Both offer a ‘dream version’ of yourself, but one is far trendier than the other.

Fashion writer Jess Cartner-Morley made an intriguing observation recently – that the fashion industry is being killed by the wellness industry. I have long thought of the two as separate entities, existing alongside each other, but Cartner-Morley points out that, as people’s priorities and interests evolve, wellness culture is now providing the meaning that fashion once did. She writes:

“Fashion is stuff and stuff is, like, so 20th century. No one wants stuff any more. We want glowing skin and a 110-minute half-marathon time and inner peace and Michelin-starred kombucha instead. That’s what aspirational looks like in 2019. Wellness does exactly what fashion used to do, which is sell you a dream version of you, only it’s better for you and doesn’t create landfill. Game over.”

She says it all started with athleisure, the rise and social acceptance of comfortable stretchy clothing. Then “a new and seductive industry grew up around the business of wellness,” with specialized fitness programs, boutique gyms, gratitude journals, meditation retreats, and ‘clean eating’. You can also detect that wellness is the new fashion because of how easily it is monetized and spoofed:

“There are £6,000 Chanel yoga mats. There is Mark Wahlberg starting his day at 3.40am with a 95-minute workout. And, of course, there is Gwyneth Paltrow – Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous for a new generation. On her website Goop, you can buy a candle called Church (£66 – free delivery, though) with a scent described as ‘cypress smoke, snow, sensual quiet’.”

The wellness industry is similar to fashion in that it’s geared at women of a specific demographic and race (white, skinny, rich). “The ideal requires you to be time-rich and rich-rich,” able to go on weeklong yoga retreats abroad, buy $150 leggings, and slurp up expensive smoothies after a daily workout at an elite gym.

The allure goes beyond the physical. Cartner-Morley suggests it’s linked to global instability, to Millennials’ attempts to protect themselves against the unknown and to create stability where there seems to be little.

I wonder, too, if this shift is less about the appeal of wellness and more about frustration with the fashion industry – namely, its failure to evolve in meaningful ways. A growing number of consumers these days are concerned about ethics, sustainability, fair wages for labor, quality over quantity in everything they buy. Apart from a few notable efforts, the fashion industry has been unresponsive to these interests and continues with business as usual. (There’s a reason the resale clothing market is booming.)

If people cannot feel good about the clothes they buy, they may turn to wellness, which – despite being consumerist in many other ways – at least gives them something to feel good about. No doubt it’s a fad, too. Someday our children will roll their eyes at the thought of jade face rollers, intermittent fasting, vaginal steaming, and fermented multi-vitamins, but there is comfort in the fact that the goal of these practices is self-improvement, not consumption for consumption’s sake, as fashion tends to be.

After all, at the end of the day, we’re all better off eating vegetables, getting exercise, drinking water, and washing our faces with honey than getting on waitlists for the latest handbag or shoe release. We might as well embrace this wellness trend for the time being.

Both offer a ‘dream version’ of yourself, but one is far trendier than the other.

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