Fashion for the Recession

A few months ago there was an article in Vanity Fair which mentioned that the wives of wealthy stock brokers were clipping coupons, not because they needed to save money at the grocery store, but because it was the cool thing to do.  It was as if these women were saying “Look at me!  I can be humble and poor just like everyone else.”

(Photo source - W magazine)

Everyone knows we are in the midst of a recession. We all have friends who have lost jobs. Most of us have had to tighten our belts even if we were among the fortunate who have not been hit too hard by the economic situation. But I don’t want to talk about ways to save money or tips on budgeting, what I’d like to discuss is how fashion has responded to the financial crunch.

Fashion is intuitive.  Some things just LOOK RIGHT. What’s in the air that inspires fashion designers to create new looks?  Why do fashion editors feel that this or that style is “now”?  What is it that makes retro fur jackets, plaid shirts, granny dresses, and ankle socks look so good today, whereas they didn’t a few years ago? It’s often somewhat nebulous. Fashion is an intuitive response to the times and it’s often difficult to see the big trends until after they’ve happened.

The kids in the photo above are wearing thousands of dollars worth of high-end designer clothing, but they look like they just stepped out of a Goodwill store. It’s the opposite of ostentatious bling and designer logo everything that was all the rage a few years ago. Fashion is, in this trend at least, responding to the recession by giving us a more eclectic, impoverished look to present to the world.

Call it “thrift-store chic” or “eclectic”, this trend makes a lot of sense. We’re all trying to find ways to save money. A few years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of purchasing clothes at a thrift store, but now shopping for used apparel is trendy. Tons of blogs are dedicated to it. It’s cool to wear mis-matched clothes, torn T-shirts pinned together with safety pins, distressed leather pieces, and items that look like they could be vintage, even if they’re brand new. Personally I’m liking the freedom and individualism of this recession-inspired trend.

What do you think of the “thrift-store chic” style?  What are some other ways the current financial woes have impacted fashion trends? Has it altered your fashion sense or just your shopping habits?



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48 Responses to Fashion for the Recession

  1. Anne November 16, 2011 at 9:59 am #

    I enjoyed this post — very thought-provoking! For me, the recession has me trying to get more mileage out of fewer pieces. I’m focusing more on versatility, mix-and-match-ability, etc. I don’t know if this is a trend or not!
    Anne recently posted..Visible Monday: Authority & AuthenticityMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca November 16, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

      I think it is! Part of the trend I is putting things together that normally wouldn’t “go” together, like that big parka over the floaty dress worn on the model on the far left of the photo.

  2. Paula November 16, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    Tis true. Altho from my own shopping habits, I am not doing anything differently. but what I have noticed is how the quality has gone down in clothing–cheaper materials, cheaply made, etc. At a cheaper price, but not the same quality. something to watch for.
    Paula recently posted..Same but DifferentMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca November 16, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

      Very, very true. As the price of basic goods has gone up, so has the price of manufacturing clothing, which has led manufacturers to reduced the quality of fabric and sewing to keep their prices low.

  3. mary jo
    November 16, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

    I’m so glad that younger girls are finding vintage because it’s so nice to see them out of the ‘mall’ look! I’ve been thrifting since college–I had an uber cool friend who turned me on to it when i was 17 and have always done it since. Yesterday I just found a 100%wool hand knit chunky sweater for $5! It would be $300+ at a fancy boutique–funny how insanely happy thrifting can make you too!

    xo Mary Jo
    mary jo recently inspired: one pair of shoes, vincent van goghMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca November 16, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

      I’m sort of embarrassed that I have only rediscovered thrifting recently. I did it a lot when I was a teenager – it was trendy then too – and then I totally stopped for years. I think part of it might be that when I’d go to thrift stores in the 2000’s I found everything really expensive. Once I found a cute coat at Out of the Closet but it was like $60 and it just didn’t feel right to pay that much. Maybe the years of overpriced everything have given me a new appreciation for the $60 thrifted coats, or maybe like everything else the prices at Thrift stores have gone down a bit with the economy.

  4. A Brit Greek
    November 16, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    Really enjoyed this post… my shopping habits have changed dramtically over the past few years… everything is so expensive in Greece except for the chain stores like Zara etc… but also because I really don’t need anything else. If anything I want to build on my wardrobe with pieces that will have longevity. Also, what I wear from day to day has changed, so the need to stay ahead of the game for when I worked in the fashion industry no longer applies.
    I still have lots of pieces from 10 years ago that are still making the rounds today!
    Do love a bit of thrifting though.
    A Brit Greek recently posted..Donatella cancels Versace for H&M’s Daily News shoot for Real WomenMy Profile

  5. Alexis of NorthOnHarper November 16, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    Great analysis, Heather!

    I am so glad we’ve moved in this direction (fashion wise!), I feel like fashion is more personal and more thoughtful than it was a few years ago.
    Alexis of NorthOnHarper recently posted..DeMoyo: Springing ForwardMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca November 20, 2011 at 9:29 am #

      Totally agree! I’m so glad you like the article.

  6. citizen rosebud
    November 17, 2011 at 9:12 am #

    GREAT post! I hope IFB is astute enough to put it in the next Lalm.

