It recently dawned on me that I am an uber-consumer. I buy clothes like they are crack, I revel in my excitement over finding gems amidst the crowded racks and ride that high all the way home with my haul. Here, I will pull them all out and make my husband spectate as I traipse around our living room like a poor man’s catwalk model, all the while exclaiming, “this was ONLY $4!” and “just LOOK at these FRILLS” and berating the poor man for his inability to share my overwhelming enthusiasm for statement earrings.
It’s not all my fault: I don’t drink, I don’t eat sugar, my ‘party days’ seem a distant memory. Shopping is my drug of choice.
Alas, as with any addiction, what goes up, must come down (and come down HARD). This means that the thrill of the chase and the sparkly newness of clothes quickly fades, and I need more. Usually I wear my new things once (if at all), before they are swallowed by my bulging wardrobe and forgotten about, replaced by my next exciting fix. I would bring bags and bags of clothes home at a time, and when I had too many, I would sort through them and cull them, donating them back to the op-shops, selling them on eBay or gumtree and palming them off to same-sized friends.
I’m not in denial about my problem. I once read The life-changing magic of tidying up and was inspired to declutter. I cleared my email inbox, tidied my bookshelf and purged unused appliances from my kitchen. But clothes? No such luck. Marie Kondo could take her minimalist approach and shove it. The purpose of her method (to ask “does it spark joy?” to assess whether to keep an item) was moot when it came to my wardrobe. Because prints, colours, sequins, pom-poms, lace, tulle and tassels genuinely excite me. All my clothes SPARK JOY. I’m feeling wistful just thinking about them as I type this.
And I’m aware this is a problem.
But, it’s all OK, because everything I buy is secondhand. Right? For a very long time, I have justified it as so. It’s a victimless crime. Unlike fast-fashion addicts, whose behaviours may mimic mine somewhat, I am not supporting a system in which I demand something brand new be created for me every time I want a new outfit. I’m not directly supporting that evil, faceless corporation or the capitalist agenda. I am not rewarding brands for doing the wrong thing. Recycling? Reusing? I had those down. Trouble is, I was ignoring that third and most crucial ‘R’ word of the bunch.
I had become, as I have already stated, an uber-consumer. I had stopped buying into the big brands but I was still purchasing mindlessly and unsustainably. The stress of needing new (well, ‘new’ to me) and trying to successfully store copious amounts of clothes in my tiny apartment was taking its toll.
In some ways, secondhand shoppers can probably be more prone to bringing home excessive amounts of clothing, for several key reasons.
Firstly, it’s cheap as chips. Everything seems like a bargain (and it probably is). There is a reason why the “buy more, buy more!” retail mentality is so effective: it taps into basic human psychology in a way that makes us feel super proud of ourselves to be grabbing a good deal.
I’d say there is also something in the thrill of the chase you get from thrifting. It feels like a modern-day treasure hunt and when you find things you love – those unique, one-of-a-kind vintage pieces, or that elusive Gorman print – it’s all quite exhilarating.
Plus, the subconscious smugness that comes with feeling like you’re doing a good thing (perhaps giving to a charity, or saving the environment) through your purchase makes the hauls seem justified.
I know I’m not the only one. I have attended clothes-swap events where women go so gaga over piles of fabric that it was reminiscent of those infamous videos of the stampede of people ‘shopping’ on Black Friday in the USA. Women ripping clothes off racks and out of other people’s hands before they even know what they’re fighting for.
This needs to change. To think globally and act locally, I needed to do something to curb my shopping habits. I needed to break the cycle.
From here, the Shop Your Wardrobe Challenge (#SYWchallenge) was born. In line with Fashion Revolution Week, I decided to buy ZERO new clothes (secondhand, or otherwise) for the entire month of April. For many people, no shopping for 30 days is a breeze. But for me, it was practically the AA of the apparel world, and I was quitting cold turkey. A daunting, albeit necessary task.
I encouraged others to join me on Instagram with the hashtag #SYWchallenge, because everything’s easier when you don’t have to go alone, isn’t it? And watching the magnificent outfits this glorious Instagram community were putting together each day became like a fun game. And nobody wants to be the one that loses the game. Sharing this experience with so many incredible people has been, above all, inspiring. Women are wearing clothes in the most brilliant, inventive ways and making full use of their wardrobes.
Most of all, women are supporting each other, with thousands of comments showering each post with love and appreciation. Women propping up other women in this way lights up my soul and warms my heart. This is a safe, fun and supportive space for all involved and has made the whole experience truly special.
For me, this challenge meant no shopping at all. For others, it meant dipping in and out (maybe taking a week off shopping), limiting purchases to a select number of garments, or just wearing clothes they hadn’t worn in a while (or ever). The idea was to treat your wardrobe like a shop and use what you already have in creative ways to make new and exciting looks (or revisit old favourites).
SO – what have I learnt from this month’s challenge? Hang tight, as in the next few days I will post about what I have learnt this month, with a further exploration of how the #SYWchallenge has expanded my understanding of consumerism and will shape my future shopping habits.
In the meantime, keep posting amazing #SYWchallenge outfits and let’s finish this month with a bang!