Why I’m giving up….clothes
For Lent I’m giving up…..clothes. Don’t worry, not in the vein of of Dr Victoria Bateman, the naked Brexit campaigner who has decided that as her writing has not garnered her Remain sentiments enough attention, decided to strip naked in public with only the word ‘Brexit’ scrawled across her breasts and consequently managed to so flummox John Humphreys on the Today programme recently that he made an even bigger ass of himself than usual.
No, despite sharing Bateman’s political views on this one, I will be keeping my clothes firmly on between now and the proposed Leave date of March 29th. So you can breathe a sigh of relief now. Having not been willing to even attempt dry January, nor Veganuary, what I am going to do instead, which has nothing whatsoever to do with Brexit, and nothing even to do with serious religious abstinence, is just stop buying clothes for a few months. Radical I know.
I made this decision when, as part of a recent Kondo-esque frenzy I did an audit of all the garments I currently own. My findings were thus (bear in mind this was post-Kondo, the pre Kondo figures would have been much more impressive):
Dresses (work): 14
Trousers: (work): 7
Dresses (day, non work, eg. holiday type stuff): 17
Dresses (evening/going out): 7
Jeans: 11 pairs
Tops: Couldn’t be arsed to count
Shoes: Don’t even go there
Hardly a capsule wardrobe, and definitely a sharp contrast to the early 90’s when I backpacked my way round the world, and two t-shirts, two pairs of shorts, and a pair of flip flops seemed to do me just fine. Too busy ‘consuming’ culture, nature and life itself, clothes and what they signified for that blissful year meant nothing to me. Fast forward to my forties and my baggage consists of an excess of clothes, a large proportion of which I don’t wear, don’t even like and certainly don’t need.
I think I get my love of clothes from my mother. As a northern pub landlady she knew the value and power of glamour. In the 80’s, her work wardrobe had to be something that carried through a lunch time shift behind the bar until closing time. She practically invented ‘day to night’. The pubs she ran were busy and popular and she had a firm belief that customers had certain expectations of her when it came to her appearance. So much so, that she would never wear the same outfit running on consecutive Saturday or Friday evenings should a regular weekend drinker god forbid see her in the same outfit. She was a consummate professional: nails were painted, hair was coiffed, (always Elnette) shoes were heeled and lipstick always always Estée Lauder. Her ‘frocks’ as she called them, tended to be Berketex, polyester, printed, and of course, padded of shoulder. And never ever would she venture anywhere without her face on.
This sense of the importance of armour, a work uniform, a weekend uniform, any sort of outfit if I am honest, has now been passed to me. I’ve even grown two separate wardrobes to distinguish between my work and my civilian clothing. Not in a fancy SJP way, but just because I like to shut my wardrobe doors on my working week & when I slip into an old sweater and jeans I know I am ‘off’ because I look more like me in those kind of togs. Work me wears tights, work me wears posh high street dresses and heels and painted nails. Work me also stops at about 6 pm on a Friday night and wants to look completely different for 48 hours. But over the years, that distinction and let’s face it, a fair commitment to buying said clobber, has led to the amassing of a lot of ‘looks’.
My dedication to having an outfit for every eventuality means that I am perpetually sartorially prepared for any interview, wedding, weekend lunch, girls’ night out, cosy night in, country walk, weekday supper, gym session or school run you can throw at me. But more recently the need to have this month’s must haves has dwindled. Because, you see, I’ve already got a shirt dress, a maxi dress, a big knit, a tea dress, LBD a plenty, innumerable items of sparkly shit for party season, and a massive collection of basic t-shirts and sweaters. I’ve got brogues, glittery heels, kitten heels, knee high and ankle boots, I’ve got pleated, midi, mini and a-line skirts, I’ve even got a cocktail skirt with taffeta. I’ve got stuff in velvet, silk, cashmere, I’ve got stuff that’s black, stuff that’s neon, stuff that’s leopard print. I’ve got military, boho, and even coachella (should I ever need it at 47), covered. I’ve literally got enough ‘looks’ in my wardrobe that the only reason I have honestly been continuing to buy stuff in recent years is because it’s more often than not ‘shopping’ is something to do.
A wander round town for an idle hour on a Saturday, with a Visa debit card in my pocket, a friend by my side and an hour or so on our hands has become as routine as eating or breathing among me and my girlfriends. ‘A bit of shopping’ (often followed by a long lunch or a nail bar session) has become a habitual antidote to a busy working week, a way of passing the time and little by little, depleting the bank account. But increasingly the constant transacting, collecting, re-ordering, sorting, donating, has been leaving me feeling despondent. It is kind of about excess, kind of about pointless consumerism, kind of about being bored with fashion because surely there has got to be something a bit more meaningful hasn’t there? And it’s a little bit about wanting to do my bit to save the world.
We now know that the ‘fast fashion’ propagated by the very stores I visit when I fancy a retail hit, such as H&M, Zara, Mango, Top Shop, Primark et al is incontrovertibly damaging the planet. The latest data from organisations like WRAP* is enough to put anyone off splurging on the latest camo trend this Spring: 800,000 tonnes of waste is produced annually by the clothing industry alone in the UK; we also buy over a million tonnes of the stuff each year in the UK, with 235 million items of clothing making their way to UK landfill each year.
And I’ve realised that whilst I am busy washing out my Marmite jars and diligently recycling my food packaging, I can no longer keep turning a blind eye to the industry that I feed with my casual £50 spend here, another £70 there, when women and girls are paying with their lives in Bangladesh garment factories and the polyester so beloved of my mother’s generation because it freed them from the shackles of the weekly ironing, is pouring plastic into our oceans.
So I have reached the conclusion that it has got to stop, so you won’t see me online or in store til mid April. I’m on a clothing cleanse, a dress detox if you will, and for once, trying to keep it capsule.
*For more information on WRAP’s sustainable clothing action plan and to learn more, go here: https://www.loveyourclothes.org.uk/about