At the beginning of the year I committed to buying no new clothes all year long and I’ve been sticking to it for the last five months. After a while I started thinking of it as “the nothing new project”. You know, as in…I’m not buying anything new. But also as in “eh, no big deal…it’s nothing new” because I kind of needed to convince myself of that and I also wanted to recognize that for many generations buying new clothes was a luxury. My grandmother, for example, would have mended garments until they were threadbare and sewn everything else, including men’s work shirts and suits. It’s good for me to remember that the shift toward cheap, new clothing is a wild extravagance not a necessity.
That said, I do want to feel cute, sexy and fashionable and the world of fast-fashion makes finding a balance tricky. Trends swing wildly from skinny jeans to wide cullottes; certain styles quickly become old and out-dated. It leaves me with competing emotions; I want to stop the wasteful consumption of new clothes but don’t want to stop dressing well. I don’t want to become a woman who looks like she has ‘given up’ and is wearing the same sweatpants from 10 years ago. (Well, ok, I don’t want to look like that every day; some days I am just fine with that look). Or, whose every outfit has that tell-tale 80’s look that is just to easy to end up with when thrift store shopping. I have to admit that how I dress is important to me. I feel good when I like what I’m wearing, when I feel like what I’m wearing fits me well, looks good and fits who I am. So at the same time as I don’t want to buy anything new I do want to feel like my wardrobe is fresh and fun. That’s why I’m selectively buying used clothing, sewing handmade and swapping enough clothes to feel not only fully outfitted but (mostly) guilt-free!
I’ve been undertaking a few efforts to help me sort out the mixed emotions and divorce myself from the heavily dictated world of fast-fashion. For one, I participated in Me Made May this past month. Just as it did last year, wearing a handmade item every day for a month helped me identify the clothing I actually wear vs. the novelty items I sometimes sew. In short, I wear pretty unassuming clothing on a regular basis. I need to sew items that are wearable everyday if I really want to sew my wardrobe.
I’ve also been following along with the Wardrobe Architect efforts on Collette since the start of the year, and look forward to sharing more about that process in a later post. Suffice it to say, that Wardrobe Architect walks through, step-by-step, how to identify your personal style (for yourself!); how to find the gaps in your wardrobe; and how to sew a wardrobe that fits you as an individual. If you want to see my ‘style’ Pinterest boards, they are here and here. I discovered that the look I like the most is muted colors, effortless, simple and elegant. It’s been so eye-opening to know that as I look for what to sew. Also helped me assess why some of the things I have sewn are not what I grab when I’m looking for something to wear. Below is a sampling of sewn items that are brighter than what I want to wear on an everyday basis. The lure of the fancy new fabric line is overwhelming sometimes and I reach for it without considering “will I wear this?”.
Of course, I can’t accomplish the cute, sexy, fashionable look I want by only sewing my clothes. It’s why I’m also buying used clothing and swapping with friends!
For my used clothing, I’ve found an AMAZING resource in addition to my local consignment and thrift stores. It’s an online consignment store called ThredUP. How it works is you send in your brand-name, good condition clothes and get a cut (I think it’s 50%) of what it sells for. With the money you make you can find used clothing at a steep discount. The selection is huge and the return policy is really forgiving. I’ve found things from cocktail party dresses to sweatshirts. It’s great. Also, if you click the link up above, I get a little cash toward my next purchase. Thanks!
As I mentioned, I’m also swapping clothes with friends. Every once in a while, when my book club gets together we all bring clothing we don’t wear and we exchange. It’s FANTASTIC because I feel like I get a whole bunch of new clothes and I love seeing clothing I don’t wear anymore looking good on friends. We set aside our wine and books, try on clothes, model for each other and walk away with a fresh wardrobe.
I started The Nothing New Project for two main reasons. The first is it was difficult not to be impacted by what happened in the garment factory in Bangladesh a few years back, when a building collapsed and killed over a thousand garment workers. It got harder and harder to feel good about the hidden costs of inexpensive, new clothing. I know what it takes to make a beautiful, button-up shirt and just can’t feel anything but sick to my stomach to see it on sale for $5 at the Gap. It’s consequent step-sibling, the trending purge of clothing, also makes me uneasy but for different reasons. (Do we purge and feel so good about the cleanse that we turn around and fill up the closet with new clothes? Thrift stores are over-loaded to such an extent that much of the clothing gets sent to African nations who buy it by the ton!) I don’t want to contribute to any of this, I want to believe there is a new path and I’m determined to hack my way through to find it.
Second, I am curious and excited about the creative challenge of sewing that moves me closer to my values. So far, it’s been….eh, NOTHING NEW. 🙂 Can’t wait to share more of the journey.
For more reading:
+ The Story of Stuff (get a straightforward explanation of the dangers of fast-fashion)
+ The Afterlife of Cheap Clothing
+ Is your old t-shirt hurting African economies?