From about July 2017 to August 2018, I didn’t buy any clothing, shoes, or other fashion accessories, other than replacing a few t-shirts for sleepwear/lounging. More than a year of not shopping or buying much of anything material-wise.
I was already well into my year of no shopping last year, having started unintentionally, when I came across Ann Patchett’s column about her year of no shopping. I realized I was doing something similar without meaning to, but decided to keep going and try it out myself. My starting this was due to a combination of a few factors:
- I was about to start working from home, so didn’t anticipate needing new clothes
- Having done most of my shopping online the past few years, I was tired of buying stuff just to return 90% of it (and not be quite satisfied with most of the 10% I did keep)
- I had plenty of clothes – enough to not repeat outfits for a couple of weeks (a very subjective issue, how much clothing is enough – but I thought it was enough for me at the time)
Once I read Ann Patchett’s column and realized I was doing just that, I decided to keep up the experiment for a year myself. The last items of clothing I bought were a couple pairs of chino trousers from Gap, because I wanted to avoid just wearing sweatpants every day. They turned out to be of terrible quality – stretching out a whole size, dye washing out unevenly after a single wash and creating white streaks on the fabric. A good way to cement my decision not to shop for a while, you could say.
Since this wasn’t a personal challenge or anything, I didn’t force myself to stay away from shopping websites or avoid places with opportunities to shop – sometimes I just like window shopping (browser shopping?), and I like and appreciate clothing and style. But I’m also a pretty disciplined person, and for me part of habit enforcement is not forbidding myself from doing something. And as noted, I did buy three t-shirts sometime around April this year to replace some holey ones for sleep and loungewear, because of need. But otherwise, I didn’t buy any wearable item of clothing or shoes or any accessory.
Here are my takeaways – read on after the break!
I have some old but well-kempt, durable clothing. I “rediscovered” a pair of jeans I bought in college (about 10 years old). They’re straight legged AG jeans, a medium-to-dark wash, so nothing too trendy that I can’t wear anymore. Now, I hadn’t been wearing them regularly all ten years I’ve owned them, but they’re still in very good shape. Same for some tops – I have a striped button-down, purchased from Anthropologie circa 2009, that have been in a regular rotation in my wardrobe ever since. It’s a little yellow in the collar but it’s not very noticeable, and totally blocked from view once I’m wearing it. It looks brand new otherwise. These items are so durable because they’re wovens, so the fabric has a strong structure that holds up well over time. It’s not like I take special care of them, either. I machine wash them so they take a beating, and if it’s not a good day for sun-drying clothes I won’t hesitate to put them in the dryer. A reminder of wovens being better for durability.
Knits are not so durable. I bought some t-shirts last summer, prior to my year of no shopping began. They were stretched and full of holes eight months later, so needed replacing. But I’m also partly to blame for buying such thin t-shirts – yes, they were soft, but that meant they wouldn’t hold up so well. My replacement t-shirts are a thicker fabric men’s style. They fit my relatively broad shoulders better, and I also like that the sleeves are longer as an always-cold. My knit pajama bottoms are looking pretty raggedy at this point, too, and I think I’ll buy woven ones when I finally replace them.
My old clothes, even from the same brand, are of much better quality. I bought those Gap trousers last summer because I have a very similar pair that I bought about eight years ago, and I liked them a lot. They were too small for me last summer, so I bought a very similar style in a bigger size. I’ve lost weight in the past year so can fit in the old trousers now, so I can wear and compare. The old ones are great! They don’t stretch out, and they just feel nice to the touch. I can’t recall exactly how much the old pants from Gap cost, but I imagine they were $40-50 regular price–I don’t remember if I got any discount. The trousers I bought last year were $59.50 or so, but they were 40% off with Gap’s perennial discount. It’s frustrating to see just how badly brands are cutting corners to increase profits. Sure, with that 40% off Gap probably charged less for the 2017 trousers, but I guarantee they made up for that by paying their vendors and the factories that made the trousers way less than they did in 2010 – more than making up for any lost profit from us, the customers. Something I know in abstract, but always sad to see confirmation in real life.
