A few weeks ago, I had an absolute charity shop score. On an impromptu trip to my local Oxfam, I bagged a pair of vintage 501s, a jumper dress that’s perfect for layering over said jeans, a leopard print cardigan (something I’d recently been searching for on Depop anyway) and a long length pinstriped blazer jacket with a super cool asymmetrical button fastening. And I paid less than £35 for the whole lot.
I’d got myself some stellar garms, it was all second hand and I’d saved a fortune. Then, last weekend, I found another second hand gem. A strapless, wide leg, gingham jumpsuit with a frill trim was calling to me from the rail of a vintage shop, so I snapped it up for £18. Another triumph for second hand shopping and sustainability. Right? Well, sort of.
Sustainability isn’t just about buying second hand and investing in ethical labels and organic fabrics, it’s also about consuming less. And buying five items in the space of just a few weeks is definitely not consuming less.
With guilt quickly replacing my second hand bargain high, I announced to my boyfriend that I wouldn’t be buying any clothes for the next three months and made a note in my diary on the 25th June page that says, “NO CLOTHES BEFORE THIS DATE!”.
Why three months? The length of time is completely arbitrary; just the first thing that popped into my head. It seems a little paltry compared to Michelle McGagh’s self-set challenge of not buying anything at all for a full year but it should at least be a sufficient amount of time to rethink and readjust my shopping habits. Maybe I’ll extend it when 25th June rolls around but for now, three months is the goal.
I’m going to be completely honest. I know I will have to buy one thing during that time. Not strictly clothes but worth mentioning if I’m going to hold myself accountable: I need a pair of sandals. My last pair breathed their final breath at the end of summer 2016 and spending early summer stomping around in boots just isn’t practical.
When I realised my need for a new pair of sandals somewhat scuppered my plan, a funny thing happened. It started a chain reaction and I began to think of all the other things I might need. I haven’t been on a beach holiday since I was 14 but I panicked that I don’t have any swimwear. I had planned to buy a dark indigo denim jacket for spring/summer. What was I going to wear now?! (Answer, any of my other jackets). Maybe I’d need a pair of trousers or a new dress. What if I needed something before the 25th June?
The thing is, I don’t need anything. I’m in absolutely no peril of being forced to leave the house naked having found myself bereft of any clothes to cover myself with. I have skirts, dresses, trousers, shirts, tops, jackets and coats. I have a plurality of each category of clothing but the consumer-clogged section of my brain started to itch at the thought of not being satisfied.
Want and need have become interchangeable and I hope to finally separate them within the next few months. Obviously I know the difference between the two on a literal level but you’d be surprised how often all of us transpose or conflate the two in the name of justifying a purchase.
I need a winter coat. I need shoes. I need a selection of clothes to cover my body. Do you know what else I’ve told myself I need? A pair of bright pink boots; a third summer dress; a fourth pair of jeans. None of them would serve an imperative function but I decided I needed them. I needed the pink boots because there would never be a pair as magnificent as them ever again (kind of true but still want not need); I needed the dress because it had long sleeves unlike any of my others and it looked v. Céline; I needed the jeans because I only had a light pair of Levi’s so obviously an indigo pair was necessary.
If I don’t break the cycle somewhere, I’m going to continue to ‘need’ unnecessary things for the rest of my life, adding further to the burden we put on our planet. Earlier this year, I set out to take the time to consider whether I really need to buy something before committing. I’ve stuck to it, asking myself, ‘do I need this?’ when I’m tempted to hand over my money and the majority of the time, whatever I’ve been tempted by has ended up back on the shelf. Somehow, though, this attitude stopped at my wardrobe door.
By enforcing a break in my part self-inflicted, part capitalism-inflicted consumer cycle for the next three months, I hope to mirror the same shift in my mindset that I achieved where accumulating superfluous stuff is concerned. I imagine it will be a little harder seeing as I write about clothes for a living and love fashion with every part of my being but it’s an essential exercise if I’m to truly embrace a sustainable mindset.
Here’s to the next three months…