How I’m going a year without buying new clothes for myself OR my kid

Guest post by Hannah Wernet
A year without buying new clothes
Wait, I CAN’T buy this?! Unicorn Sweater from Target

About six months ago, I started an experiment to see if I could go completely without buying any new clothes for myself, or for my little girl. This was triggered partly by concerns about the dubious ethics of fast fashion. But, if I’m honest, mostly by a couple of heart-stopping bank statements.

Whatever the reason, the challenge was simple:

One year, no new clothes

I did give myself one get-out of jail card — that I was allowed to buy a new bra if the underwire started poking out of an old one. So far, this hasn’t been necessary. I have plenty of bras, and they are all holding up well.

I would never have called myself a spendthrift before, but I would buy three or four items a month, usually a t-shirt, cute headscarf, or something else small and “essential.” And maybe twice a year have a big blow-out, and make my credit card bleed at Free People. That makes me, statistically, a very standard consumer — as the average shopper buys one new item of clothing a week.

So how has it been, as an average consumer, to give up shopping completely?

Well, it’s been easy. A total doddle. Not really much of a challenge at all, to be honest, more of a liberation. My bank statements are a lot more friendly too.

Thing is, when the new collections came out in the past, which in stores like Zara and HandM, is roughly once every five milliseconds, I would be in an anguish of lust and self-denial. “Ohh, I want it… so pretty… musn’t… too broke…” And then whether I bought the thing or not, I would be depressed, either at my own weakness, or through unsatisfied consumer urges. Now I walk breezily on. “No, I don’t need it. It’s probably rubbish anyway.”

Saving money is one good motivation to stop buying clothes, but for a deep assessment of how thoroughly shitty the fashion and textile industry is, read Overdressed by Elizabeth L Kline. It’s like visiting the sausage factory of fashion.

Taking the time to properly maintain the clothes you already have will keep them in action much longer

My tips for clothes maintenance range from some easy hacks, to the more advanced levels of sewing and knitting your own clothes…

1. Start by air drying clothes to maintain the quality of the fabric, rather than blasting them in the dryer. Spend a few TV-watching hours each week mending a few seams and sewing buttons back on. Speaking of which…

2. Keep a basket of supplies next to the sofa, so you don’t have to get up and hunt down a needle when Game of Thrones has already started. The whole idea of mending, and having a mending basket, sounds absolutely Victorian, but you wouldn’t chuck your car out because you had a flat tyre. For really big jobs, like repairing the lining in a coat or for shoes, you could find a professional, a lot of laundry services will also do mending, but get in the habit of actually fixing those clothes, and getting them back in action, rather than taking up space on the bottom of the closet.

3. It may sound obvious, but choosing a thread the same colour as the clothes, and work in good light, and even a gorilla with spanners for thumbs should be able to make an invisible mend.

4. If you are working with a very fine fabric that frays easily, paint the finished mend with clear nail varnish to make it more durable.

5. The easiest way, hands down, of getting old clothes back into circulation, is dying them. Cheap clothes in pale colours don’t last very long, before they go a depressing dirty grey. Giving them a dye job doesn’t only solve that problem, but it also hides a lot of wear and tear, such as pilling in the fabric. The days where you had to stand over the stove stirring a pot of dye are long gone. Now you just throw the dye and a pound of salt directly into the washing machine and put it through a normal cycle. Some of the modern dyes have even done away with the need for salt. This works well when your knickers have gone that weird grey-blue, when they used to be a sparkling bridal white.

6. A pair of mid-blue jeans that are too past it to fix are handy to have around for making patches. I know rips in jeans are cool right now, but not if they’ve formed at the crotch. Don’t choose fabric in a darker colour than your original jeans to mend holes at the crotch, or as a friend pointed out to me, it might look like you’ve wet yourself. These are your organ-donor jeans, that have sacrificed themselves so that others might live on. This nice lady will show you how…

7. Watch this video on how to darn socks for some pretty advanced granny skills…

Although, I think most of us have the problem that our socks don’t stick around long enough to get holes in them.

8. Use shoe polish. It seems so hopelessly retro these days, even the tins are about as twee as the Queen knitting a scone, but regular use will keep the leather in your shoes looking new and waterproof for years longer than normal. Good shoes aren’t getting any cheaper, and a few minutes with an old rag and one of those little tins can save you a lot of money.

9. And check out Pinterest for about a million ideas on how to upcycle your old clothes. For example, accidentally felted sweaters can often be turned into cute little mittens and things.

I’d love to hear any other tips and tricks out there for fixing clothes. Or is it just not worth the effort, as clothes are so ridiculously cheap these days anyway?

