I banned myself from shopping four months ago, in part because of the vast number of clothes in my overstuffed wardrobe that had barely—or never—seen the light of day. Having all those clothes I loved but didn't wear was making me anxious (in the same way having too many unread books on my bedside table does).I'm not alone in having a lot of unworn clothes—various studies suggest this is common behaviour: one found women have an average of 22 items in their closet they never wear; another concludes people wear only about 20 per cent of the clothes they own.
But just because it's common doesn't mean it isn't ridiculous. It is totally ridiculous! It's a waste of time and money, a waste of space and a waste of the planet's resources. So why do we do it? I read this article yesterday by a consumer psychologist on the science of why we buy clothes we never wear. It sets out a few reasons for the behaviour, but I don't think you need to have a psychology degree to work out it's mostly due to poor decision making.
- You fall in love with a garment and simply must have it even though you know it isn't quite right—maybe it sits a bit funny or it's half a size too small or you love the style but not so much the fabric.
- You want to buy something—anything!—new because you're bored or sad or shopping online while tipsy (or all of the above).
- You shop for the life you want, not the life you have—for example, you buy 'occasion' dresses for occasions that rarely present themselves; you buy a pair of gorgeous sky-high stilettos even though you know they'll be chambers of foot torture; you buy jeans that are too small because you plan to shed a few kilos; you buy something outrageous because you wish you were braver, quirkier, edgier.
- You buy something you weren't sure about because the shop assistant/your friends/your partner said it looked great on you.
- You buy a piece just because it's the latest fashion 'must have' or it's ridiculously discounted.
- You buy things without considering whether they go with anything else you already own.
Don't lose your mind during the sales
So why do I have so many un(der)worn clothes? My problem isn't so much that I buy the wrong stuff; my problem is that I'm lazy and lack time and energy. Because Every Single Day is a struggle for me to leave my beloved bed, I don't give myself time to open my wardrobe doors, stand back and wait for ensemble inspiration to hit me, or to play around with an outfit if it turns out it doesn't look as good on my body as it did in my mind's eye. This means I often rotate through the same eight or ten outfits. I have one particular outfit I wear on days when I have no or time or energy and don't want to put any thought at all into what I'm wearing, which happens most weeks. (It's a comfy green shift dress worn over a black top with black tights).
I usually have more time to get dressed on the three days I don't work, but still I often find myself wearing old favourites that are comfortable and that I already know will go with everything (or reaching for gym tights and a hoodie even when I'm not planning to do any exercise). I don't know why I do this when I love clothes and I enjoy the creative process of putting together an outfit! The laziness is strong in this one... (Has anyone written a Lazy Girl's Guide to Being Less Lazy?)
Because I'm lazy and/or chronically tired, I still haven't got around to properly 'shopping my closet' to come up with a bunch of ensembles I can throw on without much thought. I have been making an effort to wear more of my neglected clothing every day—that pair of faux leather leggings I forgot I owned; the ace black and blue men's tie I bought at an op shop more than five years ago because I loved the colour and pattern; those biker boots that sat neglected because I wanted to wear my new(ish) red boots all the time. I've even dragged out a few of my button up shirts for work even though they need to be washed and ironed (ugh) after one wear. Yesterday I wore a newish pair of boots that have been sitting under a chair in my bedroom long enough to collect a light coat of dust.
Rarely worn boots
Before you shop:
- Work out what looks good on you, according to your own standards, not society's silly rules (remember: there are no fashion rules; only fashion opinions). If you think you and your voluptuous self are rocking those horizontal stripes, go for it. Look at your favourite outfits—what exactly is it about them that you love? What do they have in common stylistically? Find the answers and use them to guide you on what to buy and what not to buy.
- In a similar vein to the above, put some time and thought into defining your style. This blog has some good advice on how to pin down your style.
- Once you have defined your style, think about whether a capsule wardobe is for you (great advice on this and many other fashion/style things here). Capsule wardrobes mean fewer clothes, but maximum wearability. It's a highly curated (*cringe* I hate that word) wardrobe.
- Pay little heed to what's in fashion and focus instead on your own style (fashion is fleeting, style is forever, as they say). You do not have to have what the fashion media calls 'must haves'. They care more about advertising dollars than whether you look good or have a functional, value-for-money wardrobe.
- Work out what you actually need to fill 'gaps' in your wardrobe. Is there an item you don't have that would pull together other pieces in your wardrobe you rarely wear into outfits you would actually wear? Do you have the basics covered? There are a billion lists of wardrobe essentials every woman must own floating around online, but use these only as a guide because we're all special snowflakes with different tastes and styles. (Nude pumps appear on heaps of these lists, but I hate nude shoes and will never, EVER consider them essential!) If you're like me, you probably don't have any gaps to fill (literally and figuratively). Once my shopping ban is over, I plan to only buy what I need, if I ever happen to need anything ever again! Realistically though, I know most people are still going to buy stuff just because they like it and want it. In which case...
