Fashion Lookbook

Here’s why reusing Oscar dresses won’t make much of an impact on sustainable fashion

During the 2020 awards circuit, sustainable fashion was the headline of the hour. Vogue’s announcement read, ‘At This Year’s Oscars, Stars Turned the Red Carpet Green’. The article featured an array of the movie industry’s biggest names in vintage gowns (Margot Robbie), gowns that repurposed cut-offs from previous dresses (Saoirse Ronan), organically made gowns (Léa Seydoux), recycled fabrics (Timothée Chalamet), and the list goes on. 

Yet another headline-making fashion move this awards season was the actresses who opted to re-wear their old gowns. Cate Blanchett and Jane Fonda are two actresses who have done this many times over the years, but the 2020 season saw Elizabeth Banks, Laura Dern, Arianna Huffington, and Joaquin Phoenix (who wore the same suit throughout the awards circuit) join the ranks.

Trends like these send out a message that we, feeling far removed from the immediate periphery of these events, don’t immediately recognize. When big-name stars take it upon themselves to make environmentally friendly clothing choices and are celebrated for it, brands take notice. It’s likely that in the coming years we will see many fashion houses and designers make more eco-friendly decisions and innovate new, greener fashion. The change is already visible now as more and more labels recognize sustainability as the only way forward. This will hopefully trickle down the chain and become a regular expectation of all clothing in time to come, but it will, without a doubt, take time. 

Despite this positive progress, however, there are a lot of reasons why greener fashion on the red carpet won’t necessarily make that much of an impact on fast fashion. It all boils down to one main instigator – Instagram. 

Fast fashion brands rarely draw from events like the Oscars, and tend to pull more from a source much closer to home – Instagram. While actors and actresses in the public eye do define current fashion trends to some extent, their influence has nothing on everyday celebrity culture. While Jane Fonda, Laura Dern, and Elizabeth Banks are well-known by the public, they don’t fit under the ‘influencer’ umbrella. And ‘influencer fashion’ is synonymous with ‘fast fashion’.

Moreover, these actresses are veterans in the industry, allowing their side-by-side comparisons of the same gown over the years to seem more nostalgic than it does ethical or sustainable.

Instagram and fast fashion, on the other hand, share a symbiotic relationship in which fast fashion extracts from the users of the platform and the platform itself enables the industry to better sell their products. The design strategy of Missguided and Boohoo “is to comb social media, study the fashion of celebrities and influencers, and identify looks that are trending”.

Tweet by @22anddmean, which says "the devil works hard but fashion nova works harder". Another caption reads, "What kind of wizardry is this @fashionnova".
[Image description: Tweet by @22anddmean, which says “the devil works hard but fashion nova works harder”. Another caption reads, “What kind of wizardry is this @fashionnova”.] via MEME.
Fast fashion both caters to and helped create the Instagram culture of dressing for your feed. A new outfit for each photo – clothing that is meant to be worn once, photographed, and then discarded. A UK survey from 2018 revealed that nearly 10% of shoppers buy clothes to post photos on social media before returning them. In an unexpected twist, the 35 to 44-year-old age bracket revealed that nearly 1 in 5 of these shoppers “bought clothes to wear once for the hashtag moment”.

Instagram’s swipe and shop features make it even easier to cop the same clothes as Instagram personalities, while countless Instagram style accounts chart their every outfit and offer alternative lookalikes at a much cheaper price point that are often made by – you guessed it – fast fashion brands. 

Despite concerns over labor practices, environmental impact, copyrights of the designs fast fashion brands are ripping off, and the overall ethics of fast fashion practices, these brands are going from strength to strength. 

Every day we learn more about the value of sustainability and the small changes that can make a big difference to the environment, including extending the life of your clothing by just 9 months. However, without considerable change in the breeding ground of fast fashion, the appeal of the price points coupled with its flexibility that bends to every new trend won’t fade.

Reusing Oscar dresses and headlines that bring ethical fashion to the forefront are important and necessary steps. However, until Instagram adopts a more environmentally-friendly ethos when it comes to fashion on social media, the enthusiasm of fast fashion brands is unlikely to be curbed.

By Amandi Fernando

Amandi Fernando is an aspiring writer with an Honours degree in English from the University of New South Wales. She is an avid supporter of doing deep dives into the backstories of literature and cinema at 3AM, beating you to that Arts-student-joke punchline, defensive humour, and not revealing too much in a bio.