No new clothes for an entire year
I can’t believe this year is close to coming to an end. I recently reread my initial story No new clothes. For an entire year., which I wrote back in March 2018. Looking back, it’s been a whirlwind of experiences, learning and forming new habits.
I’m not gonna lie. It was really hard at first. In March I had taken on a new contract role with an agency for 4 weeks and their office was based just off Oxford Circus. Oxford Street is pretty much every fashion addicts’ paradise and my idea of hell. I was walking past shiny storefronts, hipsters in questionable, unflattering yet eccentric outfits and incredibly well outfitted mannequins every morning and evening. It took Tash to convince me not to buy this one blouse I was desperately avoiding staring at every single day on my lunch-break. She made me walk up to the store and have a closer look at the blouse. She even wanted me to go in and try it on. But the closer I got to the shop the less I wanted it. I had watched the blouse from afar for so long, imagining myself in it. But now that I saw it up close, it didn’t actually have the neckline I thought it had. I was seriously disappointed and kind of embarrassed about the fact that I had dreamed about a blouse like other people would dream about a crush. Oh well. Lesson learned. Refuse. This experience set the tone for the rest of the year. I hadn’t given in. I was proud and things became easier from then on.
So what have I learned?
In short. Lots. Mainly that we humans are creatures of habit. We do things because we are used to doing them. And we have done them so many times that they become second nature to us, so we don’t even question our behaviour anymore. Mainly also because every one around us seems to do the exact same thing. So why change?
We call it ‘retail therapy’. You feel down? Go to the shop and buy yourself something nice, shiny and new. Reward yourself. You deserve it. Get that hit of serotonin.
And that is exactly what keeps us coming back. The feeling of reward. However, it doesn’t last long and that is exactly the reason why I decided to break this circle. And yes, it was hard at first. Breaking habits is never easy, because our brains don’t like change. But it is possible. And this is not to say that I don’t occasionally tap into old traps and fantasise about buying a particular item of clothing. Change takes time. So here are some insights from the past 10 months:
Thrift shops aren’t as scary as I thought they were
Starting to buy nearly all of my clothes (except underwear and socks) in thrift stores was a slightly different challenge. I will be honest here. I thought I hated second hand clothing. I didn’t like the stores. I thought they were trashy and dimly lit caves full of ugly, unwanted clothing. And on top of that everything smelled of moth balls and I was (not kidding) terrified by the thought of wearing something, somebody could have potentially died in. I know this is a little extreme but I said I would be honest.
But well if I wanted to still update my wardrobe throughout the year I had to give second hand another go. Spoiler alert: It was the best decision ever.
The first second hand item I bought was through Shpock, an App that works as an online marketplace for people selling unwanted things. I have been looking for a straight cut striped t-shirt for ages and that was exactly what I found. A Zara shirt for £4*. Unworn and still with the tags on. The girl had bought it but never wore it because she didn’t try it before she took it home. The best thing: she lived 2 minutes from my house. Easy peasy. I didn’t think a thrift find would be this rewarding but I felt like I had successfully completed a treasure hunt.
*Is second-hand fast fashion better than sustainable fashion?
Now obviously one could argue a second hand shirt from Zara is still a fast fashion shirt. Absolutely. And it doesn’t make fast fashion any more right. However you are also removing an item from the waste-stream and aren’t creating more demand in production. And that is a significant impact. Because the truth is that whether you buy a sustainably produced garment or a fast fashion garment completely brand new it has a bigger environmental impact due to the materials that had to be extracted to make it, the production of the piece itself, the transport of the item as well as the use and what happens to it after you’re done wearing it. This is something to consider with everything you buy brand new.
Don’t be shy
Ask your friends if they have any clothes they don’t want anymore. Does that sound weird? Trust me if you commit to not buying any new clothes for an entire year you’ll automatically become a lot more experimental than you thought you could be. Because you still want to dress well and change your looks. I started telling all my friends about my little experiment. They were immediately on board. Especially because it meant they didn’t have to go to the charity shops to drop off their clothing. They can just dump it on me. Win win. Obviously not all of those hand me downs are gems but I did find one or two new favourite items that are now staples in my daily wardrobe. And the best thing about spreading the word. Some of your friends might be motivated to join in on the challenge.
