Embracing mindful shopping for a wardrobe that lasts

Last week I read an article by Lucy Siegle for Stylist about shopping more mindfully. In it, Siegle writes about letting go of the thrill of the fashion haul and embracing a “different way of thinking and buying that is calmer and more satisfying.” It’s a great article with loads of useful tips and it pretty much sums up my relationship with my own wardrobe, which made me realise that this perhaps something I don’t write about often enough.

Inspired by the thoughtful purchases of my own mother, I have always aimed to buy clothing that I can imagine wearing for several years. It started off as figuring out the cost-per-wear in order to justify buying something which appeared to be a little bit out of my usual budget but, having bought too many garments in my 20s just because they were in the sale only to hardly ever wear them, I realised that it was about more than the cost to my bank balance.

Top from Vivien of Holloway. Skirt from Love UR Look.I’ve always hated throwing clothing away – perhaps because studying textiles at GCSE and at university meant that I know how much work has gone into making even the most simple of garments – but even donating to a charity shop or organising a clothes swap makes me notice the garments that had never been loved. So I aim to buy items that a) go with a number of things I already own, and b) won’t be out of fashion in six months time. Siegle recommends stopping to think “Will I wear it 30 times or more?” which is good advice, especially for those who like to follow trends and would definitely get the wear out of a piece before it goes out of fashion, yet is perhaps a little trickier when it comes to occasion wear. Not everyone stays the same size, so keeping a party frock for decades is not always going to be possible.

Although I now have an exciting and varied wardrobe of clothing that I love, take care, of and would 100% wear over and over again, I am also conscious that the lure of buying new things is always there. Especially because I work in one of the busiest shopping areas in the world! When I challenged myself to buy nothing new for a particular period of time (in 2016 and again in 2017), I was initially frustrated at myself for having failed, but then I realised that the challenge had actually helped me think more carefully about how I was shopping and what I was buying.

I removed certain apps from my phone which had made it far too easy to make impulse purchases (e.g. ASOS, Ebay), and started saving clothing I liked to a Pinterest board rather than clicking ‘add to basket’. I made any lunch time shopping trips about research rather than spending, visiting stores like John Lewis where the turnover of lines on the shop floor is much lower. This means that you can try something on and then actually go away and think about it, or even wait to see if it appears in the sale. Shops like H&M get small runs of new stock so often that the I-must-buy-it-now-or-it’ll-sell-out instinct is always there. Department stores operate at a slower pace which allows you to remain calm and make more thoughtful purchases.

T-shirt from M&S. Pinafore from Topshop's archive collection.When buying new (or new-to-me) clothing I prefer to shop in person wherever possible, as it allows me to check the feel of the fabric and the quality of the seams and finishing. This is where my lunch time ‘research’ session come in handy. One autumn day, I tried on a beautiful good quality £99 dress and, rather than making an impulse purchase, decided to wait and see if it appeared in the sale. What did I find after Christmas? The same dress, in my size, reduced to £29.50 which I snapped up with a £30 gift voucher I’d been given. Waiting not only secured me a bargain, but it also meant that I was completely and utterly sure that I loved the dress. I’ve only worn it three or four times since then, but I’m mindful of that and it’s a classic that will stay in my wardrobe for many years to come.

The joy I get from the act of dressing is now immense, because pieces in the outfit I select will always have a story behind them. Today I’m wearing a leopard print skirt that I had added to my Pinterest board, but then ended up buying from someone I follow on Instagram when she was having a clearout. My cardigan is the result of several years of noting what was most important in a black cardie in order to track down the perfect one. I might even set a new rule for myself that I can only buy something I could happily talk about for three minutes!

If you’re interested in reading more about how you can make changes to your own wardrobe and shopping habits, check out issue 2 of the Fashion Revolution fanzine, Loved Clothes Last, which “hopes to inspire you to buy less, care more, and know how to make the clothes you love last for longer”.

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