The last time I bought something new to wear was in July 2014*: it was a pretty blue dress for my graduation. Since then, pretty much every piece of clothing that has found its way into my closet has been bought second-hand, inherited or borrowed.
You might say, “I could never do that”, but it’s way easier than it sounds. A large part of why I stopped buying new clothes was out of pure laziness, not just for the environmental high-ground.
Every purchase you make has implications far beyond your closet. Once you realise that, it’s surprisingly easy to consider never buying something new again. But quitting consumerism all-together is a leap that just isn’t possible for everyone.
Disposable fashion has made itself incredibly convenient, even addictive. Over-consumption fuels a toxic supply chain and stuffs landfill sites with impulse buys. It doesn’t make us happy. We need to demand less from retailers, not more.
There are currently about 40 items of clothing in my wardrobe, not including underwear. I am clearly not a minimalist, but I can still describe every piece of clothing that I own. Some I’ve had for years, and they’re still totally wearable, like the summer dress I bought for a picnic five years ago, or the sparkly disco shorts I’ve worn on innumerable nights out.
Fashion changes, but style doesn’t. I dare you to find me one old piece of clothing you own that couldn’t be restyled or altered to look great now. While it goes against the fast changing fashion world, it doesn’t matter; my old clothes suit me. I’ve been wearing them for so long that they’re part of who I am.
Fix up and look sharp
My clothes are old — they show the marks of the stories they’ve lived: buttons are missing and there are irremovable stains and holes everywhere. But if Kanye West can go out in a holey t-shirt, then so can I. Or I try to fix them. Upcycling is slow-fashion’s new buzzword and it’s helping to reform the industry for the better.
Professionally altering your clothes (if you can’t do it yourself) can cost about the same as buying something brand new, and they can be tailored to fit you perfectly, rather than the arbitrary sizes by shopping off the rack.
Thanks to the rise of the hipster, vintage is growing astronomically. Historically the reserve of the older generation, now second-hand shops, flea markets and thrift stores are now full of young fashionistas trying to find something cool.
It helps that dressing like an 80-year-old seems to be back in style. My friend once said that I look like “Hermione’s grandma”, which is not a bad thing when you’re wearing an oversized camel coat (€8 from Amsterdam’s Ij-Hallen flea market) and a skirt a nun might call cool.
Style is about what makes you feel good. Look weird: you don’t need to blend in.
But you probably shouldn’t be taking fashion advice from me; I still wear a hat that I found on a bus.
I was lucky enough to live in Berlin, where there are flea markets every other day and second-hand clothing is easy to come by, but for those who don’t have the luxury of four different thrift stores in walking distance, there are lots of online communities where people trade vintage clothes.
- It’s cheap! (Seriously cheap. My favourite pair of jeans cost €1.50)
- You’re automatically hip.
- You get to say the sentence “Thanks! It’s vintage.” whenever someone compliments your dress.
- You can’t always get what you want (but when can you ever? Disposable fashion is dictated by mass popularity, not necessarily by what’s fashionable).
- It’s rare that you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for so don’t go along with a vision in mind. Be open to finding something totally different.
If everyone shared their clothes with another person, we’d need to produce half as many clothes.
I have “accidentally borrowed” about a fifth of the clothes I now call mine: somehow I’ve acquired my ex-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend’s jumper, his sister’s black top, an old-roommate’s shorts and my mum’s old scarf.
Fashion recycles. A few years ago it was the 60s, now the 90s is seeing a revival. Fashion values authenticity. That means wearing original clothes and looking a bit like your parents did when they were younger. The best way to get this look is with genuine old clothes, rather than poor store-bought imitations.
I don’t necessarily condone stealing from other people, but there are a bunch of social media groups and some wonderful websites dedicated to giving away and swapping your old stuff with other people that don’t involve outright theft.
Certain items are impossible to source second-hand — I draw the line at buying used underwear, but there are still options that don’t involve throw-away fashion. Set your own goals, find what’s right for you. Fashion has never been about what everyone is wearing. It’s about feeling amazing in your clothes, be they riddled with holes, six years old, or a golden thrift store find.
We can all afford to buy less. Maybe you’ll reduce the amount of new clothes you buy, or maybe you’ll even try to make something yourself.
*This story was originally published on greenpeace.org on the 25th November 2015.
I have since bought several new items of clothing.
I’ve made a concerted effort to try and buy more ethically (and apparently only in black), and to research where and how the clothes are made, but I could be doing a lot better.