A year ago, I made a big, audacious promise, to not buy any new clothes for a whole year. I was propelled to make this promise because I had just been reunited with my clothes after six months of separation. They were in a shipping container for half a year, and I had gotten through those six months without hardship. I wrote about that experience and lessons learned in my post Living Through 3 Seasons on 1 Suitcase.
I was also horrified about the amount of clothes I had. Two closets full of clothes made me realize that I did not need so many, and I was wasting natural resources (detailed in Just One Shirt) when these pieces of clothing could be of use to someone else.
Back in December 2018, my pledge felt daunting and lofty. Was I going to be that weirdo, who is out on a ledge by herself? But over the course of 2019, it became fashionable to talk about fashion sustainability. Everywhere on social media and in my social circle, people were talking about reducing their environmental footprint in their closet. Sustainable dresses were the highlight of the Oscars, and icon Jane Fonda has pledged to never buy a new piece of clothing again. Who knew taking a break from clothes and fashion would be so en vogue?
So how did my year go? I learned a lot: some good, some bad, and some wasteful.
- No one notices what I wear.
Initially I was self-conscious about limiting my wardrobe. I was certain people knew I was cycling through the same clothes week after week. In truth, everyone is busy with their own lives! Most friends could only remember a few statement pieces I wear, and weren’t the wiser about how I was repeating outfits.
Once I pulled the layers back, I concluded that the fashion industry puts the idea in our brains that others will judge us for our lack of current fashion. It’s their way of getting us to buy more and more, dangling social acceptance in front of us as lure. What if we didn’t need to buy clothes to fit in? What if we didn’t need to buy our way to acceptance? I think our society would look very different if we believed that our looks didn’t make us more lovable or accepted into our social circles.
2. I wear the same comfort clothes week-to-week.
There are only 7 days in a week. How many outfits do I need? 5 work outfits and two weekend outfits. Even with multiple jean options, I have a favorite pair and will prefer to wear that one pair over others. Even with a messy toddler who gets stains on things immediately, I only need so many back-up pairs of clothes.
One morning I was getting dressed for work, looking through my pant options. It was close to laundry day, and there were only one pair of pants in my closet. I had barely worn them this past year. I gave them a hard look, and said “Nah”, reaching for a skirt that is part of my normal rotation. I could probably make a 2 or 3 week wardrobe plan, just like we do menu plans for dinner. Less stress, and no need to spend time in the morning wondering if I am ever going to wear those white linen pants soon (probably not).
3. Quality counts
Some clothes are holding it together for another year, while others are wearing thin after a year of constant use. My leather boots are holding up well despite being worn almost daily, while some synthetic shoes are falling apart. Fast fashion shirts are stretched and looking older than their real age.
I now know that it pays to invest in quality fabrics, good stitching, and well-set dye. I want to make any new additions to my wardrobe though-out rather than a thoughtless splurge. Therefore, I think about clothes like an investment: Will this be useful still in a year or two? Is it worth the resources it took to make it (and my money)? I am now assessing clothes for what they will look like years down the road, rather than just the first wear.
4. Check the closet before shopping
In the middle of a cold snap, I lamented my boring winter wardrobe. My colleague and fellow Earth Mama Charlotte was wearing cute tights, and I wanted to wear something fun. My initial reaction was that I should buy a new outfit. But in searching my closet, I located tights, a skirt, and a sweater that were exactly what I wanted.
The fashion industry implanted this idea in our heads. Their message is all about new, in season, must-have looks. The obvious next action is to go shopping and get the new must-have look, even if it is similar to items in our closets. When I did an inventory of my closet, I couldn’t believe I own 15 tank tops. And I would have gone out and bought more without checking my closet first. My gut instinct when feeling bored with my clothes was to go to the mall. But all I had to do was search my closet.
5. Pledging no new clothes doesn’t mean your wardrobe suffers
The circular economy is in full swing and does wonders to boost your wardrobe. Thrift stores are in most towns and are even online. If you are curious about how to start second hand shopping, Amy Foster has Top 10 Things for Buying Clothes Second Hand.
You can get new (to you) clothes by swapping with friends and colleagues. Mimi describes her success with swapping in her post, or you can go to an arranged one like I did. At Swapclubmx, I exchanged three clothing items that I wasn’t wearing for new exciting ones. No waste, but a new wardrobe!
Friends and family are great for swapping clothes. My friend and neighbor gave me two warm yoga shirts, acknowledging that my year without new clothes wouldn’t give me the warm shirts I needed. She was happy to get rid of shirts she wasn’t using, and happy they would go to good use. My mom gave me a jacket she wasn’t using, seeing that I was woefully underprepared for the winter weather. People kept me in their thoughts, and were supportive of my journey.
6. Be gentle with yourself
Here is the moment of truth. How did my year without new clothes go? Well, even with my pledge of no new clothes, I managed to buy 8 pieces of clothing. What did I buy?
To be honest, every time I bought something, I put a lot of thought into the purchase. Did I really need it? Was there a gap in my wardrobe, or was I just bored with the clothes I wore? Could I refashion another clothing item to fill that gap? When I could answer “no” to all these questions, I would go to a store with the intention of buying just that one piece of clothing. I feel confident that it was the right decision because I regularly wear all these pieces of clothing; but it did feel like a failure at the time. I had to take a deep breath, and give myself a reminder to be kind. No one is perfect, and I will keep trying better next time.
What’s my new step? I made a promise for 2020 to stop buying new and start buying used items more often. I am going to use clothing swaps and second hand stores thoughtfully. I am going to be a part of a Buy Nothing group, which models itself on the neighborhood model of lending and swapping. Looking good can be green, with some thoughtfulness and small changes.
I can honestly say without my pledge I would be the same fast fashionista I was, buying as many as eight pairs of shoes a year. For those out there thinking a No New Clothes pledge is too extreme, I suggest you check out Charlotte’s A Former Shopaholic’s Shares Simple Steps to Reduce the Environmental Toll of Your Closet. She has simple concrete steps to having a greener relationship with clothes and fashion.
Now that green closets are all the fashion rage, get trendy and find your sustainable path!