Sewing on a button is really (not that) hard
Knowing that I couldn’t really replace any of my favourite clothing items within the next 12 months I was a lot more careful and diligent with them. I even started reading the ‘how to wash’ instructions on the inside labels and followed them. And that’s coming from someone who literally separates laundry by ‘underwear and towels’ and ‘everything else’. I had a few items that I absolutely loved but never quite got round to having repaired or repair myself. Now I didn’t really have an option. I researched tailoring services in my neighbourhood and came across an elderly couple that had a shop near my house. I got a pair of second hand jeans stitched up that had a hole on the thigh, got the strap of a jumpsuit sewed back on and got the entire ripped open back of my much worn favourite denim shirt stitched up. The repairs took a day and cost me a small fraction of what it would have cost me to replace these items with brand new ones.
Get creative with what you have
What a lame piece of advice. I know. It does work though. Especially when you just have to get more creative. I actually did another wardrobe declutter and reorganised all of my clothes. I have so much less now and therefore a much better overview. It has also made me more interested in combining pieces I had never combined before. Just because I was really getting bored of the same old, same old. Last time I went to visit my mum I remembered I had an entire suitcase full of clothes stored at her house. I decided to go through it just to see what’s in there. There were a lot of items that reminded me of pretty tasteless outfits from my teenage years but I also found a few timeless shirts, skirts and dresses that I had completely forgotten about. These are currently having a comeback.
It’s in the details
Accessories, accessories, accessories. I made my own earrings. And they are the most complimented piece in my wardrobe to date. An eye catching bright yellow bag, a quirky hat, statement earrings — these things are so very easy to find second hand and they make the biggest difference. My bright yellow tassel earrings go with almost every outfit and as I mentioned before, get complimented on a lot. Curious to find out how to make your own? I found this tutorial here.
Find your local dealer
Buying second hand, knowing where to go and when to go takes a tad of experience but it is so very rewarding. As I mentioned before. At times it feels like a treasure hunt. Or as Forrest Gump would put it: like a box of chocolate. You never quite know what you’re going to get. You need to be conscious that you might go out shopping for a black cashmere jumper and come back with a multi coloured full body suit from the 90'ies (yes, I am speaking from experience). Buying second hand is very unpredictable and that is the beauty of it. I found nothing more rewarding than discovering a unique gem amidst a mountain of garments. My go to store ever since I started my second hand journey has since become One Scoop Store–a carefully curated online second hand store based here in London. The store is run by woman called Holly and she basically scours the thrift stores in London and picks out the gems for you.
If you do end up buying, do your research and choose wisely
Everything in moderation is always good advice. If you don’t feel like you can fully commit to this challenge maybe think about just slowing down your consumption of fashion. You can do this by:
Only buy a few times a year.
It makes the most sense to do this with the change of seasons.
Check certifications like the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard).
How transparent is the brand about production processes and materials?
Buy clothing that comes with a guarantee or that can be easily repaired.
Patagonia for example offers a repair service and advice for most of its products.
Famous last words
This experiment was rather eye opening and I have decided to continue my slow fashion journey after the end of this year. The reason being that I have found so much joy and reward in redefining my own personal style, becoming a skilled thrifter and switching up my habits around consumption in general. I feel like the stress of ‘what to wear’ or the pressure of not wanting to be seen in the same outfit twice has been almost completely eradicated from my life and that is so liberating. This is mostly due to the fact that other people actually don’t care about what you wear at all.
My mindset shifted drastically from asking myself “What am I willing to give up?” at the start of this year to “What do I gain from this?”. The answer comes easy for me now. It is not only a good amount of money as well as time saved not shopping for bargain fast fashion but also a new found value for things I already had and garments that had been worn and loved by someone before me. There is something about the unexpected find of a Victorian style blouse in a quaint little vintage shop in Margate during a roadtrip with friends that you simply don’t get when you buy a shirt at Primark. I like to imagine the blouses’ life before me, who wore it at what occasion and how many times. And this to me is worth so much more than a quick serotonin hit from a fast fashion sale.
If you have just started your journey to slow fashion and want more hard facts and insights you can watch the current program “Stacey Dooley investigates: Fashion’s Dirty Secrets” on BBC iPlayer.