Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The long post on shopping and clothes in 2012

I can't believe it's been an entire year since I started my 12-pieces-of-clothing-this-year challenge. In addition to the 12-piece-limit, I gave myself shopping rules: 1) no online buying, 2) no buying the same thing twice (or more), 3) no unpractical clothes, 4) no impulse buying, and 5) not spending too much money. It's time to evaluate the year of shopping (and not shopping)!

Second-hand wool sweaters

Let's start with the rules.

Rule 1: Online shopping

I bought two pairs of shoes online, but the brands were familiar and there was no risk of getting the size wrong. I didn't buy any clothes on eBay or Etsy, or any other online store. That's not to say that I haven't been browsing. Occasionally I'd spend hours looking at all sorts of stuff that I might want. Some items have even made their way to a shopping cart. But when it came to actually going through with a purchase, I stopped myself every time. I've been disappointed too many times. My size and shape are too complicated for me to buy stuff online. I've come to accept it. Rule one - no problem!

Rule 2: Buying the same thing over and over

I didn't buy too many of the same thing, although there were temptations. I bought a pair of Tod's loafers in the early stages of the challenge and I immediately wanted a second pair in a different colour. I resisted though, and still haven't bought a pair of black ones, even though the thought has crossed my mind dozens of times (I'm considering getting the black ones for the coming spring/summer - a year is a long time and I still want them). I did buy multiple wool sweaters, but they don't resemble one another too much. I also bought more than one pair of gray wool trousers, but the cut is different, as is the weave of the fabric. Sweaters and trousers I've bought many, but I've worn them all. That's good enough for me.

Rule 3: Buying unpractical clothes

I haven't bought anything seriously unpractical. In fact, I've either donated or sold the unpractical clothes I had from before. I haven't bought high-heels, I haven't bought dry-clean-only tops, I haven't bought clothes for imaginary parties or events that I never go to. Yay!

Rule 4: Buying impulsively

I did buy a few things spontaneously, but I didn't buy anything that proved to be a mistake. I think success here has a lot to do with Rule 3: as long as I steer away from clothes that I'm never going to wear, I can make rational decisions and trust my gut if I happen to find something on the spot. I've come to think that I can actually buy impulsively, as long as I keep my other four rules in check. Questions I ask myself if I'm tempted to buy something in the heat of the moment are: Do I already have something like it? Would I rather wear something I already have, or this new thing? (More on that later.)

Rule 5: Spending money

I don't think I spent a ton of money in 2012 - but I have to confess that I lost count. My excuse is that life has just been so hectic this year. I've been a bit of a scatter-brain. I've sold a lot of my clothes this year, so I'm convinced that I've actually made money from selling clothes rather than spent money buying them. So far, so good.

A.P.C. winter ankle boots and a Marimekko stripy long-sleeved tee (both second-hand)

Okay, let's move on to the 12 pieces of clothing.

As you might guess from the aforementioned multiple sweaters and gray trousers, sticking to buying 12 pieces of clothing was impossible, and I hate to confess that I failed miserably on that front. However, I had my reasons. Moving to Finland made it necessary to buy certain things I didn't own before, things I didn't predict I'd need in the beginning of the challenge. I did well until the move, but things got tough once I got to Finland. I needed a practical in-between-seasons jacket, I needed warm sweaters, I needed a dress-up pair of winter shoes (and also something to wear when the snow is knee-high), I needed a new pair of jeans because the only pair I wore before was falling apart. What proved to be the most difficult thing was my tendency to not count practical purchases at first: "oh I really need this, so I'll keep it separate from the allowed twelve items". Let's face it, that was cheating, and it made the limit of 12 seem really elusive and difficult to hold onto. At some point I stopped counting what made its way to the 12 and what was outside of it. It didn't make any sense. I found a way to compensate though.

Gray wool trousers and stripy, wide-legged, ankle-length trousers (latter second-hand)

Before we moved back to Finland, I had already started to give a lot of my clothes to charity, things that were unpractical, things I never wore. Moving to another continent was a good boost for culling and I felt like I was getting somewhere. However, the mission to only buy 12 pieces of clothing started to seem completely ridiculous around August. I had done well in the beginning, but I had bought a few things in the spring that weren't essentials - a tailored suit, a cute jumpsuit - and I realized that I was going to go over the limit, way over, because of real need I'd experience later in the year. I felt like a bit of a failure. In Finland I continued to go through the contents of my wardrobe, simplifying it, selling the clothes I no longer had any use for. My sister opened a second-hand shop in Helsinki, and I sold a lot of stuff there. Since I was already going strong with move-inspired culling, it was easy as heck to just keep getting rid of things, but making it an integral part of a wardrobe-building process was a different ballgame. The problem was that I felt like I was donating and selling from one end, but just buying more on the other. I felt good about the culling, but bad about the buying, even if the stuff I was buying was perfectly practical and rational. I can't really explain it, to be honest. I think I just felt guilty for failing the challenge I had set for myself.