Comments on How I’m going a year without buying new clothes for myself OR my kid

  1. Am thinking about taking up this challenge for 2017. Just did a major clean out Konmari style…so much money wasted on unnecessary clothes! Did you shop at op shops or clothes swaps at all, or did ‘new’ clothes mean brand new as well as ‘new to you’?

    • For myself, no clothes at all, but I make an exception for my daughter, as I did when I put last year’s winter hat on her this autumn, and suddenly realised how much she had grown (specifically her head) . In this case I picked up a nice one for 50c at a thrift store. We get a lot of hand-me-downs from family members (which we did before the challenge as well) and when a friend who was staying with us moved out, she gave me a giant pile of her clothes that didn’t fit her properly. So I do have plenty of new items in my wardrobe, I’m just more creative about where I get them from. I think with cheap fashion becoming such a huge thing, hand-me-downs are somehow seen as shameful, like accepting charity that you don’t need, and if you come from a mid-income family, you feel a little cheeky requesting people to save thier kid’s clothes for yours when they are done with them.

  2. I am in the middle of loosing weight and when I’ve finished I’ll need to replace pretty much my whole wardrobe. But my plan is charity shops and carboot sales for the clothing and new underwear. But I love this, I’ve always been a bit of a fix it darning socks and hems and sewing on buttons. I’ve never tried dying clothes but I might just brave it!

    I think adding embroidery etc can also breath life into old clothes.

    • Dying clothes is much easier than it might seem. It took me forever to try it, but then my favourite ever top got forgotten in a damp bag for a while and ended up very faded so I decided to try it, and it literally is a matter of throwing things into the wash with the dye and maybe salt (follow the instructions on the pack).

      That top even has a pattern on it, which I was worried dye would ruin. But it’s a kind of plasticy print (I’m not sure what exactly it’s made from) and it was fine, the dye just didn’t take there. I thought it was a risk, but the alternative was to throw the top away without even trying.

      That gave me the confidence to try dying other things. I’ve not tried anything complicated like tie-dying yet, but simply throwing some clothes in the wash with dye is as easy as it sounds.

      • Have you tried natural dyes? Avacado skins and chopped up pips make a lovely pale 1940s
        peachy colour and blackberries a deep pink Rinsing in salt water seals the colour.

      • Just a comment of: ‘OMFG Re-Dye 4Evah!’
        I’m a costumer for a childrens theatre company, and I depend on dyes to maintain our collection! A white pirate shirt might be dyed as many as 5 colors over the years to keep it looking fresh! Blue, darker blue, pink overdye to get purple, then a red overdye for maroon, and finally black. A fresh dye job each time the previous colour gets manky looking, and, voila! A new-looking shirt! Our props and costumes get handled heavily and live in the sun, and that fresh tint covers a multitude of sins.
        One last unrelated thought: a stitch in time saves nine. Don’t be afraid to reinforce weak seams etc. BEFORE they become a problem.

  3. I very strictly keep to 50 hangers in my wardrobe, that’s all my dresses, skirts, shirts, sweaters, coats. If I really want to buy something then I have to weigh up whether I love it more than what I already have – would I throw out a dress I already have to be able to get this? Often that’s a no and it makes me appreciate what I have more, and sometimes it’s a yes and it helps me pare down my wardrobe to only things I love.

  4. I used to wear jeans all the time and like the video, my “crotchal” area was the first to go. I followed a method similar to hers to patch it, with a few notable exceptions.

    1) I would cut a square from an old pair of jeans I kept for that purpose.
    2) Serge around the square. This gives you the best fray-proof edge for the patch. Yeah you can put No-Fray around the edges but that makes the fabric stiff and did I mention this is for your crotch?
    3) Turn the jeans inside out and use temporary spray adhesive to stick the patch to the inside of the hole. This guarantees your patch won’t slip around as your sew it. ( If the inside seam of my pant was involved the patch was much larger than the one in the video. ) The adhesive is very light and it washes out in any case.
    4) Stitch the patch down.
    5) I didn’t have the patience to hand-darn the lose threads like she did in the video. And honestly you can still see the results so these jeans will never be your “good” jeans again. What I would do if the area was mostly still there ( i.e. frayed and worn, not an actual hole ) is run my machine back and forth over the patch on the right side of the jeans — basically sewing the loose threads down to the patch.

    • I had a favorite pair of jeans that I spent a fair bit of time mending. The bottom was the first to go (horizontal tear right at the seat of my pants). I fixed it all up really nicely, only for them to tear again a week later! The denim just deteriorated to such a state that they were going to continue tearing no matter what I did! I was pretty cut to throw away those jeans. SOOO comfy!

      Anyway, it’s taught me a valuable lesson about assessing what’s salvageable and what’s not.

