No New Clothes for A Year
AKA The tale of how one purple shirt started a revolution
I stared at the contents of my wardrobe, half of which were strewn across my floor like some terrible ode to Jackson Pollack. For half an hour I had been trying on various combinations of skirts, jeans, dresses, jackets and tops, and still had not managed to hit on anything that looked even vaguely good. I threw a particularly offensive jean jacket across the room and yelled that familiar cry heard in wardrobes all around the nation:
I HAVE NOTHING TO WEAR!!
My long-suffering husband looked at me with feigned concern. He was used to my often hour long forays into dressing myself before special events. It was nothing new. He picked up a shirt and held it up against him.
How about this?
No. No. And no. Everything about it was wrong. It was a particularly weird shade of purple that only went with one other thing in my wardrobe – a skirt. The skirt was currently AWOL, no doubt hidden under a pile of weeks-old laundry. The shirt hugged all the wrong curves and the sleeves were just a little too long. Yet it had stayed in my closet for a couple of years for some good reason, I was sure of it. I just couldn’t throw it out. It was from Country Road, the mecca of all things good taste. I had good taste, right? I’d spent somewhere close to a hundred dollars on it.
My husband is extremely competitive by nature. You ask him to run ten-kilometres, he’ll bet you a fifty he can do it faster than you. Really, it doesn’t take much for him to get into a bet with someone. So you can imagine the cogs turning as he looked at that horrid purple shirt, looked at me, looked back at the shirt, and then around to the mess of material spread across the room.
Bet you can’t go a year without buying new clothes.
And that is how it begun. I would like to say it was started out of serious concern for the damage fast fashion wrecks upon the environment and the poor, but that came much later. No, it started as a stupid bet which I was too proud to turn down, and has become somewhat of a journey.
The first thing that I had to come to terms with was the drastic reduction in shopping hours as a hobby. Previously, I had used shopping as a kind of cover all social event, something I could do whilst with friends, or in between seeing friends, or even when I was just bored on the weekend. The thrill of chasing the perfect new pair of shoes, or a dress for a wedding, was something I looked forward to.
As I began to ween myself of all forms of shopping (yes, even online), I discovered something darker underneath the seemingly innocuous hours that I would spend looking at clothes. The first time I had a tough day at work, I drove past Fountain Gate shopping centre, and had to fight with myself not to drive up and do a little browsing. For the next few days I was like an addict coming off a drug. I was nervous, anxious, and kept logging into ASOS at random hours, checking the latest specials. Something was wrong, and I began to realise that I had truly hooked into to the ‘therapy’ part of ‘retail therapy’. Instead of dealing with my negative emotions and experiences, I had instead been buying myself things as a way of coping. Take that away, and I didn’t have my normal go to band-aid of buying some cheap and trendy. To someone who considered herself a fairly well-adjusted person, this came as a bit of a shock.
It just got deeper from there. My husband and I would consider ourselves people who care about justice and equality. We try to live environmentally consciously, we recycle, buy second-hand, take public transport. Yet, neither of us had considered the impact that maintaining our appearance had on the environment.
In the 1930’s, the average woman owned around nine outfits. These days, we buy around 60 new pieces of clothing a year.
Our wardrobes have grown, whilst the cost of manufacturing and producing clothing has dropped to such an extent that you could easily find fashion for under twenty dollars. Much of our manufacturing has moved offshore, to countries like Bangladesh, India, Cambodia and China. And the average lifespan of clothing has shrunk significantly too. With the cost of a new dress hardly more than purchasing the materials to repair an old dress, it is no wonder our culture has conditioned us to use and dispose of fashion so easily. Op shops are practically overflowing with used clothing from cheap shops like Supre and Cotton On, and landfill sites are now bursting at the seams with material, some of which takes between 3 months (cotton) and 200 years (polyester) to biodegrade. Real wages of clothing manufacturers have dropped, and we all know that we can’t buy a top for $5 without somebody losing out in terms of fair pay.
I can’t pretend it wasn’t a hard slog sometimes. We had agreed that we could buy clothes as long as they were second-hand, truly needed and of good quality. Having been an avid op-shopped for quite a few years, I was confident I could still find the clothes I needed, and I could’ve just as easily re-filled my wardrobe with thrifted finds. However, I found out I was pregnant about 3 months into the year, and the maternity section at my local Savers took up only the very end of one of the 40 or so racks of clothing they have in there. So I had to get creative. I searched eBay, began begging my sister to teach my how to unpick and sew hems, sought out op-shops in little country towns we visited, and even organised a clothes swap amongst a few of my friends. Little by little I began appreciating more and more the quality of clothing, the process that it took to make and repair them and the joy of filling my life with things other than shopping. Not once did I feel deprived or stressed because I had less things.
We both made it to the end of the year without reneging on the bet, and I feel like the whole experience came with a raft of benefits for both of us. Less money spent on clothes meant more for other things like holidays. I slowly weaned myself off using buying things as a band-aid, and began to recognise and engage with my feelings instead of stuffing them into a retail bag. I realised that I only wore about 30% of my wardrobe at any one time, so I began getting rid of the things I kept just because they might fit one day, or they might look good one day! There was less clutter around the house, and making decisions on what to wear became so much easier. Hopefully we were helping to alleviate some of the strain on the environment as well, as well as helping to break our reliance on cheap labour to produce fashion.
We’re now looking at taking positive steps rather than just saying no to negative ones, like purchasing ethically produced clothing, making capsule wardrobes (where you reduce your wardrobe to a limited amount of mix and match pieces that have to be repaired, fixed and generally taken care of for a whole season) and reusing old clothing. I truly believe that if my fashion challenged, time poor, pregnant self can do it, anyone can!
Catherine is a Science teacher, amateur writer and a new mother to a tiny hurricane. She lives on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula and enjoys trips to the city, all kinds of breakfasts (particularly those with bacon in them) and books about heroines with sad eyes.
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