Quilted in-between-seasons jacket (second-hand)

At some point I started a psychological, private clothing swap. I started to "exchange" clothes in my mind. If I bought something, I had to get rid of something or some things I already had. The mental note I made each time, of things going out when something came in, made all the difference, even if I had been culling throughout the spring, summer and fall. The challenge was originally about not buying, but it became an exercise in wardrobe control. When I passed the 12-pieces-of-clothing-mark, it didn't mean that I was failing in creating a better collection of clothes for myself.  I exchanged a Viktor & Rolf taffeta skirt I'd never worn to a pair of jeans I needed. I sold a vintage Lanvin shirt-dress in order to get a pair of vintage Kenzo culottes - not that I absolutely needed the latter, but I wanted them more than the dress. More often than not, the exchange wasn't one-for-one. I encouraged myself to get rid of two skirts, or three, for a single pair of wool trousers. Simple question of "do I want this or that?" became a superbly useful tool, and I thank my sister for introducing the mindset to me. It didn't hurt that in selling the clothes I no longer wanted I also made a lot of money. I stopped feeling guilty. Eventually it was less about the number 12, and more about the five rules I had set for myself. Rather than engaging in mindless culling-and-buying, there was a rational framework to the process. Clothes I didn't need or want went out, good clothes I needed and wanted came in. Looking at the amount of clothes I've donated or sold this year on the one hand, and taking into consideration the clothes I've bought on the other, the truth is that I have a lot less clothes now than I did in the beginning of the year. That's by far the biggest achievement for me in this whole process. Even though I didn't succeed in only buying 12 things, I'm satisfied with how things went this year. The contents of my wardrobe are more practical, they fit well, and most importantly, they are more me. Almost all of my purchases this year were second-hand, which also makes me happy.

So what did I buy then, and what went out of the window? 

I bought a pair of Fluevog boots, a pair of Tod's loafers, a pair of A.P.C. winter ankle boots, a horrendous pair of pink-and-gray moon boots, a couple of pairs of practical flats. That sounds like a lot of shoes, but in exchange I got rid of almost all of my high-heeled pumps, boots and ankle boots. I just never wore them. I still have some heels that I am going to sell, and I am in the process of deciding which ones I might want to keep in case I need heels for a special occasion.

Second-hand flats - the Ballys in the middle are old, the other two pairs I bought this year.

I bought wool sweaters - quite a few of them in fact, but they are all in steady rotation. In exchange I gave up on blouses and tops I never wore and old sweaters with sleeves that were too short or the cut or colour was wrong.

I bought a couple of men's shirts and donated my women's shirts that rode up my back and were cut wrong for my figure.

I bought four pairs of trousers (a bit excessive, I admit, but I've worn them all) and a pair of jeans. In exchange I donated or sold a bunch of my skirts that seemed too short or too dressy to me - there were a lot of those. 

I bought a tailored suit, which I have not yet worn. The suit is the one thing that I've bought but haven't worn. I guess I am pleased I have it anyway - it might come in handy for a job interview or such. In exchange for buying the suit (which was by far the most expensive thing I bought this year) I sold my notorious sequined short suit and some other life-inappropriate things (yes, there are such things, I've come to notice).

I bought a shearling coat, but sold my Swedish army parka that was too big for me. I donated an oversized green fake-shearling coat I never wore. I also sold three short wool jackets I liked less than some other ones I had. 

I bought necessities: an outdoor-work-jacket and -pants, and long-sleeved t-shirts. I got rid of old tees that were just old and gross, clothes that might have shrunken in the wash, things I was going to re-fashion but never got around to.

I did buy a few things that were just fun: a colourful Marimekko jumpsuit, that pair of awesome Kenzo culottes and a red flower-print dress.

Red floral dress, second-hand

In 2011 I bought 90 pieces of clothing, excluding underwear. The 2012 number is somewhere around 40. According to my calculations, I've also donated or sold approximately 200 pieces of clothing. 

A few things I've learned this year:

- When culling your wardrobe, cull with a purpose. Just do it! Get rid of the clothes you don't wear. You won't miss any of them, I promise. In fact, you won't even remember you had them.

- An oldie-but-a-goodie: never buy anything for an imaginary life you might one day have. Buy for today, for your life, for you that exists now

- Consider making yourself get rid of something before you buy something new. It really worked for me, much better than any limit of any amount of things to buy or of money to spend. If the old dress that's already in your wardrobe is too precious to let go of, the new dress you're considering to buy is probably not worth it.

Viscose blouse and Kenzo culottes, both second-hand

That's more or less the story of my shopping in 2012! For 2013, I'm sticking to my five rules and the idea that in order to buy something new, I have to get rid of something I already have. I'm still in the process of culling, donating and selling - meaning that I intend to shrink the size of my wardrobe further. I don't have a specific number in mind, nor am I setting any specific goals for the new year. I think I'm on the right path already.


Kate said...

This is such a helpful meditation on clothing consumption. Thank you for taking the time to articulate the process that many of us hope to start (again!). I've found in the past that wardrobe culling breeds more wardrobe culling—the practice starts to snowball in a really healthy and productive way. The hardest part, of course, is starting. Congrats on your progress—I'm sure it feels great.

