I’ve been buying the majority of my wardrobe secondhand for the last 10 years. It started as necessity in my early 20s while I spent several years volunteering & traveling overseas (read: broke as hell), and turned into a “thrill of the hunt” type of situation once I moved back to Canada and actually had an income. Fast forward to today where my early 20s are very much in the rearview (and the tiny closet in my tiny house takes most of the thrill out of the hunt). I have a new approach to thrifting, secondhand, and basically shopping in general.
I’ve always loved clothes. My young teen years were full of fast-fashion scores basically because I didn’t know better. Enter my late teens, I started getting thrifty and wanted to wear things that no one else had. For years I would go thrifting weekly, bringing home a bag of decent vintage stuff, most of which got worn approximately 5 times before being taken back to whence it came. Basically, I was justifying my retail-therapy clothes-buying habit because it was all thrifted, which doesn’t count right? I mean, I was being environmentally and socially conscious, all while maintaining a steady stream of new clothes I could cycle out at will, guilt free. Right?
I read a book about 6 years ago that was life changing to me, called Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth L. Cline (read it. do it). Browsing through the local book store, I happened upon it, started reading, got 1/3 of the way through before buying and devouring the rest at home. We all “know” about sweatshops and environmental damage caused by cheap garments (which should be enough to change our habits immediately), but the parts that stopped me in my tracks confronted the massive toll consumerism is taking on our society, on the very core of our humanity. Though I was buying almost solely secondhand, my purchasing practices still reflected that fast-fashion mindset of more is more, high on the deal, or new (in my case, new to me) for the sake of new. My habits weren’t changing even though my outlet was. I was not connected to the things I was bringing into my life. I think I got rid of like, half of my stuff as soon as I put the book down.
Fast forward to a few more years of baby steps and habit tweaks, and I’m ok with leaving the store empty handed, setting aside that cute-but-not-great five dollar dress, and taking the extra time to find pieces that truly fit my life and closet. Quality over quantity, fit over trend, and versatility above all rule my purchase decision-making. Both my brain & my wardrobe are both better off for it. I’m by no means a minimalist, I still love clothes and shoes and gregarious vintage dresses, I just approach purchasing with a lot more intention than I used to.
Here’s an easy place to start if you are looking to take some lil baby steps toward changing your shopping habits.
1. Take Inventory Often
I do a tiny clean-sweep of my closet like, once a week. I’m not suggesting you go full Marie-Kondo and pull everything out in a giant heap every 7 days, just do a quick scan of what you have. Note what you have or haven’t worn in a while, and think about why. Don’t have pants or a skirt to go with that top? Sweater is missing a button? Haven’t found the right shoes for that dress? Store those little “why” nuggets away for the next time you go shopping. They act as a list of gaps in your closet. Once you recognize the gaps, you can be mindful of filling them.
2. Don’t Shop Emotionally
That’s right. The next time you have a terrible day at work, or your spouse pisses you off, or you have a fight with your mom, don’t go shopping to blow off steam. Most of the time you end up with irrational purchases that you don’t really love, that weren’t chosen with intention, that don’t fit you or the rest of your wardrobe. Go for a long walk, drink some tea, phone a friend, have a bath etc. Don’t use shopping as emotional off-loading.
This is a little repetitive of step one, but it deserves some expansion. Remember those gaps you identified while taking inventory of what you already have? Shop with those in mind. While trying on or browsing, think “does this go with pieces I already have?” or “where will I wear this?”. This helps me not purchase the same off-white lace top and high waisted vintage skirt over and over and over again. It helps me to pass on items that are just ok, or don’t go with anything I already own. This is essential when building a versatile and comprehensive wardrobe.
How are you practicing intention in your purchasing practices, your habits and your life? We’d love to hear from you!