It is said there are 4 basic essentials in life: water, food, clothing, shelter. Personally, I’d add books to that. But, otherwise it’s hard to argue with this logic. These are the things you need.
Water, Food, Shelter, Books….Clothing?
However, how much and in what quantities do you need these things is the question. Food/water, you’d hope to get enough to be healthy and full. For shelter, you’d hope to have at least a safe, warm house. Books, as many as you can store in your safe, warm house, obviously.
That leaves clothing. How much of that basic necessity does one really need? For me, whether I needed clothes or not, I bought them, a lot of them, in mass quantities.
I used to love to go to Target or Nordstrom Rack weekly (yes, weekly) and get the latest trends, at a discount of course. I like a bargain, as if that somehow offsets things. And the shoes at Nordstrom Rack are just lined up in my size for ease of trying on. It’s like standing in front of a giant chocolate cake. How could I not take a bite?
Water, Food, Shelter, Books….Bye Bye Clothing
No, I didn’t decide to suddenly become a nudist and get rid of all my clothing. In November 2016, I decided it was time to go on a retail diet for the foreseeable future.
Since then, I have not purchased, for myself, a single piece of clothing. I bought 1 pair of sneakers because my other ones were a wreck. Otherwise, my retail purchases have been limited to food and books. (With the exception of gifts both received and given to others.)
Why am I doing this? Just to save money so I can buy more books? That’s just an added bonus. It’s really part experiment, part protest and part survival.
Part 1: The Experiment
I’ve been interested lately in this concept of a capsule wardrobe. The basic premise is that for every season you have a few well-made, classic pieces of clothing that can be mixed and matched to make outfits and let your accessories be the trends. You don’t need a big wardrobe, but no one can tell.
While I like the concept, I don’t have a lot of high end clothes (remember, Target shopper). Still, I am drawn to this idea of re-using what you have in different ways rather than just buying something new. It taps into the creative part of my brain. (The same part that loves to write stories like The Travelers and to buy old furniture and make it something new and different.)
“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.”
Per Stephen King, if you’re a good writer you don’t need to use adverbs. What do you need? I’d argue just practice, style and creativity. I am a writer, who likes to limit her adverb use. Why not apply that principle to my wardrobe?
I’ve lived long enough now that I have pieces from several decades and long enough to know that decades recycle. The 80s was just a new take on the 40s (think big shoulder pads.)
And now break out your chokers because the 90s are back. This works out well for me because the 90s were the start of my interest in fashion. Thanks to moving often, not always unpacking everything and having a generous sized closet, I still have a lot of clothes from that decade. I just need to break into some boxes and not gain any weight. (A whole separate issue.)
Crop tops, stripes, khaki, I’ve got them all, somewhere. I just need to tuck or roll depending on the styles and I’m all set. No need to buy something new. Until I can figure out how to make clothes out of old books (which some people have figured out, although it would be tough in a rainstorm), this clothing recycling seems like the best option.
So, this was my experiment. Could I do this? Not buy any clothes and just squeeze into my old 90s clothes + some more recent items buried in my closet? I did an inventory and decided to give it a try.
Part 2: The protest.
If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I’m socially and environmentally conscious. Therefore, when I read about how clothes, in particular the cheap, trendy ones are not just perpetuating child labor (as if that wasn’t enough), they are also very bad for the environment, I decided I had to change my habits.
The environmental problem with clothes
The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world behind oil. Why? Well considering everything that goes into making and disposing of clothing, there are a lot of reasons. Here are just a few.
Garbage. Because they’re trendy and cheap, we’re fine throwing clothes out once a trend is gone. Americans alone send 10 million tons of clothing to the dump each year. And even if the clothes are made of natural fiber, they’re steeped in chemicals that break down and release toxic gases into the air.
Side note: Think giving your clothes away instead can help? Think again. Unless those are really nice clothes, the places you donate them to likely just throw them out or pay to have them shipped somewhere – more environmental impact – and then that place throws them out. No one wants your old crappy clothes. Some places recycle the fabrics, but that is fraught with it’s own issues.
Water and Chemicals. Cotton is the world’s most commonly used natural fiber and is in nearly 40% of our clothing. But, it also uses up a significant amount of water and is also one of the most chemically dependent crops in the world.
While only 2.4% of the world’s cropland is planted with cotton, it consumes 10% of all agricultural chemicals and 25% of insecticides.
Pollution. Dyes used for clothing are extremely harsh on the environment. Want an example? The Citarum River in Indonesia is considered one of the most polluted rivers in the world, largely because of the hundreds of textile factories that line the river, which has detrimental effects the 5 million people living near there and the wildlife. That pretty red color you’re wearing, it came at a price, a pretty high one for anyone living near a textile plant.
Part 3: Survival
This may sound dramatic but I am very uncertain about the future. Where I live, just outside Washington, DC, the cicadas come out every 17 years and they’ve been doing this forever. Yet this year, for some reason, many of them, enough to coat my garage doors and car tires in bugs and make an eerie sound like the sky left the faucet running, decided to come out 4 years early. No one really knows why. But, to me, that’s not a good omen. It’s like they know something is rotten in Denmark.
So, you know what, I don’t need to spend money on trendy clothes right now, especially if I can recycle my current clothes. I should be saving money (and maybe starting to store canned goods in my basement).
How You Can Get Back to Basics
On that depressing note, if you’re at all interested in becoming a clothing recycler instead of purchaser, for whatever reason, it’s really not hard, provided you haven’t sent most of them to break down and release chemicals in landfills. You just have to use creativity. And if you’re a writer or a reader you likely have a creative mind.
I found this pinstriped shirt dress (circa 2015) and paired it with an old corset top from a bridesmaid dress (2005) and a pair of mules I found in a box that’s moved with me at least 5 times and never been opened, putting its purchase date somewhere in the early 2000s.
All of these are “on-trend” if the fashion sites are to be believed. My guess is if you looked in your closet, you might find some of these things too.
So just take some of that creativity you might reserve right now for books or writing or art or crafts and turn it on your wardrobe. You’ll be doing good for the environment and your wallet. And, if you save money on clothes, then you can buy more books (which if you don’t keep are easily recyclable!) #booksoverlooks