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Ancient Greek philosophers gave shape to ideas that still matter today. But did you know that they can even be applied to fashion? In this article, we dive into the concept of sophrosyne and how it relates to slow fashion, consumerism and Black Fridays.

Words By Marina Hoyer

December, 21st 2020

Temperance. A virtue that has shaped humanity all the way from Ancient Greek philosophy through Christianity up to our modern 21st century way of thinking. Interestingly, in Ancient Greece, there were two concepts of temperance and both of them are inherently different from each other. The term enkrateia literally translates to “in power” and refers to the power we have over ourselves, our egos, our passions and our drives. When we say temperance and refer to enkrateia, we talk about self-control and self-discipline. Unfortunately, it can be tiresome to constantly repress one’s passions, feelings or instincts. Sometimes, we just want to eat that cake and buy those shoes. 

However, temperance does by no means have to exhaust us. Its second translation, sophrosyne, does not forbid us to enjoy small pleasures or force us to suppress our desires continuously. Instead, sophrosyne, a term coined by Plato and used further by Aristotle, understands temperance as an ideal between two extremes. It represents a healthy state of mind that is not hedonistic, self-indulgent or uncontrollable, but not callous or emotionless either. In fact, the concept of sophrosyne acknowledges human pleasures whilst encouraging us to be sensible, self-aware and mindful about them. Essentially, it calls on us to do everything in moderation and nothing in excess. Or, as the 21st century human would say: balance is key.


But what does this have to do with fashion? In fashion, just like in all other areas of our lives, excess is never advisable. On Black Fridays, fast-fashion-consumers fill their shopping carts with masses of cheap clothes merely for the sake of buying at a discounted price. But the craving for buying more, buying faster and buying cheaper will not satisfy you in the long run. By contrast, shopping with sophrosyne will. This concept acknowledges your love for fashion but reminds you to approach it consciously. It is a gentle nudge to refrain from ordering endless amounts of clothes you don’t need and invest in quality instead of quantity. 

The following example will help you understand how the concept of sophrosyne can let you enjoy the pleasure that fashion brings you in a moderate, mindful and reasonable way free from unhealthy excess. If you think of a Prada handbag as a piece of art that you value and appreciate for the design and all the work behind it, then it is perfectly fine to save for it and buy your dream bag. You will probably cherish this precious item for many years to come and express your love for fashion in a genuine way through it. However, if you are filling your closet with piles of counterfeit bags, chances are you are buying them for vanity’s sake, and to show off brand names. Not only does this disrespect the hard work and the creative design processes that the original pieces represent, but it also means catering to excessive consumption, and doing so with base motives. Fast fashion is not so different. Although it technically does not fake the logo of a designer, highstreet brands still copy their look. Therefore, fast fashion resembles mass production and has little to do with the original art and craftsmanship of fashion. If you truly love fashion, buy in moderation and buy from high-quality brands, ideally those that are sustainable and respect the environment.

As a rule of thumb, slow is usually better than fast. Slow fashion, slow food, slow everything. You may enjoy that junk food burger at the moment, but afterwards, you are most likely left with an upset stomach and a feeling of regret. Compare that to home-cooked veggies with grilled fish: Perhaps they do not answer to your cravings, but they will fuel your body with all the nutrients it needs and leave you feeling satisfied and full of energy. The concept of slowness even applies to love: A man can promise you the world and make you feel like a princess after two dates, but a reliable and loyal partner remains to be seen only over time. Fashion is the same. As with food and relationships, it is advisable to think long-term. A discounted garment might seem like a real deal, but when the fabric rubs off after a few washes, you have not really saved any money at all.

Yes, sustainable, premium-quality clothes may be expensive, but they are an investment. That timeless black cashmere turtleneck can last you a decade, while the ten discounted polyester-jumpers will live in your wardrobe for a single season. A practical approach is the cost-per-wear formula (CPW). Instead of looking at the total price of a piece, you calculate its relative cost based on the number of times you wear it. The dress you bought on sale for 30€ but only wore twice because it does not really fit has ultimately cost you 15€/wear. Meanwhile, the perfect snug 100€ organic-cotton top is so comfortable and flattering that you end up wearing it at least once a month for four years. This leaves you with an astonishing CPW of around 2€. Shopping consciously can mean paying a higher price initially, but you will get more out of it in the end.


Last but not least, a conscious shopping experience characterised by sophrosyne also means being considerate of others. When you buy fast fashion, somebody else pays the price. Behind each t-shirt on sale for 4.99€ is usually a textile worker in Bangladesh who fabricated the garment in horrendous conditions. Slow fashion, on the other hand, means paying a reasonable amount for what a piece is worth, getting real value out of it and caring about human rights and the environment in the process. If you let yourself be guided by temperance, you aim for a sustained, lasting approach to fashion instead of getting distracted by short-term gratification. So abolish Black Fridays, mega-sales and cheap bargains, and start shopping with sophrosyne. Buy less, buy better and stop the fast fashion excess. For some inspiration, have a look at our selection of 8 investment pieces. They are timeless in their designs, socially and environmentally sustainable, and of high, lasting quality.

A white and navy striped jumper never goes out of fashion. The Flora by Danish brand Le Pirol is made from 100% GOTS-certified organic cotton and will give you a polished look in all four seasons.

To enjoy the sense of fashion at home too, invest in these beautiful Siena lounge shorts. Made in Italy from finest organic silk by Christina Leonor, you will be snuggling in these every single day, getting a tremendous cost-per-wear.

This SIZ skirt is made in Portugal and consists of 100% cotton recycled from deadstock fabric. The light, airy textile with its mid-length cut and slits make it the perfect staple to carry you through summer after summer. Fancy a change after a few years? Instead of disposing of it, simply have a tailor turn it into mini-length and you have a brand-new piece!

Portuguese brand Armazem das Malhas only produces in local, family-run factories on a small scale. This timeless ribbed turtleneck jumper comes in pure lambswool and will keep you warm every winter.

Get cosy with these bed and loungewear socks made from the highest grade Nepalese cashmere. London-based brand La Sororité describes them as “designed to be durable and stand the test of the time”. The perfect investment piece!

Have you tried store after store in search of the ideal white cotton shirt? Look no further because the Robin by Yunit Studio from Amsterdam is the perfect button-up to invest in. Its 100% organic brushed cotton comes in the highest quality of heavy 300 grams and will therefore be a reliable office staple for at least the next 20 years.

This classic camel scarf by Alpaca Loca is the perfect accessory that you need only buy once to keep you warm and wrapped up each winter. Just like all of the brands’ other products, this luxurious piece is handmade by a local wool weaving community in the South-American Andes and contains nothing other than pure alpaca wool.

The Biker 1.0 by luxury slow fashion brand Avie is a super smooth Italian lamb Nappa leather jacket. Its price point may seem high at first, but rest assured, you will be wearing this seasonless piece for decades to come