The global fashion world has created what is arguably one of the most skewed markets on the planet. Everything is subject to laws of supply and demand and laws of quality and competition. No matter what the product is, if you buy a higher quality item, you will be likely to pay more. If you buy a limited item or an item not readily available, you will also pay more. These dynamics make perfect sense given the structure of capitalism. With fashion, though, the basic constructs of capitalism have become exaggerated to the point of being out of hand, particularly when viewed from the point of view of middle class Americans.
Low Price, Low Quality?
In the United States, if a woman wants to stay fashionable, she usually has to shop at high-end boutiques and department stores. The alternative is to shop at lower end department stores that carry clothes that are often oriented toward a more casual view of fashion. In most of the country, there is no middle road, no option for those who want to enjoy current fashions and quality fabrics without paying an arm and a leg. Even the few boutiques that try to fill this niche, such as Forever 21, often sacrifice quality to an alarming degree. For women who care about the image they present to the world but don't want to participate in the materialistic culture of high fashion, there seems to be no way out.
The Situation in Europe
In Europe, it seems that middle range boutiques do a slightly better job of keeping up with current fashion while still keeping costs low. H&M, a Swedish manufacturer, is one example. Although there are some H&M stores in the United States, they are few and far between compared to the many retail outlets found in European countries.
The Social Cost of Low Prices
For women who are both on a budget and socially conscious, the situation is even worse. American corporations are notorious for seeking the cheapest possible materials and labor solutions in order to keep costs down and maximize profits. Unlike other business models that focus on outperforming the competition by offering a superior product, lower-end clothing manufacturers in the United States often thrive on sales quantity. This means that, instead of offering a good product, these manufacturers and their associated retail outlets will offer a very, very cheap product. If the product's price tag is low enough, the product will sell in volume despite being poorly made, poorly designed, and manufactured using cheap labor and unfair labor practices.
Shopping for Inspiration
Although there is no quick fix for this issue, there are a few options that could work for many women in the short term and help the situation in the long term. For example, one great strategy is to go to higher end stores to get ideas. If you're the sort of person who's tempted to spend too much when you go shopping, pick a day to shop for inspiration only and leave your wallet home. Make a mental note of styles that you like and would like to find elsewhere. Then, you can take these new inspirations to lower end stores or, better yet, to consignment and secondhand stores and recreate the style with your own, socially and financially responsible twist. With a little luck and optimism, you can even find gently used clothes from top brands at deeply discounted prices, and then you won't have to sacrifice.