    Of course I love thrift store chic, I dress thrift store chic. I loved grunge which was the 90’s version. And I agree with your view-
    fashion takes on the flavor of the times around it.

    I never liked the new/bling style of years past, so it’s with much relief to see that trend wane and watch “shabby chic” make a comeback. I just find it more interesting.
    citizen rosebud recently posted..outfit post: Mustard CashmereMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca November 20, 2011 at 9:29 am #

      Thanks Bella! I put it up for IFB for next week. We’ll see if it makes it. I’m rather relieved to see the overt bling of the last few years fade. That was one expensive trend, for everyone! At least this trend is affordable for anyone and everyone.

  7. Dress Code: High Fashion
    November 17, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    Thrift-shop chic has excisted before the current recession (just think of Heroin Chic or 90s Grunge).

    But I get your point.

    I ALWAYS found those “shabby looking millionares” (->Olsen Twins) totally PERVERT and SICK! These people refuse to notice how privileged they are and I feel that by wearing “expensive shabby chic” they are almost making a mockery out of the wealth they archived. If they “don`t care for material values” why have they worked hard in the first place!?! They might as well have lived a calm, life with a normal job and shooped at the Salvation Army – their look would be the same!
    When they are “too cool for school” (aka “too cool for fashion”) and “don`t care about dressing up” they shouldn`t spend thousands of dollars on fashion but DONATE THEIR MONEY TO THE POOR!

    ESPECIALLY in a time of recession we should show (& therefore appreciate) what we have. (I`m not saying we should all walk around in neon Versace looking like newly rich russians!)
    I love fashion and I owe it to myself to be at my best all the time!

    I`m a “starving student” who had to work hard and save up for every piece of luxury fashion I own – I appreciate the pieces and I want people to see that I “grant myself the best” because it`s an expression of my attitude of always aiming for the best in all aspects of life (especially concerning myself!).

    Seriously, these millionares who walk around dressing as if they had given up on themselves are totally pissing me off!

    Have a nice weekend, Jen
    Dress Code: High Fashion recently posted..Top 10 Picks: Recent Celebrity Looks – Evening wearMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca November 20, 2011 at 9:27 am #

      When I first wrote the article I had some stuff in there about the correlations between the fashion of the early 90’s and the look now, but I felt it took the article a bit off track. Certainly the look has happened in different ways in the last few decades, but usually it’s during an economic downturn.
      I don’t really have a problem with rich people dressing like they’re poor if that’s part of their thing (Cameron Diaz for instance has always been rather bohemian.) but I do think it’s a bit hypocritical to suddenly start clipping coupons just because its trendy. On the other hand I have started shopping at thrift stores again partially because it’s the cool thing to do these days. When I see other bloggers shopping second hand and looking great it makes me feel it’s OK to do the same.
      Certainly fashion can be a sort of barometer of the times.

  8. SACRAMENTO November 18, 2011 at 1:45 am #

    You can also create a very expensive look from a thrift store. I am in love with second-had stores.
    Perphaps because we don´t have them in Spain.

    • Heather Fonseca November 20, 2011 at 9:17 am #

      No second hand stores in Spain? Hmmm. I wonder why. I know you find a lot of your treasures at thrift stores, or charity shops, I just always assumed you lived near some great ones.

  9. Terri
    November 18, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    Big thumbs up on this post! What I like about thrifting is mixing older and often quality pieces with newer, but thrifted, pieces. I like the mix of high and low…and coming up with looks that can’t be copied. Very timely topic.

    • Heather Fonseca November 20, 2011 at 9:14 am #

      Thank you Terri! And thanks so much for visiting my blog and leaving a comment too.

  10. Sylvia
    November 19, 2011 at 10:15 pm #

    I have never been a thrift shopper, but seeing all the wonderful bloggers rocking outfits from thrift stores certainly has made me reconsider. I would love to shop for those unique and individual pieces now. Unfortunately, there are no thrift stores in Singapore. It’s just not a done thing here as the singaporeans like everything new. It may change. I think there may actually be a market here for a good thrift or consignment store!
    Sylvia recently posted..Links with style this weekMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca November 20, 2011 at 9:11 am #

      Going to a thrift or consignment store is a lot of fun. It’s like a treasure hunt! Often It’s interesting to me that there are none in Singapore. What does everyone do with their old clothes I wonder?

      • Ginger August 7, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

        Do check out the thrift stores of the Salvation Army in SG. You can also drop off any old apparels, furniture etc at their collection points islandwide. I am with you, though, that there should be more thrift stores or consigment stores here in Sg. I mean c’mon thrifting is economical and FUN! <3

        • Heather Fonseca August 8, 2012 at 9:57 am #

          Hi Ginger, thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. I’m not sure where SG is, so I haven’t tried any of the thrift stores in the area. I do go to a lot of thrift stores here in Los Angeles though.

  11. M
    November 23, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    Great post! Yes, it’s true fashion does tend to follow the economy. I haven’t found myself as thrift shops as much but I do try and be more mindful about my purchases and making sure they are pieces I can wear over and over again.
    As far as the over-logoed blinged out styles of the past, I’m SO glad they’re out of style! Tacky.
    M recently posted..What to wear for Black Friday madnessMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca November 23, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

      I’m very glad the bling bling is out too! Thanks so much for commenting. I hope to see you around!

