Along my wardrobe journey, I’ve oscillated between periods of rampantly gathering new pieces, like a stockpiling forest critter, followed by periods of analyzing, editing, and purging. In a way, it mirrors the way I write – the ebbs of scrambling to record my thoughts before they dissipate and the flows of plucking meaningful phrases out of a mess of words, and arranging them into what I hope to be coherent writing.
Large swathes of 2020 fell into the latter mode. Without access to my usual gathering grounds – secondhand stores, boutiques, and the public realm for IRL sartorial inspiration, I naturally turned my search for stimulus inward. Instead of chasing new places, sensations, and things, this year forced me to spend more time in my tiny apartment than ever before, crowded by a plethora of possessions I’d somehow amassed. Looking for comfort in both optimization projects and portals of escape, the closet seemed like a good place to start.
When my work hours were reduced, I turned to writing and ramped up my blogging output for a time, even though I often like I was the only beneficiary of my efforts (to anyone reading this, I do appreciate your time!). I went through the contents of my wardrobe and made careful subtractions. I dabbled in sewing. I looked at clothes online and made a long-term wardrobe plan. I also had periods of being so occupied that any bubbling thought of fashion or style was promptly buried under the work pile.
Over the last twelve months, I did bring a handful of new things into my wardrobe. Some well-calculated purchases that I thought about for weeks, if not months. Others less thoughtful buys stemming from pandemic fatigue and boredom. All in all, I brought in way fewer clothing items than previous years; not all the pieces are necessarily winners, but by default, there would be less space for losers.
|January 21||Blue buttoned shirt (thrifted)||$7|
|February 2||Navy parka (Frank and Oak)||$225.98|
|February 21||Chambray cardigan (thrifted)||$8|
|March 2||Grey knit tank (thrifted)||$3.65|
|March 4||Navy raincoat (Lole)||$99.77|
|May 5||Green culottes (Tentree)||$65|
|June 5||Mosquito repellent pants (WindRiver)||$53.99|
|June 5||Black sandals (Birkenstock)||$67.79|
|June 30||Yellow silk tank (thrifted)||$2.81|
|July 20||Beige linen buttoned shirt (thrifted)||$8.07|
|August 8||Silver sandals (L’Intervalle)||$62.14|
|September 4||Blue patterned scarf (thrifted)||$13.56|
|September 10||Grey merino leggings (Ridge Merino)||~$80|
|September 10||Black merino bralette (Ridge Merino)||~$43.19|
|September 14||Grey twill pants (Naked & Famous)||$97.23|
|November 7||Silk floral bodysuit (thrifted)||$4.99|
In total, I acquired 16 clothing pieces, or 8 items, not including outdoor gear, underwear, shoes, and accessories. In the beginning of the year I created a set of shopping guidelines for myself, with the goal to:
- Buy used as much as possible or new from companies I feel good supporting;
- Add pieces that enhance the function and versatility of my existing wardrobe; and
- Only buy things I can commit to wearing frequently and keeping long-term.
Let’s see how I did.
Of the items above, six were purchased in-person from physical thrift stores and two were bought new online. The two pairs of pants are from Tentree and Naked & Famous, both Canadian brands I’ve been following for some time. Tentree markets itself as a responsible, sustainable company, planting 10 trees for every garment it sells. Naked & Famous is a more under-the-radar company that creates high quality pieces – its primary offerings are denim – while poking fun at “celeb-obsessed” culture. Though my secondhand buys were definitely more environmentally- and budget-friendly, they all fall into the realm of unplanned, spontaneous finds. By contrast, the pants I purchased new were both carefully considered – the Naked & Famous pair had been on my list for over a year before I finally pulled the trigger. Half of my thrifted pieces were bought post-pandemic, pieces I probably picked up under slight stress (as it turns out, masks, gloves, and the itchy paranoia of viral particles everywhere do not make for a very pleasant afternoon of browsing), which may have influenced my decision-making (why risk your health to go home empty-handed?). Besides a few unwise, boredom-fuelled shopping excursions, on the whole, I’m satisfied with where I purchased my clothes from in 2020.
After many moons of buying pretty, unpractical things that would sit unworn in my closet, this year I wanted to focus on adding items that would complement and enhance my existing wardrobe. With the exception of the questionable, but amazing floral blouse/bodysuit, the items I acquired are all solid, versatile pieces that work with my colour palette and pair well with garments I already have. For the most part, they strike the balance of being interesting (no basic white t-shirts here), but not tiresome or challenging to style. As a collection, these eight pieces also make a nice little capsule, with lots of possible outfit permutations just among themselves. Half of these items have been worn over ten times during the <12 months I’ve had them; the blue patterned shirt and grey twill pants in particular have been “office” staples for me, while the olive green culottes are appropriately pyjama-like. The multi-coloured silk bodysuit is a bit of an outlier in the mix and a piece I’ve yet to really experiment with, although I have lots of outfit ideas brewing in my head. Verdict’s still out on whether this was a smart purchase, but I do think it has potential to brighten up my wardrobe in the dark wintery days ahead.
One of my motivations for creating my wardrobe catalogue was to unearth the memories and temporal qualities that my clothes carry. Done with rapid, fast-fashion-approved turnover cycles, I wanted to migrate towards a more “long-term” closet mindset. In terms of quality, that means buying things that are well-made, using durable materials, as opposed to low-grade, Franken-synthetic wares that threaten to unravel in the wash. This year I prioritized buying secondhand garments made with natural materials: silk, cotton, linen, and wool, as well as buying items from new that are designed to last. Style and function are other factors in longevity. Will I still like this garment a year or two from now? Will I still wear it? If you were to look at the piles of clothing I’ve decluttered over the past several years, the overwhelming majority of it would be pieces still in great condition. But for some reason or other, they didn’t work for me. I recognize that perceived obsolescence is at work here and while I want to live responsibly, I want to enjoy my style choices, too. Of these new pieces, I see at least five as being good bets for my 5-year wardrobe goal; in fact, the grey twill pants were actually in my August plan as a potential purchase. The yellow silk tank is one item that I bought with the intent of possibly transforming it, perhaps into more of a camisole-style top or repurposing the silk into underwear. Ultimately, only the future knows if these items will last in my closet, but 2020 was definitely a step in the right direction towards consuming more intentionally.
Looking back on this year of delayed plans, societal devastation, and mental roller-coasters, if nothing, at least my low-buy a success. Having the time to slow down and reflect a little more than usual has given me clarity about what I have, and less anxiety about what I don’t have. As well, the realization that I will always enjoy style experimentation and that means I won’t always make perfect decisions, no matter how much planning and forethought I put in.
I wish to carry these mindsets forward and continue my pattern of buying less, motivated by the trifecta of being a good steward for the environment, making good financial decisions, and using limits to further my personal style in creative ways. Not shopping felt natural to me this year; I didn’t feel restricted, like I was on a “fashion diet”. In a way, I can’t even fathom the days when I would regularly make thrift store “hauls” or find a pick-me-up in a cheap top from H&M – making mindless purchases that would total to buying a whole new wardrobe each year.
Whether this year’s revelations will mean permanent changes in the way I approach maintaining and building my wardrobe remains to be seen, but I can’t help but rejoice in the atmosphere of cautious optimism that is preceding the new year.