the market grew, the speed of fashion accelerated. In 1723 the political economist Bernard Mandeville wrote that “these Modes seldom last above Ten or Twelve Years, and a Man of Threescore must have observ’d five or six Revolutions of ‘em at least.” By the start of the American Revolution, the design of many kinds of apparel changed annually, and some super-fashionable items went in and out of style every month.7 Beaver hats were one of the first great fashions in early modern Europe, and the fur trade had devastating consequences. Beaver were nearly gone from Europe by 1500. Then traders began to exploit the stocks of the New World. The first imports of North American beaver came to France in the 1570s and to England a decade later. Over the next three hundred years, as trappers relentlessly worked their way from the Atlantic to the Pacific, tens of millions of beaver were killed. The destruction of so many beaver remade the continent. When beaver were abundant, they built dams almost everywhere, and their dams created countless wetlands and meadows. Without beaver to keep them in repair, the dams collapsed, and wetlands dried up. The loss is almost unimaginable.8 But our understanding of the fur trade is one sided. Environmental historians largely have ignored the hatmakers and buyers. Instead, we have focused on trappers, traders, and the commodification of fur-bearing animals. As a result, we have not connected the story of the beaver’s decline to other stories we can tell about the destructiveness of stylistic obsolescence.9 To understand the fate of the beaver, we have to start with the character of their felt. Hats also were made of wool, but in every respect beaver felt was a superior material. It was finer—glossier and more luxurious to the touch. It was sturdy enough to hold its shape in bad weather, yet it was easier to mold. Unlike wool, beaver felt repelled rain. Beaver felt also worked better with dyes. Above all, beaver felt was more expensive, and that made beaver hats far more appealing as status symbols.10 After the merchant classes of Europe made beaver hats a fashion trend, leaders at court and in the military followed their lead. Everyone who was anyone had to have “a beaver.” Or more than one. England’s Prince Charles bought 64 beaver hats in 1618. Because the fashionable colors and styles changed, he bought 57 more in 1619, and 40-plus in several years in the 1620s. Each hat cost as much as a good workhorse—and five to ten times as much as a wool hat.11 By the early 1600s, European hatmakers were competing to be the talk of the town. “Fine distinctions of color and nap fed into the fashion whirligig and kept the style conscious on their toes,” historian Timothy Brook writes in Vermeer’s Hat. “Crowns went up and down, narrowed and widened, arched and sagged. Brims started widening in the 1610s, turning up or flopping down as fashion dictated, but always getting bigger. Colorful headbands were added to distinguish the truly fashionable from the less so, and showy decorations were stuck into them.”12 Two hundred years later, hatmakers still were turning out endless variations on the beaver theme. One illustration of “modifications of the beaver hat” depicted four models from the early 1800s. The Wellington (1812) was widest at the top, with a slim hatband and sharply arched brim that created a kind of overhang. The Paris Beau (1815) had an even more sharply arched brim, but the crown was a cone with a sawed-off top. The next two hats could not be more different. Neither had an overhanging brim. The Regent (1825) was what we would call a top hat, with a perfectly cylindrical shape, a brim that curved delicately up, and a thin hatband; the D’Orsay (1820) had a more flamboyant upcurve to the brim, a thick hatband, and a crown that widened slightly at the top.13 The moral of the story is easy to miss. If beaver hats were a passing fancy, the environmental damage would have been far less. Owning one might have been enough. But beaver hats were not just “the rage” for a season. They were part of the world of fashion for three centuries. During that time, every style change encouraged people to buy another hat. Then another, and another, and another. The buying might never stop.14 Although at first only a few kinds of attire were subject to the dictates of fashion, the empire of style expanded over time. In the twentieth century, especially, many wardrobe basics became trend worthy. Nylon stockings initially came only in skin tones. When sales sagged in the 1960s, however, DuPont decided to offer a variety of styles, with new colors, patterns, and textures every year. Sneakers also were purely functional until manufacturers realized that they could enlarge the market by appealing to the style conscious. “If you talk about shoe performance,” an L.A. Gear executive explained, “you only need one or two pairs. If you’re talking fashion, you’re talking endless pairs of shoes.”15 The expansion of fashion went hand in hand with the democratization of consumer culture. Now average Joes and Janes can look put together, not just princes. The clothing statistics are stunning. Americans buy roughly sixty-five pieces of clothing per year, more than one a week. That is significantly more than a generation ago. Because clothing has become incredibly cheap, people can afford more of everything.16 The rise of “fast fashion” also led to increased consumption. Seasonal fashion is passé. Instead of changing stock a few times a year, fast-fashion companies introduce new styles with dizzying speed. H&M and Forever 21 have something different every day. Some fast-fashion retailers do not even restock their best sellers: they want customers to think constantly about what is hot now. If the clothes were expensive, shoppers would hesitate before buying something that might look dated in a month. But the cheapness of fast fashion encourages impulsiveness. You can binge on the most up-to-date styles—and unlike bingeing on food or drink, you won’t get sick or pass out, so you can keep buying new stuff as long as you want.17 Making billions of pieces of clothing leaves a considerable environmental footprint. Growing cotton involves prodigious use of chemicals, water, and energy, and manufacturing artificial fibers depletes nonrenewable resources and generates pollution. Dyeing textiles always has been a nasty business. Modern manufacturers use toxic chemicals to make clothes feel soft, look bright, repel water, and resist wrinkles and stains. Because the global hubs of textile production now are far from the centers of consumption, bringing the latest fashions to market worsens the problem of climate change.18 Owning vast wardrobes also has an indirect environmental cost. When most people had few clothes, they did not need closets. But now Americans want tons of storage space. As fast-fashion critic Elizabeth Cline notes in Overdressed, the typical master closet in new homes is about the size of a guest room in houses built after World War II. Walk-in closets are even bigger. Because old houses often do not meet the storage expectations of today’s buyers, our love of fashion indirectly contributes to suburban sprawl.19 Eventually, though, much of the stuff in our closets becomes waste. Americans throw away 25 billion pounds of textiles a year, and trashed textiles make up about 5 percent of the municipal waste stream. Fast fashion usually is not made to last. Why should it be? The colors fade, the seams split apart, or the fabric becomes worn after a few washings. But even clothes that still are in good condition often are discarded simply because they no longer excite their owner. For some shoppers, that no-regrets trashing of yesterday’s styles is part of the fun. As one fan of fast fashion proclaimed on YouTube, “I like things that are disposable.”20 DURABLE NO MORE If people just threw out unstylish hats or shoes or clothes, fashion still would be a powerful force of creative destruction. But what we wear is only part of the problem. In the twentieth century, countless consumer goods became items of fashion, at profound environmental cost. That even was true for many durable goods, products that consumers might have used for a decade or more. Although a number of manufacturers began to use design in innovative ways in the 1920s, the paradigm shifter was General Motors. GM bet that people would rush to buy more stylish cars. The company introduced annual model changes in 1927. In partnership with DuPont, which invented an industrial auto paint, GM also offered cars in eye-catching colors. Both changes directly challenged Ford, the industry leader. The Model T was black, period. Even after Ford began to make different versions of the Model T, the differences were not matters of style. Henry Ford himself explicitly rejected the idea of redesigning cars to render old models obsolete. “Our principle of business is precisely to the contrary,” he proclaimed in 1922. “We cannot conceive how to serve the consumer unless we make for him something that, so far as we can provide, will last forever.” But GM was right. Well-to-do Americans did not want to look at the same car year after year: they wanted their prized possession to stay sharp. GM quickly overtook Ford as the number-one automaker.21 Color itself was a revolution. A 1928 magazine ad perfectly illustrates how GM sold style at the dawn of the design age. Titled “COLOR HARMONIES – like the flaming flowers of spring,” the ad depicted a woman picking tulips in front of a Buick, and the greens and oranges of the flowers were matched in the car. “Buick motor cars wear beauty as radiant as the glowing blossoms of the countryside. Not only the beauty of pleasing lines, but also the beauty of alluring color.” Then the ad named the new Buick colors: “Harbor Blue – Valley Green – Boulevard Maroon – Talina Brown,” among others. “All were chosen by color specialists. All are tasteful as well as distinctive. And all combine with Buick’s long low lines to place these cars in the forefront of fashionable creations.”22 The success of GM led many commentators to argue that fashion had become a major force in the US economy. “What has happened, apparently, is that many more people have become conscious of style and the style idea has been extended to many more articles,” an advertising executive wrote in 1927. “People buy a new car, not because the old one is worn out, but because it is no longer modern. It does not satisfy their pride.” The authors of a 1932 text on “consumer engineering” made a similar argument: “This element of style is a consideration in buying many things. Clothes go out of style and are replaced long before they are worn out. That principle extends to other products—motorcars, bathrooms, radios, foods, refrigerators, furniture. People are persuaded to abandon the old and buy the new in order to be up-to-date, to have the right and correct thing.”23 The commentary of the late 1920s and early 1930s was prescient but premature. The real triumph of fashion did not come until the 1950s when a majority of Americans finally achieved a measure of financial security. With money for more than the basics, ordinary folk sought consumer goods that demonstrated their new affluence. More Americans also began to value novelty for its own sake. The ability to grow tired of stuff became one of the pleasures of life in an affluent society. You could buy new things just because you felt like a change. That made the market for fashion bigger than ever, and manufacturers seized the opportunity. The result was a pervasive style that writer Thomas Hines called “populuxe,” the look of popular luxury.24 The automakers again led the way. They did everything they could to make buyers fashion conscious. By the mid-1950s, many cars had more than 40 pounds of “gorp,” chrome that was pure ornament. GM debuted each year’s models at Motorama, where the cars were spotlighted on giant round platforms. The spectacle was like a fashion runway. In a 1955 Ford television commercial, an art critic explained the principles of car styling. The automakers even encouraged their designers to seek the spotlight. The head of GM’s style department, Harley Earl, soon was as famous as the Parisian clothing designer Christian Dior. Ford’s head stylist was known as “the Cellini of chrome.”25 Even more overtly than in the early days of design, magazine ads for cars in the 1950s were reminders that fashions changed every year, and the newest models always were the most chic. A 1954 ad celebrated the “Low Level Look” of that year’s Oldsmobile as the “Height of Fashion.” “So low you can look over it,” the ad promised. “So lovely you can’t overlook it. Oldsmobile’s new Ninety-Eight ‘Dream Car’ sets the styling high of the year with a dramatic ground-hugging silhouette. Smartly slanted panoramic windshield. Sweep-cut openings for a dashing ‘sports car’ flair. And what a dream to drive!”26 The most talked about elements of styling were tail fins. Their look changed annually. They might have a hint of chrome, or the chrome might be like a second color. Some had gorp lines that could vary endlessly. Although all tail fins rose above the trunk, some jutted below. The angles could be severe or gentle. The taillights often were ornamented, and of course their placement varied from year to year. The evolution of the Cadillac tail fin was particularly dramatic. The 1948 debut was quite modest: the fin barely deserved that name, and the tail was a small appendage. A year later, the look was graceful, like a stylized whale. But then the angles sharpened, and the chrome became more pronounced. By the late 1950s, the tail fins seemed designed for rockets. The 1959 model, in historian Karal Marling’s words, “towered three and one half feet above the pavement and terminated in multiple taillights, nasty, fearsome red things, shaped like frozen bursts of flame from the afterburner of a jet engine.”27 The changing fashions never were just show. The automakers wanted people to buy cars more often, and styling served that goal. “Our big job is to hasten obsolescence,” GM’s Harley Earl explained in 1955. “In 1934 the average car ownership span was 5 years; now it is 2 years. When it is 1 year, we will have a perfect score.” Ford’s designer made a similar claim: “We design a car to make a man unhappy with his 1957 Ford ‘long about the end of 1958.”28 The stylists’ success meant more