I think I accidentally fell into this pledge. I mentioned it to a friend as a thing I’d heard about. This friend loves fashion (her other passions are the news and politics and she used to run her own PR company so she’s no lightweight) and she is always immaculately dressed in a varying array of lovely clothes that are both fashionable and timeless at the same time. When she responded with a ‘I’ll do it if you do it’ I was very unprepared. It was November 2019. How little we knew about how the world was about to change and how it would affect our sartorial choices, perhaps forever.
Where to start? No rules:
So I fell into it and there we were. The last item I’d bought was an Ilse Jacobsen raincoat like this:
I’d wanted it for a while since I’d agreed to let a dog into our household and I have worn it nearly daily since then. I didn’t even really count it as buying clothes! But there we were, I had agreed to the deal and had to figure it out from there. I googled it to see what other people’s experiences were and found a few guidelines. One said, just start, or you’ll over think it and do too much prep and worry about what you’ll need in advance. Check. Another said, don’t make too many rules for yourself, again, just do it and see what you learn. This would prove useful when incredulous friends and family asked if I was allowed to buy underwear, shoes, pyjamas, be gifted clothing etc. I didn’t have any answers but that was ok. I just knew that I would have to stop spotting the latest must have item and buying the Zara version of it as soon as it was released. Incidentally, I retook the pledge, with my co-founder Luke Gaydon, in February 2020 when, friend of Terra Neutra, Amy Powney launched her FahionourFuture campaign. So in the end my abstinence lasted fourteen months, but who’s counting?
What I did do...
Apart from wearing my existing clothes more and for longer I learnt to shop my wardrobe. I never got round to the big audit, taking all my clothes out and seeing what went with what. But I did do a seasonal clear out and hid my summer clothes so that I had better access to what I had. After that I found some new combinations of clothes that, by concentrating a bit, made me realise I could put them together, and voila a new outfit emerged that I would never had thought of before. I also learnt the art of wearing items of clothing in different ways, I found I had a black top with a slight frill at the neck, I no longer loved the top but under a jumper it gave the impression I was wearing a newly fashionable frilly neck and there was no need for the new purchase I might otherwise have made.
Charity shop buying
I had never been a charity shop buyer, too little time, too much to sift through but I knew it was the thing to do. Fortunately for the likes of me I live very near (I mean VERY near) a Mary’s Living and Giving and Shelter Boutique. These are the upscale versions of Save the Children and Shelter. They do all the work so you don’t have to, with seasonal editing, limited stock, clear sizing and helpful staff. My first purchase was this jacket which was pristine, from Boden and fitted me like a glove. It works with jeans and skirts and over dresses, I absolutely live in it. It cost me £40 so it wasn’t cheap like some charity shop finds are but it meant I made a significant contribution to a good charity and gave a new home to an item of clothing that might otherwise have ended up in landfill. These high end charity shops have come in for criticism as the clothes are more expensive and have priced out bargain hunters used to more reasonable prices, but I was grateful for them. The downside is that I also ended up inadvertently buying a few brand new items, donated by the likes of M&S and Jigsaw. I agonised over this when I realised as one of my reasons for not buying new was to reduce my carbon footprint. By buying new clothes I wasn’t doing that. I’ve since learnt that these were samples and samples are one of the many issues the fashion industry has to fix - how do they responsibly deal with samples when they can’t sell them in the shops? On the upside it also made me a bit braver, one of the samples was an orange cashmere polo neck, I convinced myself it was really bright red and it would be fine. And it was fine, it went under jackets and dresses and shirts but I would NEVER have bought an orange jumper before this challenge.
As I reviewed my wardrobe I came across items that were in need of some love. I had a Joseph chunky cashmere polo neck that I had bought when my son was 2, he’s now 16. I took it to a local clothes repair shop and they managed to mend holes and ladders and did an amazing job. My sister also took a pair of my jeans that had a hole in and did a beautiful mend using the Japanese art of Boro. I love those jeans so much more now and always have a nice memory of her doing that for me.
In your head
One of the major upsides was the liberation. I love fashion, I love keeping up with the trends and buying the September issue. I love how good clothes can make you feel great. But this experiment really liberated me from wanting to buy new clothes all the time. It was so much easier to be going somewhere or doing something and not thinking about what new item of clothing would be perfect for it. I learnt to think about my wardrobe and be happy with what was there. And where there was a gap to add that to a list of things to look out for in my charity shop wanderings.
Online and Digital
I did go through my email and delete the emails from all the retailers I’d ever bought from (I’m not an email clean freak), I unfollowed some of the influencers I’d picked up on instagram but I found some fantastic and inspirational new ones. Not.needing.new, Charity Shop Diva, I got it from the charity shop, I prefer preloved and _Sarah Chuck to name a few. I also followed some hashtags like #slowfashion and #sustainablefashion which threw up some new ideas, images and concepts.
Clearly the pandemic made not buying new clothes that bit easier. The shops were shut and we weren’t going anywhere. That said I remember thinking that there were some incredible bargains and this was the year to snap up some high quality pieces at much lower prices. But I didn’t, it didn’t feel right and I wouldn't have known what to go for with so much choice and the need to predict how I’d feel about wearing these items when I next had the chance.
New year’s resolutions
So now that I’m done, I intend to continue to be mindful about my purchases. I’ll still wear and shop my wardrobe, fix my clothes, I will borrow or rent occasion wear. I will buy new clothes (especially trousers as they are much harder to find and fit second hand) but from brands that are reducing their impact on the planet and it’s people to as little as possible. sustainable fashion brands like Riley Studio,BEEN London, Reformation,Kapara London and Everlane. There are some great platforms like The Vendeur, Reve En Vert and The GoodFound which only sell sustainable fashion brands and if you’d like someone to help you assess a high street brand you can use the app Good On You.Charlotte, Co-founder Terra Neutra.