How can we make the most of the clothes already on the planet — from taking care of and mending and wearing things longer, to thrifting, swapping, heirlooms, hand-me-downs, alterations and refashioning.
Ugh, this is such a tough topic for me-- I definitely do not wear my clothes as much or for as long as I should and I feel ashamed. It's like I have a split personality when it comes to clothing. There are things that I love wearing that get a ton of use, and I take very good care of them. It feels good-- in the sense of virtue, yes, but also pleasure-- to treasure things, use them well, and make them last. But then there's the other side-- the perpetual shopper, always dissatisfied with what I have and anticipating the next purchase. This has gotten much better since I Kon-Mari-ed my closet-- keeping only the things I love-- but my shopper side is still beating my care-taker side far too often. When I set out to write my post for this week, I thought I would have some good stories to share about my most-cherished clothes, things I have mended and kept for years. But when I started mentally, and then physically, pulling them out of my closet I couldn't help noticing how many barely-worn things I have accumulated since I did my big clean-out. I have even been secretly promising myself another closet clean-out, looking forward to it, in fact. This feels like failure on so many levels. I feel bad looking at this pile:
That contains a lot of mistakes, wishful thinking, purchases made out of insecurity or anxiety, cheap things that overrode my normal inhibitions, items bought in multiples or on sale. It's hard evidence that despite my best intentions I am susceptible to every sales and marketing tactic-- as well as my own muddled thinking. Here's some examples of things that didn't work out:
- J. Crew Chelsea boots-- I bought the black pair because I liked the idea of Chelsea boots and I felt it was an urgent enough need that I settled for these ones, even though they are an awkward height, not very comfortable, and the quality of the leather is not great for the price I paid. And even though I wore them grudgingly and secretly planned to replace them with a better pair, I then got the idea that if I had a second pair in a different color it would add "versatility" to my wardrobe. So I bought the brown ones-- on sale-- I think I have worn them twice.
- Light blue and dusty rose tops-- these colors keep sneaking into my closet because I have the idea that I should like them and that they are "flattering". I mostly prefer to wear darker colors and neutrals but I worry that maybe I don't look my "best" in them, probably because of some Color Me Beautiful-esque nonsense about we could all be so pretty if we just stopped wearing what we actually like. I can't believe I fall for that shit. I would like to have more color in my wardrobe because I love color, but I clearly do not love these colors.
- Racerback tops-- three of them. These are straight-up unwearable because I don't own a racerback bra. After all these years of having them, my breasts still sometimes make me feel as awkward as they did when I first grew them and I tend to wish them away even though they are in many ways quite nice. I go through spells of buying tops that don't work with my normal bras and it is always, always a mistake.
- Not pictured: multiple Everlane t-shirts that don't fit well-- I have a few other Everlane items that I love, but these I bought because I was excited about the company. Everlane has a decent social responsibility record and I think that made me overly optimistic in my initial purchases-- they also do a lot to create urgency and FOMO around their products and I need to be more mindful of that.
- Navy blue wool shift dress from TOAST. TOAST packages its (admittedly lovely, high-quality, and responsibly sourced) clothes in an attractive cloud of fantasy marketing that I find so hard to resist-- this dress would be just the thing for an eccentric art teacher or architect living in the wild Welsh countryside. Not my life but I sure wish it were. I bought it on sale (surprise!), the sleeves do unflattering things to my arms and I just don't have anywhere plausible to wear it.
Clearly there is not a lot to be proud of here, but I also think it's important to let go of the guilt and negative feelings in order to move forward. I am becoming aware that there is this cycle of transgression (overbuying) and repentance ("editing") and it is perpetuated by guilt. My goal is to get better at choosing things that I will wear for a long time and there is so much to learn from my mistakes-- if I am willing to own them and analyze them. I recently wrote about my handknit sweater failures and it helped me see where I was going wrong and to make a game plan for future sweater knitting. So far these are some plans I have for future buying-- or not buying, actually:
- Be true to myself and the life I have now. That means letting go of fantasy clothes and ideas of what I should like.
- Be more mindful of marketing tactics and other factors that lower my shopping inhibitions-- namely sales, discounts, and low prices, but also special collections and limited editions (Uniqlo designer collaborations, I'm looking at you!). I plan to unsubscribe from a bunch of email lists.
- Make a plan for filling my wardrobe gaps, one that reflects my needs and style. I think this is really the key and a big reason I've never had a fully functional wardrobe-- I've always just bought things that called to me whether or not they fit in with what I already had.
- Try to limit my sources to second-hand, handmade, and companies that have a track record of social responsibility. Not only does this align with my conscience, but with the overwhelming number of choices out there it is good to have some principle by which to narrow them down and prevent overbuying.
- Identify and deal with feelings like boredom, anxiety, and insecurity in more productive ways-- mindfulness again!
I plan to find good homes for all the items in that pile-- some will go to friends, others to a consignment shop. There is another, smaller pile of things I don't wear, but that I hope to give a second chance to through refashioning:
Thinking about Slow Fashion and making has started me imagining breezy summer tops-- wardrobe gap!-- made from a couple of other tops and a skirt, and alterations to a pair of jeans and a skirt that will make them wearable again. Maybe by next October I will be able to report back on my progress-- now I can't wait to dive back in to the conversation!