Today marks a significant landmark (for me at least).
Many people will see it as frivolous and maybe it is, but I’ve done it, I’ve managed an entire year without buying anything new, in fact I haven’t bought anything second hand either.
Tell a lie, I did buy some new wellies from Winfields in February but seeing as my house flooded, there was the very real prospect of it happening again and my wellies were nowhere to be found, that purchase was necessary and therefore allowed.
To be fair, when I last bought clothes a year ago – a faux fur coat that John Motson would be proud of and that I practically live in at the moment – I had no intention of giving up shopping. It was a month later when I read How to break up with fast fashion, that I started to address my somewhat problematic relationship with shopping and Dear Reader, it was problematic, I’d just never considered it to be so.
I was like Rebecca Bloomwood from Confessions of a shopaholic on speed.
I would find any excuse possible to treat myself every single week. I’d get parcels delivered to work, smuggle bags into the wardrobe, sneak things on to the shopping bill and would never wear the same thing twice on nights out with the same people.
I certainly didn’t really have the funds to do that and definitely didn’t need to buy clothes at the rate I was. I was addicted to the thrill of having something brand new, I’d then view that dress I had to have as ‘old’ within days. In short, I’d completely bought in to the idea of “this dress will make you beautiful/successful/happy and you need to buy it now”, we’re fed that idea constantly as women, even our mates on Instagram are now walking adverts for clothes. I now see that as absolute bull shit.
I’d would also, after the newness had worn off in one wear, treat clothes with complete disregard. I wouldn’t be careful with my clothes and I wouldn’t get them mended whenever an invisible zip would inevitably break (a moment here on invisible zips – if designers are going to be insistent on using them, can you please ensure that a) the sodding material isn’t going to stuck in it and b) the zip will last more than one wear). I mean, why go to the effort of getting something fixed when it’s so easy and cheap to just buy a new one?
I had no room for all the crap I’d bought. There were wardrobes bursting, drawers collapsing, skirts hanging from the picture rail and piles of clothes on the floor – some of the floor dwellers were items I simply had to have and still ended up there in record time.
How to break up with fast fashion changed that attitude. It made me think a lot more about the effects my habits have on the environment and accept that if I’m able to buy a dress for £5.00, then someone along the way isn’t getting a fair wage. It’s an uncomfortable truth and I appreciate that I’m lucky to be able to make more ethical choices when it comes to what I’ll buy in future.
So, what I have I learnt during my 12 months of abstinence?
- I don’t need to buy everything. Sounds obvious I know. I love clothes, I always have and always will. I like fashion, it interests me, that doesn’t mean it’s all for me. I always thought I had to have that seasons must-have dress, regardless of whether or not it actually suited me. I remember one Christmas trying on every peplum/flared dress in every single shop, convinced I’d find one that didn’t look ridiculous until a kindly assistant in the changing rooms said “I just don’t think that style is for you, I’d try something more classic like a bodycon”, she was right, I wasn’t offended more relieved that someone had actually pointed out the obvious. We need more of this. You see I don’t have to buy every trend. I’d lost all sense in what my actual style is on this constant, relentless quest for the latest fashions. I’ve learnt to admire and like clothes without having to, well, buy them for myself.
- I can’t look after shoes. To be fair this isn’t exactly a revelation. I destroy shoes, always have done. I had hoped that a ban on buying shoes would make me be a little more careful…it hasn’t. I must walk on my insteps of my feet because all my shoes are worn on that side, I knacker the back of the heels and rub the colour off through driving and no matter HOW careful I am, always leave it too late to get the heel tips replaced, I’ll cringe as I hear the metal scratch and clack on the pavement knowing the heels are beyond repair and look a state… I can almost hear my mum telling me they’re a disgrace.
- How to look after my clothes. They deserve to have the button sewn back on and the hem repaired. They don’t need washing after every single wear, most of the time they aren’t dirty or smelly and could be worn again before being flung in the wash. I never realised how much washing added to my carbon footprint, washing and drying (though I don’t have a drier) a 5kg load of clothes every two days creates 440kg of carbon emissions a year, doing laundry can take up 13,500 gallons of water a year for the average household.Anyone looking for an excuse to cut down on household chores, here it is – give the washer a break and wear the damn thing more than once.
- A clear out is actually really satisfying. It took me ages to tackle the clothes mountain. I’d followed all the steps in Lauren Bravo’s book but avoided getting rid of clothes, I do grow attached to a lot of my clothes and I do have the fear of wanting to wear something again regardless of the fact I’ve not wanted to wear it in 5 years or (in some cases) NEVER worn it. I was pretty brutal during that clear out, I’d find myself trying to convince myself that actually that skirt/pair of trousers/top would come in handy at some point…..they went. The dress I’d really hoped would suit me but clearly didn’t, went. Bags and bags went and for once they didn’t go straight to a clothes bin for someone else (namely Africa) to sort out. I sold a lot; I’d read how many tonnes of clothes ended up in landfill and the environmental impact that has and decided this time I couldn’t be lazy, I’d have to think about where my clothes were going, thanks to eBay many have found new homes, some were donated to women’s refuges – they weren’t binned.
- Having an emptier wardrobe makes life a lot bloody easier. So, as I said in my blog on How to break up with fast fashion, I’d stand staring at ALL the clothes every morning singing “I haven’t got a stitch to wear”, I did have a stitch to wear, clearly, I just couldn’t bloody decide because I couldn’t bloody see it all. Knowing what you own and being able to see it makes the morning a lot easier, I’m not overwhelmed by choice – a good thing for someone who can never decide what to eat.
There’s much more I’ve taken away from the year. I was (pre-pandemic) working on a news piece around fast fashion. I went to clothes swaps and a fashion co-op in Manchester and interviewed some passionate women who loved fashion as much as I do but were teaching others there’s a different way rather than trying to keep up with the churn. It’s about developing and embracing an individual style, mine is bright, bold, colourful, patterns, it’s never plain. I got to interview Lauren herself and had a lot of fun talking about our fashion disasters and favourite clothes. I also got to challenge the head of environment at Boo Hoo on their ‘green’ statement and pointed out that actually, isn’t the answer as simple as not making as many clothes?…. He didn’t have an answer for that.
Granted my shop free year has probably been made easier by not being able to go anywhere, but on the very rare occasion I have had a whiff of freedom, I haven’t felt the need to dash somewhere to buy something. It’s also been a year where it would have been very easy to justify cheering myself up with a haul of clothes. I haven’t missed shopping, I haven’t missed the thrill of a delivery (maybe early on I did) and I haven’t missed trawling through the internet looking for something to buy because I’m bored (and let’s face it, we’ve all been bored for large chunks of this year).
So, is this me and the high street done forever? Well, no, obviously not. I will have to buy new clothes at some point. It’ll also be okay to treat myself once in a while, so long as it isn’t every week because it’s a Tuesday then it is fine. I’ll always love fashion and pretty dresses, that’ll never change. I’ll now think much more carefully over what I buy and where I buy it from, I’ll ask myself whether I actually need it, do I love it or is it something I can admire without buying it?
I definitely won’t be running to keep up with the fast fashion world, we don’t need a new collection released every week, four seasons will suffice.
I’ll wear my favourites as much as I want without caring if it’s had an outing before, no one else cares and anyway everyone knows you’re never fully dressed without a smile.
P.S a note to newspaper editors everywhere can we please stop saying the Duchess on Cambridge has recycled an outfit because she’s worn it twice; this is not recycling.
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm