My single mother provided me with a eclectic assortment of thrift store clothing throughout my childhood years that I enjoyed very much…until I turned 11 and wanted to start buying department store clothing like my friends wore. As I became older, acquired a job-and thereby means of support for shopping trips- I spent ridiculous amounts of money at both of the two Towne Square Malls in my city. I was overly interested in the latest trends and constantly kept of with the new stock of every store from Abercrombie & Fitch to Hot Topic. I changed my entire wardrobe out every 3 months, and I didn’t really see this as a problem. I had been interested in fashion all my life and considered it a hobby.
It wasn’t until I was 19- about a year before my wedding- that I realized that I should begin saving money in much larger amounts than I had been until that point. I struggled, as many American women do, with resisting the temptation to buy the newest and popular clothing in order to look a certain way. But thankfully, I was starting to realize how the fashion industry was manipulating me and most other women. I say “women” instead of “people” because although men are definitely manipulated my material goods as well, the fashion industry is especially geared toward making women feel like we are never good enough and must buy the right products to look good enough.
The four months before my wedding, I buckled down and was very frugal. My wedding dress was a $75 dollar consignment store purchase (and pretty much my dream dress), I bought minimal clothing for my honeymoon and didn’t waste any money on lingerie at Victoria’s Secret. I wasn’t satisfied with my “look”, but I did realize that a main reason for that was that the fashion industry had been teaching me for years that I would never look good enough without the newest clothes.
It was in the first month of my marriage- when putting together a budget for my husband and I- that I learned that there was a way to live that didn’t include constantly shopping and feeling like I never looked good enough. Instead of focusing on the newest trends, I could focus on buying a few basic pieces that would satisfy my need for clothing without feeding a selfish desire to endlessly purchase new clothing.
Remaking My Perception of Clothing
Thanks to the Internet, it is easier than ever before to learn about new ways of living that we might be otherwise ignorant of. Every time I have ever wanted to learn something, Youtube has been my go-to. In the month following my marriage, I was very fortunate to come across some minimalism YouTubers who introduced me to a concept unfamiliar to most people in privileged countries such as mine: who might have paid the price for me to have clothing so readily available?
I wasn’t really paying for my clothing. It was cheap, disposable mall clothing that didn’t hurt my wallet that much if I was buying things off the clearance rack. I thought that I was “frugal”. I didn’t know then that there is nothing frugal about buying disposable things. But I had only ever considered that clothing would be an asset to me, giving me more variety of outfits to wear, and making me appear more attractive to others. I didn’t realize how cheap it really made me to participate in fast fashion: I was filling the pockets of already affluent CEOs so they could exploit and abuse thousands of poor people in developing countries. By this I mean the terrible world of sweatshops and unsafe factories that made all of my Abercrombie & Fitch jeans and all of my Charlotte Russe dresses.
This was the beginning of my journey to remake my perception of clothing and fashion. Not once had it ever been impressed upon me, nor had I considered, that my interest in fashion could actually be harming people.
I began watching dozens of fair-trade fashion videos, and was introduced to the concept of a capsule wardrobe- an idea based on simplifying our wardrobe much like the middle-class of the 1930s and 1940s did due to necessity. The idea of curating a closet of quality pieces that would be easy to access in my closet and affordable due to the small amount of items I would restrict myself to purchasing seemed very appealing. I looked at this new way of shopping as a game that I was new to, but one that I wanted to win very badly. After watching the documentary “The True Cost”, I decided the way to win the game was to
- give a little money as humanly possible to the terrible system of fast-fashion
- create the smallest carbon footprint that I could
- stop the cycle of constantly having to buy new clothes because a cheap material didn’t survive the dryer; buy things to last
- eliminate the need for closet space (just for a little extra challenge 😀 )
The Rough Draft
I knew that mentally rewriting everything I had previously thought about fashion and clothing was going to take a very long time. I had to work to erase things that had been solidified in my brain since I was young. Misconceptions such as “newer is better” and “old clothes are out of style” and “brand name is everything”. All of those things that I had been taught by society.
I had to start slow, but knowing that was reassuring. Because for the first time in my life, “fashionable” was not a destination that I was anxious to arrive at– it was a journey.
I began by filling trash bags (this was before I learned about zero-waste haha) with all the clothes that I felt unattractive in. I kept back about 30 items in my closet- a number more in line with what minimalist vloggers were talking about. I focused on keeping only the clothes made of the best materials…obviously nothing of very high-quality given that it had all been produced by fast fashion brands in third-world countries, but I had at least a few cotton garments.
Next, I created a restriction to buy no more than 5 items a year from a company that sourced their clothing from factories in third-world countries. This would allow me to buy underwear, bras, or anything that I wasn’t sure I could acquire at a thrift store.
Choosing what to wear became second to how it was made, who made it, and who profited from it’s sale.
My Shopping & Anti-Shopping Strategy Today
These two go hand-in-hand. My shopping strategy is as follows:
- Secondhand stores
- Pintrest pins or sketches of exactly what I’m looking for
- Time limit
- Second-guess myself all the way to the check-out
These are the restrictions I give myself if I have a time constraint to acquire an item of clothing (such as an event the next day that I had forgotten about, or my only bra twisted and deformed in the washing machine). Truth be told, I never like anything from a thrift store for very long because I know that I could’ve put in the effort to make a better item myself.
Now for my anti-shopping strategy.
As of the last two months, I’ve gotten a bit braver with hand-making items that I need. I’ve been sewing for almost four years, and dabbling in crochet and knitting sporadically throughout my life. I’m not great at any of those things, but I realized that if I can control the fiber of my garment, the stitching, the colors, and (to some extent) the ethical manufacturing of my materials, I could be much more satisfied with a garment than if I just purchase something secondhand. Hand-making things definitely isn’t cheaper short-term, but it is in the long term.
That’s why when my two flimsy rayon nightgowns from Target’s summer sale last year shredded, my 6-month old socks had holes, and my underwear from 7 years ago (yes, Aerie made some durable underwear back then) finally wore through, I was eager to keep my dollars away from fast-fashion corporations this time.
I ordered 3 yards of soft black linen from a female Etsy shop owner in Lithuania (for my nightgown), 1 yard of hemp jersey for a few pairs of underwear, and 2 balls of cotton/linen/nettle/silk blend yarn to make my first pair of homemade socks…let’s see any store able to offer me that kind of quality!
(The yarn for the socks was unfortunately two different dye lots so that is why the color isn’t matching)
These items give me so much pride because they are just the beginning. I have so much to learn, but each garment I make will be better than the last. At the end of the day, I know that I kept some money out of the pockets of heartless corporations and got to support some small businesses for my supplies instead. Though there is a (weak) argument to be made that the people in third-world countries need these jobs even though they are mistreated, fast-fashion isn’t the only way to give them employment. There are many clothing companies who are hiring people in India and other third-world countries at a fair wage and we could be supporting those companies instead. Personally, I love making things so I’m going to stick to this!
Where are you on your fashion journey? Have you said “no” to fast-fashion yet? How are you curating an ethical wardrobe? Leave a comment below! 🙂