resources mined, more rivers and skies polluted, and more land degraded. The average car now weighs roughly 4,000 pounds, so the industry consumes prodigious quantities of steel, iron, aluminum, rubber, plastics, glass, copper, lead, and platinum. Obtaining that material requires a tremendous amount of energy and causes significant environmental problems. The same is true for auto manufacturing, which ranks fifth in toxic releases into the environment, behind the chemical, primary metals, paper, and plastics sectors. The disposal of junked vehicles also is problematic. Although almost all of the steel and iron is recycled, most of the other material is not. Before 1970 the unusable remains of cars typically were burned. Now giant shredders turn the wastage into billions of pounds of “fluff” a year. Because cars contain a host of toxic substances, many scrapyards have become hazardous waste sites.29 Household appliances also became stylish in the postwar decades, although the transformation was not straightforward. Appliances were more private than cars: they were not conspicuous and mobile markers of status. Appliances also had to fit the design of a house. When a few manufacturers introduced color appliances in the 1920s, many consumers balked. So did many dealers because color added to the challenge of keeping adequate inventory. In the 1950s, however, the industry finally committed to selling style. Frigidaire, a division of GM, was especially aggressive. But all the major appliance manufacturers hoped to be more like the automakers. Their dream, as one executive explained, was to reduce the average trade-in time from eleven years to seven or less.30 At first, appliance style mimicked car design. Manufacturers added chrome gorp—stylized handles, lettering, and lines of all kinds. They expanded the color palette. They varied the overall form of everything from refrigerators to washing machines. In the late 1950s, appliance makers also began to promote “the integrated kitchen” as a new approach to domestic style: everything had to work together to create a single impression. Frigidaire promoted its “Sheer Look” with magazine ads featuring women in gowns. “Pardon Us for Making Your Refrigerator Old-Fashioned,” one proclaimed. Another ad invited readers to “Meet the Perfect Cook with the New Sheer Look!”31 By the 1970s, Americans were throwing away about 25 million appliances a year. Unlike cars, however, discarded refrigerators, dishwashers, and stoves rarely became scrap. Appliances had few salable parts, and their porcelain enameling interfered with the salvage process. The result was a huge burden on landfills. Although appliances might last for decades, most literally were buried way before their time.32 The environmental destructiveness of endlessly changing fashion did not go unnoticed. Critics of postwar consumer culture called America “a throwaway society,” and the wastefulness of styling was one of their main targets. Vance Packard’s 1960 best-seller The Waste Makers was especially powerful. Packard railed against the rise of “planned obsolescence of desirability,” and he held out automobile and appliance design as the most shameful examples. For Packard, the cost went beyond wasted resources and despoiled landscapes. He feared that the habit of trashing still-usable goods ultimately would destroy the nation’s character by making citizens self-indulgent, materialistic, and weak-willed.33 Even a few manufacturers challenged the postwar fashion trend. The best examples come from the auto industry. In the late 1950s, when Detroit overwhelmingly controlled the marketplace, a few European automakers saw a chance to break into the US market by rejecting styling. They ran ads that mocked the American devotion to annual model changes. In a 1959 ad, Volkswagen showed their cars of the decade, and all were exactly the same. The 1950 Volkswagen was a Black Beetle, and so were the 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, and 1959 Volkswagens. The message was clear: the Volkswagen was unfashionable last year, it was unfashionable now, and it would be unfashionable next year, but if you still thought a car was something to drive rather than something to show off, the Beetle was your car! Volvo was even more sarcastic in a 1967 ad for “the paper car.” In a throwaway society, the ad argued, the next logical step in planned obsolescence would be disposable cars for every occasion—one for nights on the town, one for business meetings, one for rides in the country. Sounds crazy? Yes, the ad continued, but not much crazier than trading your car in every two or three years for the latest fashion. That is why Volvos were made of steel—and built to last!34 The critique of car styling had important consequences. Import sales rose sharply in the late 1950s and 1960s, with the Beetle leading the way. US automakers began to dial back their styling; tail fins soon became embarrassing. They also introduced compact cars with few frills. Eventually automakers even reconceived the model year. Although cars have new features every year, their exterior design only changes every seven or eight years. Americans also are not as trade-in happy as in the 1950s. Even before the financial crisis of 2008, the average length of ownership of new cars had risen to four years. Now it is five-and-a-half years.35 Yet style still is critical in the auto industry. Automakers compete to introduce cars with distinctive looks. The Honda Element was a new take on the SUV, and the Chrysler PT Cruiser and the Mini Cooper refashioned the small car. Occasionally automakers use style to define entire lines: Toyota’s Scion cars were designed to appeal to urban hipsters. Now the goal often is to wow buyers into switching makes, not just trading old models for the latest ones. According to industry observers, the twenty-first century has brought “a new golden age of styling.”36 In the economy as a whole, the empire of fashion now reaches farther than ever. Cheap fashion shapes the market for a greater number of durable goods. Style also is critical in the booming consumer-technology sector. Furniture is the prime example of the speeding up of durable consumption. Americans are buying furniture more often. Globalization is a key reason for that trend. From 1998 to 2007, furniture imports doubled; domestic sales also rose. But economist Juliet Schor argues convincingly that the transformation of furniture into a “faster-moving consumer good” owes a lot to one hugely successful company: Ikea.37 Scandinavia long had a reputation for producing elegant furniture, and Ikea turned sophisticated style into “design for everyone.” The company’s wares are hip yet cheap. Ikea uses a lot of pine and even more particleboard, so the furniture is not built to endure. But no one expects to bequeath anything from Ikea to the grandkids. The stuff is great for now. By making fashionable furniture affordable, Ikea has become a colossus, the largest retailer of its kind in the world.38 In contrast to many fast-fashion companies, Ikea is not oblivious to its environmental impact. Former CEO Anders Dahlvig writes at length about the company’s environmental agenda in his how-to-succeed-while-doing-good manifesto: The Ikea Edge. Because only a fraction of the world’s forests are sustainably managed, Ikea pushes suppliers to meet higher standards. The company has made some of its products greener. When activists complained about the hazards of formaldehyde in furniture, Ikea responded. The company boasts that over 70 percent of its furniture now is recyclable. From the start, Ikea’s flat-pack design minimized transportation costs. The company also has worked to reduce energy consumption at its retail outlets.39 But Ikea’s green initiatives all serve an unsustainable business model. Profits depend on the endless cycle of excitement and boredom. People see a cool new piece of furniture, buy it, tire of it, and discard it—and then buy another cool piece of furniture to replace it. That cycle means more trees cut, more air and water pollution, and more energy used to transport material around the world. Then almost all of the discarded furniture becomes waste. Many secondhand stores and charities will not accept particleboard bookcases, tables, desks, or cabinets. Despite Ikea’s efforts to make recyclable products, wood recycling in the United States is negligible, except for palettes and crates. Americans junk 10 billion pounds of furniture a year.40 In the world of hi-tech, Apple led the style revolution. “Apple is a fashion designer,” one analyst argued, “and the iPhone and iPad are fashion statements.” Another writer called Apple “a kind of consumer-electronics fashion house,” with product unveilings akin to Paris couture shows. Under Steve Jobs, Apple clearly learned from the GM playbook. The iMac was the first personal computer to come in stylish colors. The auto industry also shaped Jobs’s early thinking about Apple’s style. For a time, Jobs imagined that Apple might have the enduring appeal of the Volkwagen Beetle. Then he decided that the company’s design model would be Porsche. Now Apple is drawing directly on the world of high fashion: in 2013 the company hired the president of Yves Saint Laurent to help develop wearable technology and the CEO of Burberry to make its retail outlets more elegant.41 Because style now is so much a part of consumer culture, Apple’s achievement is easy to take for granted. Apple became the world’s most valuable corporation by joining fashion and innovation to make old products doubly obsolete. Each version of the Mac or iPhone has both new technical capabilities and new stylistic elements. But that does not quite explain Apple’s success. Apple style is not an add-on. The company’s computers and devices do not have gorp. Instead, style is integral to product design. Even the practical features need to be hip.42 Mobile phones exemplify the importance of “techspressiveness.” Manufacturers quickly decided that style mattered. “‘Phones are fashion’ as we enter the third millennium, and the cell phone makers that learned this lesson first are reaping the market share gains,” a Texas Instruments report concluded. “While mobile handsets will continue to be sold on size, weight, and battery life … the ‘coolness factor’ is playing an ever increasing role in consumers’ buying decisions.”43 For many consumers, indeed, the design of the device is just the start. Like clothes, phones now have accessories, from retro handsets to petite designer purses. You also can customize your phone with crystals and stickers and charms, and you can find everything you need at boutique stores that specialize in “cell fashion.”44 But few people become attached to their phones. The structure of the industry encourages discontent. “The Next Big Thing Is Here,” Samsung promises. Phones keep changing, and wireless contracts typically offer discounts for upgrades, so consumers are prodded to buy a new phone every two years, at least. Most do. In 2010 Americans discarded 152 million mobile devices. Of that astounding number, just 11 percent were collected for recycling. Even if the collection rate was much higher, however, the waste still would be considerable. Phone recycling is far from a closed loop: only the high-value materials are salvaged. Because many electronics components are toxic, their eventual burial or incineration threatens both environmental and human health, and so does the export of discarded phones for low-tech salvage in developing countries.45 SUSTAINABLE FASHION? Although the world of fashion keeps expanding, a countermovement has begun to win adherents. Some hope to reform the system from within; others are trying to force change from the outside. A growing number of consumers also are reconsidering the role of fashion in their lives. The countermovement has had the most success in raising questions about what we wear. Because activists campaigned for years to make apparel manufacturing more socially responsible, the industry is supersensitive to criticism, and the environmental critique goes deeper than the critique of sweatshop labor. It might even be an existential threat. Some executives, designers, and academics also see sustainability as a world-historic opportunity. “Textiles led the industrial revolution,” a professor of fashion and apparel design argued in 2016, “and now the fashion industry is leading the sustainability revolution.”46 Clothing companies are seeking more eco-friendly materials and production methods. An industry trade organization, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, developed tools for members to assess their environmental impact. Designers are asking hard questions about how to make clothes that people will cherish, not throw away. Fashion departments at colleges and universities are offering courses about sustainability. The dream of greening fashion also has inspired a shelf of books, and every year brings more work on the subject: The Sustainable Fashion Handbook, Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change, A Practical Guide to Sustainable Fashion, Sustainable Fashion: Past, Present, and Future.47 A part of the sustainable-fashion agenda is not unique. Using greener materials, reducing waste, finding alternatives to toxic substances in production processes, and cutting energy consumption are becoming good business practice in many industries, not just clothing manufacture. Some businesses also are reengineering products to have a lower environmental impact over their life cycle.48 But the heart of the sustainable-fashion movement is something radically new. People are rethinking the nature of fashion itself. Can fashion exist without the environmental damage that comes from throwing out vast quantities of no-longer-fashionable stuff? The critics of stylistic obsolescence in the 1950s and 1960s never asked that question. Because they focused their criticism on durable goods, they treated style as frivolous. Cars were modes of transportation and refrigerators were ways of preserving food; they did not need to be fashionable. Although some thought that a civilization built on waste eventually would collapse, their deepest anxiety was moral, not environmental: they feared that Americans were losing their virtue. The proponents of sustainable fashion, in contrast, are not simple-living moralists. They love to look good. Although they