My Pre-Loved Year
I’m not someone who looks to fast fashion for my clothes. I expect my clothes to serve me well – I’ve always shopped for quality over quantity. I want value in return for parting with my hard earned money.
I am concerned about the impact buying new clothes has from the environmental impact of production to the unsavoury working conditions for garment workers. I know that there are enough unworn clothes in wardrobes in the UK to fill a clothes rail stretching from New York to London and back two and a half times. I know that only 1% of the clothes we dispose of are recycled. Most are sent to landfill – often in other countries. We export the problem. And I know that there are already enough clothes on the planet to clothe the next 6 generations.
With that in mind, in January 2022, I pledged, on air on LMFM with Sinead Brassil, not to buy any new clothes for a year (underwear and shoes excepted). My aim was to really delve into the circular economy for clothes and look at the offerings for preloved, rental, borrowing, swapping - to see what is out there. Could I find what I wanted and needed?
The answer is yes I could and yes I did. And, surprisingly, it wasn’t as difficult as I was expecting. The satisfaction of finding something gorgeous, knowing there is probably only one of them, is very sweet. The item is valued and cherished more because it is rarer and took more effort to find. Having shopped this way for a year, I will continue to shop pre-loved, where and when I can.
What have I learnt?
1. I already have everything I need. I have enough clothes to create a new outfit every day for several months without buying anything new. On average during 1930s America, women had less than 10 items in their wardrobe. Most women actively wear 20% of their clothes 80% of the time.
2. There are gems to be found in the second hand market place, if you know what you’re looking for and where to look. When you find something that ticks all the boxes; colour, style, fit, function, then snap it up. There will only be one of them. I lost a couple of things because I hesitated. When I returned to buy them they were gone. My favourite places to go are Thriftify, Siopaella and my local charity shops. There are plenty of online and offline locations.
3. Finding a one-off piece, or a piece with a story behind it feels so much better than impulse shopping for items that are ubiquitous. And there’s the satisfaction that you are being sustainable.
4. Renting clothes, particularly occasion wear, allows you to wear something you might not otherwise afford and the garment won’t be ‘squatting’ and taking up space in your wardrobe for the other 364 days of the year. Most rental companies will take care of the laundering. All you have to do it collect and return within a given time frame. [I rented from DesignerRoom.ie and was delighted with the selection on offer. I know what suits me so I had my choices made online before my appointment. It was a case of trying those when I was there and choosing the best one. The service Rhoda provides is exemplary from start to finish.]
5. Swapping clothes is a great way of moving items from the wrong wardrobe to the right one. I did this with a group of clients. I matched the right clothes to the right woman. Clothes were passed around, rather than being sent to the charity shop or to be recycled.
These Are My Top Tips
· Switch off subscriptions and emails from clothing companies. Unfollow these and influencers on your social media platforms – unless you use them for inspiration. Stop the temptations and have a purchase pause. Instead, subscribe to pre-loved sites such as Thriftify. Set up notifications on Vestiaire, eBay and Depop; filter by size, colour, size. If you shop regularly, browse in your local charity shops.
· Go through your wardrobe, item by item, and understand what you have and what you haven’t. Create new outfits, and colour combinations with the clothes you already own.
· Have a shopping list. Know where your clothing gaps are and focus there first.
· Make sure that everything you buy will work with your existing clothes. Plan on making at least six outfits with every purchase. Or it must be a very useful item for you.
· Use the sizing as a guide (not a target) and shop above and below your normal size. Always try on before you buy. If you shop online, make sure there is a returns policy, and when the garment doesn’t suit send it back. Someone else will buy it.
For me, being sustainable is to refuse to buy the clothes that don’t belong on me or in my wardrobe; those that don’t suit my personality; aren’t useful; aren’t in a style which is aligned with me, my values and what I represent. I use fashion as a guide and as inspiration rather than an edict for what I buy.
As an image consultant my role is to show my clients (male and female) how to dress to express who they are, how to be authentic which in turns increases their self-esteem and confidence. That starts with a consultation so that they learn which clothes belong in their wardrobe and which don’t. Honouring their own personality is key. That together with knowing which colours are the most flattering, means they have a very functional wardrobe. They see themselves as the valuable people they are. They are liberated from buying clothes that don’t belong on them. They know how to choose well so they buy less and buy better.
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