  12. Stacey - Total City Girl
    November 23, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    I’m not into the whole thrift store/used clothing shopping but I definitely have to watch where I shop. Places like Target and Marshall’s have become regulars for me. 🙂
    Stacey – Total City Girl recently posted..Free Printable – Thanksgiving Place CardsMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca November 24, 2011 at 9:43 am #

      Oh Target is absolutely on my most-shopped list!

  13. anupriya dutta November 25, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    I love on how you have connected rescission with fashion. It always takes up my mind on how the trend so last century seems trendy now and didn’t a few years before. But I guess the surroundings around us do make a difference!

    • Heather Fonseca November 27, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

      Fashion certainly is a reflection of the times in which it is created. That’s one of the reasons I find fashion, and fashion history, so fascinating. The global recession has had an impact on fashion and I feel the “thrifted” look is a reaction to that. I’m not totally sure how the look made it’s way to high fashion, I just think it’s interesting. And of course that’s not the only trend happening right now either.

  14. Chandra November 27, 2011 at 1:06 am #

    One of the models in that picture is Lindesy Wixson, who is my friend’s little sister. She loves vintage and thrift stores. I have seen her in very similar outfits. She’s not from a rich family and has always been pretty down to earth.
    Chandra recently posted..Cougar SweaterMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca November 27, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

      Hi Chandra and thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. I actually feel the models all look wonderful in that shot and I’ve had it up on my inspiration board in my studio for months. Usually the models don’t get to pick their own clothes in fashion editorials though, you know? My comments about rich women using cupons at the grocery store to fit in didn’t have anything to do with the actual people in the photograph or what they were like in real life, it was to point out how looking “poor” has become chic due to the recession.

  15. gayle
    November 27, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    I agree… we need to cut back on our spending without thought and start thinking about what we shop for and where we shop.I like unique items from small boutiques to make a statement rather than just buy whats mass produced.I have always loved shopping in my community stores and I’ve noticed there are fewer and fewer of them.

    • Heather Fonseca November 27, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

      Oh Gayle it certainly seems like the little boutiques aren’t as numerous as they used to be. As much as I want to shop smaller stores I have to say I’m not always that good about it, and usually end up shopping at the big department stores even though I wish I didn’t.

  16. stephanie
    November 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    t’s definitely a response to wanting to ‘fit in’ during the recession, in many ways although fashion is about expression it can also be about belonging.. if that makes sense?

    great article and congrats on making it onto IFB this week (that’s how I found you!)


    stephanie recently posted..Hey, Gia!My Profile

    • Heather Fonseca December 1, 2011 at 11:01 am #

      Oh yes that completely makes sense. Clothing is often used to show what group or people we belong to, and it also is a form of personal expression.

  17. Sophie November 29, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    I have actually really got into thrift and vintage lately as well as being more inventive to try and mirror the trends but I had not really thought about how that related to the economy! Clever post and I agree x

    • Heather Fonseca December 1, 2011 at 10:57 am #

      Thank you Sophie. I’m glad you like the post.

  18. Joy Ella May 31, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    What an insightful post. I hadn’t thought about fashion trends as a reflection of, as you put it, “the times” before reading this. I had one of those “duh!” moments as I finally made sense of why it became the norm to see brand new jeans with holes in them hanging in department store windows. That’s one trend I still am dumbfounded by, to be honest (back in my day, you had to distress your own jeans…and once you did, they became cut-offs! Haha). It makes more sense now (although I doubt I’ll ever be able to justify paying more than $5 for a pair of holey jeans to myself).

    Personally, I’ve really appreciated the recent “recession-inspired” fashion trends of late though as my style can only be described as “eclectic” (although “schizophrenic” would also be fairly accurate) and I have almost always preferred to shop resale when updating my wardrobe. I hadn’t put two and two together and attributed the current “thriftstore chic” themed trends until I read your very perceptive and astute take on it.
    I just discovered your blog today and can’t wait to delve into more articles. Thanks for the great resouce!!
    Joy Ella recently posted..A Year’s Challenge: Week 3 – Color Block Mani
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    • Heather Fonseca June 2, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

      Thank you Joy! I’m really glad you’ve found my blog and that you like my articles. Fashion always responds to the times, but it’s not always so obvious how it responds. When I saw thrift store chic infiltrating high-end fashion magazines it occurred to me that it was recession related. I do wonder what will happen next because there’s always a response. It’s possible that the trend toward bright and brilliant colors that is hot this spring/summer is society’s way of expressing optimism and hope for the future.

      • Joy Ella June 12, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

        I like that theory! I think we are getting more optimistic about the recovery. And I noticed a lot of “luxe” looks coming back this season and for fall/winter 2012, too!
        Joy Ella recently nautical nails. details to come (gotta get to work!)My Profile

        • Heather Fonseca June 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

          That recovery can’t come soon enough! Hopefully the luxe fashions showing this fall will be an indicator of the future.


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