      I’ve actually started to sew my own clothes. I’ve bought some second hand sheet sets from second hand shops, some indie patterns with good Internet reviews and I make things to fit me perfectly. I wear my handmade clothes far more often than my store bought items.

  5. What a wonderful coincidence that this article found it’s way to my inbox today! On December 30 I finished darning holes in my work socks and was wondering if I was, at 36 years, the only one who owns a darning egg, and repairs clothes! Thank you so much for confirming that I really am on the right track. The last time I bought “brand new” clothes (other than a bra and 4 pairs of undies, which totalled $27.50) was 2 years ago when I bought myself a beautiful new sweater for getting a promotion at work (it was a major splurge at $35 on the clearance, but it had the original tags & I didn’t have to mend it!).
    I will be getting married later this year and have spent an astronomical (can you taste the sarcasm?) amount on my dress. Including the red silk yarn imported from Yorkshire, England, the 2 vintage 1950’s white wedding dresses (to be deconstructed and repurposed), it has cost me $48. I am crocheting most of it and making a detachable train out of 1 dress and using the illusion neckline of the other.
    I am not a seamstress. I only hand sew but for thousands of dollars less than a new wedding dress & hundreds less than a used dress, I will be the most determined seamstress in town.

    This venture is totally doable & completely worthwhile! Congratulations on being fiscally responsible and helping in the fight against the tyrannical fashion industry!

  6. A few suggestions if you are new to dying clothes.
    1. Make sure to check the labels on the dye to make sure it will work on the fabric your clothes are made out of. Some dyes will only work on natural fabrics and some will only work on synthetic fabrics. Definitely do some checking before you buy your dye.

    2. Another thing to keep in mind that a lot the thread used in clothing is synthetic and might not change color if you use a dye formulated for natural fabrics. This is only really a concern if your garment has exposed stitching. Depending on the original color of the garment and your dye this can result in some nice contrast stitching. Or can totally ruin the look you were going for.

    3. I’ve also found it helpful to do an internet search for the results produced by the type of dye and color I’m thinking of using. Dye doesn’t always produce the exact color you think it will. I’ve tried dying things black only to have them come out more of a brown or even purple, because of the brand of dye and the fabric it was used on.

    4. If you decide to use the stovetop method wait until it’s warm enough to have the windows open. The chemical smell can get really strong unless you have the world’s most amazing exhaust fan above your stove. Also you should get a big cheap pot and only use it for dying. If you’ve got crafty friends you can all share custody of the dye pot.

    • I got white sheets to dye chocolate brown for tablecloths for my wedding – they came out a range from pink to light brown. I just rolled with it, but I really wish they had come out the chocolate brown of the dye that I bought…

  7. This sounds like a great plan. I’m particularly attracted by the fact you didn’t buy second hand clothes as well. A real re-thinking of what clothes you need to keep on hand!
    I’m curious if you had to make any special allowances for your daughter, since children routinely out-grow or wear out their clothes much faster than an adult.

    • Hey Kathy,
      I have bought a couple of items for my daughter from chaity shops, as I was taken by surprise by a sudden cold snap and didn’t have a warm hat for her, or the time to make one. Mostly, she wears hand-me-downs, which she did 99% of the time before the challenge anyway. We have a large extended family, and she is too young to mind wearing orange courdroy pants and the like.

  8. My biggest concern w/ washing machine dyeing is making sure there is no dye left in the machine afterwards. My husband & sons wash their all white canvas karate gis in the same machine several times a week. If there is residual dye and those get ruined, I’m in soooo much trouble LOL. Any tips? We have a front loading washer.

    • I have a front loader too and when I machine dye I follow it up by doing a load of dark colours afterwards, so I know it doesn’t matter if there is anything left and from that I’ve never had an issue even doing white sheets afterwards. Could also follow up by doing an empty load of a short cycle if you were worried

    • This, plus i make sure to wipe the rubber ring around the opening (sorry, can’t remember how it is called) if I’m washing at a high temperature after the dye cycle.
      I have a pair of black trousers that must be at least 15 years old. They’re 100% cotton and periodically, every two years or so, I’ll dye them black again when they start to fade. I found dye gives structure and strength to the fabric, they still look like new.
      I also dyed black a new pair of trousers that were a ugly shade of olive green. The color came out perfect, and the contrasting seams look like a fancy detail.
      I have trouble finding trousers i like and fit properly, so i don’t let a wrong colour scare me, especially if they’re cotton, which i prefer anyway.

