In August of 2019, I decided I wasn't going to buy clothes for a year. At the time, I’d been learning a lot about the fashion industry and how badly it pollutes the environment. When I looked in my closet, I couldn’t help but see the 700 gallons of water that it took to produce each t-shirt or the 1,800 gallons of water it took to produce each pair of jeans.
Several of these garments I’d just worn once and never put back on again. I felt stuck, going nowhere fast with my personal style and increasing my carbon footprint with every fleeting trend I frantically hopped onto, only to be bucked off it as the wave passed.
So I quit.
I took a year off from buying any clothing, new or used. And what came out of it was a deeper appreciation for fashion as an art form and a more personal relationship with the clothes I already had. All without spending a penny.
I remember a year ago, I was so hungry to learn more about fashion but didn’t know where to start. Looking at runway shows just felt kind of silly. I’ll never be able to afford any of this, so why should I care? Right?
Wrong! It turns out that runway shows are actually really cool! Only thinking about fashion in terms of “what will I buy next?” just closed me off from seeing the vast amount of incredible work by some of today’s most creative designers creating the future of wearable art.
Fashion weeks actually became a real event for me, like how I imagine sports fans feel about Super Bowls and March Madnesses and things like that. I spent a great deal of my time looking through lookbooks and runway shows, poring over photos of often wild, impractical and intricately constructed clothing.
It’s not that I would actually ever consider wearing any of these crazy garments, though. I just looked because it was fun! My year off allowed my love for the medium to extend beyond the walls of my closet and let me observe fashion as a museumgoer rather than as a shopper, looking but not touching.
So what now?
It has been a month since I reached my goal. I’m back to buying clothes again, but with a level of intention that I don’t think I could have understood at all a year ago. While I used to just buy things for instant gratification, it's now very hard to buy something that I can’t imagine staying in my life for at least a year.
I’ve also found myself spending a little more per item when I’m not buying second hand. New clothes take tons of energy, labor and materials to manufacture. A lot of that just isn’t reflected in the prices at fast fashion stores where manufacturing is outsourced to sweatshop workers and fabrics are dyed with toxic chemicals, all to get the price of a pair of jeans down to $20.
Almost all brands push ideals like “transparency” and “environmental responsibility,” but few have proven to treat these as anything more than talking points. Even labels like Everlane or L.A. Apparel, ones that seemed to have perfected the transparent supply chain image, were found to be mistreating their workers. Sustainability has just become another marketing strategy.
Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter
That leaves it up to us, as consumers, to spend our money with intention and care. I’m not saying everyone needs to take a year off from shopping, but when all fashion companies are focused on growth, really think about if the brands who get your money are ones that you want to see succeed.
I still mostly buy second-hand now, from thrift stores or online. Because brand new, well-made clothes are expensive, it’s simply the best option for my college budget. Pre-loved clothes also just feel the best to me. Almost everything I own now has at least one year of wear, so crispy new clothes just don’t feel right anymore.
So, if anyone ever asks me what I “learned” from not shopping for a year, my answer is this: wear your clothes! The ones hanging in your closet right now!
Appreciate what they do for you every time you put them on, how they shield you from the cold or how they show off your body. Think about how good it feels to hide in your favorite winter coat or how excited you were to wear your favorite sneakers when they were fresh out of the box.
Think about what you’ve done in them. What memories they hold, the concert where you bought your favorite tee or the boyfriend you “borrowed” your favorite hoodie from. Admire the fading around the knees of your jeans or the soles of your boots, how they document each step you’ve taken in them. Wear them, take care of them, repair them.