The average Brit spends well over €1,100 each year on clothes. The French spend €668 compared to €855 for Germans and €1,061 for Italians, according to Eurostat data. At the very least, that's €55 each month. At most, it's more than €90.
The buying frenzy hits its peak as summer approaches. After all, you probably need a new top, some new shorts, and a new dress to bring your wardrobe up to date and on trend for this season.
Yes, the word ‘need’ springs up a lot when it comes to re-arranging our wardrobes for the summer season. It did for me too when I went through my drawers in late April to see what I had for the increasingly warmer weather. Shortly after I began to sift through my clothes, I found myself muttering about how I needed to upgrade what was there.
It wasn’t just my own wardrobe speaking to me. Sings in shop windows screamed about ‘must haves for summer’. Pop-up ads on social media were filled with images of new dresses, cute sandals and ‘must buys’. Overwhelmed, I decided to stop. To not purchase anything for a month. And to observe my habits more closely and my reasons for shopping.
I launch myself into the first week of the project with vigour. With a friend’s hen do in the diary, I find a dress I’d been bought as a gift six months previously, but haven't worn as much as I’d have liked to, as it would gape at the front. I decide, it's sewing kit time. I grab a needle and thread and sew on a ‘press stud’ to the front. Happy days – I’m off to a good start and saved some cash, too.
In a charity shop (I often browse locally, and find home wares more than clothes, it has to be said), I try on some lovely burgundy court shoes. ‘These are just like a pair you have!’ I chastise myself, shuffling out, relieved I didn’t break, even if they were less than 10€. Lesson one: Fashion is still fast if it’s an impulse purchase you might regret.
The idea of ‘must haves’ becomes a huge thing in my mind. Stores use this phrase over and over again, telling us that we can’t possibly survive without their latest offerings. Every time I spotted the term 'must haves' during the week, I felt more and more angry. Shops that profess to be ethical in their production process, still push new clothes on us like there’s no tomorrow.
At the end of the week, a friend posts a link to a charity, Give and Make up. You can send them toiletries and makeup, which are then given out at women's shelters. I pack up a load of makeup that I no longer wear into an envelope and post it off. They’ll take anything that you’d consider worthy to pass on to a friend, and sending away what I don’t need any more makes me feel positively glowing. I’ve been focusing on not buying clothes, but we can be guilty of ‘fast makeup’, too, and this is a great antidote.
Going through my wardrobe made me realise just how much fashion I buy for a one-wear occasion. For example, just before the start of the month, I went to DisneyLand Paris with family. For the trip I bought quite a few Disney-themed items such as a t-shirt and a hair scrunchie. Now redundant in my drawer, they make me feel very guilty. I vow to be more conscious next time, and add them to the charity shop bag I’ve started to fill with clothes I don’t wear.
The next challenge is a bank holiday weekend; I’m off out with friends, and in the absence of a new piece of costume jewellery that I almost cave and buy, I sit and go through my jewellery box. Sorting out my necklaces, rings and earrings leaves me feeling like I have a whole new set to choose from. Some need mending or untangling, and once I’m done, I spend the next week wearing different pairs of earrings I’ve not worn for months, and it feels amazing.
I realise I can expand on this, and begin to look at where I might be able to mend or alter clothes, as well as ironing some which have become a little neglected. As I glance round the group at brunch, I realise that most people are in something they've owned for a while. It makes me think about why we shop – to be seen in something new, and therefore given a compliment? It also provides me a huge realisation – other people don’t care half as much as you think about what you’re wearing, or whether it’s new! In fact, in today’s sustainable-focused world, I’d say you get more kudos for wearing something you already own.
I’m away for the weekend, and have a big challenge - at the airport, a shop screams ‘50% off!’ from a banner. I’ve time to kill and I’m about to head over there when I remember I’m on a shopping ban. Instantly, I ‘save’ £50, and I feel elated. It’s made me realise how often I – we - spend mindlessly. I often don’t consider if a brand is sustainable, I often also get a carrier bag.
Spending a month away from the cash register not only helps your bank balance, but it helps you press ‘reset’ on your values and why you’re shopping. Bored? Upset? It might not be a fashion fix you’re after, really, but perhaps a good chat with a mate or a bit of exercise or meditation. The big thing I’ve learned is that if you feel like your wardrobe is ‘in need’, see what it can offer you before you go to the shops. I look at my wardrobe and realise it’s actually bulging less since I’ve done a bit of a clear out. It feels really lovely to actually have space to see the clothes I do want to wear, and for them to hang together more freely rather than all crammed in on top of each other.
As I roll into week four, I do end up having a moment of weakness. Back in a charity shop where I’m killing time before an appointment, I spy a scarf with a lovely green and black pattern. I recognise it as being from the high street brand Whistles. And when the assistant tells me it’s just £1.95 I can’t resist. To compensate for my lapse, I hand wash and iron it when I get home, to show it some love. This one slip up reminds me that it is ok to shop, but it needs to be mindful. There’s a pleasure in shopping that I never want to totally deny myself from, but that pleasure can also be found in taking care of the clothes you have, and looking after the jewellery and handbags you already own.
The key is to shop wisely and mindfully, and try things on instead of ordering loads online or doing a ‘smash and grab’ shop, then either throwing garments in a drawer or taking them back.The final lesson is an unusual one, and it’s that fast fashion often gets a bad reputation. I have a few items from shops that would be considered ‘fast fashion’ that I’ve had for years. I’d argue that if you choose wisely, things don’t have to be expensive to be sustainable.
Words: Jenny Stallard