Ask Magpie: A Year Without Clothes

A couple of you have asked about this mysterious pledge I’ve made recently: to buy no clothes for one year.

Two years ago I became enamoured with The Little Brown Dress Project by Seattle local Alex Martin. In a one-woman attempt to subvert the consumer hamster wheel of fashion, Alex made two identical brown dresses and wore them for one whole year. She layered in the winter, and stripped down in the summer, but the whole time she just wore just the one little brown dress.

The past 18 months I’ve been living in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the cost of living is roughly 30% above that of Seattle, which was already one of 10 most expensive cities in the U.S. Unlike Seattle there are no well-stocked affordable thrift stores, and new clothes are expensive. At home when you pay more for something you can usually count on better quality. But here more is just, more.

Because of this, I went on a shopping spree this Summer in Seattle. Target, thrift stores, Old Navy. Now I was stocked on the basics. When I got back to CPH I was confronted by two American TV ads on Hulu. One for a designer discount store in which the spokeswoman said “Just because times are tight out there doesn’t mean you should have to stop wearing designer labels!” The second was for Target and featured the new term “frugalistas” and designer Nina Garcia from Project Runaway. She encouraged an average- looking shopper to buy bright blue and pink jeans, because “This season denim is all about color.”

WTF?! People are in foreclosure and designer labels are a priority? Soccer moms need to buy jeans they won’t be caught dead in next year because “this season” demands a color we abandoned circa 1985?!

Look, beauty is a deep value of mine. I love self-expression, and I think clothing is one of the ways we differentiate ourselves to others. But this endless cycle of disposable clothing designed to last “this season” and be out the next, it is absolutely ridiculous. And as much as I adore Project Runway, I’m sorry sweetie but  fashion, at least as part of consumer wheel of fortune, is not going to change the world.

The madness must stop. So for this year, no new clothes. I have a good coat and boots, couple nearly-new black long sleeve t-shirts, jeans in two sizes (you know how it is), and enough socks and undies to last me the duration. I’m a little worried that my two-year-old sweater from Old Navy may not make it through the winter. But for the most part, I think I’m set. I just want to see what it’s like, to not be beholden to the trends of the “season,” to get off the hamster wheel and just make-do.

Thankfully there’s a new riff on The Little Brown Dress, The Uniform Project in which a black dress is serving as the “school uniform” for Sheena Matheiken for one whole year. Now, this women appears to have more clothes than god, but her point is a good one — clothing as self expression doesn’t have to follow the consumer code, it can play out side the box. I’m keeping tabs on her crazy get-ups in case my uniform starts to drive me crazy ’round about February.

I’d like to say that I’m diverting all my clothing expenses into a donation to some wonderful cause.  (They were really never that much to begin with. I hate shopping.) But alas, my daughter Eden grows about two inches a month and it’s all we can do to feed an clothe her right now. So Mom’s clothes money will become her clothes money. (Ay! The cost of winter footwear when you have no car in Nordica!) But I am donating a symbolic amount to my dear friend Shelley and Corrigan Clay in Haiti, who run the Apparent Project — an organization which tries to keep poor families together, and also runs an orphanage.

Regardless of the funds, I am curious to see what this will do for me. Will I become more determined to stick to my other goals as well? Will my core sense of self become stronger if I have to show up to some event in the “wrong” clothes? Will my creativity blossom as boredom sets in? Will I start an accessories exchange with far flung friends? Will I finally use my sewing machine to re-purpose clothes? We soon shall see!

Wanna play along? Stock up on undies and let’s do it!  Here’s the deal,

1. Stop buying on Buy Nothing Day (November 27th).
2. Buy no clothes for one year. 
3. Make up your own rules about if you can buy fabric, yarn, etc for re-purposing the things you have.
4. Make a symbolic donation to the Apparent Project to clothe some of the children living with Shelley and Corrigan in Haiti. (Chip In below — or pick a charity of your choice!)
5. Get ready to celebrate together on Thanksgiving 2010 with a gridblog about the experience

What say you? Anyone in?

I’m In! A Year Without Clothes!

vivienne October 7, 2009 at 12:53 pm

i think i’m in…i think once i go home and take another look in my vibrantly overflowing closet i’ll definitely be ready to commit!

super inspired by this today!!!!

Heather October 7, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Definitely an intriguing invitation. I think I’m in, but I have to think about it before I commit. With a few transitions coming up in the coming year, I have to consider whether my current wardrobe will suit the new lifestyle. (Ha! I may have to buy a few more pairs of sweats, since the new lifestyle will HOPEFULLY include me not being employed anymore!)

I can definitely do the “no NEW clothes” angle though – about 75% of my clothes are from second-hand stores anyway.

