With Britons admitting to hoarding £10bn of unworn clothes, one fashion-obsessed writer explains why having a minimum spend on her clothes means nothing in her wardrobe goes unloved.
The last time I cried wasn’t at a weepy movie, or after a row with my husband, or even tiredness after several nights spent nursing both my children when they had chickenpox. No, the last time I shed a tear was when I realised that my beloved leather skirt was beyond repair
Admittedly that was only a couple of days ago, but I can also remember feeling as if the world had almost ended after my leather leggings gave up the ghost.
The reason I was (and still am) so upset is because I know these items were complete and utter bargains. The skirt was £40 reduced from £299 and the leggings, normally nearly £400 were bought online and pre-worn for £50. To be fair the latter had been worn during my second pregnancy, until the clasp needed a safety pin for me to do them up.
I love clothes. But I’m not obsessed with looking like I’ve stepped out of the pages of a glossy magazine. I may exercise and take care of myself but in the end I’m an okay-looking woman in my mid 40s with two daughters to dress, and that’s time consuming as well as expensive, even if I do insist on buying their clothes in the sales.
So instead I chose items that I know will go with anything, won’t date but above all cost at least £40.
I’ve learnt my lesson with cheap clothes, the ‘machine washable’ cashmere jumper I bought for £30 but then ended up being worn by my (then two year old) daughter; and yes it did say 40 degrees on the label. I made the mistake of buying a replacement – which also shrunk in the wash, this time not quite so badly, it was worn by my older (then six years old) daughter.
Then there was the flammable skirt – bought from a supermarket for £15 (full price) which meant I became the table decoration at a memorable dinner party.
There are a few odd exceptions. I have a Tesco F&F handbag which cost £5 but still gets the odd ‘where did you get that?’ The £29 Gok Wan by Sainsburys jeans that make my bum look like a 20 year-old’s is another. But on the whole buying cheap for me has meant buying twice and in the case of the jumper thrice.
My minimum spend philosophy means I stick to brands I know and trust. It also means that when I see a really expensive item I will keep tabs on it until the sale starts. If it still doesn’t go down in price, I will then see if anyone is selling it on eBay.
If I can’t afford it – I won’t buy it.
My leather skirt was a real find. It was from Marks and Spencer autumn winter 2010. It was £299, and I fell in love with it. I watched it go down in the sale to £125 and I watched eBay for three years before snaffling it for £40. I wore that until it literally fell apart (when I was out with my husband during an anniversary meal).
My ‘reverse frugality’ is largely the result of getting in debt a decade or so ago. I learned to be disciplined about spending on things I would need and use. I buy expensive skin care, but skincare I know I will use till I have to cut the tub with scissors to eek out the last drop of moisturiser.
However it was also an ethical and environmental decision because I can’t bear waste. I’m the same with food, with beauty products, shampoo, soap, everything. I’ve driven my immediate family members mad with my insistence that they separate the recycling properly.
Having members of my family who worked in fashion means I can appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into a well-made item. My great uncle was a designer who dressed Joanna Lumley and my mum lived out her aspirations of following a similar path by making most of mine and my sister’s clothes.
My favourite brands are ones that use UK designers, labels like Baukjen, Sweaty Betty, Me+Em, All Saints. They aren’t super expensive but I know their stuff lasts, and of course even in the sale their stuff is rarely under £40.
I haven’t bought a pair of shoes for nearly a year now, simply because I can’t find anything worth buying. I had been wearing trainers because of a running injury, which is now healed. Even then I stick to my favourites Asics which can cost £150 a pair; although they are often half that at a factory outlet, Street in Somerset or Freeport in Braintree.
My mum, who only lives down the road, is so used to helping me mend my clothes her first words to me often are ‘have you got anything to mend?’ I have a jumper from All Saints that is hanging on by a thread literally, in fact I need to ask her to help me mend it again (she will be reading this going ‘that tatty old thing, she’s still got it?!).
I have of course ruined clothes by trying to eek out their lives. Last week I stuck a 10-year old Boden long sleeve t-shirt in a sink full of kitchen bleach in a desperate attempt to keep it white; their current stock just are not as substantial. Needless to say it fell apart.
No, I love the clothes that I buy, and I will wear them to the bitter end.
I have also noticed the clothes I bought in my 20s have outlasted the items I have bought in the last few years. The leather skirt that fell apart doesn’t match the quality of the Toast skirt which I bought in 2002, which still gets plenty of wear.
The only time I spent more than £150 was on a designer dress, from a local boutique. I had gone back to work after having my first daughter and my mum persuaded me to buy it. But I actually felt sick spending this amount. iSo much so I didn’t wear it for a few months, or buy any other clothes.
However this £250 shift dress has been worn at least once week over the last nine winters, it’s cost per wear is about £3 and again it is one of the many items I wear that I often get asked ‘where did you get that?’.
I won’t be going shopping any time soon though. I cannot bear seeing rails and rails of reduced clothes, knowing many may end up in landfill.
I feel our love of fast fashion has fuelled a culture of wastefulness. Instead of treasuring our clothes, and the workmanship that goes in to them, we bin them. Not only wasting them but using up valuable resources. It’s no example to set our children.
It makes me even more depressed to find out that, according to Weight Watchers, women are hoarding 365 million and men 223 million items of clothing.
Can’t they at least put some of these items on eBay so someone else can enjoy them?
Thankfully Rebecca Munro of the London College of Fashion says I may be ahead of my time in my adopting of a minimum spend.
She points to the emergence of movements like Fashion Revolution, which was a response to the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, are emerging. “People want to know where their clothes are coming from.”
She explains that in the disaster over 1,000 Bangladeshi factory workers died, many working for well-known fashion brands, some of the names that we actually think of as quality fashion brands.
The London College of Fashion’s own Centre for Sustainable Fashion, has emerged as a force for good in the fight against wasteful fashion.
Professor Dilys Williams, director of the centre puts it more eloquently than I. “The time, care and resources – human skill and nature’s materials – that have gone into the making and maintaining of the garments that we choose, say something about us, as we wear them as a second skin. If you ask yourself the question – does what I stand up in reflect what I stand up for? If you can’t answer that, then you need to ask more questions about the clothes in your wardrobe.”