  9. I live in a cold climate where wool clothing is the way to go. For kids especially. However, they tend to get ugly stains on any light coloured items. With woolclothes you can’t machine dye them, but you can colour them by “marinading” them in really strong. tea. Also I’ve taken to embroidering/embellishing some of my clothes. It makes them dearer to me and makes me remember the effort going into them. It looks classy, and makes it superhard to part with the clothes.

  10. I can see how not buying anything for a year can work for a grown-up, but for kids?? My daughter changes size every year, so at least once a year I’d have to get everything one size bigger, no? It doesn’t need to be new, granted, but still, I don’t see how you can go without buying stuff for kids?

    • Yeah, I was wondering the same thing. I was expecting to read something about her daughter, since the title specifically mentioned it. But I was disappointed that this article was all just clothing maintenance tips. I can see how clothing swaps and hand me downs could be helpful, but what about when your child reaches that age where kids are harder on their clothes and in them longer, so used clothes are harder to come by?

      I guess we’re just assuming her daughter is younger and perhaps she isn’t growing much anymore.

      • We have a lot of friends and family with kids a little older, and we get clothes from them. Thing is, a lot of them are not exactly my taste (a lot of princess crap), so that’s where the dying and the mending comes in. In the original article, I did have some tips specifically for kid’s clothes, for example, re-using grown-out-of leggings, by sewing the legs onto the sleeves of a t-shirt to make a long-sleeved top, but I guess it came in too long. Kid’s shoes are really expensive, and I got a never-worn pair recently. I spay-painted over all the little Princess Elsas, and now they are a lovely cherry red. The paint won’t last long, but she will have grown out of them soon anyway.

  11. Loving this! Your advice about caring for your clothes is incredibly sensible. I read some books about fast fashion in the past year and it was a real eye-opener. I thought my conscience was clear because I only thrift, but it’s waste all the same if I buy too many clothes.
    So my mission for 2017 will not to stay away from clothes, but to buy ethical clothes. I have a fairly rationalized capsule wardrobe and if one item falls out, I generally need a replacement. I’m going to focus on the ethics of clothes: vegan leather, ethical wool, no sweatshops, local cruelty-free brands. This will be interesting.
    PS Anyone has any tips for line-drying clothes outside in Canadian winter? We have a clothes rack to air-dry smaller items inside, but I’d rather hang larger items like sheets outside.

    • I have no advice on hanging outside unfortunately, but as a staunch air dryer who also lives in Canada, here are my tips for drying large things inside. If you have the space, you can get a larger drying rack and put the sheets over it (that’s what my mom does). If the doors in your house aren’t wood you can also hang sheets over them (DON’T hang wet sheets over wooden doors, my mom’s doors in her house have been damaged from this.) If you have a shower curtain you can also drape sheets over it, or use furniture creatively (again be wary of wooden furniture). I normally just do the door trick with no problems so far, though my washing machine is really efficient so it does a great job of spinning a ton of the water out. If you get any tips about outside in winter hanging, I’d love to hear them!

    • I’m lucky enough to have a four-poster bed. I hang the bed sheets over the frame to dry them, and they make the bedroom smell lovely too. I just have to remember to put them in the washer first thing, so that they will be dry by bedtime and I don’t have to sleep in a soggy yurt.

    • We don’t have an outdoor space for air drying, so we use a foldable clothes rack to air dry our clothes indoors, in a less used room. We only put large things like bed linen into the dryer.

    • Ceiling mounted racks are great, especially in rooms that get warm like the kitchen. Do be aware you’ll need to balance out the moisture that comes from the clothes, though – I’m assuming leaving a window open isn’t an option for you, but if you have air conditioning or a ventilator (or a dehumidifier) run it while the clothes are drying so you don’t get damp.

  12. Do people really by an average of one item of clothing per week? That baffles me. I have never in my life been a shopper, I absolutely hate it. Neither have I ever been UP on fashion. I just want to be comfortable so I buy comfortable clothes in fabrics that don’t wrinkle because I don’t own an iron and don’t plan to anytime soon!
    I think this a really awesome challenge and really great tips on how to keep your clothes around for longer! Because I refuse to spend more than $15 on any one item of clothing I think I do have the mentality that they’re “disposable” so if something rips or gets a stain mending or dying would never have even crossed my mind! I’ll have to file that in the back of my mind for the next “oh shit, this has a hole” incident! Thanks!

    • It’s pretty easy to end up buying one item of clothing a week. I bet a lot of us do, without realising it. For example, if I went to the stores tomorrow, and got a new bra, then three pairs of knickers to go with it, the total would probably come to about 30euro, but that would make it one item a week for the month of January, and I would totally think that they are “essential”, and have forgotton all about it by next month.

      • I guess if you average it out like that it makes sense. I was taking it a little more literally, like purchasing 1 item per week every week so 52 new items per year.

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