know that the insatiable desire for today’s trend is terribly destructive, they argue that fashion serves important needs: fashion is a form of self-expression, a tonic against boredom, and a way to live in the moment. They want to develop a fashion ethic for an age of ecological limits. They have no illusions about the difficulty of that task. They readily acknowledge that “sustainable fashion” might be an oxymoron. Fashion is change, and sustainability aims for permanence. But they hate the thought that the future might be drab, and they reject “fashion minimalism.” As sustainable-fashion pioneer Kate Fletcher wrote, “just as fashion without sustainability is ignorant, sustainability without fashion is sad.”49 One requisite for sustainable fashion is “emotionally durable design.” Making a physically durable garment is not enough. Designers need to produce pieces that consumers want to wear for years, not just a day or a season. In the view of sustainable-fashion theorists, that kind of durability might come from many things. Something might be multipurpose. Even if one element no longer seems useful, another might. Clothes can be designed to age well, to continue to look and feel good even if they become stained or worn. Another possibility is design that encourages customization. If people can imbue something with their own personality, they are likely to use it longer.50 Some advocates of sustainable fashion are keen to create bonds between producers and consumers. People often prize things that come with stories, and stories about how someone made something can be compelling. But the ties might go deeper, especially if small local design shops begin to make more of what we wear. A few slow-fashion firms allow their customers to become co-designers of their goods. Junky, a London boutique, invites people to bring old clothes for refashioning. Because the materials always are different, no two Junky pieces are the same, and everyone has a stake in what they buy.51 Nothing that designers or retailers do will make much difference, however, if consumers do not change. We need truly to own what we buy. That means having “long-term meaningful relationships” with our clothes instead of a series of flings. The boosters of sustainable fashion invariably urge people to define their own style and then build a wardrobe around a few well-made pieces rather than a lot of trendy stuff. Many also encourage consumers to develop do-it-yourself skills. Mending extends the life of garments; altering makes the old seem new. Fashioning your own clothes gives a profound sense of ownership. In each case, the effort changes the relationship from passive to active: the do-it-yourselfer is giving something, not just taking, taking, taking.52 The most thoughtful sustainable-fashion advocates acknowledge that powerful cultural and economic forces stand in the way of reform. The call to take responsibility for our possessions goes against the grain of modern consumer culture’s promises of freedom from the burdens of ownership. In a world of convenience and disposability, we no longer need to care about stuff. Marketers also constantly stimulate our desire for new things. Although novelty can simply be a pleasure, it has become a source of discontent. For manufacturers and retailers, that is the point. The motto of one of the pioneers of stylistic obsolescence, GM’s Charles Kettering, was “Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied.”53 Yet a growing number of consumers are rejecting fast fashion. Some hope to avoid the marketplace altogether, to be stylish without buying clothes. Others just seek to scale back their consumption. Their motivation often is both economic and environmental because the 2008 financial crisis revived interest in thriftiness. Sewing has made a comeback. Sewing machine sales doubled from 2002 to 2012, and sewing classes are booming. Many of the new stitchers are twentysomethings rebelling against cheap style. They want a distinctive look, and they want to be proud of what they wear. The art of “deconstruction”—tearing up old clothes and sewing the scraps into one-of-a-kind pieces—has special appeal. For some sewers, the ultimate goal is to move toward a more sustainable lifestyle. “We’re turning ourselves into a throwaway society,” one sewing convert said. “It’s nonstop consumption of things that are meant to be thrown away. I’d rather own three things I love than 100 that are worthless.”54 Clothing swaps have become common. People bring something to give away and take something home in return. As the founder of The Clothing Exchange explained, the idea is to allow participants to “shrink their fashion footprint and save some pennies while looking wonderful too.” The motto of the Clothing Swap website simply is “Be Good. Be Green. Be Glam.” The swaps range from intimate gatherings of friends to elaborate parties that attract hundreds to eat, drink, dance, and hunt for the perfect new thing. But all provide a way out of a peculiarly modern dilemma: “a closet full of clothes but nothing to wear.”55 Fashion time-outs also are getting attention. The goal is not to stop buying clothes forever. Instead, like Henry David Thoreau’s sojourn at Walden, the time-outs are experiments to see what truly suffices for a satisfying life. As “one small, personal attempt to confront consumerism,” a 29-year-old Seattle woman, Alex Martin, made a dress that she wore 365 days in a row, with varying accessories. Her Little Brown Dress blog became a popular site for discussions about fashion and sustainability. The Six Items or Less Campaign asked people to wear only six pieces of clothing for a month, not counting shoes, accessories, and underwear. The Great American Apparel Diet started with an unfashionable question: “Who are we without something hip and new in our closets?” To participate, you had to pledge not to buy any clothes for a year.56 The outerwear company Patagonia also has made a radical effort to slow the pace of consumption. In 2012 it launched the Common Threads Partnership that involved four retailer-consumer commitments: Reduce – WE make useful gear that lasts a long time. YOU don’t buy what you don’t need. Repair – WE help you repair your Patagonia gear. YOU pledge to fix what’s broken. Reuse – WE help you find a home for Patagonia gear you no longer need. YOU sell or pass it on to someone who needs it. Recycle – WE will take back your Patagonia gear that is worn out. YOU pledge to keep your stuff out of the landfill or incinerator.Patagonia announced the partnership in a full-page New York Times ad that showed one of the company’s best-selling jackets—and told its affluent clientele not to buy it. “We ask you to buy less and reflect more before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else,” the ad explained. A year later, Patagonia used its website, catalogs, and store displays to spark debate about “The Responsible Economy.” The campaign challenged consumers to question the never-ending cycle of buying, getting bored, trashing, and buying anew: “We know we must consume less, and far more slowly.”57 Will any of this be enough? Even the most ardent advocates of sustainable fashion acknowledge that the movement still has a long way to go. But history suggests that the boosters have underestimated the challenges ahead. They have envisioned some of the obstacles to success but overlooked others. The fashion reformers have thought hardest about how to reconcile change and permanence. Although they argue that marketing has distorted the desire for novelty, they take that desire seriously, and they are convinced that most people will not willingly wear the same things over and over. To counter the idea that sustainability requires “a monochromatic world,” they have touted many low-impact methods of updating your wardrobe.58 But the reformers have given much less attention to the critical issue of status. The demand for stylish goods initially came from merchants eager to win respect, and fashion still is partly about belonging. The style conscious want to be with it, not left out or left behind. Defining your own style, a basic sustainable-fashion tenet, is more radical than it seems. That kind of inner directedness may suit consumers who think of themselves as tastemakers or nonconformists. For most people, however, fashion is a way to secure the approval of others. Can fashion provide social affirmation without the constant effort to keep up?59 The sustainable-fashion advocates also have not thought enough about what might drive reform. Of course, they hope that consumers will want to reduce their environmental footprint if they know the true costs of fashion. They also argue that rethinking our relationship with clothes will make us happier. How will people see the light? Ironically, many reformers assume that sustainability eventually will become fashionable. Once enough trendsetters make green the new black, everyone will follow, and then “eco-chic” never will go out of style. But that conviction requires a leap of faith. In the past, rebellions against the tyranny of fashion only attracted a minority: they just became countercultural fashion statements. Although sustainable fashion has revolutionary potential, it might become merely a market niche.60 To think more deeply about the path to sustainability, the reformers ultimately need to confront the nature of capitalism. Most designers and industry executives take for granted that the profit motive can be compatible with social and environmental responsibility. Even the few critics who want to free fashion from commerce have viewed that challenge in isolation: they have not reckoned with the centrality of style in the modern economy. But the sustainability of capitalism is open to debate. If capitalism is not sustainable, can fashion ever be? That question might be asked about any economic activity today, yet fashion always has had a special relationship to the market. It spurred the development of merchant capitalism in Europe, and it helped transform industrial capitalism into a consumption-centered system. Remaking fashion almost certainly requires greening capitalism—or, somehow, creating a totally different kind of economy.61 Yet the many questions about sustainable fashion do not negate the importance of the movement. Abolishing fashion seems more and more a utopian dream. Style no longer matters just to the elite. In the twentieth century, fashion became fundamental, and almost everyone now derives some pleasure from stylish things. Although sustainable fashion might prove an oxymoron, what is the alternative? Adam Rome is a professor of both history and management at the University at Buffalo. With Hartmut Berghoff, he coedited Green Capitalism? Business and the Environment in the Twentieth Century. Footnotes I thank Lisa Brady for considering an unconventional manuscript and then offering many helpful editorial suggestions. She is a model editor. I also am grateful for comments from two anonymous reviewers, audiences at the University of Delaware and the State University of New York at Fredonia, and colleagues in Ginger Strand’s workshop at the 2015 Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference. 1 I borrow the phrase “creative destruction” from economist Joseph Schumpeter. 2 For the limits to fashion before modern times, see Neil McKendrick, John Brewer, and J. H. Plumb, The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth Century England (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982), 31; Janet Hethorn and Connie Ulasewicz, Sustainable Fashion: Why Now? (New York: Fairchild Books, 2008), 9–11. 3 Jennifer L. Anderson, Mahogany: The Costs of Luxury in Early America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012); Jennifer Price, Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America (New York: Basic Books, 1999). 4 Anderson, Mahogany, 10–13, 15, 28–29, 32–33, 50, 54, 250–51. For luxury goods as investments, see Frank Trentmann, Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First (New York: Harper, 2016), 34, 37. 5 Price, Flight Maps, 58–59, 75–76. 6 For the relative neglect of consumption in environmental history, see Tom McCarthy, “The Black Box in the Garden: Consumers and the Environment,” in A Companion to American Environmental History, ed. Douglas Cazaux Sackman (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2014), 304–24. McCarthy makes a compelling pitch for paying more attention to consumer behavior. In addition, see Matthew Klingle, “The Nature of Desire: Consumption in Environmental History,” in The Oxford Handbook of Environmental History, ed. Andrew C. Isenberg (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 467–512. The example I cite comes from Richard P. Tucker, Insatiable Appetite: The United States and the Ecological Degradation of the Tropical World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000). 7 McKendrick, Brewer, and Plumb, The Birth of a Consumer Society, 34–99, quotation on 51. 8 No one can say precisely how many beaver were killed, but the fragmentary evidence makes clear that the total was at least 20 million. For seventeenth- and eighteenth-century statistics, see John F. Richards, The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 491, 511. In addition, see Eric Jay Dolin, Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America (New York: Norton, 2010), 282–83; Shepard Krech III, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (New York: Norton, 2000), 175; Nick Bunker, Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History (New York: Knopf, 2010), 232. Alice Outwater summarizes the ecological consequences in Water: A Natural History (New York: Basic Books, 1996), 24–32. 9 The commodification of the beaver was a major theme in William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (New York: Norton, 1983), 82–107. That idea now is a standard part of the American environmental history narrative. See Ted Steinberg, Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 33–35. 10 Timothy Brook, Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2008), 42; Bunker, Making Haste from Babylon, 236. 11 Bunker, Making Haste from Babylon, 233–234, 241; Brook, Vermeer’s Hat, 43. 12 Brook, Vermeer’s Hat, 43–44. 13 Dietland Muller-Schwarze, The Beaver: Its Life and Impact, 2nd ed. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011), 151. 