When I first embarked on this clothes buying ban eighteen months ago, I couldn’t have imagined I would have continued it on past the original year goal I’d set for myself; it seemed overly ambitious, but I wanted to challenge myself to do it regardless. My closet was bursting at the seams, I was attempting to reel in all unnecessary spending in my life, and clothes buying really seemed like something I didn’t need to be doing. A year and a half later, I’ve found that I was absolutely right to stop my shopping habits in their tracks.
Even though I’ve never been a huge clothing shopper, I grew up like most girls, seeing shopping as a fun thing to do; something to do when you’re bored, when you want to treat yourself, or a way to spend time with friends. Over the years, I had gotten much better about buying only pieces I really did like – not just because they were on sale – but I still ended up with a lot of clothes. I liked most of what I had, but it was still overwhelming to open my closet and dig through everything I owned. I figured that stopping my accumulation of clothes in its tracks would be the only way to finally get to that more simple closet I craved without unnecessarily tossing clothes I liked just to get there. Sustainably speaking, minimizing my closet to the extreme would just push the need to buy more clothes, and use more resources, a bit down the line.
March rolled around, and I finally made it. A year with not a single cent spent on clothing, shoes, jewelry, or accessories. But I found that for the most part, I still owned way more stuff than I needed. Sure, it would be nice to buy another new pair of boots, but I really didn’t need anything. And so with no real reason to halt the ban, I’ve kept it up. Six months past that year mark, and things haven’t changed that much from that point, though it’s been long enough now that even with a large wardrobe, I’m starting to notice that it has been a full eighteen months since I’ve updated my closet.
The work wardrobe: business casual attire
The time I’ve noticed my unchanging wardrobe the most is when I get dressed for work. For the first year, I had enough clothing that it didn’t feel like anything particularly special not to be buying new pieces for the office; a big reason for this was that I already rotate my clothing seasonally, so a few times a year I still had “new” clothes that I hadn’t worn for four to six months. That refresh really made a difference in feeling like I had enough. Another turn of the clock, and another rotation of the pile though, and I started to feel like I’d already worn everything a million times before. Because I had.
Outside of work, the same was true, but I found that I really didn’t care. Clothing, while never my most important concern, used to occupy more of my brain space. Now that the options didn’t change, I didn’t stress about what to wear outside of work pretty much ever. After all, the places I was going was either to hang with friends, go for a run, or work in the garden. None of those places did it matter what I wore, and if a friend cared, then I figured they weren’t a great friend to begin with.
At work though, it felt different. I work in an office where I show up in business casual every day of the week. I regularly meet with city staff, elected officials, and bank officers. It’s essential that I look put together every day of the week. I found that since I had also given up wearing make up with that first year of my clothing ban, it was that much more important that my clothes and jewelry made me look like I was competent. In the garden, your clothes don’t tell anyone how capable you are; unfortunately, they still factor in the office. A large part of my concern in the last six months or so has been that people will start to notice that I only wear the same clothing over and over again. I certainly was noticing.
Just a month ago, I had an important event at work so I made sure to dress up a bit more than my average day. I wore a black dress and a pair of heels, both of which I have owned for most of a decade or more, but good quality, so they still looked nice. Better quality pieces really have been a huge part of why I have been able to continue this shopping ban; when the clothing is meant to hold up for longer than a season, then you can keep wearing it for much longer than that. And that day, in that old dress and many times worn heels, I got multiple comments from coworkers about how I looked “very nice.” Apparently the only one who’d noticed my repetition in clothing was me.
An infusion of new
While I’ve been adamant that this clothing ban means I will not spend a single penny of my income on clothing, I haven’t turned down the occasional offer to supplement my wardrobe. A couple weeks ago, my mother was going through her closet and sent over two bags of clothes for me to look through before they went off to the thrift store. Now that I don’t shop myself, two bags of clothes to look through felt like the height of luxury.
Again, this is one hundred percent a self-imposed shopping ban – I have the means to go out and replace my wardrobe now if I wanted to – so I know that this absolutely feels different than if I continued to wear my old clothes because I had no other options. The options behind frugality and opting out are what make this not feel like deprivation. I felt free to choose just the few items that I really liked, and would have spent money on myself, rather than hording all the clothes for the future for when mine wear out. The journey toward minimalism is absolutely a privilege, and something I’m constantly reminded of when I make the decision to continue my clothing ban.
Since I accepted those new dresses and a couple of new shirts, I’ve worn them to work multiple times. No one has even noticed. It felt so special to wear something different from the choices I’ve had for the last year and a half, but it was only special to me. I’m just as likely to receive a complement on a decade old piece than I am a weeks-new to me dress. It does help that I tend to gravitate toward more straightforward, timeless pieces, so it’s harder to tell if something is a year old or ten years old. A simple black cardigan was in style in 2008 the same way it is in 2018. Or at least close enough, though The Luxe Strategist might tell me differently. But I do live in the Pacific Northwest and not New York City, so it probably doesn’t matter here regardless.
The siren call of “new” things
In the last couple of months, I will admit that I’ve had an upswing again in wanting new things to wear. It isn’t anything in particular, more an echo of old habits when I walk through Fred Meyer on my way to the grocery section of the store. I was twenty nine years old when I implemented my shopping ban, and even eighteen months of self imposed removal from the shopping complex isn’t nearly long enough to combat a good twenty years of shopping. Perhaps it’s the start of a new school year. Growing up, my siblings and I received a set shopping budget, and we were free to spend it however we pleased. It could mean one or two new expensive outfits, or it could mean a full new wardrobe if we were judicious in how we spent that money. Either way, fall ushered in cute new clothing to wear to school to initiate a new year.
Cute, cheap, fast fashion has nothing to do with the turn of the seasons. A new $20 cardigan on sale at Fred Meyer won’t be new for very long. I don’t have any one item that’s missing from my wardrobe. It might feel good to wear those new clothes for a second, but I’d rather have that money in savings and I’d rather opt out of non sustainable clothing options altogether.
Of course, I could spend my rare free time scouring the thrift store instead of going for a run, or spending more money on ethically sourced, sustainable made clothing, but neither of those are good options right now. Most of the way through a year where I’ve been focusing on making the best financial choices for what brings us joy, I realize new clothing doesn’t make the cut. Just like with brunch out every weekend, a new piece of clothing every month doesn’t meet the high bar that is now required for both my time and my money. I just sometimes have to remember that when walking past “fall’s best new styles.”