A Year Without Clothes

BlogHer Original Post

When was the last time you went shopping? Last week? Last month? Last year? Could you go a whole year without shopping?  For clothes, that is, not food or toiilet paper or lightbulbs. 

A whole year without buying a single piece of clothing. Think about it. Could you do it?  Would you?

Rachelle at Magpie Girl is going to do precisely that: She is going to abstain from buying new clothing for herself for an entire year. What got her to this point? For starters, she's living in Copenhagen, where the cost of living is much higher than it is in the US and thrift stores are few and far between. But that's only part of the story.

...I went on a shopping spree this Summer in Seattle. Target, thrift stores, Old Navy. Now I was stocked on the basics. When I got back to CPH I was confronted by two American TV ads on Hulu. One for a designer discount store in which the spokeswoman said “Just because times are tight out there doesn’t mean you should have to stop wearing designer labels!” The second was for Target and featured the new term “frugalistas” and designer Nina Garcia from Project Runaway. She encouraged an average- looking shopper to buy bright blue and pink jeans, because “This season denim is all about color.”

WTF?! People are in foreclosure and designer labels are a priority? Soccer moms need to buy jeans they won’t be caught dead in next year because “this season” demands a color we abandoned circa 1985?!

Look, beauty is a deep value of mine. I love self-expression, and I think clothing is one of the ways we differentiate ourselves to others. But this endless cycle of disposable clothing designed to last “this season” and be out the next, it is absolutely ridiculous. And as much as I adore Project Runway, I’m sorry sweetie but fashion, at least as part of consumer wheel of fortune, is not going to change the world.

A year without clothes, for Rachelle, is an opportunity to step away from the consumer madness (and no matter how much you love shopping or clothes or fashion in the abstract, it is hard to avoid feeling crushed by the constant stream of This Season's Must-Have Pieces). "I just want to see what it’s like," Rachelle wrote, "to not be beholden to the trends of the 'season,' to get off the hamster wheel and just make-do."

Rachelle's post inspired a flurry of responses, both public and private. Eden Kennedy emailed me to say that she's thinking about trying this; among her reasons were these: "To find other ways to change my look than just buying new stuff. To challenge my creativity." Rachelle followed up her original post with a list of "*8 things to think about before going a year without clothes." Number five is Get Curious:

How will this help me be more aware of who I am internally and how I express that in my outward appearance? Am I a slave to fashion marketing or am I being my truest self? How deep is my resourcefulness and problem solving skills? How willing am I to learn a new skill? If I set limit, will my creativity expand?

Like Eden, Rachelle is interested in our shopping default; we're tired of our look (or our job or marriage or kids or life) so we recreate ourselves by shopping. Nothing wrong with that -- it's always interesting to challenge yourself to change -- but can change be affected without new clothes?

Of course.

Other women piped up that they are already doing this, already choosing not to follow trends and spend on clothes. Morra Aarons-Mele recently rethought her entire closet, and now feels like she's done shopping, for a while at least:

I just lost 65 lbs of baby weight. As a reward/necessity, I spent about $1000 on new clothes. I bought some gorgeous, multi-season pieces, not my usual TJ Maxx/run into the Gap special. I worked hard to edit my wardrobe and it took a couple months- after all those months of not buying clothes bc of baby weight, new baby, I really enjoyed planning out what I was going to buy, keep, donate. I made lists, cut out pages, and found an amazing boutique in Providence RI that I developed a relationship with. My sister came up and helped me weed out my entire wardrobe and edit it for color, cut, etc.

That said, I feel set now. I have no excuse to buy anything else. None. I want to see if my commitment to buying a "capsule" wardrobe, I think they call it, can last me a whole year.

I think it can.

But having all the right pieces is only one reason women don't shop. Some women, like Liz Henry, get dressed every day without elaborate shopping trips:

Anyone else here just wear what they have, and buy jeans at the thrift store or a cheap shop once in a while? I'd say once every 5 years or so I buy a nice suit jacket or shoes. Yearly underwear and socks. The occasional funny geeky tshirt online. A white button down shirt and a black one and three pairs of pants (more if I don't have a washing machine.)

I still get jobs, travel around the planet, go to people's weddings, and date people while dressing that way.

Finally, Leslie Madsen-Brooks offered this important reminder:

Since my pay has been frozen for two years and I’m taking a pay cut/furlough, I’ve already been doing this out of relative poverty because my income is now 14% below what it was supposed to be, and is on schedule to drop to 20% below within a year—if my job still exists.

Accordingly, over the last year I’ve learned it really is a privilege to be in a position to choose to shop or not shop. Remember that for millions of women (in this recession and beyond), not shopping for clothes is a necessity.

Which brings us back to Rachelle's Year Without Clothes and her refusal to participate in the culture of trends. Rachelle is challenging her readers to play along, in some way, during the next year. Not ready to give up shopping entirely? How about committing to one of these options, then?

What are *8Things you could do to make A Year Without Clothes work for you? Or alternatively, what are *8Things you could do to make the clothes you have go farther for you? Or *8Things that will help me spend less on clothing? Or *8Things To Do To Dress Like Your True Self.

Are you in? Could you give up shopping for one year? Or have you already? And if you're not ready to step away from the mall, what can you do to become your own personal stylist, and -- to borrow a phrase from Tim Gunn -- make it work?

Susan Wagner writes about fashion at The Working Closet and about chic suburban living at Friday Playdate. She is not giving up shopping, but she is going to to think more carefully about dressing like her true self.

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