14 Environmental historians unwittingly have given the impression that beaver hats were a fad because they typically discuss them only in the context of the colonial period. Ted Steinberg writes that beaver hats were “all the rage” at the time, and William Cronon notes that their “rising popularity” was a key factor in the exploitation of the species in New England. See Steinberg, Down to Earth, 34; Cronon, Changes in the Land, 82. 15 Giles Slade, Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), 125; Alan Durning, How Much Is Enough? The Consumer Society and the Future of the Earth (New York: Norton, 1992), 96. 16 Juliet B. Schor, Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (New York: Penguin Press, 2010), 29. 17 The best critique of fast fashion is Elizabeth L. Cline, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013), 95–118. For a more academic take on fast fashion and disposability, see Schor, Plenitude, 28–31. 18 Cline, Overdressed, 123–25; Michael Lavergne, Fixing Fashion: Rethinking the Way We Make, Market and Buy Our Clothes (Gabriola Island: New Society, 2015), 114–15, 133, 141. 19 Cline, Overdressed, 121–22. 20 Schor, Plenitude, 39; Cline, Overdressed, 122. 21 Ford’s proclamation is in Slade, Made to Break, 32. In addition, see Karal Ann Marling, As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), 137; Regina Lee Blaszczyk, The Color Revolution (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2112), 15; Tom McCarthy, Auto Mania: Cars, Consumers, and the Environment (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 89–90. 22 Blaszczyk, The Color Revolution, 114. 23 Paul H. Nystrom, Economics of Fashion (New York: Ronald Press, 1928), iii; Slade, Made to Break, 49–50, 66–67; Susan Strasser, Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1999), 187–201. 24 Thomas Hine, Populuxe (New York: Knopf, 1986). 25 Marling, As Seen on TV, 139, 141, 144, 147, 152–53. 26 Blaszczyk, The Color Revolution, 251. 27 Marling, As Seen on TV, 141. Marling reproduces the Cadillac tail fins from 1948 to 1959 on p. 139. 28 Slade, Made to Break, 45; Ted Steinberg, Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History. 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 228. 29 Gregory A. Keoleian, Krishnendu Kar, Michelle M. Manion, and Jonathan W. Buckley, Industrial Ecology of the Automobile: A Life Cycle Perspective (Warrendale: Society of Automotive Engineers, 1997), 21–22, 36, 128; Carl A. Zimring, Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2005), 152–53. Since the Environmental Protection Agency began tallying car weights in the early 1970s, the average has ranged from 3,000 to 4,000 pounds. See Danny Hakim, “Average U.S. Car Is Tipping Scales at 4,000 Pounds,” New York Times, May 5, 2004 [online]; Annie Lowrey, “Your Big Car Is Killing Me,” Slate, June 27, 2011 [online]. 30 Blaszczyk, The Color Revolution, 18, 170, 256–62; Marling, As Seen on TV, 137, 266. 31 Marling, As Seen on TV, 142–43, 262–66. The Sheer Look ads are easy to find online. 32 Environment Improvement Case History Report (New York: Freed, 1975), 28. 33 Vance Packard, The Waste Makers (New York: David McKay, 1960), 68–91, 118–27, 195–214, 232–45, 314–27. 34 The two ads are reproduced in the photo insert of Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997). As McCarthy notes, however, the anti-fashion of the VW Beetle was itself a fashion statement. See Auto Mania, 134. 35 McCarthy, Auto Mania, 144–46; Katie LaBarre, “Americans Holding onto New Cars Longer,” US News and World Report, February 27, 2012 [online]. 36 McCarthy, Auto Mania, 247–48. 37 Schor, Plenitude, 34–35. 38 Ellen Ruppel Shell, Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture (New York: Penguin Press, 2009), 125–48. In addition, see Sara Kristoffersson, Design by Ikea: A Cultural History (London: Bloomsbury, 2014). 39 Anders Dahlvig, The Ikea Edge: Building Global Growth and Social Good at the World’s Most Iconic Home Store (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012), 35–48. 40 US Environmental Protection Agency, Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2009 Facts and Figures (Washington, DC: EPA, 2010), 10, 57. 41 For the quotations, see Winifred Gallagher, New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change (New York: Penguin Press, 2012), 217; Adam Lashinsky, Inside Apple: The Secrets Behind the Past and Future Success of Steve Jobs’s Iconic Brand (London: John Murray, 2012), 167, 190. In addition, see Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 355–56; Paula Rosenblum, “Burberry CEO to Join Apple: What Should We Expect?” Forbes, October 15, 2013 [online]; Brian X. Chen and Mark Scott, “Apple Hires Burberry Chief to Polish Image of Online Stores,” New York Times, October 15, 2013 [online]. 42 Ian Parker, “The Shape of Things to Come: Jonathan Ive and Apple’s Design Vision,” The New Yorker, February 23 and March 2, 2015, 120–39. 43 The phrase “techspressiveness” was coined by anthropologist Richard Kozinets, who is quoted in Gallagher, New, 140. The Texas Instruments report, Cell Phones as Fashion Create New Design Challenges, is online. 44 JoAnne Viviano, “Cell Phones Making a Fashion Statement,” Washington Post, October 13, 2006 [online]. I found the boutiques when I did a Google search for “cell phone fashion.” 45 Electronics TakeBack Coalition, Facts and Figures on E-Waste and Recycling, 2 [online]; Carl A. Zimring and William T. Rathje, eds., Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Reference, 2012), 566–67; Elizabeth Grossman, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2006), 139–211. 46 For an argument that sustainability arguably “offers the biggest critique the fashion sector has ever had,” see Kate Fletcher and Linda Grose, Fashion & Sustainability: Design for Change (London: Laurence King, 2012), 8. The quotation comes from a discussion I had with Professor Marsha Dickson, codirector of the University of Delaware’s Sustainable Apparel Initiative. 47 The Sustainable Apparel Coalition has a website. In addition, see Marc Gunther, “Behind the Scenes at the Sustainable Apparel Coalition,” GreenBiz, July 26, 2012 [online]. For examples of recent sustainable-fashion books, see Fletcher and Grose, Fashion & Sustainability; Sandy Black, The Sustainable Fashion Handbook (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2013); Alison Gwilt, A Practical Guide to Sustainable Fashion (New York: Fairchild, 2014); Jennifer Farley Gordon and Colleen Hill, Sustainable Fashion: Past, Present, and Future (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). 48 The literature on corporate sustainability now is vast. For an introduction, see Pratima Bansal and Andrew J. Hoffman, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Business and the Natural Environment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). 49 For the quotation, see Black, Sustainable Fashion Handbook, 209. Juliet Schor discusses “fashion minimalism” in “Clothes Encounters,” Orion, September/October 2004, 11. Many books about sustainable fashion argue that the phrase might be an oxymoron. See, for example, Hethorn and Ulasewicz, Sustainable Fashion, xiii; Black, Sustainable Fashion Handbook, 8. 50 Jonathan Chapman’s Emotionally Durable Design: Objects, Experiences, and Empathy (London: Earthscan, 2005) has inspired many sustainable-fashion theorists. See, for example, Kate Fletcher, Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys (London: Earthscan, 2008), 168. 51 For Junky, see Hethorn and Ulasewicz, Sustainable Fashion, 401–2. 52 The quotation is from Gordon and Hill, Sustainable Fashion, 177. The best statement of the argument for a new relationship with our clothes is Kate Fletcher, Craft of Use: Post-Growth Fashion (London: Routledge, 2016). 53 Albert Borgman argues that much of modern consumer culture is about “user disburdenment.” See Fletcher, Craft of Use, 140. Kettering is quoted in Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers, What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption (New York: Harper Business, 2010), 35. 54 Carrie Sturrock, “Sewing: The Handmade Movement Brings Sewing Your Own Clothes Back in Fashion,” Oregonian, July 11, 2012 [online]; Laura M. Holson, “Dusting Off the Sewing Machine,” New York Times, July 4, 2012 [online]; Anne Gonzales, “Sewing’s Resurgence,” Sacramento Business Journal, August 17, 2007 [online]; Cline, Overdressed, 187–206. 55 Sarah McInerney, “Swap Till Your Fashion Footprint Drops,” Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald, July 9, 2009 [online]; Brad Tuttle, “Q&A with Clothing Swap Founder Suzanne Agasi,” Time, September 22, 2009 [online]; Botsman and Rogers, What’s Mine Is Yours, 76–77. 56 Brangien Davis, “The Little Brown Dress That Could,” Seattle Times, July 7, 2006 [online]; Cline, Overdressed, 191; Eric Wilson, “Shoppers on a ‘Diet’ Tame the Urge to Buy,” New York Times, July 21, 2010 [online]. 57 For Patagonia’s environmental initiatives, see Gunther, “Behind the Scenes at the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.” The Responsible Economy campaign materials are on the company’s website. For the don’t-buy-this-jacket ad, see Gregory L. Simon and Peter S. Alagona, “Contradictions at the Confluence of Commerce, Consumption, and Conservation: Or, an REI Shopper Camps in the Forest, Does Anyone Notice?” Geoforum 45 (2013): 334. Klingle also offers thoughtful analysis of Patagonia in “The Nature of Desire,” 467–69, 472, 496–97. 58 The quotation is from Paul Hawken’s foreword to Fletcher and Grose, Fashion & Sustainability, 5. 59 McCarthy makes a similar argument about car styling in Auto Mania, 266. He also discusses the importance of respectability in “The Black Box in the Garden,” 318. 60 I take the idea of eco-chic from Sandy Black, Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox (London: Black Dog, 2008). 61 Tansy E. Hopkins, Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion (London: Pluto Press, 2014), is an example of a call for revolutionary change that does not really address the creative destructiveness of capitalism. For the centrality of fashion in the rise of European capitalism, see Trentmann, Empire of Things, 22. Hartmut Berghoff and Adam Rome, eds., Green Capitalism? Business and the Environment in the Twentieth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), provides historical perspective on the issue of capitalism and sustainability. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Environmental History Oxford University Press

Fashion Forward? Reflections on the Environmental History of Style

Environmental History , Volume Advance Article (3) – Apr 13, 2018

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© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com
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Abstract

Abstract Fashion—the never-ending remaking of the style of goods—has become a major driver of environmental destruction. Yet environmental historians have written little about that destructiveness. This essay explores the significance of fashion in American environmental history. Fashion began to shape the American landscape in the late 1500s when growing European demand for stylish hats inspired a 300-year-hunt for beaver in the New World. In the twentieth century, Americans were critical in the rise of the modern fashion-driven economy, where style is part of the marketing of everything from automobiles to smartphones. Now the United States is one of the centers of a global movement to make fashion sustainable, if that is possible. Because understanding fashion requires considering what motivates consumers, this essay sheds light on the environmental history of consumption, still a relatively neglected subject. It also raises new questions about the prospects for greening capitalism. INTRODUCTION Fashion is creative destruction. When styles change, no-longer-stylish things become useless, even if they still are in perfectly good condition. To avoid embarrassment, the fashion conscious must keep buying into the latest trends, and that potentially endless replacing of the old with the new is a terrible environmental burden. We can only consume so much food, but that is not true of fashionable goods. If people have the money and the desire, their demand for new looks can be insatiable.1 Of course, the environmental impact of fashion has changed over time. Until roughly five hundred years ago, only the powerful owned finery. Everyone else had little choice about what to wear. Ordinary folk might have something for special occasions, “their Sunday best,” but otherwise they wore the same clothes day after day. The other objects of life were similarly basic: most people could not afford stylish things. But two historic developments made fashion more environmentally destructive. Slowly at first, and then with a rush in the twentieth century, fashion became more democratic. The realm of style also expanded beyond apparel to include everything from automobiles to phones. As a result, fashion now is central to a global economy that is unsustainable.2 Yet environmental historians have written little about the destructiveness of fashion, the never-ending reworking of the style of goods. The few exceptions show how much more we have to learn. Jennifer Anderson’s Mahogany: The Costs of Luxury in Early America and Jennifer Price’s Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America are especially revealing.3 Anderson demonstrates that fashion was important in the rise and fall of mahogany furniture. The market purportedly began in England with a craze inspired by a duchess. Although North America was well stocked with wood, wealthy colonists soon followed English tastemakers in demanding imported mahogany for their tables, chairs, chests, cabinets, and desks. The characteristics of the wood perfectly suited eighteenth-century ideals of “beauty, gentility, refinement, and modernity.” To be socially “polished” required owning luxury goods that could shine, and mahogany did. But as demand rose, and as the best stands were cut down, the quality of the wood declined. The development of mass-production veneers also undercut mahogany’s appeal. By the mid-nineteenth century, fashionable consumers had begun to desire other woods: mahogany seemed old. But mahogany furniture never truly was a fashion item. Like many luxuries in the early stages of the consumer