Rethinking Wardrobes: The Sharing Economy and the Fashion Imagination

Alison Gill

When unleashed in Hollywood cinematic narrative, the fashion imagination frequently envisages an unending wardrobe of updating looks, where personal decisions about combination, fit, fabric, and style, have been outserviced to an expert selection of custom made ensembles according to the latest fashions. Not even a second to think, ‘a wardrobe full of clothes, but nothing to wear!’ Isn’t this Daisy Buchanan’s delight when a life of privilege is revealed as immaculately folded shirts in every colour, fabric and weight possible, not in her own wardrobe but in Gatsby’s, her rediscovered lover? For the majority, the reality of this rose-tinted vision is the deficit of a first world fantasy; an extension of a capitalist logic and profligate industrial-scale imagination, where a man’s self-made ‘greatness’, like Gatsby, is measured in quantities of fresh shirts. Jump to The Devil Wears Prada (2006) where the intern at ‘Runway’ magazine is set free in the wardrobe of designer heaven…

Pete Volich
Untitled   2006
Colour photograph on metallic paper, 103 x 77.5 cm
Artbank collection, purchased 2007

"A man's self-made 'greatness', like Gatsby, is measured in quantities of fresh shirts."

Alison Gill

Let’s start again. Imagine a giant shop of clothes where everything in it is free. In this vision realised many times over by The Clothing Exchange in Australia, the ‘shop’ might be a refurbished industrial scale warehouse and its minimal styling is a vast stockpile of clothes, loosely sorted after being screened for damage into piles of skirts, dresses, pants and accessories. As an example of the creation of a clothing commons, The Clothing Exchange— started in Melbourne by Kate Luckins in 2004—organises small to large swap or ‘swishing’ events with friends and/or strangers, and hosts a virtual platform to exchange clothing. The stockpile accrued from individual wardrobes is now a collectively owned resource for sharing. At the swaps, items are ‘free’ to those participants who, by giving to the commons, can take using the currency of buttons.

The fantasy of a limitless wardrobe is at the centre of both these scenarios. Growing the clothes swapping model from sisters and friends, loungerooms and neighbourhoods to a massive, malleable, virtual wardrobe is an evolution of the fashion imagination’s vision of the unending availability of clothing to refresh one’s looks and wardrobe. The generation of a clothing commons encourages a new way of using clothes through exchanges, and this participation in a free and shared resources based economy that is outside of retail supply chains continues to service the individual’s fashion impulse to regularly update. The starting point to participation is to offer items that you no longer wear and from which you can detach, but that are of value and not damaged. This quality control provides incentives to look after clothing items for their subsequent lives, as one could potentially wear something for a few months and then exchange it at another clothes swap event.

Purchase the print issue

Read in full via the online issue