Hippocampe said...

thanks for sharing your insights, an interesting read.

I'm curious : did you find that abiding by rules took part of the fun you had with clothes ?
or, on the contrary, did it took some angst from the process and you enjoyed fashion more ?
maybe, shopping has become less fun but you are more pleased with the end result, your wardrobe ?
- of course you're under no obligation to answer muddled questions:)

Fashion is a playground where I allow myself to be as stupid and fickle as I like, so I don't set myself rules. Well, there is One Golden Rule : I never overspend my budget.

The Waves said...

Kate: Thank you for your kind words! This year it was much, much easier for me to write up a post about my shopping. Last year it was really difficult, and I remember feeling embarrassed because I did so badly. I guess sometimes you have to hit rock-bottom to get your act together! I do agree that starting is difficult, but I personally feel like the hardest part is somewhere half-way, when you start to second-guess the whole process and when it would still be easy to go back to the way things were.

Hippocampe: You raised excellent questions! Here are my not-entirely-thought-through, spur-of-the-moment answers: I didn't feel that the rules made my clothing-related life less fun, I don't think so anyway. I felt happy about engaging in a process that made sense for once, and I felt good about actively wearing the clothes I had in my wardrobe. I have to admit though that there were moments when I just wanted to go crazy and buy something silly. So perhaps yes, the act of shopping wasn't perhaps quite as much fun as it has been before, but the end results were much more rewarding. In general I had a better time getting dressed than perhaps ever before. I think I wrote a post once, sometime in the past, about how my shopping habits once culminated on the act of buying rather than the thing that I bought. I feel like that buying-centered aspect of my shopping is now gone. I no longer buy for the sake of buying, or to make myself feel better, and I am happy about that.

I think the challenge for me has been and continues to be, in this process, to allow the right amount of fun trickle through to my clothing choices. Just because I try to be more rational, I should still be able to have fun with clothes, and holding onto that isn't always easy. Taking an overly-serious approach to clothes would take all fun out of getting dressed, and that's the last thing I want! :)

Jess said...

"Consider making yourself get rid of something before you buy something new."

Excellent notion! I've gotten to the point (after getting rid of those 14kg of unused items as well as selling about 20 things on eBay) where I don't think I could get rid of anything else without regretting it. There might be items that I don't wear particularly often, but I love them all the same (you know for sure that you love an item when you sell it on eBay, almost immediately regret it, then spend several years waiting for another one to come up on eBay so you can get it back in your wardrobe!). The one-in one-out policy really makes you evaluate what you love.

I also find that whatever item I *think* I love that I see in a store or online, if I wait a week or so, I've usually moved onto another item that I want to buy. That makes me realise that even though I totally, definitely, absolutely wanted that previous item at the time, it turns out that I can forget about it quite easily if distracted by something else. :P

So yeah, finding ways of putting it into perspective is certainly useful. And I should probably join you with the no online shopping approach, because seriously, the number of items that were purchased online that are now in my 14kg of junk, compared to the number of items that were purchased online and now take pride of place in my wardrobe... the ratios do not look good. Except for one coat I bought from the mid-year Net-A-Porter sale last year (and probably my favourite purchase of 2012) and a couple of eBay items from brands I'm familiar with in terms of style and sizing, most of my wardrobe items were purchased in person after trying them on. My success rates for good choices go way down when I look at stuff I've bought online. Not ideal.

Hippocampe said...

On the rational vs fun conundrum : I've come across two ways to rationalize clothing purchases.

There's the kind of rationalization found on traditional menswear blogs : decide in advance what a perfect wardrobe should be made of, down to every detail each item should possess, make your wishlist and set forth to find perfect items in stores.
Sounds like a dull&dumb job to me. I guess I'm too romantic :) Every garment I've bought under the influence of this "wardrobe building" strategy was a soul-less garment soon discarded.

On the other hand, there is the rationalization of shopping. Learning about marketing ploys. Learning to assess the quality&worth of the articles on offer. Keeping track of your budget. Knowing when your thought-processes are muddled (by boredom, peer pressure...)
I understand your rules fall into this category of rationalization : it's about being a more savvy shopper. This kind of rationalization I adhere to and don't find detrimental to fashion fun.

Madeline Quaint said...

This is so exciting to read as I remember your other shopping post a year ago very well! In fact it inspired me to write down what clothing items I buy and for how much, and I kept it up all through the year!

Of course moving to another country, especially one with such different weather conditions changes what clothes you need - how you coped with exchanging pieces is really inpiring!

When I got pregnant and my belly started to show and I could'nt wear many of my clothes, I realized just how much stuff I have I never really wear... So I gave away lots of clothes, while only buying a handful (4) pregnancy items and making use of my existing wardrobe. (I have to write a blogpost about this, this comment is getting way too long!)

Thank you for the inspiration and happy new year in your new house!:)

LIesl said...

Very impressive. Thanks for sharing your experiences and tips.

I challenged myself to buy only handmade, vintage or secondhand for a whole year (from July '11 to July '12.) It turned out to be easier than I thought and is still affecting my shopping habits.

Now to add some structure and rules to my secondhand buying habits.