revolution, fine furnishings were long-term investments. Although the wood was stylish, the designs of the pieces were meant to impress for decades: stylistic novelty mattered less than enduring craftsmanship. As a result, Anderson’s compelling history only gets us partway to understanding the environmental impact of fashion.4 Price argues that feather hats for women went in and out of fashion for centuries but seemingly “had established virtually a permanent perch” by the 1880s. Then a concerted attack by bird lovers made them forever unfashionable. That saved many species because hats were must-have fashion accessories for elite women, who owned different hats for almost every conceivable occasion. By focusing on feathers, however, Price misses the fundamental point about the dynamics of fashion. Although the environmental cost of wearing birds was particularly glaring, style changes were destructive regardless of the materials used by milliners. Every new fashion required stylish consumers to update their hat collection, and that was costly whether the hats were made from animals, plants, or petroleum.5 The neglect of fashion’s environmental history speaks to a larger problem in the field. We have analyzed many kinds of production, from mining to home building, but we have paid relatively little attention to consumption. That is changing. Scholars have begun to connect the demand for a variety of goods with environmental change. To cite just one example, we now know that the rising American appetite for coffee, sugar, bananas, rubber, beef, and timber in the twentieth century led to deforestation across the tropics. The next step is to think more deeply about why consumers bought what they bought. What drove consumption? Fashion is a key part of the answer.6 This essay explores the environmental history of style in the United States. That history is both long and illustrative. Fashion began to shape the American landscape in the late 1500s. In the twentieth century, Americans developed essential elements of the modern fashion-driven economy. Now the United States is one of the centers of a global movement to make fashion sustainable, if that is possible. I begin with a fresh look at a familiar story, the decimation of beaver to meet the demand for hats. Then I consider the role of fashion in the rise of a throwaway culture. I end with reflections on recent efforts to lessen the environmental impact of the clothing industry. Because I range over more than four hundred years of history, I cannot write with monographic detail about the issues I raise. I only sketch the environmental consequences of changes in style. I also slight the role of class and gender in shaping fashion history. Although I am the first historian to consider the sustainable-fashion movement, several sections of my essay essentially are creative syntheses of scholarly work in other fields. My goal is to inspire deeper analysis of a mode of consumption that has profoundly shaped human relationships with the nonhuman world. Ultimately, I hope to provoke further thought about the challenge of greening capitalism. FROM BEAVER HATS TO FAST FASHION The American colonies were settled when fashion was taking off in Europe. As commerce became critical in the competition of nations, merchants demanded fashionable goods to express their newfound importance in society. The first fashion magazines appeared in France in the 1670s. In England, a consumer revolution in the eighteenth century allowed the well-to-do in the provinces to follow trends in Paris and London. By 1800 the status conscious could buy foot-high cardboard fashion dolls or guidebooks of the latest styles. They also could visit a growing number of specialty shops offering a dazzling variety of stylish goods. As the market grew, the speed of fashion accelerated. In 1723 the political economist Bernard Mandeville wrote that “these Modes seldom last above Ten or Twelve Years, and a Man of Threescore must have observ’d five or six Revolutions of ‘em at least.” By the start of the American Revolution, the design of many kinds of apparel changed annually, and some super-fashionable items went in and out of style every month.7 Beaver hats were one of the first great fashions in early modern Europe, and the fur trade had devastating consequences. Beaver were nearly gone from Europe by 1500. Then traders began to exploit the stocks of the New World. The first imports of North American beaver came to France in the 1570s and to England a decade later. Over the next three hundred years, as trappers relentlessly worked their way from the Atlantic to the Pacific, tens of millions of beaver were killed. The destruction of so many beaver remade the continent. When beaver were abundant, they built dams almost everywhere, and their dams created countless wetlands and meadows. Without beaver to keep them in repair, the dams collapsed, and wetlands dried up. The loss is almost unimaginable.8 But our understanding of the fur trade is one sided. Environmental historians largely have ignored the hatmakers and buyers. Instead, we have focused on trappers, traders, and the commodification of fur-bearing animals. As a result, we have not connected the story of the beaver’s decline to other stories we can tell about the destructiveness of stylistic obsolescence.9 To understand the fate of the beaver, we have to start with the character of their felt. Hats also were made of wool, but in every respect beaver felt was a superior material. It was finer—glossier and more luxurious to the touch. It was sturdy enough to hold its shape in bad weather, yet it was easier to mold. Unlike wool, beaver felt repelled rain. Beaver felt also worked better with dyes. Above all, beaver felt was more expensive, and that made beaver hats far more appealing as status symbols.10 After the merchant classes of Europe made beaver hats a fashion trend, leaders at court and in the military followed their lead. Everyone who was anyone had to have “a beaver.” Or more than one. England’s Prince Charles bought 64 beaver hats in 1618. Because the fashionable colors and styles changed, he bought 57 more in 1619, and 40-plus in several years in the 1620s. Each hat cost as much as a good workhorse—and five to ten times as much as a wool hat.11 By the early 1600s, European hatmakers were competing to be the talk of the town. “Fine distinctions of color and nap fed into the fashion whirligig and kept the style conscious on their toes,” historian Timothy Brook writes in Vermeer’s Hat. “Crowns went up and down, narrowed and widened, arched and sagged. Brims started widening in the 1610s, turning up or flopping down as fashion dictated, but always getting bigger. Colorful headbands were added to distinguish the truly fashionable from the less so, and showy decorations were stuck into them.”12 Two hundred years later, hatmakers still were turning out endless variations on the beaver theme. One illustration of “modifications of the beaver hat” depicted four models from the early 1800s. The Wellington (1812) was widest at the top, with a slim hatband and sharply arched brim that created a kind of overhang. The Paris Beau (1815) had an even more sharply arched brim, but the crown was a cone with a sawed-off top. The next two hats could not be more different. Neither had an overhanging brim. The Regent (1825) was what we would call a top hat, with a perfectly cylindrical shape, a brim that curved delicately up, and a thin hatband; the D’Orsay (1820) had a more flamboyant upcurve to the brim, a thick hatband, and a crown that widened slightly at the top.13 The moral of the story is easy to miss. If beaver hats were a passing fancy, the environmental damage would have been far less. Owning one might have been enough. But beaver hats were not just “the rage” for a season. They were part of the world of fashion for three centuries. During that time, every style change encouraged people to buy another hat. Then another, and another, and another. The buying might never stop.14 Although at first only a few kinds of attire were subject to the dictates of fashion, the empire of style expanded over time. In the twentieth century, especially, many wardrobe basics became trend worthy. Nylon stockings initially came only in skin tones. When sales sagged in the 1960s, however, DuPont decided to offer a variety of styles, with new colors, patterns, and textures every year. Sneakers also were purely functional until manufacturers realized that they could enlarge the market by appealing to the style conscious. “If you talk about shoe performance,” an L.A. Gear executive explained, “you only need one or two pairs. If you’re talking fashion, you’re talking endless pairs of shoes.”15 The expansion of fashion went hand in hand with the democratization of consumer culture. Now average Joes and Janes can look put together, not just princes. The clothing statistics are stunning. Americans buy roughly sixty-five pieces of clothing per year, more than one a week. That is significantly more than a generation ago. Because clothing has become incredibly cheap, people can afford more of everything.16 The rise of “fast fashion” also led to increased consumption. Seasonal fashion is passé. Instead of changing stock a few times a year, fast-fashion companies introduce new styles with dizzying speed. H&M and Forever 21 have something different every day. Some fast-fashion retailers do not even restock their best sellers: they want customers to think constantly about what is hot now. If the clothes were expensive, shoppers would hesitate before buying something that might look dated in a month. But the cheapness of fast fashion encourages impulsiveness. You can binge on the most up-to-date styles—and unlike bingeing on food or drink, you won’t get sick or pass out, so you can keep buying new stuff as long as you want.17 Making billions of pieces of clothing leaves a considerable environmental footprint. Growing cotton involves prodigious use of chemicals, water, and energy, and manufacturing artificial fibers depletes nonrenewable resources and generates pollution. Dyeing textiles always has been a nasty business. Modern manufacturers use toxic chemicals to make clothes feel soft, look bright, repel water, and resist wrinkles and stains. Because the global hubs of textile production now are far from the centers of consumption, bringing the latest fashions to market worsens the problem of climate change.18 Owning vast wardrobes also has an indirect environmental cost. When most people had few clothes, they did not need closets. But now Americans want tons of storage space. As fast-fashion critic Elizabeth Cline notes in Overdressed, the typical master closet in new homes is about the size of a guest room in houses built after World War II. Walk-in closets are even bigger. Because old houses often do not meet the storage expectations of today’s buyers, our love of fashion indirectly contributes to suburban sprawl.19 Eventually, though, much of the stuff in our closets becomes waste. Americans throw away 25 billion pounds of textiles a year, and trashed textiles make up about 5 percent of the municipal waste stream. Fast fashion usually is not made to last. Why should it be? The colors fade, the seams split apart, or the fabric becomes worn after a few washings. But even clothes that still are in good condition often are discarded simply because they no longer excite their owner. For some shoppers, that no-regrets trashing of yesterday’s styles is part of the fun. As one fan of fast fashion proclaimed on YouTube, “I like things that are disposable.”20 DURABLE NO MORE If people just threw out unstylish hats or shoes or clothes, fashion still would be a powerful force of creative destruction. But what we wear is only part of the problem. In the twentieth century, countless consumer goods became items of fashion, at profound environmental cost. That even was true for many durable goods, products that consumers might have used for a decade or more. Although a number of manufacturers began to use design in innovative ways in the 1920s, the paradigm shifter was General Motors. GM bet that people would rush to buy more stylish cars. The company introduced annual model changes in 1927. In partnership with DuPont, which invented an industrial auto paint, GM also offered cars in eye-catching colors. Both changes directly challenged Ford, the industry leader. The Model T was black, period. Even after Ford began to make different versions of the Model T, the differences were not matters of style. Henry Ford himself explicitly rejected the idea of redesigning cars to render old models obsolete. “Our principle of business is precisely to the contrary,” he proclaimed in 1922. “We cannot conceive how to serve the consumer unless we make for him something that, so far as we can provide, will last forever.” But GM was right. Well-to-do Americans did not want to look at the same car year after year: they wanted their prized possession to stay sharp. GM quickly overtook Ford as the number-one automaker.21 Color itself was a revolution. A 1928 magazine ad perfectly illustrates how GM sold style at the dawn of the design age. Titled “COLOR HARMONIES – like the flaming flowers of spring,” the ad depicted a woman picking tulips in front of a Buick, and the greens and oranges of the flowers were matched in the car. “Buick motor cars wear beauty as radiant as the glowing blossoms of the countryside. Not only the beauty of pleasing lines, but also the beauty of alluring color.” Then the ad named the new Buick colors: “Harbor Blue – Valley Green – Boulevard Maroon – Talina Brown,” among others. “All were chosen by color specialists. All are tasteful as well as distinctive. And all combine with Buick’s long low lines to place these cars in the forefront of fashionable creations.”22 The success of GM led many commentators to argue that fashion had become a major force in the US economy. “What has happened, apparently, is that many more people have become conscious of style and the style idea has been extended to many more articles,” an advertising executive wrote in 1927. “People buy a new car, not because the old one is worn out, but because it is no longer modern. It does not satisfy their pride.” The authors of a 1932 text on “consumer engineering” made a similar argument: “This element of style is a consideration in buying many things. Clothes go out of style and are