Fashion’s appeal wears thin in pandemic, prompting donations
Like many of us, Sarah Shah is asking herself, “Will I ever wear heels again?”
More importantly, why would I want to?
As summer turns to fall in the world of COVID-19, our waistlines may be expanding from stress eating. Our feet are widening from wearing flip-flops all day, and we’ve settled into the most comfortable, loose-fitting clothes possible.
I’m no exception. My at-home work wardrobe consists of Dansko clogs, shorts, soft T-shirts or flowy A-line dresses. Bras are optional. Earrings maybe. Makeup never, unless needed for a Zoom meeting.
But in spite of the pandemic and the economic fallout with millions out of work, New York Fashion Week continues its biannual fashion presentation this week, showing spring/summer collections for 2021. Some 60 designers will be participating, with shows going on either in person with strict social distancing or virtually, according to the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Jason Wu is holding his show outside with 50 people max in attendance, in compliance with New York state safety guidelines. Other designers, such as Marc Jacobs, Prabal Gurung, Tory Burch and Texas native Brandon Maxwell, have decided not to show at all. On Tuesday, Houston native designer Cesar Galindo will be a part of the #INEEDITNOW virtual fashion experience with famed costume designer Patricia Field.
Where to donate
Paralyzed Veterans of America, will pick up items. 800-555-9140. pva.org/ways-to-give
The Guild Shop, 2009 Dunlavy, 713-528-5095; theguildshop.org (contact before bringing in furniture or rugs)
Katy Christian Ministries, 23232 Kingsland, Katy, and 5510 First Street, Katy; ktcm.org
Salvation Army, 1500 Austin, 800-728-7825
Star of Hope,713-748-0700
Many organizations are not accepting donated goods: Dress for Success Houston isn’t currently taking donations because of Harris County’s COVID-19 red threat level.
So the show will go on. I, for one, have waning interest. The coronavirus has numbed my desire to wear the latest fashions. The work clothes and evening attire that hang in my closet seem almost frivolous at this point. Who knows? Life after COVID-19 may never be the same. Purging, not shopping, seems to be the most realistic option these days. I’m not alone in my mind set.
Shah, an image consultant, is constantly purging. She keeps a box handy for clothing and accessories she no long wears and will never wear again. That way she’s ready when she receives an email from Paralyzed Veterans of America, saying it will be in the neighborhood and can pick up clothing donations from her front door. The organization raises some $400,000 each year from donated clothing and accessories sold at Family Thrift stores. Donations are up 30 percent since the pandemic started, said Amanda Saunders, executive director of the organization’s Texas chapter.
“I try to only donate things someone else would want,” Shah said. “I definitely have a closet of too-small items that I don’t think I’ll be getting back into post-COVID-19. We’ve really gone from business casual to casual casual, and I don’t see it going back.”
The average American family spends $1,800 on clothes annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many people have more clothes than they can wear. In fact, the fashion industry doubled its production from 50 billion pieces of clothing to 100 billion between 2000 and 2015, according to Green America, a national organization dedicated to promoting environmental sustainability. There are only 8 billion people on the planet. Also, the amount of clothing Americans dispose of annually has almost tripled during that time.
In 2017 after Hurricane Harvey, Houstonians answered the call for clothing donations by purging their closets en masse. The George R. Brown Convention Center, which served as the city’s temporary American Red Cross shelter, is huge, yet clothes filled the floor like a landfill.
“Fifteen percent of what you donate goes to people in need. Most of it is bundled up, shipped and sold back to the developing countries who made it in the first place, or it ends up in an landfill,” said Ahshia Berry, vice president of communication and marketing for Magpies & Peacocks, a Houston nonprofit organization that has diverted more than 170,000 pounds of used fabrics and textiles from landfills by engaging artists and designers to re-create the old into something new.
Magpies & Peacocks has continued to accept donations of clothes and textiles during the pandemic. That includes 3,000 pounds of fabric donated by an interior-design company. Berry said people are becoming more mindful about donating clothing, and some are even turning to DIY videos to learn how to repurpose clothes, such as turning a pair of jeans into shorts or a handbag.
“People are at home and have time to clean out their closets. They know you really shouldn’t just throw out your clothes. They are more aware, but at the end of the day, if there’s no solution, it ultimately ends up in a landfill,” Berry said.
Debbie Willingham, executive director at the Guild Shop, said she’s seen an increase in donations, with a significant number of household items and furniture. Donations and proceeds from consignment pieces sold at the store go to help Houston’s elderly. Even though the store was closed for nearly three months after the pandemic hit, it continues to break even. The shop is affiliated with St. John the Divine church.
“We are still serving a mission and are abundantly blessed,” Willingham said.
Locally, Houstonians can donate clothes and accessories to a variety of organizations, including the Salvation Army and Star of Hope.
After closets have been purged, what’s in style might be anything that stretches.
“We used to look down on elastic waistbands, but maybe we all are rethinking that,” said Linda Gillan Griffin, the Houston Chronicle’s former fashion editor who retired to Cat Spring.
She “dresses up” to pick up groceries or grab a coffee at Starbucks in nearby Sealy. Her prediction is that we’ll see more beautiful flats and sandals, that we’ll keep only things we really love and that unstructured looks will reign.
As for high heels?
“The whole purpose of high heels is to make your derriere stick out,” she said, “but with the way we all are eating, I don’t think anyone wants that.”
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