(By the way – the sad reason that you probably don’t see many second-hand stores in CPH is because way too much used clothing from Europe and North America is being dumped on the African market, which is killing their own local clothing market. I tried desperately to find some interesting African fabric in Kenya but only found a tiny bit in an out-of-the-way shop behind all of the used clothing markets.)

darlene October 7, 2009 at 3:45 pm

deep breathe. i’m in! actually, it fits in with the pinkie swear i recently made with a dear friend and my hubs in that we wouldn’t buy anything that we didn’t need, only art supplies and i am pretty sure i can more than live with the clothes that currently grace my closet. might need to do an underwear run before the date though :-) love this. xo

Ella October 7, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Both my hubby and I are in…this is a great concept and the economic and environmental benefits is worth it.

Amie aka MammaLoves October 7, 2009 at 4:33 pm

And isn’t true fashion or style more about your personal expression through your clothes and not about what others say it is?

Love this idea!!

barchbo October 7, 2009 at 5:30 pm

What a fabulous idea! While I won’t be going off the fashion bandwagon completely, your post is the final push I needed to stop buying so many clothes and to wear more of what I already own. Inspiring! Thanks!

Patti October 7, 2009 at 5:37 pm

This is a great invitation! I’m in, and except for one slip, have been following it anyway. Thanks for the idea!

Morra October 7, 2009 at 5:49 pm

This is inspiring, and I am in!
I just lost 65 lbs of baby weight, bought a lot of expensive new clothes that I really thought about, and am ready to think about other things.

Question: if I’m feeling out of style or shabby in a few months time, do I tell my clients/friends/acquaintances, “don’t mind me, I took a pledge not to buy anything new”?

becky ramotowski October 7, 2009 at 6:10 pm

I’m in. I was probably in already and did not know it as I don’t like shopping, especially for clothes. Great idea. Thanks!

Tess October 7, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Er, no. But I think it’s a fine idea and I wish you all well with it!

Crafty Mermaid October 7, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Great stuff! :) I follow another blog which promotes something similar and it might give you a few ideas if you haven’t come across it yet –

And good luck!

Jodi October 7, 2009 at 9:36 pm

GREAT idea! I’m going to try it. I’m 6 months pregnant so that means no new maternity clothes either, or the in between clothes after baby’s born…we’ll see. I’ve had tons of great hand me down clothes so far so maybe that can carry me through. Definitey worth a try!

Sidney October 8, 2009 at 3:41 am

I think this is a fabulous idea!! But, unfortunately, I cannot play along. :( If I could go out and buy new jeans for the winter and shorts for the summer (everything I have needs a belt to keep it from falling off) right now, I’d join tomorrow. Alas, I cannot. Perhaps next year, if I stop losing weight! I look forward to hearing about your journey. ^_^

Colleen October 8, 2009 at 7:26 am

I love this. But … hmmmm … I have a feeling I’m going to get married within the year. Hmmmm. Could I get married AND not violate this commitment? Hmmmm. I’m sure my boyfriend would be thrilled with this concept. I already have a thirft-store wedding dress. Really, aside from some white tights, what else might a girl need? Who needs coordinated bridesmaids dresses? I can always borrow a stole or shawl … Hmmmm…….

kazari October 8, 2009 at 8:38 am

Hmmmm, I love this idea, and being on maternity leave for twelve months certainly makes it financially sensible… but it also means my clothing needs are going to be pretty different from now (working full time). I’ll have to think about this one…

Judith October 11, 2009 at 11:06 am

I’ve only just started reading your blog, after it came up in recommended feeds on Google Reader. Looks like it came at just the right time! I have been thinking a lot about buying less lately and making the most of what I already have. I live in a house that is full to the rafters with clutter and it seriously drains my energy and spirit. I’d already been thinking about not buying any new clothes for a while, but having a real pledge, made here, is the final push I need. I may well make the same promise about books and magazines while I am at it, as they both take a lot of money and space from my life.

lisa (msla) October 11, 2009 at 5:08 pm

I’m thinking of joining as well. I’ve got to think through the work clothes thing (eg, I need a suit jacket – which I might write a pass for). So excited to see this go viral, Rachelle!

Rebecca October 11, 2009 at 6:38 pm

Well, I’m all for conserving resources. It sounds like a challenge, and besides, it will encourage me to sew if I want something new.

I give myself a pass though, if I gain/lose two dress sizes. My weight has been fluxuating in wierd ways for the past year or so (probably the result of cutting my gym membership when I was poor).

Allyson October 20, 2009 at 6:57 am

You have officially rocked my world. I love this idea. I am going to chew on this for a day or two before I make this commitment. (My hubby perked up significantly when I read this to him.)

Jennifer October 21, 2009 at 11:44 pm

Been thinking about doing this for awhile…and wanted to find someone NOT to shop for clothes with — so here goes!!!

