The state of the American economy is often on my mind. While things seem to be getting better, I can’t help but wonder how my generation is going to be recorded in history. Will we be remembered as “the lost generation” – with no careers, no health insurance, and no possibility of owning a home – or could we be the ones to turn the country around?
In America, we are lucky to have talented, creative, problem-solving people. We also have a lot of uneducated consumers. I was reminded of this during a recent trip to The Attic. The Attic is one of many businesses that encourages customers to recycle clothing. Customers can buy, sell, or trade cast-off garments. I adore these places, because I always seem to find something unique. Best of all, they are affordable and reduce environmental waste. Some of my favorite places are Crossroads Trading and Beacon’s Closet.
After I made a purchase at The Attic, they gave me this coupon. I had just finished reading about the dangers of fast fashion, and the point really hit home:
It seems like history is repeating itself. I think if my generation looks to the what happened in the 1930s and 1940s, we could be inspired to turn things around.
The 1920s had been a time of economic prosperity for America. The following decade would be a sharp contrast; the 1930s began with a Great Depression and ended with a World War. The Great Depression (1929-1939) left over 13 million Americans unemployed; 34 million people belonged to families with no regular full-time wage earners.
Creating jobs and decreasing competition of foreign imports was critical to pulling America out of its economic depression. And in the 1930s and 1940s, it was the American fashion industry that would make a large contribution to turning the economy around.
In 1932, Dorothy Shaver, the former president of Lord & Taylor, became the visionary of an independent American fashion system that could pull the nation out of economic turmoil. She began to advertise American fashion designers in the same way French couturiers had been publicized for decades.
With strategic advertising, Shaver single handedly launched the careers of many young American designers, and even invented the term “American Look“ to promote the new fashions:
All through the 1920s the French label was to fashions what the pound sterling was to international exchange. Vogue decreed as an article of faith that only Paris could make a gown. But early in the 1930s Dorothy Shaver sensed that the American designers were about ripe on the vine. Quite alone, she began to push them, an act that won their gratitude. She invented the phrase, “The American Look,” and in the process of promoting her fashions, injected a new mood into department-store advertising.
 “No. 1 Career Woman”, Life Magazine, 12 May 1947, 125
Dorothy Shaver c. 1941. Image courtesy of Life Magazine.
American designers rose to the occasion. They focused on designing functional garments that were easy to wear and mass-produce. While keeping costs low, it also forced designers to employ innovative construction techniques and use of materials Keeping the entire design process in America also assured the highest quality control. Think about the difference between today’s garments and those from previous eras.
Dorothy Shaver with American designers, May 1945. Image courtesy of Life Magazine.
We can take a similar approach today. Here are a few tips:
- Shop local: You know that great store down the street? Help them stay in business by being a patron. If they are pricey, save up to buy one stellar item that will last you years, instead of many disposable things.
- Support an artist: Art improves the quality of life. It has been clinically proven that looking at art decreases stress, stimulates creative thinking, and creates a more peaceful environment. Skip going to the bar twice this month and buy a painting instead.
- 30-day nothing “new” challenge: Try something different. For the next 30 days, don’t purchase anything new. Try buying everything you need secondhand. Try thrift stores, flea markets, Craig’s list, eBay, or organize a swap with friends.
There are so many benefits to shopping this way. You keep Americans employed. You’ll develop a unique style. And you’ll even help the environment. Waste not, want not. Here are some of the great “new” things I found at The Attic: