You get to a stage in life when you have to question the sustainability of your clothes-buying choices. So hearing a radio interview with someone who’d stopped buying clothes for a year, I decided to give it a go myself.
I made a few exceptions – I was allowed to buy from charity shops and I was allowed to make my own. If absolutely desperate, I was permitted to purchase new underwear – I couldn’t be expected to buy that second-hand. But in the main, the idea was to go through the bags of ageing stuff I keep in a drawer under my bed, recycling items that hadn’t seen the light of day for a while.
There was some difficulty in this because for a large part of my life I’ve been a bit of a clothes horse. I’ve never been into high-end fashion, or spent a lot on any one item, but there was a time, in my twenties and thirties, when I’d buy a new garment pretty much every week.
The origins of this habit go back even further.
My mum, my aunt and cousin were big on clothes shopping. Saturdays during my teenage years were centred on trips to Newcastle, where coming away empty handed was a miserable option. My aunt and cousin would be doing the same and would call at our house on the way home to display their haul.
My aunt in particular was, according to my mum, the style guru of the south Durham colliery towns. Many of my mum’s old stories focus on the various outfits they bought as girls and young women, mainly from C&A, and my aunt’s views on what to wear and how to wear it. This would be during the 1930s and 40s, so god knows how they found the cash or the clothing coupons.
There were a couple of highly-accomplished seamstresses in the family too, who feature in many of my mum’s more salacious tales. Perhaps it was their influence, but my mum and her sister were very into making stuff – sewing, knitting, crochet. There are photos of me from the 70s in the products of their industry – from lurid paisley mini-dresses to huge autumnal ponchos.
Fast forward and there came a point in my forties when I realised that fashion was passing me by.
I’d ditched the 9 to 5, the cash flow dried up and the question of what to wear today started to be largely irrelevant. I had a growing awareness too of the crimes associated with fast fashion – the questionable conditions the garments were made in, coupled with the environmental impact of all that viscose.
This coincided with me obtaining a sewing machine and starting to craft garments of my own – part of my entry into the world of old-ladydom perhaps, but there was an ethical dimension too. It was great to know where your clothes were coming from and that you could choose natural fibres. Plus I think there’s just something good for the soul about making stuff.
It worked out pretty well, I think.
I got to make some nice, if amateurish, items that I still cherish. Plus I rediscovered a lot old-favourites; clothes bought in Jigsaw, Whistles and the like over a decade ago that have more staying power than similar items today.
And I revisited a pastime of my youth; trawling through the rails in charity shops. These days, I’ve found, it’s mostly Primark and H&M selling for more than the original price, but I did pick up few great pieces.
The experiment ended after a year and I do buy new again nowadays, even the odd bit of viscose. But looking back it was a revelation. It made me stop and think about my choices – because really, fashions come and go with alarming regularity. And there are only so many Breton-stripe T-shirts you can wear in any one year.