What I learned from a year without buying clothes
Last year I didn't buy any clothes. When I say that to people, they normally look at me with surprised faces. "What, you didn't buy anything at all? Not even underwear?" But the thing was, I genuinely just didn't need anything. And I'm pretty sure that if most of us reflected on our own wardrobes, we would come to a similar conclusion. We really don't need as much as we think we do. And often our fashion splurges stem from a feeling of lack or emptiness which we try to fill with stuff to make us feel better. Sometimes, these splurges can help us. It's important for us to feel good about ourselves and buying a dress that makes you feel like a million dollars or a jumper in a gorgeous colour that lifts your complexion can form an important part of self- care. Fashion is something to be celebrated and enjoyed and there aren’t many of us who don’t love looking at beautiful things.
The problem is that the fashion industry wants and needs us to consume. And not just consume, but to consume in huge quantities - quantities that just aren't sustainable. These companies have embarked on mass marketing campaigns to keep us trapped in never ending cycles of consumption. These campaigns can impact our mental health, leaving us feeling inadequate if we don't have what everyone else on social media or online seems to have. Additional problems can arise when consumption habits veer into the realms of addiction and become an unhealthy habit to mask feelings of anxiety, loneliness or depression. Shopping addiction has been linked by researchers at the University of Bergen to symptoms of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem and can even function as an escape mechanism for unpleasant feelings. Recent research suggests that shopping addiction is on the rise with as many as 14% of the population having at least a mild form of the condition. Even if we are not shopping addicts, you could say we are all on a continuum and most of us can probably remember a time when we bought something to try and make us feel better about ourselves or our lives. We may not be shopping addicts but consumption habits in the west are increasingly spiralling out of control and we are all consuming much more than our parents and grandparents generations ever did. It is estimated that British woman now spend an average of £74 a month on clothing whilst men spend around £100. Yes, you heard that right, men really do spend more on clothes than women!
After taking the decision not to spend money on clothes, I was able to reflect on some of the reasons why I had felt the need to consume unnecessarily. I could see that there were times when I bought things to fill a gap in my life - like when I had a bad day or felt sad and deflated. Sometimes, I would buy things when I'd gotten fed up of wearing the same few jumpers I owned or felt like I needed a new image. I hardly ever bought things because I genuinely needed them. More often, I bought items purely for aesthetic and creative pleasure. And I think most of us are probably the same. One of the most important things I learned from a year without shopping, is that happiness isn’t found at the bottom of a shopping basket. It’s something I knew, but my behaviour didn’t always reflect.
Due to my former spending habits, I have ended up with a packed wardrobe and overflowing drawers full of clothes, some of which I hardly ever wear. I’ve always considered myself a careful shopper and rarely buy anything I don’t end up wearing, but even I had things in my wardrobe that I was saving for that ‘special occasion’ that never came or a party I was never invited to or the sunshine that only comes to Scotland for a handful of weeks a year. And that’s the problem with some of our clothes - there are only a handful of times a year we can wear them. I think this is when the idea of being able to rent clothes for a few days and hand them back is such a great idea!
After reading about the impact of clothing consumption on the environment, I knew I needed to take some time out from shopping. Ethical fashion is such a complicated topic - it was difficult for me to get my head around what the best course of action was. I knew that livelihoods depend on the fashion industry, so I wondered if maybe I should keep buying from the big retailers? But I really didn't want to support companies who weren't paying a living wage and then there was the issue of sustainability to think about. Eventually, after considering the options, I came to the decision not to buy anything at all for a while. That time period ended up being a year and I probably could have gone longer without buying anything if I hadn't eventually caved to the lure of a gorgeous second hand pink dress I found on ebay. But it’s a dress I absolutely love and know I will be wearing for years to come. I’m a lot more careful about what I buy these days and having a break from clothes shopping has meant I have devoted more time to other things. Instead of browsing through endless pages of clothes, I've spent my free time reading books on my kindle and learning about things that matter to me. Giving up shopping for a year has even impacted my life in ways I never anticipated, leading me to explore other interests and take up new hobbies. Unexpectedly, I have felt a lot happier and have gained a much better perspective on myself and what matters to me.
In the year that I didn't buy any clothes, one of the best things I did was to unlike most of the big fashion companies, magazines and fashion influencers I had been following on instagram and replace them with eco-fashion brands and charities. If I had not un-liked all of these pages, I think my year without buying clothes would have been a little bit harder to achieve.