Forecasts from the past: disposable clothes, a worrying sign from the past
22 July 2019 | Written by La redazione
Often the thinkers of the past have left to posterity intuitions about our present: some incredibly precise, others completely wrong. Today we tell you one that, even if we don't realize it, has (almost) been realized and that has negative implications for workers and the environment
Did our dress get dirty? Don’t bring it to the washing machine, just take it, throw it and choose a new dress to wear. So 70 years ago someone imagined the fashion sector, a world of practicality and disposable objects that does not care about the impact on people and the environment. A forgotten past and, today, considered crazy? Not really.
The disposable clothes. During the 1950s and 1960s technological innovations, confidence in science and the unrestrained enthusiasm unleashed in the public towards what could be achieved thanks to human ingenuity have led to quite a few distortions. One of these is well represented by a vignette which was published on 25 October 1959 in which some women are seen camping while changing their clothes and burning their newly removed clothes. The idea behind the image was that in the future the way of dressing would be revolutionized: in a (perhaps) distorted form of female liberation, women would no longer have to wash and iron their clothes because they would become disposable.
“Should your clothes be cleaned or washed? Are you tired of old patterns or colors? In the future, if your answer to one of these questions is yes, simply throw away the old clothes and maybe light a campfire “. So it said the slogans that accompanied these products. The idea was that the development of new materials would reach such a point that it would have been cheaper and more practical to simply get a new dress rather than wash it. Paper, rayon, and nylon would have been the fabrics of the future.
An unsharable idea. Despite the pressures of newspapers and advertising, the idea never had great success in the public that believed, rightly, that such a practice would have been a waste. Nevertheless, the textile industry for almost a decade continued to revive the idea by developing cheap and practical disposable clothes. The Scott Paper Company, famous for toilet paper, in 1966 advertised its disposable clothes made of fireproof paper, managing to sell over 300,000 items in the United States. In England, in 1970 a conference was even held, Dispo ’70 (from disposable clothes), on the subject. With the emergence of environmental movements in the 1970s and with the emergence of greater sensitivity to environmental issues, the discourse on disposable clothing was completely rejected. At least voluntarily.
The disposable clothes of the new millennium. Even if the idea of producing disposable clothes is forgotten, certain practices are hard to die. Although we rejected this idea, in practice it is still a widespread phenomenon today. Low-quality clothes are produced in the billions, exploiting enormous amounts of resources, polluting rivers and degrading the lands used to grow cotton, and the fashion industry produces a surplus of articles every year that when burned remains unsold and causes significant emissions of CO2. It is not just about environmental impact, the production of the so-called fast fashion, products that we could almost define as disposable, are often produced in developing countries with underpaid forms of work and without security. The future imagined in the past, in the end, has not turned out to be too different from the one we live in.