In January of 2018, I decided not to buy any new clothes. I already had more clothes than I was wearing consistently and I wanted to wear the clothes I had instead of always thinking I wanted to buy something new. This wasn’t a drastic change for me. I’ve never been a big shopper, but I do enjoy finding a good deal on something cute. As I have continued to read and educate myself about fast fashion and the environmental impact of clothing production, it has made me rethink my relationship with clothes. So I decided I wouldn’t buy any clothes for the foreseeable future - at least six months - and then I could assess what clothes I had, what I was wearing, what needed mending, replacing, or ought to be donated.
During this time, I was recovering from surgery and then I returned to my old job as a display coordinator at Anthropologie. At that job, I generally wore two different pairs of pants with a consistent rotation of five or six shirts. At home, I usually wore very casual clothes like leggings, shorts, and t-shirts. The only part that seemed a little bit challenging at first was when I needed to dress more nicely. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that the times I needed to look a bit nicer, I usually wasn’t seeing the same people for every occasion and I could wear my one nicer dress or my nicer top with black jeans and the only person that would know was my husband.
As I settled into a routine with my wardrobe at Anthropologie, it got easier and easier. Then, in August, I left my job. Now my wardrobe of paint splattered t-shirts and well-worn jeans didn’t fit my day-to-day needs at all. I needed a broader variety of pieces that could flex between more casual situations and nicer meetings. So instead of rushing off to the mall, I assessed my closet and made a list of the things that I would need to fit my new freelance life. That list included 2-3 non t-shirt tops and 1 pair of jeans. Then I started scouring places like Poshmark and Goodwill with the goal of filling in the gaps in my wardrobe with as many second-hand pieces as I could.
Once I filled my wardrobe with those pieces, I stopped shopping again. It was a very easy switch at this point. I took several months to shop slowly and find pieces that would work for me and for my life. If something was close but not quite the right thing, I let it go and kept looking. One shirt I loved but felt was way too bright and I didn’t find myself reaching for it often, I tossed in the wash with some RIT dye and now I have a shirt that fits better into my wardrobe and color palette. Another shirt that I love but had some holes, I have started slowly mending using a visible mending technique similar to Sashiko, a Japanese technique of mending holes with many, tiny stitches.
Here are the biggest things that I have learned since I stopped buying clothes:
My life is so much easier.
I am someone who gets tired by making lots of decisions over the course of the day. Now I rarely think for more than a few minutes about what I am going to wear. Everything I have in my closet goes with everything else and I know that every piece fits me well and I am comfortable and confident in it.
Having a cohesive color palette makes it easier.
I wear a lot of black, gray, and olive green. It is very easy for me to put together an outfit that coordinates with any of these three colors. However, at a certain point in the process, I had to ban myself from getting any more olive green. I never wear more than one olive green piece at once and I was going to end up with more olive green than would have made sense. My wardrobe is grounded in black and gray with accents of green and that has worked out well for me.
Don’t be too hard on yourself.
If you’ve decided not to buy anything or only buy things second hand, and you end up in a pinch, just roll with it. This happened to me when both of my maternal grandparents passed away a little unexpectedly and then all of a sudden we had to fly to Indiana right before we had already scheduled a trip to the Netherlands. This was during my search for the perfect second-hand jeans to take on the trip as my only other pair had split right up the seam on the seat and I had no jeans at all. Then I was in Indiana with my pajamas and a dress for the funeral, and that was it. No jeans and a week and a half trip in Europe ahead of me. So I bought a pair of jeans at the mall in my grandparents’ small town. Was it the ideal situation? No. Did it work out? Yes. I actually love the pair of jeans I ended up getting. They’re very comfortable and flattering and a big win was that they were the right length so I didn’t have to get them hemmed!
When you need to replace a piece of clothing, go slow and plan.
I made a Pinterest board full of inspiration for what kinds of pieces I wanted in my wardrobe. As I was searching for shirts, I could compare the shirt I was considering to this board and if it looked like it fit right in with the things I had already pinned, then it was a yes! If it didn’t fit in, then I usually let it go. I spent a decent amount of time really looking for outfits and pieces that I really liked on Pinterest so if something came up that didn’t quite fit, I usually had already looked at a piece that was similar and decided it wasn’t quite right.
There have been a few exceptions to this rule. One of them is that I do allow myself to make my own clothes. I recently finished sewing an apron dress that had been almost done for months. This is something I’ve really only done for a few, special pieces. I do not sew fast enough to make that many clothes overall. Last year I sewed two shirts. This year I plan to finish a shirt that I started last year and finish a second apron dress. After that, I don’t have any additional plans beyond finishing some pajama pants I’ve been making for Adam and myself. Since we won’t be wearing those out of the house, I don’t really count them in my wardrobe. The other main exception is underwear. I do not have any desire to sew my own underwear or buy it second hand. I was given a gift card to Everlane for Christmas and bought some underwear from them and I’ve been very happy with it and am not likely to need to purchase anymore anytime soon.
The biggest thing that I learned throughout the whole process of not buying new clothes is that shifting my mindset was the most rewarding part. I recently pared down my closet even further and currently have 2 pairs of pants, 1 pair of leggings, 1 jacket, 8 tops, 4 sweaters, 1 jumpsuit, and 5 dresses (22 pieces total) and it feels like plenty. Having a limited closet has been the most freeing part of this process. I stopped caring about whether or not I wore the same things too often or whether or not anyone would notice. I embrace my signature look and personal uniform. It has freed up time in the morning and I’ve gotten better and more confident in my ability to mix and match the pieces I have. If you’re interested in the challenge, I would highly recommend you give a clothing fast a chance.