Monday, July 15, 2024

Could you commit to buying just five new items of clothing in a year?

Must read

I love fashion, enjoy following trends, keeping up with new brands and dressing up, but I have always bought too much. So when a report last year found that no amount of recycled materials, regenerative agriculture or innovative fabrics are going to make enough of an impact to keep global heating at bay, I decided to embark on a new way of getting dressed.

Those living in the high-income G20 countries, the report from the thinktank Hot or Cool Institute stated, need to radically reduce their fashion consumption. It set a specific brief: “If no other actions are implemented, such as repairing/mending, washing at lower temperatures, or buying secondhand, purchases of new garments should be limited to an average five items a year for achieving consumption levels in line with the 1.5-degree target.”

Tiffanie Darke, wearing a top altered from an old dress. Photograph: Courtesy of Tiffanie Darke

Five is a radical number, but it’s also tangible. It still allows you the pleasure of shopping, but requires you to think carefully about the garments you choose. They need to be special, work hard in your wardrobe and you need to really love them.

What would cutting back to only five things do for me? It turned out, a lot. I had more fun with fashion this past year than ever before, as I turned to rental, alteration, swapping, borrowing and mending. I shopped my own wardrobe and found many unworn treasures (according to Wrap (Waste and Resources Action Programme) we only wear 20-30% of our wardrobes), meanwhile I was forced to consider my own personal style rather than one prescribed to me by catwalks or Instagram. Maybe the bow thing is not for me, and Tomato Girl summer worked better on TikTok.

When I announced my plans on social media, it struck a chord and thousands of women joined me in the challenge. Here are a few of them on what they bought and what they learned.

Jane Shepherdson, with her new Isabel Marant bag.

Jane Shepherdson – fashion retail consultant, London, in her 50s

What were the five items you bought new? I confess I tried to cheat, counting a two-piece suit as one item, but I came clean. I also bought a sweatshirt from Amy Powney’s Mother of Pearl brand. Then I bought an Ulla Johnson jumpsuit, reduced to £150 from £450, something I have been searching for, forever. My last purchase came when my little cross body bag bit the dust after years of service. I tried to find one secondhand, but couldn’t find the right size, so I bought a burgundy Isabel Marant bag, which I will wear for ever.

Did you do anything else to make your wardrobe more sustainable? I rented a green velvet Vampire’s Wife dress for a wedding. I’m the chair of My Wardrobe HQ, so I rent whenever I can. I also altered two pairs of trousers – my local tailor made one fit properly, and cropped the other to make them look more contemporary. And I bought an electric wool shaver to de-pill all my knitwear. It is a gamechanger!

Will you continue the challenge this year? I will try to stick to five from now on, but won’t get too hung up if I really need something. What the rule of five does is break the addiction, making you think seriously about a purchase without losing the enjoyment fashion brings.

Emma Hakansson – activist, political assistant and author of Total Ethics Fashion, Melbourne, Australia, in her 20s

What were the five items you bought new? I was given a pair of loafers and a handbag that fits my laptop (both ethically made, free from animal-derived materials). I also bought a beautiful, silky Tencel skirt from local brand A.BCH after chatting with the two people who cut the fabric and sewed it – I loved that. I was also given a T-shirt from the New York City Animal Liberation march I spoke at. I can still buy one more thing – there are a couple I’m still considering!

Emma Hakansson’s loafers.

Did you do anything else to make your wardrobe more sustainable? I sent clothes in for Citizen Wolf’s Black Fridye, an initiative that aims to usurp Black Friday. Instead of encouraging you to buy new, you pay them to responsibly dye your clothes black if they’re stained or unloved. A friend gave me a pink linen shirt at an office clothing swap and I loved the shape, but pink didn’t suit my skin tone.

What advice can you offer those wanting to cut back? Unsubscribe from all the email lists. Learn to appreciate clothing you see online in the same way you appreciate art – admiration doesn’t mean you need to buy it. And love the clothes you have: there are plenty of outfits you haven’t thought about yet among what you already own.

Jessica Stanley – merchandising, the Cotswolds, in her 40s

Jessica Stanley, wearing her Breton stripe T-shirt from Ivy the Brand.

What were the five items you bought new? I bought an excellent quality Breton stripe T-shirt from Ivy the Brand, a pair of Maje cargo trousers, a pair of straight leg jeans from River Island, a pair of Birkenstock suede clogs and a cream knitted waistcoat from An’ge.

I also bought a few secondhand items from Instagram sellers, which satisfied my need to play into trends.

Did you do anything else to make your wardrobe more sustainable? I shopped my husband’s wardrobe, stealing one of his suit jackets to wear to a wedding. Previously I would have scoured Zara last minute and got something delivered. I also attended some swap shops – the best piece I got was a vintage Topshop denim boiler suit which I wore all year. And my friend and I swapped woolly hats: she got my Ganni and I got her AMI.

What was the hardest thing about it? Overcoming the feeling of wanting to wear the latest thing. Missing out on some amazing collaborations with limited runs. I would have loved a Ganni x Barbour coat and a Sezane x Sea New York jacket. I had to remove myself from the high street.

Nicky McChrystal – runs a small children’s lifestyle brand, Leicestershire, in her 40s

Four down, one to go … Nicky McChrystal’s purchases.

What were the five items you bought new? I actually bought four and was given two. As the mother of a five- and a three-year-old, all my jeans have holes in the knees. I bought a new pair in January and another in November. I’d wanted new trainers for about a year so I researched before plunging for some NB 327s. We went on our first holiday abroad since 2019, so I bought a new bikini from Away That Day, which uses recycled nylon. They took one of my old swimsuits to recycle.

Did you do anything else to make your wardrobe more sustainable? I had a wedding in March and rented a Self Portrait dress from Hurr. The renter sent me garment tape to keep it in place.

Any advice for someone thinking about embarking on the rule of five? I thought about everything I was going to buy for a month before I took the plunge.

What’s was the hardest thing about it? You don’t get the dopamine hit. I loved shopping and would easily drop a few hundred pounds at Zara a few years ago.

Dalbir Bains – career coach, London, in her 50s

‘I have 15 pairs of black trousers’ … Dalbir Bains.

What were the five items you bought new? A black and white Stine Goya trouser suit was the best thing I bought – it’s timeless and will be in my wardrobe for years to come.

Did you do anything else to make your wardrobe more sustainable? I have some beautiful bright blue Tibi jeans I never wear because they are long and require heels. I finally accepted that I’m never going to wear heels, so I had them shortened and have already worn them several times.

How did you manage buying less this year? I asked myself questions before every purchase – do you have somewhere to wear it? Do you already have something similar? Will you get multiple wears out of it? Is it something you could rent? Those questions often resulted in me putting garments back on the rail.

Any advice for someone thinking about embarking on the rule of five? Do a wardrobe edit first and pinpoint the gaps. I have 15 pairs of black trousers and now realise I couldn’t buy another pair of black trousers as long as I live.

Latest article