I’ve owned a lot of clothes in my time. And, like almost every single woman on the planet, my lips have formed the words that have echoed through the ages: “I have nothing to wear.” Of course, I have said these words whilst staring at a wardrobe filled to the brim with clothes.
New clothes, old clothes, fashionable clothes, clothes I’d decided were no longer fashionable, house/yard clothes, cheap clothes, expensive clothes. And let’s not get started on the shoes. But no matter what, I always felt like my options were limited. Don’t get me wrong, I had my favorite pieces – the clothes I wore over and over again, and kept for years. But I internally lamented. Why couldn’t all my clothes be this awesome? Why couldn’t all of my clothes give me this much satisfaction, personal aesthetic appeal and comfort? I’d thought I’d really loved that dress when I bought it; now I just found it tacky and cheap. I’d thought that I would keep that pair of shorts forever because they were so cool; then they sat at the back of my wardrobe, rarely worn, and inevitably found their way to a Vinnies donation bin.
I eventually decided that this was just normal and something that I had to accept. Arriving at this conclusion wasn’t entirely of my own doing – as an impressionable teenager, being surrounded by a fast-paced consumer culture does leave it’s impact on the psyche. Aren’t we supposed to keep up with current trends and buy a new outfit for every event? Wasn’t it perfectly normal to always be wanting new clothes, new shoes, new accessories? I found myself buying something that I thought I loved – something new and exciting – only to replace it a few months later with something ‘better’. No one in particular was to blame, really. My mother always encouraged me to spend wisely and not often. I wasn’t raised to be a very ‘girly’ girl that loved shopping -in fact, as a child, I used to hate shopping. I was a huge tomboy. I climbed trees and only wore shorts. I was the kind of kid who made a bow and arrows instead of playing with dolls. If it started with ‘p’ and ended with ‘ink’, I hated it. But somewhere along the line, just past puberty, I began to incessantly worry about what I was wearing, and about what people thought of my clothes. I had to have the latest trends hanging in my wardrobe. The ravenous jaws of consumerism had made a meal out of me.
It wasn’t until years later, in my mid twenties, that I almost simultaneously stumbled across minimalism and the practice of ethical and mindful shopping. I found these two concepts to be curiously interlinked – the more I incorporated aspects of minimalism, the more mindful I was about my wardrobe choices. It wasn’t until I watched the documentary True Cost (and consequently bawled my eyes out; massive empath over here) that my ethical/mindful shopping motor really kicked into gear, and I began to both seriously cull my wardrobe and investigate in more ethical clothing choices for future purchases. I was strict; I got rid of any piece of clothing that I rarely wore, whether I liked it or not. The result was three huge garbage bags of clothes, shoes and bags that were destined for St Vincent’s open arms. I felt totally liberated and quite proud of my efforts. Admittedly, my immediate thought was “now I can fill these empty coat hangers with clothes I’ve really wanted!” But I made myself stop, and wait. Well, my bank balance also made me stop and wait, but I’d like to put it down to mindset as well.
Anyway, flash forward 6 months. I had only made purchases that were vintage items, second hand or ethically produced clothes. Looking back, I got way too excited about Carousell (an app where you can buy new/newish second-hand clothes) and bought too many things that I later threw out. I felt that I had made considerable process, but I knew that my desire to buy new things on a semi-regular basis was still left over from that societal conditioning of my earlier youth. It took a few more months of what I now think of as a ‘settling period’, where I undertook an additional clothing cull and reevaluated what was left. I made a small list of what I still needed (for example, the perfect white tee and the perfect little black dress – the definition of timelessness and versatility – were yet to grace my shelves) and made a decision there and then to squash the impulse to regularly buy clothes. To be happy and settled with what I had, because each item of clothing was loved, versatile, comfortable, and had purpose.
Buying clothes regularly is what I like to think of as cheap thrills, but I don’t mean in a monetary sense. It’s something that gives you fleeting satisfaction, an ephemeral buzz that makes you feel good. Then it fades, because you bought that shirt/dress/bag with no true purpose, other than that it was there and you liked it. I mean, we literally go out shopping and just wander around looking for things that strike our fancy. We don’t even have a clear goal in mind. And we buy this cheap, low-quality clothing with a price-tag that not only makes it easy to buy, but easy to throw away. We show off our clothing ‘hauls’ online, as if it’s something to be proud of. Girls make YouTube videos about it, for crying out loud. If you look at this critically, it’s an addiction. Except we don’t want to do that, because addiction is an ugly word with bad connotations, and the fashion industry wants us to feel good when we’re making these purchases. But if you step back, just far enough that your perspective starts to shift…you can see it for what it truly is.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s ok to want new and nice things. It’s ok to browse online for a while, looking at clothes you might like to buy. But when this becomes a constant thing – when we are always looking for that next item to make us happy, or when we are buying a new outfit for every event that we attend, or when we are worried about what people (strangers, even) will think of our outfit, or if we are forsaking comfort just to look ‘good’, or if we are worried about being seen in the same outfit more than once…that’s when it becomes a problem. That’s when you know that something about this whole process needs to be reevaluated.
My perspective has definitely shifted. The benefits of it are immediately evident – I no longer concern myself with upcoming and current trends, whether I look good in the eyes of others, or if my clothes are ‘up to date”. I only wear clothes if they are comfortable (whereas once upon a time, I would wear clothing that was very uncomfortable as long as I thought it made me look good). And my bank balance has definitely benefitted as well. All of my clothing is either second hand, vintage, or purchased from companies that implement ‘slow’, ethical labor practices. They are clothes that have been mindfully purchased that I feel express my individual style. It hasn’t been an easy accomplishment – I still have to check myself at times. Sometimes, more regularly. A lifetime of societal conditioning doesn’t just go away in a few months. But I feel that I have made a huge step in the right direction, and it is a step that takes me forward in my never-ending journey along the path of sustainability, ethical living and mindfulness.
It is a path less travelled, but I hope more people will walk along it with me some day.