His mother’s dress: growth in the number of clothes

Ingun Grimstad Klepp and Kirsi Laitala.


Eivind Stø likes a tell an illustrative story about his mother who went through World War II with only one dress due to rationing. Today women have many dresses; more than we can wear out in 5 years. Since 1990, Norway’s clothing imports have almost doubled (Statistics Norway, 2014) and we did not lack clothing in 1990. This chapter discusses what we know about this change. What do we know about the number of clothes in use? When did they multiply to such an extent? What sources and methods do we have to describe this growth? In general, growth should be a more central theme in the environmental debate, especially when it comes to clothing and other items where growth in numbers is completely decoupled from a corresponding increase in satisfaction. As long as we produce (and purchase) far more clothes than we need, quantity should be an essential theme.

Lifecycle thinking has little relevance when the cycle ignores use. To put it another way, without knowing anything about the amount we can hardly reach a future where production matches our need to be warm and beautiful. Nevertheless, there are a few relevant studies of this growth. We will use previous investigations of clothing consumption in Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom, as well as material from SIFO’s projects on clothing consumption, where we have attempted to approach an understanding of the number of clothes that people possess.

This article is from the book in The Consumer in Society – A Tribute to Eivind Stø, edited by P. Strandbakken and J. Gronow.