replaced long before they are worn out. That principle extends to other products—motorcars, bathrooms, radios, foods, refrigerators, furniture. People are persuaded to abandon the old and buy the new in order to be up-to-date, to have the right and correct thing.”23 The commentary of the late 1920s and early 1930s was prescient but premature. The real triumph of fashion did not come until the 1950s when a majority of Americans finally achieved a measure of financial security. With money for more than the basics, ordinary folk sought consumer goods that demonstrated their new affluence. More Americans also began to value novelty for its own sake. The ability to grow tired of stuff became one of the pleasures of life in an affluent society. You could buy new things just because you felt like a change. That made the market for fashion bigger than ever, and manufacturers seized the opportunity. The result was a pervasive style that writer Thomas Hines called “populuxe,” the look of popular luxury.24 The automakers again led the way. They did everything they could to make buyers fashion conscious. By the mid-1950s, many cars had more than 40 pounds of “gorp,” chrome that was pure ornament. GM debuted each year’s models at Motorama, where the cars were spotlighted on giant round platforms. The spectacle was like a fashion runway. In a 1955 Ford television commercial, an art critic explained the principles of car styling. The automakers even encouraged their designers to seek the spotlight. The head of GM’s style department, Harley Earl, soon was as famous as the Parisian clothing designer Christian Dior. Ford’s head stylist was known as “the Cellini of chrome.”25 Even more overtly than in the early days of design, magazine ads for cars in the 1950s were reminders that fashions changed every year, and the newest models always were the most chic. A 1954 ad celebrated the “Low Level Look” of that year’s Oldsmobile as the “Height of Fashion.” “So low you can look over it,” the ad promised. “So lovely you can’t overlook it. Oldsmobile’s new Ninety-Eight ‘Dream Car’ sets the styling high of the year with a dramatic ground-hugging silhouette. Smartly slanted panoramic windshield. Sweep-cut openings for a dashing ‘sports car’ flair. And what a dream to drive!”26 The most talked about elements of styling were tail fins. Their look changed annually. They might have a hint of chrome, or the chrome might be like a second color. Some had gorp lines that could vary endlessly. Although all tail fins rose above the trunk, some jutted below. The angles could be severe or gentle. The taillights often were ornamented, and of course their placement varied from year to year. The evolution of the Cadillac tail fin was particularly dramatic. The 1948 debut was quite modest: the fin barely deserved that name, and the tail was a small appendage. A year later, the look was graceful, like a stylized whale. But then the angles sharpened, and the chrome became more pronounced. By the late 1950s, the tail fins seemed designed for rockets. The 1959 model, in historian Karal Marling’s words, “towered three and one half feet above the pavement and terminated in multiple taillights, nasty, fearsome red things, shaped like frozen bursts of flame from the afterburner of a jet engine.”27 The changing fashions never were just show. The automakers wanted people to buy cars more often, and styling served that goal. “Our big job is to hasten obsolescence,” GM’s Harley Earl explained in 1955. “In 1934 the average car ownership span was 5 years; now it is 2 years. When it is 1 year, we will have a perfect score.” Ford’s designer made a similar claim: “We design a car to make a man unhappy with his 1957 Ford ‘long about the end of 1958.”28 The stylists’ success meant more resources mined, more rivers and skies polluted, and more land degraded. The average car now weighs roughly 4,000 pounds, so the industry consumes prodigious quantities of steel, iron, aluminum, rubber, plastics, glass, copper, lead, and platinum. Obtaining that material requires a tremendous amount of energy and causes significant environmental problems. The same is true for auto manufacturing, which ranks fifth in toxic releases into the environment, behind the chemical, primary metals, paper, and plastics sectors. The disposal of junked vehicles also is problematic. Although almost all of the steel and iron is recycled, most of the other material is not. Before 1970 the unusable remains of cars typically were burned. Now giant shredders turn the wastage into billions of pounds of “fluff” a year. Because cars contain a host of toxic substances, many scrapyards have become hazardous waste sites.29 Household appliances also became stylish in the postwar decades, although the transformation was not straightforward. Appliances were more private than cars: they were not conspicuous and mobile markers of status. Appliances also had to fit the design of a house. When a few manufacturers introduced color appliances in the 1920s, many consumers balked. So did many dealers because color added to the challenge of keeping adequate inventory. In the 1950s, however, the industry finally committed to selling style. Frigidaire, a division of GM, was especially aggressive. But all the major appliance manufacturers hoped to be more like the automakers. Their dream, as one executive explained, was to reduce the average trade-in time from eleven years to seven or less.30 At first, appliance style mimicked car design. Manufacturers added chrome gorp—stylized handles, lettering, and lines of all kinds. They expanded the color palette. They varied the overall form of everything from refrigerators to washing machines. In the late 1950s, appliance makers also began to promote “the integrated kitchen” as a new approach to domestic style: everything had to work together to create a single impression. Frigidaire promoted its “Sheer Look” with magazine ads featuring women in gowns. “Pardon Us for Making Your Refrigerator Old-Fashioned,” one proclaimed. Another ad invited readers to “Meet the Perfect Cook with the New Sheer Look!”31 By the 1970s, Americans were throwing away about 25 million appliances a year. Unlike cars, however, discarded refrigerators, dishwashers, and stoves rarely became scrap. Appliances had few salable parts, and their porcelain enameling interfered with the salvage process. The result was a huge burden on landfills. Although appliances might last for decades, most literally were buried way before their time.32 The environmental destructiveness of endlessly changing fashion did not go unnoticed. Critics of postwar consumer culture called America “a throwaway society,” and the wastefulness of styling was one of their main targets. Vance Packard’s 1960 best-seller The Waste Makers was especially powerful. Packard railed against the rise of “planned obsolescence of desirability,” and he held out automobile and appliance design as the most shameful examples. For Packard, the cost went beyond wasted resources and despoiled landscapes. He feared that the habit of trashing still-usable goods ultimately would destroy the nation’s character by making citizens self-indulgent, materialistic, and weak-willed.33 Even a few manufacturers challenged the postwar fashion trend. The best examples come from the auto industry. In the late 1950s, when Detroit overwhelmingly controlled the marketplace, a few European automakers saw a chance to break into the US market by rejecting styling. They ran ads that mocked the American devotion to annual model changes. In a 1959 ad, Volkswagen showed their cars of the decade, and all were exactly the same. The 1950 Volkswagen was a Black Beetle, and so were the 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, and 1959 Volkswagens. The message was clear: the Volkswagen was unfashionable last year, it was unfashionable now, and it would be unfashionable next year, but if you still thought a car was something to drive rather than something to show off, the Beetle was your car! Volvo was even more sarcastic in a 1967 ad for “the paper car.” In a throwaway society, the ad argued, the next logical step in planned obsolescence would be disposable cars for every occasion—one for nights on the town, one for business meetings, one for rides in the country. Sounds crazy? Yes, the ad continued, but not much crazier than trading your car in every two or three years for the latest fashion. That is why Volvos were made of steel—and built to last!34 The critique of car styling had important consequences. Import sales rose sharply in the late 1950s and 1960s, with the Beetle leading the way. US automakers began to dial back their styling; tail fins soon became embarrassing. They also introduced compact cars with few frills. Eventually automakers even reconceived the model year. Although cars have new features every year, their exterior design only changes every seven or eight years. Americans also are not as trade-in happy as in the 1950s. Even before the financial crisis of 2008, the average length of ownership of new cars had risen to four years. Now it is five-and-a-half years.35 Yet style still is critical in the auto industry. Automakers compete to introduce cars with distinctive looks. The Honda Element was a new take on the SUV, and the Chrysler PT Cruiser and the Mini Cooper refashioned the small car. Occasionally automakers use style to define entire lines: Toyota’s Scion cars were designed to appeal to urban hipsters. Now the goal often is to wow buyers into switching makes, not just trading old models for the latest ones. According to industry observers, the twenty-first century has brought “a new golden age of styling.”36 In the economy as a whole, the empire of fashion now reaches farther than ever. Cheap fashion shapes the market for a greater number of durable goods. Style also is critical in the booming consumer-technology sector. Furniture is the prime example of the speeding up of durable consumption. Americans are buying furniture more often. Globalization is a key reason for that trend. From 1998 to 2007, furniture imports doubled; domestic sales also rose. But economist Juliet Schor argues convincingly that the transformation of furniture into a “faster-moving consumer good” owes a lot to one hugely successful company: Ikea.37 Scandinavia long had a reputation for producing elegant furniture, and Ikea turned sophisticated style into “design for everyone.” The company’s wares are hip yet cheap. Ikea uses a lot of pine and even more particleboard, so the furniture is not built to endure. But no one expects to bequeath anything from Ikea to the grandkids. The stuff is great for now. By making fashionable furniture affordable, Ikea has become a colossus, the largest retailer of its kind in the world.38 In contrast to many fast-fashion companies, Ikea is not oblivious to its environmental impact. Former CEO Anders Dahlvig writes at length about the company’s environmental agenda in his how-to-succeed-while-doing-good manifesto: The Ikea Edge. Because only a fraction of the world’s forests are sustainably managed, Ikea pushes suppliers to meet higher standards. The company has made some of its products greener. When activists complained about the hazards of formaldehyde in furniture, Ikea responded. The company boasts that over 70 percent of its furniture now is recyclable. From the start, Ikea’s flat-pack design minimized transportation costs. The company also has worked to reduce energy consumption at its retail outlets.39 But Ikea’s green initiatives all serve an unsustainable business model. Profits depend on the endless cycle of excitement and boredom. People see a cool new piece of furniture, buy it, tire of it, and discard it—and then buy another cool piece of furniture to replace it. That cycle means more trees cut, more air and water pollution, and more energy used to transport material around the world. Then almost all of the discarded furniture becomes waste. Many secondhand stores and charities will not accept particleboard bookcases, tables, desks, or cabinets. Despite Ikea’s efforts to make recyclable products, wood recycling in the United States is negligible, except for palettes and crates. Americans junk 10 billion pounds of furniture a year.40 In the world of hi-tech, Apple led the style revolution. “Apple is a fashion designer,” one analyst argued, “and the iPhone and iPad are fashion statements.” Another writer called Apple “a kind of consumer-electronics fashion house,” with product unveilings akin to Paris couture shows. Under Steve Jobs, Apple clearly learned from the GM playbook. The iMac was the first personal computer to come in stylish colors. The auto industry also shaped Jobs’s early thinking about Apple’s style. For a time, Jobs imagined that Apple might have the enduring appeal of the Volkwagen Beetle. Then he decided that the company’s design model would be Porsche. Now Apple is drawing directly on the world of high fashion: in 2013 the company hired the president of Yves Saint Laurent to help develop wearable technology and the CEO of Burberry to make its retail outlets more elegant.41 Because style now is so much a part of consumer culture, Apple’s achievement is easy to take for granted. Apple became the world’s most valuable corporation by joining fashion and innovation to make old products doubly obsolete. Each version of the Mac or iPhone has both new technical capabilities and new stylistic elements. But that does not quite explain Apple’s success. Apple style is not an add-on. The company’s computers and devices do not have gorp. Instead, style is integral to product design. Even the practical features need to be hip.42 Mobile phones exemplify the importance of “techspressiveness.” Manufacturers quickly decided that style mattered. “‘Phones are fashion’ as we enter the third millennium, and the cell phone makers that learned this lesson first are reaping the market share gains,” a Texas Instruments report concluded. “While mobile handsets will continue to be sold on size, weight, and battery life … the ‘coolness factor’ is playing an ever increasing role in consumers’ buying decisions.”43 For many consumers, indeed, the design of the device is just the start. Like clothes, phones now have accessories, from retro handsets to petite designer purses. You also can customize your phone with crystals and stickers and charms, and you can find everything you need at boutique