One year shopping fast: What I learned

As it happens, I am one year into a clothes shopping fast. I haven’t bought any clothes for myself for over a year, with one exception to the rule: a wool scarf from the Norwegian design house and wool manufacturer Lillun.

It is a shopping fast that has evolved somewhat unintentionally from the starting point of a minimal budget and an unease around the ethics and sustainability of fast-fashion – or lack of, rather. More than a fast, it has been a paralysation. In the wait of doing proper research and getting my head around what a sustainable wardrobe really means, time has just crept on.


What I learned from a year with no clothes shopping

Need is a slippery concept

Need and want are often entangled. I say to myself I really need another pair of jeans, more plain cotton tops and new sneakers. But then, somehow, I still manage without. I mended the jeans and continue to use them. I make full use of the tops I do have, then wash and repeat. My shoes are worn, but not fully worn out.

I have come to realise that most of the things I think I need are really things I want. Don’t get me wrong, wanting things is perfectly okay! But it is liberating to realise there is no desperate, life-threatening need in every one of those wants. It is not like I am literally faced with no garments to cover my body, it is just that I’d prefer something new here and something different there.

Perfection is not always necessary

Most of my clothes are not perfect. They don’t match my ideal of ethically made, well-fitted garments of quality materials. Nor do they come together as a functional whole with a cohesive colour palette and a few well-chosen style-characteristics, like “classic”, “refined” or “parisian-cool”.

I wish they did. I love reading blog posts about how to “build a capsule wardrobe”, “build your dream wardrobe” or “define your style”. I also want the ideal wardrobe: a curated set of clothes that fit me and my lifestyle perfectly. I am just not quite there yet.

As the year without shopping has evolved I have temporarily turned away from the idea of attaining a perfect wardrobe. The goal has shifted towards making the most of what is there. The pressure of the perfect is less overwhelming. At the end of the day, clothes are clothes and for that purpose my wardrobe is perfectly adequate.

Slow is okay

Going slow gives me time to consider, before buying anything new.

Knowing I can actually make do without most of the things I “need”, leaves me free to choose where to indulge and do so in my own good time. I don’t need to rush around in desperation settling for last-minute purchases to fill wardrobe gaps. Experience tells me I can probably do without those items a little longer.

While I wish my wardrobe consisted of beautiful pieces from ethical, slow fashion brands, most of my clothes are in fact acquired over the years from cheap chain-stores. Making the most of them instead of rushing to get them replaced, is really slow fashion at its core. Albeit less glamorous.

Clothes come my way

The odd thing is, clothes have come my way despite my shopping fast. Two wool jumpers, a cotton cardigan, two shirts, a pair of leather gloves and a leather handbag have all been given or passed on to me through the course of the year.

These are things I probably wouldn’t have chosen to buy myself, nor are they things I necessarily need. Still, I feel a deep sense of connection to them knowing who owned them before me. They are now among the things I reach for most when I open my wardrobe.

Not shopping is a relief

There is of course one important reason why I have made it through a year without clothes shopping. While I am drawn to the new and beautiful, I don’t actually enjoy shopping itself that much.

Abstaining from shopping is not a loss to me, but rather a relief. It means I don’t have to browse through racks upon racks of clothing in crowded stores. I don’t have to assess the fit and look of a garment under the fluorescent lighting in a changing room. I don’t need to stand in long queues by the till. I don’t have that empty feeling of failure after a shopping expedition that resulted in nothing.

Not shopping also means not being on the look-out. That, in itself, is a relief. All the releases, all the seasonal promotions and sales, it is like they don’t apply to me. I don’t have to think about them, and apart from the fleeting burst of desire, I let them go and generally forget all about them. One day, perhaps, I think. But not now.

Where to go from here

I have written about not shopping previously, in connection with the Stash Less Challenge. My thoughts are still the same: the aim is not to stop buying things as such, but to be mindful of how we shop and why.

I didn’t particularly set out on this shopping fast, nor do I envisage it as a permanent state. But the experience has nevertheless left me feeling empowered and inspired to move onwards:

  • A fast-fashion fast now seems doable, not impossible. Even on a limited budget.
  • Also, I realise I don’t need to put together a perfect wardrobe for the coming season. All I need is to build upon what I have and take my time doing so: mend, make, repurpose, and invest in a few new things – and do so purposefully.


Fancy trying a shopping fast for yourself?

The style bee offers a free 30-day shopping fast workbook.

There is also lots of inspiration to be found in Katrina Rodabaugh’s approach to slow fashion. She is three years into her fast-fashion fast, which started with the Make-Thrift-Mend project.