Know your measurements for online shopping
- Take your time, pay more attention to what your gut and eyes are telling you, rather than the opinions of others (especially those who have a vested interest in you parting with your hard earned).
- When shopping online, know your measurements and pay careful attention to size guides (even though they can be hit and miss). Read customer reviews about fit and quality and look for reviews written by people with similar measurements (if provided). This has made me think twice about buying plenty of clothes, especially on sites with overpriced delivery and returns. Look at the description for information on what a garment is made from and avoid cheap, shitty materials. Always factor in the cost of shipping and returns when you are about to be seduced by what appears to be an absolute bargain. Those $40 shoes that turned out to be too big? Not as much of a bargain when you have to pay $40 to send them back. (Related: I have a pair of size 10 shoes to sell/swap/give away...)
- In bricks-and-mortar shops, home in on the stuff that fits your defined style and filter out the rest. Me in the shops: heads straight for the racks of black and anything with black and white stripes (often only to be bitterly let down when the stripes turn out to be navy blue. Harrumph).
- Try it on! Pay close attention to fit. It doesn't matter how beautiful or expensive a garment is, if it doesn't fit properly, it won't look great and you won't feel great wearing it. Some fit issues can be easily fixed (too long, too baggy), but others take more work and are expensive. Leave it on the rack if you don't think you're really likely to bother having it altered to fit properly. This blog has some good pointers on how clothes should fit and also on the basics of tailoring clothes that don't fit right. There's also great advice on proper fit here and here.
- Even if something is really cheap so you think it doesn't matter if you get home and it doesn't fit or flatter, still try it on. If you keep doing this, you will end up wasting a lot of money on a lot clothes you never wear.
- Consider how a garment fits not only while you are standing still, but also during and after movement. Move your arms back and forth, do a few knee bends, sit down if there's a bench. Does it fall down, gape, ride up or pinch? Having to constantly adjust your clothing is a pain and not conducive to Rocking It.
- Look at the tag to see what a garment is made of—a high price does not always mean quality fabric. I avoid nearly everything made with rayon or viscose (which you can still find on the racks in pricier shops), because I don't like the feel and they generally don't wash and wear well. They end up looking crappy very quickly, which means you are less likely to wear them—and more likely to get rid of them after a few wears, which seems like a simple solution for you, but it really just moves the problem down the line, often all the way to landfill, where it will take decades to break down.
- Look at the care instructions to see if a garment is machine washable. If you're like me, you hate ironing and prefer not to spend much money on drycleaning (although there are ways around those things. See here for tips on cleaning your supposedly dryclean-only clothes and here for ways to minimise or avoid ironing). Your knee bends and sit down should tell you how easily and how much a fabric will crease. Be realistic about whether you will care for it properly or whether it will spend most of its time waiting to be ironed or drycleaned and thus unworn.
- Remember that even a massively discounted item is not a bargain if you never wear it.
- Consider whether you really, really, REALLY love a garment and are likely to forge a long and happy relationship with it, or whether it's just a fleeting crush, even if it's not costing you half a week's pay. A good (albeit sometimes impractical) test is to hold off on buying something and wait a few days or a week. If it was just a crush, you'll get over it, but if you still think it has the makings of a grand love affair, go back for it. If your size is sold out, it's not the end of the world. Save your feelings of regret for things that really matter in life (like when you get to the patisserie and all the chocolate croissants are gone).
Do you really want to use this thing?
- Sometimes you can't really tell until you take something home and wear in the real world whether it works or not. Maybe that top doesn't look as good with that skirt as you thought it would or the shoes you planned to wear with it are not quite the right colour. Make sure you return it straight away and don't just leave it hanging in your wardrobe. Maybe it shrank in the wash or stretched a bit too much with wear and it's no longer flattering or has to be constantly hoiked up, but it's too late to return it. If you can't (or don't want to) have it altered, get rid of it—swap, sell or donate.
- Keep everything where you can see it. Out of sight = out of mind = never worn. The last two dresses I bought before my shopping ban started were hanging in my spare room because I didn't want the pleats/gathers to get crushed in my packed wardrobe, and I then promptly forgot I ever bought them. (But despite moving them into my main wardrobe, I still keep forgetting they're there! Next week!)
- Shop/remix your closet. Cull the crap, make the most of what you keep. (Find more useful advice here.)
- Plan ahead for what you will wear the next day.
- Set little challenges for yourself, like wearing something 'new' every day or wearing a different pair of shoes at work each day so the neglected stuff gets its moment in the spotlight. Today I'm wearing a pair of boots I haven't worn since last year. Maybe not since 2014, but I love them too much to ditch them.