No New Clothes for a Year
A conversation with Amory Sivertson, who has not bought any new clothes in 2022
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One Step at a Time
I’ve always been fascinated with using a temporary timeline to make a big life change. Events like Dry January as a step to larger sobriety or Meatless Mondays as a transition to vegetarianism seem like a manageable way to approach a goal.
As a former Catholic, I liked the idea of using Lent as a time for contemplating and affecting change, rather than simply to arbitrarily give something up, only to resume it 40 days later. I no longer follow that religion, still the spirit of that time lives on for me.
I’ve talked before about being inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, where Kingsolver and her family resolved to eat as locally as possible for one year. The book was published in 2007, and it ended with Kingsolver’s family largely committed to that new lifestyle beyond just the first year. They planned to grow their own food as much as possible and then source what they couldn’t from local farmers and producers.
That book is now 15 years old, and even though it ended on a positive note, I often wondered if the change really was permanent for Barbara and her family. You can imagine my delight when I noticed a post on Instagram from Kingsolver showing the bounty of this past growing season being stored in her kitchen and pantry (the post below has multiple images, so please click to view them all).
Our family recently passed one year following Dr. Steven Gundry’s Plant Paradox diet and it is now a full lifestyle shift for us. It started as a temporary idea- we would try it out for a few weeks and if our health didn’t improve or if it stayed the same, we would stop following it. Our health has improved significantly over the past year, but I think having a manageable goal for ourselves of just a few weeks helped make that possible. (You can read more about our experience here).
No New Clothes
Given all this talk about life changes on a timeline, you can probably imagine my intrigue when this tweet came across my feed recently:
The author of the tweet is Amory Sivertson, a songwriter and musician (listen to her new album here) and podcast producer and host currently with Endless Thread, made here in Boston by WBUR. What caught my eye in this tweet was Amory’s “year (maybe more) of no new clothes.”
It was not a completely foreign idea to me, as I had been trying to reduce my own fashion consumption. After I spoke with author and journalist Amelia Pang last year, I became aware of some of the labor issues around our modern fashion practices, especially in Xinjiang, China. I had resolved after that conversation to try to avoid the overconsumption of clothing and to be more purposeful and thoughtful about when I was buying new items. My family has started shopping more regularly at thrift stores and trying to avoid the hastily made new clothes that are often for sale at malls and discount stores.
Still, a year without new clothes was a new way to frame this behavior and I wanted to understand the motivation behind it. I reached out to Amory and we chatted about her approach to new clothing. What follows are some snippets from our discussion, slightly edited for clarity.
The initial spark for this year of no new clothes came from a clothing swap that Amory’s friend Jessica Coughlin organized. These clothing swaps started in 2014 as a regular event every fall and spring. The pandemic disrupted them for a time, but Amory attended one in 2021 and it really inspired her.
“These swaps are really kind of magical, because you have maybe a dozen women in a house together. Everyone dumps out their stuff. It gets organized into piles. So you've got pants, you've got dresses, you've got loungewear, you've got blouses, you've got sweaters, you've got jewelry, you've got shoes. It's incredible. We stand in a big circle and we go around and introduce ourselves and say what it is that we're looking for.”
The sharing of clothes becomes a social event. If one woman had a particular need (say a certain look they were after or had an upcoming occasion), the others would help flag possible matches. There was also a connection made when the old owner and the new owner bonded over a piece:
“I picked up one woman's skirt, it's a pink bell shaped skirt. I didn't know whose it was, because it's just in a pile of everything else in the living room. It just so happened that the person who had brought the skirt that night was standing next to me and she goes, ‘I brought that. It was hard to bring it here tonight, but I think I'm finally ready to let it go. I've had a lot of good times with it.’
“And I said, ‘You know I brought some stuff like that with me here tonight, too, where I love it. It's a good shape, but we've had a good run, and I I think I'm ready to let it go.’
“And that's another kind of unexpectedly sweet element of this is that you're not just taking someone else's stuff. You are giving it a new life. You don't know all of the events and the moments that that item carries with it, and you are now adopting it into your life, and you're going to give it more memories.
“I came away from that swap with some of my what are still some of my favorite items now, and I immediately wore one of them to a television appearance, because I loved it so much.”
The swap caused Amory to rethink her relationship to clothing. All of these women had extra clothes in their closets that they no longer were wearing, but they still had plenty of wear left in them to be passed along. If there were so many gently used items out there, why buy new at all?
After the clothing swap, Amory’s mindset changed and she began to resist the targeted Instagram ads offering her stylish clothing with one click. She took this a step further and decided to make it a New Year’s resolution:
“For all of 2022, I'm not buying anything new. I'll do swaps, I'll go to thrift stores. I may poke into a vintage store.”
It’s not necessarily a hard and fast rule. Amory is still buying certain items new like underwear and socks. She is also a runner and will buy running shoes new, although she’s trying to stretch how long she holds on to a pair before replacing them. But for all other items, she’s only considering used clothes.
Part of the goal is to get away from the “fast fashion” trends that are popular in both mall shops and targeted online ads. Fast fashion brands are producing double the amount of clothing that they were making in the year 2000 and we are wearing our clothes less and throwing away more of them. Amory thinks we need to place a greater value on the items in our wardrobe and choose items that bring us a spark.
“I remember shopping as a kid and I brought something home. I couldn't wait to do the like fashion show in the living room. I couldn't wait to wear that thing to school the next day.”
I am intrigued by Amory’s resolution of not buying any new clothes and am considering trying it out for myself. If you’re also interested in reducing the amount of clothing that you buy, here are a few ideas to get started based on Amory’s advice and my own experience:
Check thrift stores and vintage stores. Many items still have lots of wear in them and you may even find clothing that still has the tags on it.
Join a “Buy Nothing” group on Facebook. These are made up of neighbors that offer up items they no longer need for free. If you’re in search of a special item (say something formal to wear to a wedding) you can also put out the request to see if a neighbor has something to give away or loan.
Organize a Clothing Swap: My kids’ school has a yearly clothing swap similar to the one Amory attended. In a school setting where kids are always growing, this can be especially helpful. Outdoor gear like snow pants and rain coats are great finds, but even regular daily clothing is helpful.
Unsubscribe from Clothing Store Emails: We’ve probably all given away our email address when placing an order to get a promotion like free shipping, but that can lead to tempting emails advertising new products or special discounts. Opt out of these emails to lessen the urge to buy things because they’re a good deal.
Spend More on Durable Goods That Will Last: Rather than cycling through cheaper clothes that fall apart faster, invest in quality items that last longer. I purchased a leather belt from Hanks Belts that carries a 100 year warranty and has only turned more beautiful as it ages.
Check Online for Used Clothing: Neither Amory nor I have used them, but sites like Poshmark may help you find second-hand clothes in the exact size or style you need. I purchased a gently used pair of Carhartt overalls on eBay for a fraction of what they would’ve cost brand new.
Amory also recognizes the role that marketing can play in our desire for new clothing, especially when it comes in the form of targeted online advertising. She thinks it’s important to be aware of when we’re being marketed to and to resist that pressure.
“If we can pause and say either I don't need that, or I can find something more special than this expensive thing that's being pushed in my direction, probably in a secondhand store.”
Would you ever consider giving up buying new clothes for a year or longer? I am definitely considering this for myself and think it could be a fun experiment that could lead to bigger lifestyle changes. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
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