I guess it’s no secret that I love clothes. I love to plan my wardrobe, dream up outfits, and talk about them. And during this slow time of year between Christmas and New Year’s I’ve fallen into the habit of looking back on the year that was… wardrobe-wise. Looking at what I’ve purchased in the past twelve months, and whether I’m making any headway in my efforts to become a more ethical shopper. Fessing up about slow fashion, you might say, when things are a bit slow around here in every other way.
So to that end, today I hauled out my little book of lists, ransacked my closet, and my storage drawers, and looked at old blog posts to see what I’d bought since January 2019.
When I started this whole New Year’s wardrobe review thing back in 2016, I began to do a lot of reading about the slow fashion movement, ethical shopping, and sustainable fashion. According to an article in Bust magazine, in 2013 the average American shopper purchased 70 items of clothing and apparel. So I thought of counting what I had bought over the year to see how I measured up. In 2016 I purchased 26 new pieces. In each of 2017 and 2018 I bought 25 pieces. And when I did my 2019 count today, I was pleased to see that I purchased 20% fewer items in 2019, than last year. “Well, done, Sue!” I thought, patting myself on the back. “That’s excellent.”
But before I put my shoulder out of joint with all this back-patting, let’s analyze this, shall we? Let’s break down the year and look at the hard numbers.
Spring and Summer:
I did a fair amount of shopping for spring and summer this year. I purchased 11 pieces: a white jacket, three tee shirts, two pairs of jeans (one white and cropped, the other blue and boot-cut), a scarf, a pair of sandals, a belt, a pair of yellow linen pants, and a straw bag.
On the positive side, some of my purchases were necessary to replace worn or stained items. I ordered a new, white Vince short-sleeved tee because my old one was discoloured, and getting a bit tatty. And, while I was at it, I bought a black one in the same style to replace the black Madewell tee that had become stained with pasta oil in Italy last year.
Still on the positive side, all my newly purchased pieces work together, and helped breath new life into old, well-loved pieces in my closet. My brown sandals and straw bag worked wonderfully with two old jackets. I wore my Elie Tahari safari jacket (above) and my very old, linen Max Mara blazer (below right) for the first time in years. The gold and cream striped Theory tee shirt, the yellow scarf, and the white Theory blazer meant I suddenly liked my cream Michael Kors cross-body bag again. And I loved my ancient block-heeled raffia sandals with the yellow and cream palate of that outfit on the left, below.
But not everything about my spring and summer wardrobe exuded slow fashion purity. I had a devil of a time finding outfits I loved that included those darned yellow linen pants. And maybe buying another pair of white jeans was not exactly adhering to the minimalist philosophy that I should only buy what I need. My Frame cropped white jeans looked good with my old Tory Burch tunic which I hadn’t been wearing much. But… did I really need another pair of white jeans? Really?
Still, I’m pleased overall with my spring-summer purchases. Especially my white Theory blazer. I know it will be a stalwart in my spring closet for years to come.
I made three purchases specifically for travel this year. That’s a lot fewer than in previous years. Especially in 2017 when I bought seven pieces before we left for South America. I’m still wearing many of those pieces. But travel is hard on tee shirts, and the two I bought specifically for that trip were relegated to exercise/camping wear as soon as we came home.
This year for our Balkan trip, I bought three hard-wearing tees from Talbots. I deliberately went for colour this time. I found that I was bored with only black and white tees in Italy last year. The Talbots tees are heavier than many of my other tee shirts so they wash up well, and look neat and not too crumpled after a long day of sitting in the car or wandering hot city streets.
I wore all three of these tees a lot, with a lot of different outfits when we were in the Balkans. And then I packed them away for our next trip.
Fall and Winter:
Somehow I managed to be quite frugal this year in my shopping for fall and winter. I made only six purchases. I bought my pink Uniqlo hoodie late last winter, for the express purpose of wearing it with my navy Veronica Beard spring suit. It was a good substitute for the zipper-out, partial hoodie that goes with the VB jacket and was much warmer. So I was able to wear the jacket earlier in the spring when it was still pretty cool. Now I’m wearing the hoodie with my Max Mara fall coat. In November and December, I bought black Liverpool jeans and a long-sleeve, baby-blue tee shirt. I also bought three pieces not shown here: a light-weight turtleneck from Vince, a cashmere, crew-neck sweater from Uniqlo, and a cream wooly hat.
I’m pleased with my fall-winter purchases this year. Especially how they worked with what I already owned. In particular my very old jackets. My goal this fall was to wear what I own. So I made a point of shopping my closet, and wore several old jackets that had not been out and about much since I retired.
In total I purchased twenty pieces in 2019. That’s five fewer pieces than my 2018 total of twenty-five. So I have been patting myself on the back over reducing my total number of purchases this year.
But should I be?
If that statistic of 70 new items per year in 2013 is at all accurate, it seems that I buy way fewer new items of apparel than the average North American shopper. And I improved on my numbers considerably this year. So, that’s good, isn’t it?