stores that specialize in “cell fashion.”44 But few people become attached to their phones. The structure of the industry encourages discontent. “The Next Big Thing Is Here,” Samsung promises. Phones keep changing, and wireless contracts typically offer discounts for upgrades, so consumers are prodded to buy a new phone every two years, at least. Most do. In 2010 Americans discarded 152 million mobile devices. Of that astounding number, just 11 percent were collected for recycling. Even if the collection rate was much higher, however, the waste still would be considerable. Phone recycling is far from a closed loop: only the high-value materials are salvaged. Because many electronics components are toxic, their eventual burial or incineration threatens both environmental and human health, and so does the export of discarded phones for low-tech salvage in developing countries.45 SUSTAINABLE FASHION? Although the world of fashion keeps expanding, a countermovement has begun to win adherents. Some hope to reform the system from within; others are trying to force change from the outside. A growing number of consumers also are reconsidering the role of fashion in their lives. The countermovement has had the most success in raising questions about what we wear. Because activists campaigned for years to make apparel manufacturing more socially responsible, the industry is supersensitive to criticism, and the environmental critique goes deeper than the critique of sweatshop labor. It might even be an existential threat. Some executives, designers, and academics also see sustainability as a world-historic opportunity. “Textiles led the industrial revolution,” a professor of fashion and apparel design argued in 2016, “and now the fashion industry is leading the sustainability revolution.”46 Clothing companies are seeking more eco-friendly materials and production methods. An industry trade organization, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, developed tools for members to assess their environmental impact. Designers are asking hard questions about how to make clothes that people will cherish, not throw away. Fashion departments at colleges and universities are offering courses about sustainability. The dream of greening fashion also has inspired a shelf of books, and every year brings more work on the subject: The Sustainable Fashion Handbook, Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change, A Practical Guide to Sustainable Fashion, Sustainable Fashion: Past, Present, and Future.47 A part of the sustainable-fashion agenda is not unique. Using greener materials, reducing waste, finding alternatives to toxic substances in production processes, and cutting energy consumption are becoming good business practice in many industries, not just clothing manufacture. Some businesses also are reengineering products to have a lower environmental impact over their life cycle.48 But the heart of the sustainable-fashion movement is something radically new. People are rethinking the nature of fashion itself. Can fashion exist without the environmental damage that comes from throwing out vast quantities of no-longer-fashionable stuff? The critics of stylistic obsolescence in the 1950s and 1960s never asked that question. Because they focused their criticism on durable goods, they treated style as frivolous. Cars were modes of transportation and refrigerators were ways of preserving food; they did not need to be fashionable. Although some thought that a civilization built on waste eventually would collapse, their deepest anxiety was moral, not environmental: they feared that Americans were losing their virtue. The proponents of sustainable fashion, in contrast, are not simple-living moralists. They love to look good. Although they know that the insatiable desire for today’s trend is terribly destructive, they argue that fashion serves important needs: fashion is a form of self-expression, a tonic against boredom, and a way to live in the moment. They want to develop a fashion ethic for an age of ecological limits. They have no illusions about the difficulty of that task. They readily acknowledge that “sustainable fashion” might be an oxymoron. Fashion is change, and sustainability aims for permanence. But they hate the thought that the future might be drab, and they reject “fashion minimalism.” As sustainable-fashion pioneer Kate Fletcher wrote, “just as fashion without sustainability is ignorant, sustainability without fashion is sad.”49 One requisite for sustainable fashion is “emotionally durable design.” Making a physically durable garment is not enough. Designers need to produce pieces that consumers want to wear for years, not just a day or a season. In the view of sustainable-fashion theorists, that kind of durability might come from many things. Something might be multipurpose. Even if one element no longer seems useful, another might. Clothes can be designed to age well, to continue to look and feel good even if they become stained or worn. Another possibility is design that encourages customization. If people can imbue something with their own personality, they are likely to use it longer.50 Some advocates of sustainable fashion are keen to create bonds between producers and consumers. People often prize things that come with stories, and stories about how someone made something can be compelling. But the ties might go deeper, especially if small local design shops begin to make more of what we wear. A few slow-fashion firms allow their customers to become co-designers of their goods. Junky, a London boutique, invites people to bring old clothes for refashioning. Because the materials always are different, no two Junky pieces are the same, and everyone has a stake in what they buy.51 Nothing that designers or retailers do will make much difference, however, if consumers do not change. We need truly to own what we buy. That means having “long-term meaningful relationships” with our clothes instead of a series of flings. The boosters of sustainable fashion invariably urge people to define their own style and then build a wardrobe around a few well-made pieces rather than a lot of trendy stuff. Many also encourage consumers to develop do-it-yourself skills. Mending extends the life of garments; altering makes the old seem new. Fashioning your own clothes gives a profound sense of ownership. In each case, the effort changes the relationship from passive to active: the do-it-yourselfer is giving something, not just taking, taking, taking.52 The most thoughtful sustainable-fashion advocates acknowledge that powerful cultural and economic forces stand in the way of reform. The call to take responsibility for our possessions goes against the grain of modern consumer culture’s promises of freedom from the burdens of ownership. In a world of convenience and disposability, we no longer need to care about stuff. Marketers also constantly stimulate our desire for new things. Although novelty can simply be a pleasure, it has become a source of discontent. For manufacturers and retailers, that is the point. The motto of one of the pioneers of stylistic obsolescence, GM’s Charles Kettering, was “Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied.”53 Yet a growing number of consumers are rejecting fast fashion. Some hope to avoid the marketplace altogether, to be stylish without buying clothes. Others just seek to scale back their consumption. Their motivation often is both economic and environmental because the 2008 financial crisis revived interest in thriftiness. Sewing has made a comeback. Sewing machine sales doubled from 2002 to 2012, and sewing classes are booming. Many of the new stitchers are twentysomethings rebelling against cheap style. They want a distinctive look, and they want to be proud of what they wear. The art of “deconstruction”—tearing up old clothes and sewing the scraps into one-of-a-kind pieces—has special appeal. For some sewers, the ultimate goal is to move toward a more sustainable lifestyle. “We’re turning ourselves into a throwaway society,” one sewing convert said. “It’s nonstop consumption of things that are meant to be thrown away. I’d rather own three things I love than 100 that are worthless.”54 Clothing swaps have become common. People bring something to give away and take something home in return. As the founder of The Clothing Exchange explained, the idea is to allow participants to “shrink their fashion footprint and save some pennies while looking wonderful too.” The motto of the Clothing Swap website simply is “Be Good. Be Green. Be Glam.” The swaps range from intimate gatherings of friends to elaborate parties that attract hundreds to eat, drink, dance, and hunt for the perfect new thing. But all provide a way out of a peculiarly modern dilemma: “a closet full of clothes but nothing to wear.”55 Fashion time-outs also are getting attention. The goal is not to stop buying clothes forever. Instead, like Henry David Thoreau’s sojourn at Walden, the time-outs are experiments to see what truly suffices for a satisfying life. As “one small, personal attempt to confront consumerism,” a 29-year-old Seattle woman, Alex Martin, made a dress that she wore 365 days in a row, with varying accessories. Her Little Brown Dress blog became a popular site for discussions about fashion and sustainability. The Six Items or Less Campaign asked people to wear only six pieces of clothing for a month, not counting shoes, accessories, and underwear. The Great American Apparel Diet started with an unfashionable question: “Who are we without something hip and new in our closets?” To participate, you had to pledge not to buy any clothes for a year.56 The outerwear company Patagonia also has made a radical effort to slow the pace of consumption. In 2012 it launched the Common Threads Partnership that involved four retailer-consumer commitments: Reduce – WE make useful gear that lasts a long time. YOU don’t buy what you don’t need. Repair – WE help you repair your Patagonia gear. YOU pledge to fix what’s broken. Reuse – WE help you find a home for Patagonia gear you no longer need. YOU sell or pass it on to someone who needs it. Recycle – WE will take back your Patagonia gear that is worn out. YOU pledge to keep your stuff out of the landfill or incinerator.Patagonia announced the partnership in a full-page New York Times ad that showed one of the company’s best-selling jackets—and told its affluent clientele not to buy it. “We ask you to buy less and reflect more before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else,” the ad explained. A year later, Patagonia used its website, catalogs, and store displays to spark debate about “The Responsible Economy.” The campaign challenged consumers to question the never-ending cycle of buying, getting bored, trashing, and buying anew: “We know we must consume less, and far more slowly.”57 Will any of this be enough? Even the most ardent advocates of sustainable fashion acknowledge that the movement still has a long way to go. But history suggests that the boosters have underestimated the challenges ahead. They have envisioned some of the obstacles to success but overlooked others. The fashion reformers have thought hardest about how to reconcile change and permanence. Although they argue that marketing has distorted the desire for novelty, they take that desire seriously, and they are convinced that most people will not willingly wear the same things over and over. To counter the idea that sustainability requires “a monochromatic world,” they have touted many low-impact methods of updating your wardrobe.58 But the reformers have given much less attention to the critical issue of status. The demand for stylish goods initially came from merchants eager to win respect, and fashion still is partly about belonging. The style conscious want to be with it, not left out or left behind. Defining your own style, a basic sustainable-fashion tenet, is more radical than it seems. That kind of inner directedness may suit consumers who think of themselves as tastemakers or nonconformists. For most people, however, fashion is a way to secure the approval of others. Can fashion provide social affirmation without the constant effort to keep up?59 The sustainable-fashion advocates also have not thought enough about what might drive reform. Of course, they hope that consumers will want to reduce their environmental footprint if they know the true costs of fashion. They also argue that rethinking our relationship with clothes will make us happier. How will people see the light? Ironically, many reformers assume that sustainability eventually will become fashionable. Once enough trendsetters make green the new black, everyone will follow, and then “eco-chic” never will go out of style. But that conviction requires a leap of faith. In the past, rebellions against the tyranny of fashion only attracted a minority: they just became countercultural fashion statements. Although sustainable fashion has revolutionary potential, it might become merely a market niche.60 To think more deeply about the path to sustainability, the reformers ultimately need to confront the nature of capitalism. Most designers and industry executives take for granted that the profit motive can be compatible with social and environmental responsibility. Even the few critics who want to free fashion from commerce have viewed that challenge in isolation: they have not reckoned with the centrality of style in the modern economy. But the sustainability of capitalism is open to debate. If capitalism is not sustainable, can fashion ever be? That question might be asked about any economic activity today, yet fashion always has had a special relationship to the market. It spurred the development of merchant capitalism in Europe, and it helped transform industrial capitalism into a consumption-centered system. Remaking fashion almost certainly requires greening capitalism—or, somehow, creating a totally different kind of economy.61 Yet the many questions about sustainable fashion do not negate the importance of the movement. Abolishing fashion seems more and more a utopian dream. Style no longer matters just to the elite. In the twentieth century, fashion became fundamental, and almost everyone now derives some pleasure from stylish things. Although sustainable fashion might prove an oxymoron, what is the alternative? Adam Rome is a professor of both history and management at the University at Buffalo. With Hartmut Berghoff, he coedited Green Capitalism? Business and the Environment in the Twentieth Century. Footnotes I thank Lisa Brady for considering an unconventional manuscript and then offering many helpful editorial suggestions. She is a model editor. I also am grateful for comments from two anonymous reviewers, audiences at the University of Delaware and the State University of New York at Fredonia, and colleagues in Ginger Strand’s workshop at the 2015 Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference. 