Compulsive scavenging

A new disorder for the downturn.

Published July 30, 2001 7:45PM (EDT)

When the going gets tough, the tough (and the clinically obsessive, or is it clinically depressed?) go shopping. That's why credit cards exist, right? That's what retail therapy means, no?

Not for me. Not right now. Blame it on the dot-com doldrums, but I find myself passing by boutiques and barely glancing at the window displays, let alone compulsively feeling the need to try something on. I skipped the July end-of-season sales, despite rampant rumors of 70 percent mark-downs. I haven't visited my favorite shoe shop in months.

Which is not to say that I haven't sought comfort in clothing. Instead of shopping, I'm becoming intimately involved with the dark, dusty recesses of my closet.

I admit that this scavenging might have something to do with the fact that dark clouds of financial doom still loom overhead, and it seems like an inopportune time to invest $400 in a pair of Gucci trousers, even if they were marked down from $1,500. But I suspect it has more to do with the current state of style.

Lately -- dare I say it? -- fashion has become both redundant and boring. Over in "W," for example, the editors are reviving the Courtney Love wunderkind grunge look, with lace nighties and baby doll dresses over mismatched tights and clunky shoes. Harper's Bazaar has brought back Mod -- high boots, short skirts, blocky graphics -- a look that's hauled out retirement, dusted off and proclaimed "new" at least once a year. Equestrian is back -- again -- according to Vogue. And Fashion Wire Daily is proclaiming that the new "must-have" accessory is a Gucci fannypack; which, I recall, the fashionistas gratefully disposed of two years ago.

Of course, fashion recycling is nothing new; and the rapid acceleration of "revivalism" -- each season, a new decade brought back to life! -- has been well documented. But there seems to be a rather deadly lack of anything original at the moment; few quirky new inspirations to be mixed in with those resuscitated '80s off-the-shoulder tops and camouflage pants.

Perhaps I've been reading too many damn glossy magazines, and have finally seen through the fashion industry for the stuffed façade that it is. Maybe last year's consolidation of the industry is having an impact on design originality: The innovative is making way for the marketable and the LVMH bottom line. Or perhaps designers are simply too depressed to do anything but bring back the baby doll dress.

So why should I shop when I still have my old baby doll dress stored at the back of the closet? My Mod minidresses are still hanging there, too, right next to the jodpurs (OK, I'm lying: I never wore jodphurs). And I'm guessing Chinoiserie will make a comeback next: I have a lovely little collection of tops that I bought two years ago during the days of geisha-chic, and it seems like it's just about time for a return.

Hell, maybe, then, the fashion industry isn't in a slump; perhaps those savvy designers are just thinking "easy on the pocketbook" -- and are offering us looks that we don't have to shop to find because they still exist in our closets. In which case, I extend my greatest thanks.

By Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

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