Opinions: A Year Without Buying Clothes

Maevis Fahey '21, Editor-in-Chief

When was the last time you bought an article of clothing?

This January marks one year since I found myself scouring TJ Maxx for a dress to wear to the annual semi-formal dance. As my friend enthusiastically yanked hangers of bold rompers and out-of-season sundresses into the air a few aisles over from me to hear whether my reaction was an oooh! or a hmm, I found myself acutely aware of the sheer amounts of clothing at our fingertips. Piles upon piles of dyed fabric, sewed up and punched with double-take-worthy price tags, sitting before me on boundless rows of hangers. What a strange way to fill millions of shiny-floored warehouses across the globe. 

I felt like a supercomputer blinking to life and becoming self-aware. My arms were full of sweaters, workout leggings, and blouses I hadn’t even entered the store looking for. The babysitting funds sitting in my pocket were far from bottomless, and I only had six days left to find a dress for semi.

I didn’t go home that night with a chosen dress, nor did I come home with any of the other clothing items. That night I gave myself the challenge: to go 365 days without buying any clothing.

Let’s be honest: 2020 really wasn’t the bravest year to decide I wanted to reject toxic societal norms and un-bookmark Poshmark from my Safari homepage. I spent most spring schooldays sitting in fuzzy sweatpants hidden beneath my Zoom camera (sorry, Ms White) and can probably count the amount of times I got to hang out with my friends last year on two hands.

Plus, if you know me, you know that I’m not an enthusiastic fashionista anyways. I’m allergic to most makeup (I know, it’s weird) and I’ll give $20 to anyone who can recall the last time they spotted me gracing the halls of Natick Mall on a Saturday afternoon.

To the well organized mind, my year-long challenge was more like a personal experiment. Could I do it? Was it really going to be as hard as the 25-year-old women on YouTube said it was? There was only one way to find out.

I also didn’t tell anyone I was doing this year-long challenge until last month, which was kind of funny. I wanted to see if I could intentionally redirect my habits away from buying clothes, even if friends reacted to me “not feeling like getting anything.” I thought this might make the habit last — if I could make the repetitive personal decision to intentionally buy less clothing, then I wouldn’t be starving myself from anything, and it would really be worth it.

One of my favorite parts of this year-long experiment was “Mari-Kondoing” my bedroom last June. If you aren’t familiar with the process, definitely Mari Kondo’s book, watch her Netflix series, or just search “Mari Kondo” on YouTube. You’ll find some wild hoarder-turned-minimalist stories documented for your enjoyment.

During my “KonMari” journey, I emptied out all of my drawers and hangers onto my bed, sifted through all of the folders and papers I’d collected from the eleven years of my educational career, and basically upturned every other item within the four pink walls of my room. I donated four huge bags of clothes, books and other items, something I’m not proud of — no one should own that many unnecessary belongings. I was a complete madwoman for three straight days, but after some extensive Swiffering, the place where I spent most of my 2020 was transformed into a newly breathable space. I highly recommend it.

My year-long experiment also included many smaller memorable moments where I reframed some self-talk. Those brand new running leggings? They won’t wake you up before your 8:30 class to go for a run or do a quarantine YouTube workout. That speech contest coming up? You won’t perform better just by wearing a new silky blouse underneath your blazer. And your friends? They definitely don’t care that you’ve been wearing the same old pair of red Converse since seventh grade. You rock them.

Last month, when I began mentioning my year-without-buying-clothes experiment to some friends, I kept hearing similar reactions: “That’s super cool that you did that, but I could never.” To my dear friends, and to you, my dear reader, I implore you to ask yourself why. 

Clothing is a really important form of self expression, and since you wear it every single day, it’s probably an important part of who you are, too. I could talk for hours to you about my beloved red Converse, and I almost wrote my college essay about them. I’m not vying for a war on walk-in closets and the Kardashians — I just think it’s pretty important to think about how you can be more intentional with your life, especially through your clothes. In a time where we are especially fortunate to be able to stay inside our cozy homes and receive anything from a funky onesie to a cocktail dress upon our doorstep by clicking some buttons, it’s time for some introspection.

Maybe a year without buying clothes isn’t for you. Maybe it’s going a month without visiting Amazon, or even just pausing for a single moment before adding that hanger to your forearm or clicking that “Add To Cart” button. By this point, you’ve probably scrolled through at least one social media post about the growing dangers of fast fashion. You probably have a cousin who has talked to you about how buying less clothes and other items really can help promote sustainability in your community. And you’ve definitely heard about how the many of our biggest fashion brands are supplied by the forced labor of Chinese Uyghurs and the exploitation of workers from many other areas of the world. Sobering, I know, but important to recognize.

We know that we live with first-world privileges, but there are so many ways to take responsibility and reflect upon how we can live with more mindfulness and intention. When it comes to our clothing, it can start with questions. There’s the classic Is this a need, or a want? and then there’s the Should I really have to shove my sweaters and t-shirts down with both hands in order to jam my bureau drawer closed? I asked myself these questions, and I hope you will too.

So yes, I’m an American teenage girl, and I own one pair of jeans. I’m in no rush to zoom back to TJ Maxx so I can fill the three empty drawers of my bureau with new clothes. I’ve actually started to fill the drawers with some cool old newspapers and books to read that I found in my attic, which might be the most strange and honest piece of journalism I’ve revealed during my Looking Glass career. I’m no longer taking double glances at pretty outfits in store windows, or spending virtual Enrichment longingly scrolling through Poshmark, and I’m really thankful for that.

And as I enter into this freshly pressed new year, I have lots of thoughts on my mind. This will be the year where I will take off my gray skirt and red sweater for the last time (tears), hopefully be able to hang out with my friends somewhere other than Netflix Party, and prepare to accept the responsibilities of a freedom-hungry freshman college student. I have absolutely no clue what’s going to happen, and it’s absolutely terrifying and exhilarating to me.

But I hope that I’ll carry some intention into all of the new places and spaces I enter. I don’t see myself going on shopping hauls before I head off to college, or wondering what my new roommate thinks of my near-to-non-existent fashion sense. I know that buying new clothes won’t make me a better human being or a better friend. Living intentionally and being mindful of the choices I make in my day-to-day life will.

There’s lots to unpack (ha!) from my year without buying any clothes, but in short, I’m really glad I did this. To anyone reading this, I hope you take some time today to think about your closet and shopping tendencies, and how you can bring intention into them through mindful habits.

And to the seventeen-year-old girl who decided to embark on this strange journey last year, I tell her: go for it. And also, it’s definitely okay to wear your freshman dress to your junior semi. No one remembers it, and it deserves another appearance.


Maevis Fahey ‘21, Editor-in-Chief