27 October 2019

What I've learned by cutting back on buying clothes

Recently I heard about the #secondhandseptember project from Oxfam, which was encouraging people away from fast fashion and towards shopping secondhand. I decided to go a bit further by only wearing secondhand clothes for the month, and not buying any clothes at all. I then decided to try to carry on my clothes spending freeze until the end of the year.

What’s wrong with shopping

Buying more clothes than we need is damaging to the environment, eats up money and storage space, and it leaves me with the feeling that I’m being sucked in by consumerism. We get used to what we have and need more to “make us happy”, and we see others having more and want what they have – a sort of lifestyle inflation. We don’t need all this stuff, but it’s socially acceptable to have it.

Fashion seasons make us feel frumpy if we don’t have the most up-to-date fashions, and the fashions change weekly. Our thought that we have nothing to wear comes from the influence of brands selling us the latest fashions. “I have nothing to wear” often means “I am bored with the items I've bought and worn for the past few months”. The rest of your wardrobe is forgotten, or you ignore it because it’s “unfashionable”!

Why I buy

I decided it was OK to allow myself to buy things that bought me joy, and that I shouldn’t deprive myself. But the joy was short lived, and led to feelings of regret and being overwhelmed with the amount of stuff I had.

Sometimes I’d say to myself, "If I get X it will complete my wardrobe", forgetting that it will never be complete, or, "If I get X I will be able to wear Y”, but if I loved Y I'd have found a way to wear it. It likely doesn't fit my style.

Wanting get clothes other people have is just a form of envy. I don't have to have everything everyone else has. I should be able to enjoy seeing what other people wear, whether it would suit me or not, without feeling tempted to buy it for myself. I’m trying to break the chain of going from liking something, to wanting it, to having to have it. It’s OK to appreciate things and not to have them!

I read that when you are tempted to buy, you should check all your needs are met e.g. are you hungry or bored? Do you have all the basics you need in life? One of my needs when buying clothes is for collecting and categorising, the feeling that I have “completed” my wardrobe, and imagining how I can combine colours in different combinations. I fulfil that need in other ways e.g. by cataloguing my clothes in my bullet journal.

How I shopped

I was spending about £900 a year on clothes. That sounds like a massive amount, but when you look at how much that is per month, it’s about £75 which is only one (new) item now that I’ve started buying higher quality (and ethically produced) items. About 30% of my purchases were secondhand, and 70% new.

How to start

Don't start with a massive clear-out, as this gives you loads of space and makes you want to fill it up again. Have a spending freeze for a few months, live with your wardrobe as it is, and see what items work for you. Remember that you loved everything in your wardrobe enough at one time to spend money on it. Try to wear your least-worn items and work out why you've not been wearing them. Even at this stage you'll start to feel less overwhelmed with the quantity, as you won't be constantly worrying about space and hangers for new items.

Don’t allow yourself to shop for secondhand items during your spending freeze. If you allow yourself to shop secondhand as much as you like, you are fuelling that desire for the new.

Avoid the places you’ll be exposed to the clothes buying addiction. Don't go to shops to pass time. Avoid the clothing aisles in the supermarket, or go to a supermarket that doesn’t sell clothes. Stop following brands on social media, and those influencers who never rewear an outfit. Unsubscribe from emails from brands, and throw advertising brochures straight in the bin. These brochures are selling you clothes by showing you an aspirational lifestyle.

Instead, find some inspiring people to follow who shop and wear secondhand, or are who not spending on clothes for a year. Read the many online articles about people who’ve gone on spending freezes, and what they’ve learned from it.

Suggestions of some people to follow:






This is easy for me as I’ve always enjoyed following people who reuse their clothing items in many different ways, rather than always having new clothes. I used to be part of a group on Flickr called Wardrobe Remix, which was devoted to this idea.

If you’re reading magazines, it’s OK to look for inspiration for what styles you could create from within your own wardrobe, but absolutely don’t look at the prices or what stores the clothing items come from! Try creating a Pinterest board with looks you can create using only the items in your wardrobe.

Find other ways to enjoy the buzz of the new, e.g. creating new artworks; trying different foods; combining and styling your clothes in new ways; making clothes; drawing, photographing or cataloguing your outfits, cooking new things; going to exhibitions; or visiting places you haven't been.

Wear things even when you feel unsure or unenthusiastic about them – by the time you put them on you may realise how good they look, or by the end of the day you may forget that you felt that way.

Pride yourself on how little you buy, and how much you save, rather than on your bargain-hunting skills.

What I’ve learned

Wearing things you used to love and falling in love with them all over again is a wonderful feeling. Your clothes have a life story, and when you wear them again you can think of all the great times you’ve worn them before. Long-term contentment with your wardrobe is much better than short-lived euphoria.

It’s much easier to choose from the 20 dresses in your wardrobe than all the millions in the shops. Too much choice can be a stressful thing. And I won’t feel bad about hunting through the shops and finding nothing that I like, that suits me, is of fabric that feels nice, or that fits me. I’m feeling enthused and loving my clothes – instead of “but I just wore that last week” it’s “I can’t wait to wear that again”!

I’m feeling less guilt about “I haven’t worn this yet/enough/for a while” because I am wearing everything, and I’m realising that most items have been unworn because of boredom rather than because they don’t fit or aren’t comfortable. I found I only have a few items that don’t fit, and this has encouraged me to lose the necessary few inches to get into them.

Once you’ve worked out what clothes work for you, you can have a clearout knowing that you will have enough to wear and will not need to shop to fill the space.

How to shop in future

I’ve come up with some outfit formulae that suit me well, but are never boring, like bright trousers with slouchy or striped tops, and patterned dresses with long cardigans. Shopping to these formulae will help me not to buy things that won’t work for me e.g. skirts don't fit anywhere in my formula, so I should not buy them, and I won’t feel guilty about getting rid of them. You can play with parameters of your formulae e.g. a plain dress instead of a patterned one, a patterned top instead of striped, a spotty shirt instead of striped top, but keeping the same silhouettes that suit you. Don't buy things just because they're fun and different. But you could try the silhouettes that work for you in a fun print, or a different shape in a colour you know you look fantastic in. Wearing outfits that bring out the best in you turns more heads than wearing the latest trends.

I have also in recent years given a priority to wearing clothes that are comfortable, both in shape and fabric. And by buying good quality, simple basics, in shapes that are forgiving of my shape changing, I can ensure that I keep and use them for a long time.

I’m going to plan my purchases. If I only buy one new thing each month or two, it will be more valued than if I’m shopping indiscriminately. I may make a collage wishlist of the things I feel tempted by, then come back to it later to see if I still want the items. I will scour the charity shops thoroughly for only those items on my essentials list. If I do not find them, I will buy them (good quality versions from a company with sustainable practices) but not all at once. I won't buy things that are “almost” what I am looking for, but instead I’ll hold out to find the perfect version that matches the vision in my head. And I will try to truly appreciate every new thing I buy.

I keep thinking of the Little House books and how appreciative they were of new fabric for making dresses, because it was such a rarity. I think I will also try to use some of my fabric by making clothes, buying sewing patterns in styles that I know will suit me and work with my wardrobe. The time spent on making clothing items will make me really value them.

I will shop the “trends” of the “season” within my own wardrobe, by picking out things that match the current so-called trends, and I will experiment with styling items in different ways. I was actually quite excited to discover that the purple dungaree dress I got at a vintage kilo sale, and got Mum to shorten to a more wearable length for me, is one of the supposed “in” colours this season! Slow fashion is so much better than fast fashion!

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