You don’t need a lot of clothing. I started working from home in September, but before that I had about three months of everyday work in an office and general city going out life while not shopping. I already owned less clothing than most women in their 20’s, as far as I could tell based on the wardrobes of my friends and roommates (I’m very visually oriented and observant, and as someone interested in clothes, I tend to notice and remember clothing worn by people I see frequently). I think the real tell was at one point, I got some new pants and my coworker noted, “oh, you bought new pants” so my wardrobe was small enough for some people to notice. All this to say I did not own a lot of clothing. Still, I discovered that my wardrobe still had plenty for me to wear without repeating outfits too often, and also without being like one of those people who just wear the same outfit every day. I’m all for simplicity, but I think the whole Steve Jobs look is socially unacceptable for most people, especially women, in our year of the lord 2018.
Those are my main takeaways from my version of a year of no shopping.
Should I try this?
Definitely! I encourage everyone to do something like this. You don’t have to be as draconian as me – just do something that fits your own lifestyle. If you work out regularly and your leggings tear at the crotch, of course you should get a new pair. And if you’re a professional ballerina, of course you should buy pointe shoes when you need them (I read somewhere these gals need new shoes every week). Just adjust this experiment to your own needs.
A lot of the comments on Ann Patchett’s column were people making excuses for not doing something like this. Obviously you don’t have to, it’s completely optional. Also isn’t this is like the ultimate First World exercise? Having money to spend but intentionally not spending it, because you already have so much stuff and don’t need anything for a whole year. It can give you a lot of perspective on how much you have already.
Also for me, it was actually very freeing to not think about shopping for a year (until I really needed those t-shirts). I didn’t have to think about the things I wanted, when sales were going on at the store that sold the things I wanted, when my items would arrive, making a trip to the store to return stuff I didn’t want, having that extra chore – all very nice to not have to deal with it for a year. I recently went to the post office on a Saturday morning, and I was surprised to discover it was full of people, largely women returning clothes they bought online. They looked extremely harried – I’m sure they’d have preferred to be spending the time with their family or just hanging out at home. Instead they had to stand in line at a stuffy post office, so they could return something they didn’t even want. What a waste of time and energy. If you’re someone like that, imagine freeing yourself of that for a year.
Have you started to shop again?
Sort of, though I quickly learned that clothing quality has gone down even more in the past year. I bought a pair of jeans earlier this month – a pair of grey skinnies from 7 for All Mankind. They looked and felt great, but they were pilling after one wash and two wears. Literally, just two wears, and most of that time I was sitting in a chair. Thankfully Bloomingdale’s took them back without a word when I explained what happened (yay for generous American return policies).
At first I thought, hmm, well they were more like jeggings – they have a lot of stretch, and maybe it’s on me for buying basically a knit pant. But then I remembered that I used to own a very similar style of jean that I wore through last spring, from some other expensive denim company (probably AG, I was exclusively buying them for a while). They lasted me wearing them 2-3 times a week for several years before the fabric started looking ragged. So that’s not the issue – it’s that clothing quality is even worse now than they were three years or so ago.
Why did I buy them? It’s not like I don’t have pants. But I did miss having a darker-wash grey jean, which is an extremely versatile look for fall and winter. I might keep looking around, but with the knowledge that clothing quality has gone down even more in my year of no shopping. Buyers beware and all that, I guess.
Is this something you’ve tried? I’m curious to see if others have done this, and if anyone’s kept up with it long term! I remember watching a random dating show where a man in his 40’s said he hadn’t shopped for clothes in 15 years. He looked fine – he was wearing a button down and trousers, which isn’t a style that really goes out of date. Maybe I’ll just keep going for a while longer, too.