Allyson/@HBMomof2 October 27, 2009 at 9:16 pm

I am in too and I have recruited a bunch of my friends. We are going on a one year clothes diet together! What was interesting was after I emailed a bunch of my very successful, college educated friends, I found that most of them mostly have been doing this for other reasons already. (Layoffs, deaths, kids in private school, etc.) All of us close, none of us knowing. You started an interesting dialogue between us. So count in a bunch of women from Orange County, California, the capital of looking good and costing a fortune. Hopefully, we can make a little dent in that!

Deborah VanDetta November 7, 2009 at 6:35 pm

I love this idea. Since…I hate shopping for clothes and this return of the 80s is really bizarre. I have been wanting to do more sewing and altering my clothes so this pledge will help my creativity too! Love it!

Chixidixi November 15, 2009 at 6:22 am

Sign me up. I am going to start with a week though.

Monica November 16, 2009 at 6:07 pm

i love your idea and plan on doing this for my ‘personal new year’ challenge but i plan on attempting on going a whole year with NO clothes, new or used, if possible, in the hopes that i can get back to sewing more clothes for myself. i also plan on not buying fabric since i have so much and want to work my way through my stash before buying more, if i can.

thank you for your inspiring idea and for the reminder that we can play along and make some of our own rules; i certainly plan on having a few ‘coupons’ for a purchase or two through the next year but will have a friend track them so i have someone to be accountable to!

Mindy Lacefield December 23, 2009 at 9:13 pm

If I hadn’t bought that shirt in october, it would probably be last spring since I bought new clothes. but i bet i can make it till next october with no new clothes purchases. i love thrifting so that’ll have to be my saving grace if I “need” something. thanks for coming up with this. i love it!!!

Lisa January 8, 2010 at 11:39 pm

Count me in!

I’m resurrecting my Not Buying It blog today!

Sheesh! I still have clothes I bought last year with the tags attached.

Wee, what fun!

( My donation project will be giving away my business attire to our local Clothes That Work.) :-)

Lorraine Reynolds January 29, 2010 at 5:45 am

i am a little behind the timeline. i started my no new clothes journey at the beginning of this month. after returning from a business trip to bangladesh. (one of the poorest nations in the world.) i decided that i would not buy another piece of new clothing for the rest of the year. it’s an experiment that i know i can finish. and i encourage everyone i meet to try it as well.

if every american bought less think of what our world would be like. if americans stopped wearing $5.99 t shirts, clothing could actually be made in this country again. but when you buy a 5.99 t shirt, i really cost the retail store $3 to bring into this country, which means that it cost the factory that made it $1.75. 1/2 of which is cost of goods and the rest is profit. so think about it, how much money do you think the person who sewed that t-shirt made for the labor they put into it? about .25 – do you think americans would work for that? that’s why everything is made in third world countries.

ok- enough of my soap box. time to make that old t shirt into a shopping bag!

Trisha September 24, 2010 at 9:55 am

I wonder if anyone is thinking of doing this for next year, 2011 and wants to keep in touch, mutual motivation? I live in England and read about this idea of going without buying new clothes for a whole some time during this year, but it has struck me more and more that that is what I’d like to attempt for next year – starting January 1st 2011. As I work from home (mostly) as a designer it should be relatively easy. But I am engaged in a very visual world, I teach Textiles at university level too, although mostly by distance learning. I have decided to concentrate on making my own art again in free time, instead of wandering the shops looking for stuff. Actually I’m not into buying a lot of clothes, but I do love them and try to buy key pieces each season, etc. To be honest, I hate the trawling of shops, the wasted hours, the rate at which things change and the waste. I am enviromentally friendly, or try to be in other areas of my life. I hope to concentrate using a collection of fabrics from the 60s and 70s, inherited from my aunt who died last year (vintage by now) to make textile art and possibly any clothes I actually need or fancy making. A long, long time since I made clothes myself, not since the eighties, so should be interesting. I have just bought loads of pants and small items in summer sales and hope these items will last the year. Any tips will be welcome as will anyone who cares to correspond/keep in touch, encourage or join me.

Rachelle September 24, 2010 at 10:35 am

Our year without clothes is almost done, and there aren’t currently any plans to do it again next year. But good luck on your project!

Karla Linden, NMT, LMT December 26, 2010 at 11:43 am

I’m inspired, after the Christmas crush, to take inventory and enjoy the lavish and luscious abundance of clothing that I already own. With the exception of 10 days in India, when I intend to do some exotic shopping, I’m with you on this experiment.

My blog is on LiveJournal and it is Friends Only – I’m “Manifestress” over there – comment to be added.

Valerie February 16, 2011 at 7:22 am

I’m in! I started from 1st January this year. I have to confess I’m finding it a little hard so far :p Most of my clothes are black and I’m just dying for some colour…. but sticking with it!

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