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Collaborative fashion consumption and the temporarily extended self

rack of colourful clothing
  • Written byAnnika Gralke
  • Published date 15 March 2022
rack of colourful clothing

A guest story by third-year BSc (Hons) Psychology of Fashion student Annika Gralke, who discusses collaborative fashion consumption in the context of what she and her fellow students have been learning about in their Future Thinking module.

It is an all too well-known phenomenon: you are standing in front of your fully packed wardrobe, trying to pick an outfit for the day. Despite the abundance of options, the feeling that none of them are really ‘it’ creeps up on you; the feeling that you have absolutely ‘nothing to wear’. Be it that you don’t really feel your clothes because you bought them impulsively, or because they don’t fit your current mood, the occasion, or the most recent version you have drafted of yourself – they all culminate in a sense of frustration, and perhaps a strong desire to shop for something new.

At the same time, you are flooded by images of textile-stocked landfill that contribute to global warming, and other proof that demonstrates the impact of our collective habits of overconsumption and underuse of clothing. According to Fashion Revolution, a garment is only worn an average of four times before being discarded, and most fashion consumption arguably exceeds the basic human need for clothes.

While this dichotomy has been clear for a long time, one of the main cruxes of fashion today remains: how do we maintain the hedonistic pleasure of fashion, while reducing its impact on the environment? This was one of the key topics discussed during the Future Thinking unit in my BSc (Hons) Psychology of Fashion course. As an (almost) psychologist, I’m all too aware of the importance that clothing holds for many people in terms of self-discovery, experimentation, mood regulation, and expression, as well as the desire to dress in alignment with the current zeitgeist.

An approach that I found particularly interesting was that of Collaborative Fashion Consumption (CFC), which involves practices such as renting, sharing, or lending new or pre-loved garments. Instead of purchasing ownership over the clothes, consumers gain access to their experience or performance for a predetermined period. As a result, the usage of each garment could potentially be increased, and individuals can overall try out more styles for only a fraction of their original price. The individual or corporate owner remains accountable for the garment, which means they will likely put greater care into its maintenance and offer a product of higher quality.

Sounds like a dream? When me and my classmates discussed Collaborative Fashion Consumption, the most prominent thought was what if we were indeed able to give up on the idea of ownership? Clothes are especially linked to our sense of identity, and research shows that removing possessions can have a negative effect on our psychological wellbeing, because we experience it as loss. However, we can also experience a feeling of psychological ownership over something we don’t legally own. Hence, sharing or renting clothes for a set amount of time might lead us closer to our ideal self and make our identities become more flexible and fluid.

A research team around Leïla Loussaïef even coined the term “temporarily extended self”, whereby consumers may undergo a liquid transformation of their consumer identity when having access to otherwise unattainable status symbols such as luxury designer bags or garments. I like this notion a lot, because it kind of overrides certain economic distinctions by making fashion more accessible to everyone.

Curious to try it out? There are already some pretty established platforms and businesses in the UK that offer fashion rentals from either private individuals or corporations. I already have my eyes on a Dries van Noten dress that I might rent for my graduation ceremony that is approaching very soon...