1 I borrow the phrase “creative destruction” from economist Joseph Schumpeter. 2 For the limits to fashion before modern times, see Neil McKendrick, John Brewer, and J. H. Plumb, The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth Century England (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982), 31; Janet Hethorn and Connie Ulasewicz, Sustainable Fashion: Why Now? (New York: Fairchild Books, 2008), 9–11. 3 Jennifer L. Anderson, Mahogany: The Costs of Luxury in Early America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012); Jennifer Price, Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America (New York: Basic Books, 1999). 4 Anderson, Mahogany, 10–13, 15, 28–29, 32–33, 50, 54, 250–51. For luxury goods as investments, see Frank Trentmann, Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First (New York: Harper, 2016), 34, 37. 5 Price, Flight Maps, 58–59, 75–76. 6 For the relative neglect of consumption in environmental history, see Tom McCarthy, “The Black Box in the Garden: Consumers and the Environment,” in A Companion to American Environmental History, ed. Douglas Cazaux Sackman (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2014), 304–24. McCarthy makes a compelling pitch for paying more attention to consumer behavior. In addition, see Matthew Klingle, “The Nature of Desire: Consumption in Environmental History,” in The Oxford Handbook of Environmental History, ed. Andrew C. Isenberg (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 467–512. The example I cite comes from Richard P. Tucker, Insatiable Appetite: The United States and the Ecological Degradation of the Tropical World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000). 7 McKendrick, Brewer, and Plumb, The Birth of a Consumer Society, 34–99, quotation on 51. 8 No one can say precisely how many beaver were killed, but the fragmentary evidence makes clear that the total was at least 20 million. For seventeenth- and eighteenth-century statistics, see John F. Richards, The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 491, 511. In addition, see Eric Jay Dolin, Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America (New York: Norton, 2010), 282–83; Shepard Krech III, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (New York: Norton, 2000), 175; Nick Bunker, Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History (New York: Knopf, 2010), 232. Alice Outwater summarizes the ecological consequences in Water: A Natural History (New York: Basic Books, 1996), 24–32. 9 The commodification of the beaver was a major theme in William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (New York: Norton, 1983), 82–107. That idea now is a standard part of the American environmental history narrative. See Ted Steinberg, Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 33–35. 10 Timothy Brook, Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2008), 42; Bunker, Making Haste from Babylon, 236. 11 Bunker, Making Haste from Babylon, 233–234, 241; Brook, Vermeer’s Hat, 43. 12 Brook, Vermeer’s Hat, 43–44. 13 Dietland Muller-Schwarze, The Beaver: Its Life and Impact, 2nd ed. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011), 151. 14 Environmental historians unwittingly have given the impression that beaver hats were a fad because they typically discuss them only in the context of the colonial period. Ted Steinberg writes that beaver hats were “all the rage” at the time, and William Cronon notes that their “rising popularity” was a key factor in the exploitation of the species in New England. See Steinberg, Down to Earth, 34; Cronon, Changes in the Land, 82. 15 Giles Slade, Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), 125; Alan Durning, How Much Is Enough? The Consumer Society and the Future of the Earth (New York: Norton, 1992), 96. 16 Juliet B. Schor, Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (New York: Penguin Press, 2010), 29. 17 The best critique of fast fashion is Elizabeth L. Cline, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013), 95–118. For a more academic take on fast fashion and disposability, see Schor, Plenitude, 28–31. 18 Cline, Overdressed, 123–25; Michael Lavergne, Fixing Fashion: Rethinking the Way We Make, Market and Buy Our Clothes (Gabriola Island: New Society, 2015), 114–15, 133, 141. 19 Cline, Overdressed, 121–22. 20 Schor, Plenitude, 39; Cline, Overdressed, 122. 21 Ford’s proclamation is in Slade, Made to Break, 32. In addition, see Karal Ann Marling, As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), 137; Regina Lee Blaszczyk, The Color Revolution (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2112), 15; Tom McCarthy, Auto Mania: Cars, Consumers, and the Environment (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 89–90. 22 Blaszczyk, The Color Revolution, 114. 23 Paul H. Nystrom, Economics of Fashion (New York: Ronald Press, 1928), iii; Slade, Made to Break, 49–50, 66–67; Susan Strasser, Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1999), 187–201. 24 Thomas Hine, Populuxe (New York: Knopf, 1986). 25 Marling, As Seen on TV, 139, 141, 144, 147, 152–53. 26 Blaszczyk, The Color Revolution, 251. 27 Marling, As Seen on TV, 141. Marling reproduces the Cadillac tail fins from 1948 to 1959 on p. 139. 28 Slade, Made to Break, 45; Ted Steinberg, Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History. 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 228. 29 Gregory A. Keoleian, Krishnendu Kar, Michelle M. Manion, and Jonathan W. Buckley, Industrial Ecology of the Automobile: A Life Cycle Perspective (Warrendale: Society of Automotive Engineers, 1997), 21–22, 36, 128; Carl A. Zimring, Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2005), 152–53. Since the Environmental Protection Agency began tallying car weights in the early 1970s, the average has ranged from 3,000 to 4,000 pounds. See Danny Hakim, “Average U.S. Car Is Tipping Scales at 4,000 Pounds,” New York Times, May 5, 2004 [online]; Annie Lowrey, “Your Big Car Is Killing Me,” Slate, June 27, 2011 [online]. 30 Blaszczyk, The Color Revolution, 18, 170, 256–62; Marling, As Seen on TV, 137, 266. 31 Marling, As Seen on TV, 142–43, 262–66. The Sheer Look ads are easy to find online. 32 Environment Improvement Case History Report (New York: Freed, 1975), 28. 33 Vance Packard, The Waste Makers (New York: David McKay, 1960), 68–91, 118–27, 195–214, 232–45, 314–27. 34 The two ads are reproduced in the photo insert of Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997). As McCarthy notes, however, the anti-fashion of the VW Beetle was itself a fashion statement. See Auto Mania, 134. 35 McCarthy, Auto Mania, 144–46; Katie LaBarre, “Americans Holding onto New Cars Longer,” US News and World Report, February 27, 2012 [online]. 36 McCarthy, Auto Mania, 247–48. 37 Schor, Plenitude, 34–35. 38 Ellen Ruppel Shell, Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture (New York: Penguin Press, 2009), 125–48. In addition, see Sara Kristoffersson, Design by Ikea: A Cultural History (London: Bloomsbury, 2014). 39 Anders Dahlvig, The Ikea Edge: Building Global Growth and Social Good at the World’s Most Iconic Home Store (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012), 35–48. 40 US Environmental Protection Agency, Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2009 Facts and Figures (Washington, DC: EPA, 2010), 10, 57. 41 For the quotations, see Winifred Gallagher, New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change (New York: Penguin Press, 2012), 217; Adam Lashinsky, Inside Apple: The Secrets Behind the Past and Future Success of Steve Jobs’s Iconic Brand (London: John Murray, 2012), 167, 190. In addition, see Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 355–56; Paula Rosenblum, “Burberry CEO to Join Apple: What Should We Expect?” Forbes, October 15, 2013 [online]; Brian X. Chen and Mark Scott, “Apple Hires Burberry Chief to Polish Image of Online Stores,” New York Times, October 15, 2013 [online]. 42 Ian Parker, “The Shape of Things to Come: Jonathan Ive and Apple’s Design Vision,” The New Yorker, February 23 and March 2, 2015, 120–39. 43 The phrase “techspressiveness” was coined by anthropologist Richard Kozinets, who is quoted in Gallagher, New, 140. The Texas Instruments report, Cell Phones as Fashion Create New Design Challenges, is online. 44 JoAnne Viviano, “Cell Phones Making a Fashion Statement,” Washington Post, October 13, 2006 [online]. I found the boutiques when I did a Google search for “cell phone fashion.” 45 Electronics TakeBack Coalition, Facts and Figures on E-Waste and Recycling, 2 [online]; Carl A. Zimring and William T. Rathje, eds., Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Reference, 2012), 566–67; Elizabeth Grossman, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2006), 139–211. 46 For an argument that sustainability arguably “offers the biggest critique the fashion sector has ever had,” see Kate Fletcher and Linda Grose, Fashion & Sustainability: Design for Change (London: Laurence King, 2012), 8. The quotation comes from a discussion I had with Professor Marsha Dickson, codirector of the University of Delaware’s Sustainable Apparel Initiative. 47 The Sustainable Apparel Coalition has a website. In addition, see Marc Gunther, “Behind the Scenes at the Sustainable Apparel Coalition,” GreenBiz, July 26, 2012 [online]. For examples of recent sustainable-fashion books, see Fletcher and Grose, Fashion & Sustainability; Sandy Black, The Sustainable Fashion Handbook (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2013); Alison Gwilt, A Practical Guide to Sustainable Fashion (New York: Fairchild, 2014); Jennifer Farley Gordon and Colleen Hill, Sustainable Fashion: Past, Present, and Future (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). 48 The literature on corporate sustainability now is vast. For an introduction, see Pratima Bansal and Andrew J. Hoffman, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Business and the Natural Environment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). 49 For the quotation, see Black, Sustainable Fashion Handbook, 209. Juliet Schor discusses “fashion minimalism” in “Clothes Encounters,” Orion, September/October 2004, 11. Many books about sustainable fashion argue that the phrase might be an oxymoron. See, for example, Hethorn and Ulasewicz, Sustainable Fashion, xiii; Black, Sustainable Fashion Handbook, 8. 50 Jonathan Chapman’s Emotionally Durable Design: Objects, Experiences, and Empathy (London: Earthscan, 2005) has inspired many sustainable-fashion theorists. See, for example, Kate Fletcher, Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys (London: Earthscan, 2008), 168. 51 For Junky, see Hethorn and Ulasewicz, Sustainable Fashion, 401–2. 52 The quotation is from Gordon and Hill, Sustainable Fashion, 177. The best statement of the argument for a new relationship with our clothes is Kate Fletcher, Craft of Use: Post-Growth Fashion (London: Routledge, 2016). 53 Albert Borgman argues that much of modern consumer culture is about “user disburdenment.” See Fletcher, Craft of Use, 140. Kettering is quoted in Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers, What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption (New York: Harper Business, 2010), 35. 54 Carrie Sturrock, “Sewing: The Handmade Movement Brings Sewing Your Own Clothes Back in Fashion,” Oregonian, July 11, 2012 [online]; Laura M. Holson, “Dusting Off the Sewing Machine,” New York Times, July 4, 2012 [online]; Anne Gonzales, “Sewing’s Resurgence,” Sacramento Business Journal, August 17, 2007 [online]; Cline, Overdressed, 187–206. 55 Sarah McInerney, “Swap Till Your Fashion Footprint Drops,” Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald, July 9, 2009 [online]; Brad Tuttle, “Q&A with Clothing Swap Founder Suzanne Agasi,” Time, September 22, 2009 [online]; Botsman and Rogers, What’s Mine Is Yours, 76–77. 56 Brangien Davis, “The Little Brown Dress That Could,” Seattle Times, July 7, 2006 [online]; Cline, Overdressed, 191; Eric Wilson, “Shoppers on a ‘Diet’ Tame the Urge to Buy,” New York Times, July 21, 2010 [online]. 57 For Patagonia’s environmental initiatives, see Gunther, “Behind the Scenes at the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.” The Responsible Economy campaign materials are on the company’s website. For the don’t-buy-this-jacket ad, see Gregory L. Simon and Peter S. Alagona, “Contradictions at the Confluence of Commerce, Consumption, and Conservation: Or, an REI Shopper Camps in the Forest, Does Anyone Notice?” Geoforum 45 (2013): 334. Klingle also offers thoughtful analysis of Patagonia in “The Nature of Desire,” 467–69, 472, 496–97. 58 The quotation is from Paul Hawken’s foreword to Fletcher and Grose, Fashion & Sustainability, 5. 59 McCarthy makes a similar argument about car styling in Auto Mania, 266. He also discusses the importance of respectability in “The Black Box in the Garden,” 318. 60 I take the idea of eco-chic from Sandy Black, Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox (London: Black Dog, 2008). 61 Tansy E. Hopkins, Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion (London: Pluto Press, 2014), is an example of a call for revolutionary change that does not really address the creative destructiveness of capitalism. For the centrality of fashion in the rise of European capitalism, see Trentmann, Empire of Things, 22. Hartmut Berghoff and Adam Rome, eds., Green Capitalism? Business and the Environment in the Twentieth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), provides historical perspective on the issue of capitalism and sustainability. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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Environmental HistoryOxford University Press

Published: Apr 13, 2018

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