Being Fashionable in your 20s

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Early spring at Phoenix Park in Dublin, Ireland (2012).

Establishing your own fashion identity can be a daunting task as it often defines you for many years. A person’s fashion sense speaks a lot to the public in terms of individual identity, creativity, taste and social grouping. Many are able to pull off their own style early in their teens while others develop a unique taste for apparel later on in life. Apparel exists in all forms, designs and conveniences for every age bracket. As the saying goes, apparel is meant for all and knows no limits.

But how much does a person’s clothing habits actually tell us about their purchasing power, social etiquette and economic status? For those who can afford to buy good fashion, clothes are no longer limited as a necessity but a want. I personally grew up having very little regard for clothes and brands. As a child, wearing whatever was bought or given to me became the norm. It even came to a point that I even borrowed old clothes from my dad during middle school up to college and many people would take notice. They would comment on how I dressed out of fashion, lacked style and wore things that were unsuited to my age. Truth is that I spent most of my money on books, movies and food. I viewed clothes as a luxury I never truly prioritized.

Entering my 20s, I began to be conscious about what I had on and how I looked, wore skinny jeans, fit shirts, tried to get buffed and go with the trends. I even joined pictorials and ramp shows.

They say, having no money is no excuse for not being able to dress smart. You can do so even on a low budget. So I resorted to buying second-hand branded apparel from ukay-ukay stands in Iloilo be they in sidewalks, public markets or fiesta stands. Upon moving to Dublin, I would watch out for the latest end of season sales in high street fashion retail stores to get the best value for my allowance. Dublin is not a fashion capital but it is a fashionable city with an ample selection of major British and European brands.

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Fronting a Georgian door in Dublin, Ireland (2012)

Later in Singapore when I was able to buy clothes from my own pocket, I still remained on the lookout for bargains as the cost of living there was among the world’s highest. My last resort in the Lion City was during clearance sales, designer outlet weekend deals and the annual Great Singapore Sale. I also frequented the Singapore Expo a lot for special clearance events of branded goods. Singapore is no fashion capital either but it is a global brand capital serving shoppers from around the world. It was also during this time when I began investing seriously on formal office attire for my future career. I became conscious and obsessed with style. Asians are not as outrageous as Westerners who emphasize a lot on individualism when it comes to clothing trends. They rather tend to adhere to social conformity.

But later on, I slowly began to realize that I have developed a terrible shopping addiction for clothes. I became a big time hoarder. The symptoms already began in Dublin but the reality only sank into me in Singapore when I realized my closet was getting piled up with unused apparel, many of them even brand new. What first began as a bi-monthly retail therapy excursions later turned out to be a fashion gluttony gone bad and it affected my ability of save up from my monthly income.

Upon this realization, I diverted my consumerist behavior to exploring nature parks and forests, jogging and visiting museums. I guess there comes a time in our lives when you become mad about something, trying to make up for something you have missed out in your youth and then realize later on that it was only a transitional phase. We all eventually outgrow it and move on learning a thing or two. I also learned that having less means more and also began getting rid of the book heaps in my room. From then on, I vowed to be a wiser and more responsible consumer.

Fashion statements can also come at a high price. Not only towards your own purse but to the environment and to the oppressed laborers in developing countries who toil to produce the clothes you wear. Every now and then, we watch the news on how underpaid and overworked factory workers in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan or China suffer miserably under poor working conditions. Ever wondered how much chemical waste textile factories produce and emit to our ecosystem? Our insatiable appetite for fast fashion is actually depleting our environment by the second.

Think about how spending more on durable and long-lasting brands could contribute less to climate change. Our ethical consumer choices would make a difference. Sometimes, moderating our wants can make a real statement and do the world a favor. Besides, the daunting social truth will haunt you every once in a while: It is hard to be vain and live fashionably in a country where high social inequality abounds. With poverty outside our doorsteps, we should also try to be considerate to the nation’s poor. If you would ask me again today, fashion was meant to be a necessity and not a want. It has become more fashionable nowadays to care for the planet and live ethically as consumers.

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