From frivolous to finely-tuned: How my clothes habit has evolved

clothes in a pile
Public Domain Unsplash / Angela Bailey

I am pickier, stingier... and much happier.

I recently took ThredUp's Fashion Footprint Quiz to calculate how many pounds of carbon my fashion habits generate each year. It was a silly little quiz, asking me to estimate the number of tops and bottoms and dresses I buy each year, how many loads of laundry I do per month, and whether I shop in-store or online, but I still felt a surge of pride at seeing the result: "You're a green queen! Your fashion habits contribute to 285 lbs of carbon emissions annually. Your footprint is 82 percent lower than the average consumer." (It's still equivalent to nearly two flights between San Francisco and Los Angeles, but hey, a girl's gotta wear something.)

I didn't always have these eco-friendly fashion habits. I used to shop weekly, filling my closet with cute fast-fashion pieces that looked great for a few nights before stretching, fading, pilling, and getting abandoned. I'd do occasional wardrobe purges that resulted in most things getting tossed in the trash because they looked too shabby to donate. Perhaps it's a combination of aging and maturity and all the learning I've done over the past eight years as an environmental writer, but there has been a fundamental shift in the way I view clothes shopping.

Most noticeably, I rarely purchase new clothes (and I'm not buying anything new this year). There's such great used stuff available that it makes little sense to spend extra money on new. It can be fun to chase down great finds and peruse the racks of a good thrift store. Plus, I know too much about fashion production and do not want to contribute to yet more waste and pollution. Extending the life span of someone else's castoffs is fine with me, even if it does take patience.

I am getting pickier about how I spend my money. (I've been reading a lot of financial independence bloggers.) It seems insane to drop $250 on a selection of tops and bottoms that will fall from favor within a few months, but I don't hesitate to spend that on a pair of high-quality winter boots or an insulated parka that I'll wear every single day for five months of the year for a decade.

I pay attention to things I never used to care about – the type and thickness of fabric, the place of origin, the maker, the seams. I do careful examinations for holes and stains. I do sitting/squatting tests in the change room and practice taking an item off. I consider how it would feel layered with other items or worn under a bulky coat or paired with shoes I own.

I have a new obsession with comfort. Whereas I used to buy trendy clothes and endure them for 'the look', I refuse to do that anymore. (Maybe I'm getting old?) Unless something feels absolutely fantastic, I'm not paying for it. Paying attention to comfort has helped me to develop a better sense of personal style and accept that I have strong preferences, i.e. I prefer jeans and dressy tops over dresses, I hate all high heels, I overheat quickly and should always wear short sleeves to parties, etc. (The weekly wardrobe planner, 'A Year of Great Style', helped me with this.)

My wardrobe is finally reflecting my lifestyle. I used to fill it with a range of clothing styles, from casual to professional to fancy, but the clothes didn't align with my actual life, most of which is spent sitting in front of a computer at home, hanging out with children, or going to the gym. I don't have a professional office job, nor do I have cocktail parties or corporate functions to attend. What I do wear most days are leggings, a cozy sweater, and thick socks. So that is where my focus should be, on acquiring pieces that I'm going to wear in my real life.

When I do buy new clothes, I plan it in advance and enter stores only for specific items – and I almost never pay full price for anything. I head straight for the clearance racks at the back of the store, which used to make me feel embarrassed, but now I don't care at all. I wait for sales to happen, then swoop in to buy. I do it all in-store and never online, unless I've tried on a specific item before and know it fits well.

Finally, I do regular and diligent purges twice a year. I have very limited closet and dresser space, so every spring I pack away my winter clothes and bring out the summer ones, then do the opposite in the fall. It's my chance to remove anything that didn't live up to my expectations or get worn often enough, and donate back to the thrift store. It's easy to let go of pieces I've paid so little for and it helps to cement in my mind what I do and don't like wearing.

Every year, I feel like I get better at dressing myself, at knowing my body, at finding styles and deals that delight me, and weeding out the less-than-perfect items from my closet. Because it's an ongoing challenge, it never loses its excitement.

From frivolous to finely-tuned: How my clothes habit has evolved
I am pickier, stingier... and much happier.

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