The Myth of Hanger Appeal
There she is again...disappointed at some perceived slight... making a scene...wanting to talk to the manager...phone cameras at the ready everyone...we've got a live one.
If we've learned anything about our fellow human beings this last handful of years, it's that we're an impatient lot. As a society we've sort of lost our ability to work slowly at something, chipping away at it a little at a time while enjoying the journey, sound in the knowledge that the end result will be in service to some larger goal, whether that goal be for personal gain or for the greater good. We want everything at our disposal immediately, we want it right out of the box, delivered to our doorstep, ready to be of immediate service to whatever agenda we have. The fashion industry, specifically the fast fashion industry, is really no different in this respect. Fast fashion really reflects back to us quite accurately our impatient society, and perhaps now that so much of our experience with fashion has moved online, this phenomemon is likely going to grow legs. Mind you they will be long, impossibly slender legs that can rock a pair of white skinny jeans without a care in the world, but legs nonetheless.
When we rush through life expecting this constant level of stimulation and immediacy, impatient to hit the next set of objectives that we're so sure is going to once and for all make our lives work, we miss a lot. We miss engaging in process. Ask anyone who has achieved a level of mastery at what he or she does about process, and you're not likely to get a one word, or even a one sentence answer. Process can be a months, even years-long affair in some cases. And you grow to enjoy it nearly as much as the end result. As a society of consumers, a vast majority of us no longer look at something like cultivating a wardrobe, or even just simply shopping for something as a process. We simply buy, discard, and buy some more. We may say we love to shop, but what really mean is that we love to consume.
These past weeks I have been putting the finishing touches on the re-launch of one of my Etsy shops, and it has really got me thinking about marketing, consumption, and more specifically, the concept of hanger appeal. While obviously hanger appeal is an important and effective marketing tool, these days it seems to be strategically employed in the same manner as the placement of sugary supermarket cereals; placed on low shelves so that the eyes of children may feast upon them while their parents shop, inspiring spectacular meltdowns and rushed, desperate purchases. Fast fashion is literally the Fruit Loops and Cap'n Crunch of the sartorial world. It's a quick fix that may very well leave you feeling low after a very short time. It's that same instant gratification followed by a crash cycle by which we seem to live these days - the only thing that's different is the timeline.
However it may seem, I'm not here to bash the fashion industry, or what we've become as a society (okay, maybe just a little on that last one). However, this week made me realize that after a lifetime of dedicated (okay, fine...compulsive) thrifting and sifting through pre-loved and vintage clothing, I've found that much to my delight, I have a process. In fact, not only do I have a process, I have a regular, systematic process I regularly employ when confronted with any piece of clothing that I'm contemplating. I might be drawn to a piece because of its hanger appeal, or perhaps because of its complete lack of it. Either way, my process is the same; I ask myself three important questions, and it helps me separate the hidden treasures from the dross.
The Process of Looking Beyond Hanger Appeal: Three Revealing Questions
Question One: Does this garment have good bones?
Just like those annoying DIY homebuyer shows where the potential buyers are so distracted by a single bad wallpaper job they completely miss the pristine oak parquet floors they're standing on, it's important to take a moment and assess the fundamentals of how something is actually put together before we let the shiny stuff distract us. The most unappealing, rumpled garment lying at the bottom of a flea market bin might actually be a hidden treasure of bias-cut silk and reinforced seams, while that tempting brand new thing in the high street window display may be but a stringy rayon ghost of the runway garment it was inspired by. Using aforementioned Etsy shop as an example, this Vintage 90s Fashion Bug skirt is a great specimen of a quiet, under-achieving garment with good bones (and a 90s fast fashion item, no less!) This skirt was just a rumpled, moss green pile of ultrasuede ennui when I first encountered it. But upon closer inspection, I realized it was actually a solid, well put-together garment . Reinforced seams, a sturdy fabric with some longevity and give, and a classic, clean design - all it needed was some imagination, minimal care, and a bit of styling to bring it to life!
Question Two: What is this garment made out of?
Question two really is the natural progression after question one. Once you've assessed the foundational soundness of a garment, look at the fabric. I'm not some purist who is here to tell you that there is only merit in natural fabrics. Quite the opposite in fact. Many natural fiber garments give up the ghost long before their synthetic and partly-synthetic counterparts. However, you have to think of the long game; consider how much fussing about is going to be required to launder it (washing by hand, hanging dry, ironing, dry cleaning...), and whether or not you're willing to engage in these things in the first place. Many modern rayon garments simply never look the same after one washing. Many vintage ones will last an eternity. When a garment was made, the weight and hand of the fabric, the content of that fabric...it all matters.
Take this Vintage 70s Montgomery Ward Dress. I know, right? Montgomery Ward. A pioneering force of retail catalog sales, yet not a name you hear any more. This dress is distinctly 70s, but the fabric honestly looks as fresh as the day it was made. It's a synthetic polyester fabric, does not wrinkle (a miracle with a pleated skirt), and is a stunning shade and pattern. And like the author, it's at least 40 years old. Probably pushing fifty.
Question Three: Is this really what I'm looking for, or is it just instantly gratifying?
This is a question I ask myself a lot while I'm shopping, whether I'm in a thrift store, online, or in a high end boutique. Often, we are drawn to things that are exactly like other things we already have. This actually is fine when you're trying to stock a shop full of items with your distinct "look", but perhaps less so when trying to build a wardrobe. I will often gravitate towards things that are duplicates of something already in my closet, or things that look amazing with the turquoise earrings I happen to be wearing that day...you know how it goes. A garment often will look good in the moment, but serve no other purpose other than to create additional clutter.
To circumvent this very common trap, If said garment in question has passed muster on questions one and two, I will address question three simply by simply acknowledging the instant gratification aspect of a piece (the first step is admitting you have an addiction, right?), then challenging myself to find another way to use the garment. Take for instance this 90s era Red Gingham Button Front Dress. It really sort of ticks all of the items off of my Three Questions list: good bones, made of a heavy-weight natural, durable cotton, and a garment that has at least two uses that I can think of right out of the gate. And all of that with little to no hanger appeal.
So that's it. If it seems like a long walk for a short drink of water, I can assure you, it's not. In fact, these three questions have sort of become second nature to me, and have prevented me from both throwing my money away and wishing I'd snapped-up that interesting piece that I left behind. So I highly encourage you to come up with a process. Use mine, change it, tailor it, or start from scratch and make your own. We are all here because we enjoy fashion, and cultivating your own process enables you to see beyond the myth of someone else's art-directed hanger appeal.