I know that I send much less clothing and textile material to land fill sites than the average North American. This article in The Saturday Evening Post cites a 2014 report from the EPA. It says that the average American sends over 80 lbs of clothing and textile waste to landfills each year. A CBC article puts the number in Canada about the same. Apparently that’s about eight garbage bags of clothing. I can’t remember the last piece of clothing I threw away. Oh… wait a minute. It was a pair of hiking socks with holes in them.
So I shop less, buy less, and throw away less than average. That’s good, I think. Except who do you know who DOES throw away eight garbage bags of clothing and textiles? Anyone? It does seem to be an enormous amount. But don’t take my word for it. Have a look at this article about textile waste and recycling.
I’ve always been of the opinion that I hang onto my clothes far longer than average. I mean, all those old tweed jackets prove that. Don’t they? Well, not quite. I found a couple of articles that said the average life of a garment in the U.K. and in North America is between two and three years. And to be better than that I’d have to still be wearing all the clothes I purchased back in 2016. And that’s unfortunately not the case. I checked.
Out of the twenty-six pieces I purchased in 2016, three pieces are no longer with me. This past summer, I donated two tank tops and a tee-shirt dress that I bought in desperation in the middle of the very hot summer of 2016. From the twenty-five items new in 2017, two of the tees I bought to take to South America have been relegated to camping wear. And I donated a zippered athletic jacket bought in haste a day or so before we left for our trip. An Eileen Fisher tunic languishing in my closet will no doubt be donated this upcoming spring. That’s four gone out of twenty-five. I’m still wearing everything I bought in 2018.
I can justify the demise of the tanks tops and the tees as normal wear and tear. Ha. Pun intended. The tee-shirt dress, zippered jacket, and Eileen Fisher pieces are the result of buying in haste. And I should know better.
But as I mentioned in my post last year, what really haunts me are the overall numbers over several years. If I’m buying about 20-25 pieces a year… eventually that adds up to be a lot of new clothing over four years.
In my own defense, I will say that for the first couple of years after I retired, I made an effort to give away to friends or consign most of my business wear. And since most of my wardrobe at the time was work wear, the rest of my closet was pretty thin. I think that’s what I’ve been doing these past few years, buying for the life I now lead, and getting rid of the stuff I don’t need or wear anymore.
So, What Now?
Good question. I’ve been tossing around the idea of ethical shopping and slow fashion for a few years now. I try to be organized and shop conscientiously and “consciously” (as opposed to unconsciously.) A few glaring mistakes aside (can you say Eileen Fisher tunic?) I buy what I love, what looks good on me, and what works with everything else in my closet.
I try to be a wise shopper. And by “wise” I don’t mean bargain hunting. A follower (who is no longer a follower, presumably) took me to task on Instagram last summer for buying my Eric Javits straw tote. I think I mentioned in my post that it WAS pretty expensive. But I don’t apologize for the fact that I spend more on certain items. We all have our price comfort level. I justify that expense by looking at my history with bags, knowing that I will still be using that tote in five years.
But, there’s not much point in doing all this analysis stuff if I’m simply going to pat myself on the back, rest on my laurels, and not try to improve.
This year, I’m going to try hard at doing the thrift shop thing. I have NOT been good at that in the past. In fact, my friend Krista (who you met here on the blog last summer) and I are hitting the thrift stores soon together. She’s way better at this than I am. I’m hoping to learn something.
I’ve also not been very good in the past at identifying ethical brands before I buy. I promise to try harder at that too. But it’s not as easy as it might seem. I’ve looked at numerous articles recommending the best ethical brands, many of which I have never seen in stores. Except for Eileen Fisher, a brand which always seems to get top marks. I found several articles which give brands a grade on their sustainability and efforts to be more ethical. I’ve tried to find ratings for brands I love, but many of the ones I own are not listed or rated. Have a look at this article for yourself here.
I guess what I can do, what we can all do, is to continue to read and stay informed. To not be fooled, as one article says, by the efforts of big fast-fashion brands like Zara and H&M to “green wash” their products. And we can continue to ask retailers the question: “What do they know about the sustainability of the brands they carry?” That’s one of the things Caryn Franklin suggested when Alyson Walsh interviewed her on the That’s Not My Age podcast recently. Maybe, as Franklin suggested, many voices asking these questions will convince retailers that consumers care about these issues. Franklin describes herself as a “disruptive fashion lover.” She loves fashion but feels that the business she’s been involved in for decades can do better. You can listen to Alyson’s interview with Caryn Franklin here.
I love that Caryn Franklin can criticise fashion and at the same time love it. The whole slow fashion, ethical shopping thing is a huge, complex issue. We don’t have to stop loving fashion. Or stop dreaming up outfits. But we should, at least, stay informed, shop more wisely, buy less, and keep our clothes longer.
Even when they may need a little TLC.
For instance, the other day I noticed that my long, green, winter dress coat has two small moth holes in it. I know! I love that coat. So I’m going to see if I can learn how to repair it. I found a Youtube video on darning.
We’ll call it my January slow fashion project.
So how did you fare this year, my fashionable friends? Did you lose your head, and break the bank in one massive shopping trip? Or were you very, very good: restrained, deliberate, and highly ethical in your shopping habits? Or were you somewhere in between? Do tell. And I mean tell us everything.