Emotional obsolescence: losing faith in our clothes

Emotional obsolescence: how are we growing tired of our clothes?

Kids throwing clothes in the air. A metaphor of our emotional relationship to clothing and emotional obsolescence.

Have you ever owned a long, maybe everlasting piece of clothing? Maybe something passed down from generations? An old cotton jacket to work outside? Your grandpa’s favourite fishing hat? Or have you ever loved a product so much you fixed it over and over until it absolutely disintegrated, eventually resulting in a kind of emotional heartbreak?

You formed an emotional bond to a product that was most likely timeless, and durable.
Do you think you could say the same thing about something in your wardrobe, that you could pass down to someone, in 20, 30 years? Probably not.

There are many reasons for that. The most obvious is the quality of clothing. Most (if almost any brands) have invested in cheaper, less durable fabrics. Even some iconic brands known for their durability have usually cheapened out on their products (while keeping their image and marketing associated with their “alleged” durability). And it has gone downhill since then, with fast-fashion brands producing extremely cheap garments, with extremely cheap (and toxic) fabrics. Made to last less than a few uses.

But there is a less obvious and lesser-known reason for this. It’s subtle, subconscious, and invisible. It has to do with our feelings, our emotions, and our brain chemistry.
It’s called emotional obsolescence. And it’s very likely you haven’t heard of it. 

Create a meaningful wardrobe that will last long could be the solution to emotional obsolescence..

You might be familiar with planned obsolescence. For example, in the 30’s during the great depression, consumption was crashing, and factories were halted. Many industries had to find new ways to sell their products. Some had the idea of making products with cheaper parts that will break quicker, so that they would sell their products more frequently. 

Think of your parent’s washing machine, which used to last 20 to 30 years, but now lasts 2-3 years before some unfixable tiny parts break down. 

But emotional or psychological obsolescence doesn’t rely on a product’s functionality, or fixability, to work. It relies on our desire. 

Emotional obsolescence is when a product is still perfectly functional but becomes obsolete in the buyer’s mind. It’s something that you just don’t want or like anymore. It has to do with our emotions and desirability only.

Because we do not just consume for our functional needs, but also for the rush of novelty and the act of buying on itself. To fill or compensate for some emotions, or because of the social values that a product will bring to you. We crave that quick dopamine rush that comes with buying something, and the social aura that it might bring us.
But past the cheap thrill, the emotional bond we create with our clothes is lasting less and less. With fast fashion moving from design to retail racks in less than 15 days — and often lasting no more than 10 wears — the idea of using clothes beyond a single season, let alone a decade, can seem archaic. Last year, the average American bought more than one garment per week, paying about $17 for each, according to the trade group the “American apparel and footwear association”(Home (aafaglobal.org))”. It’s creating gigantic amounts of waste, in our ever-growing pile of discarded clothes, that quite often end-up in landfills somewhere in the global south. 


Clothing brands, especially fast fashion ones, have perfectly understood this neurological phenomenon. They know how to exploit our psychological biases. The goal is to interfere in the relationship with our clothes, degrade our sense of empathy for them, in order to ditch them faster. 


We end up buying more clothes, constantly. It’s terrible for us, bad for our mental health and for the planet.

The good news is that we can learn from neuromarketing used by brands to trick us. We can collectively reverse this phenomenon, and there are solutions to work toward a more durable relationship to our pieces of clothing: an emotional durable wardrobe. In the coming series of articles, we will study how brands try to trick our brains and instincts to make us buy more products, and how to fight this phenomenon.

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