If you'd told me at the beginning of this year that I'd be penning an entire first person on buying no new clothes, I'm not sure I'd have believed you. While I'm the Sustainability Editor here at Marie Claire UK and a firm fan of shopping secondhand, I often fell short by buying new outfits for special occasions or purchasing fast fashion items at the last minute for fear of having "nothing to wear."
Sound familiar? I thought it might. We're all prone to buying too much - something that has only been reaffirmed by this year's damning IPCC report which highlighted the horrifying impact overconsumption is having on both people and planet. The message was clear - act now, before it's too late. Shop less and upcycle more. And so that's what I've done.
I've seriously changed the way I shop this year and have been on quite the journey when it comes to what I wear, how I spend, and how I style myself. While I was never someone buying Shein hauls or shopping for the sake of it, I did occasionally turn to fast fashion brands in times of need.
Come this year, though, I felt something had to give. I couldn't see past the sweatshops and carbon footprints of some of these brands and it didn't sit right investing with businesses that were exploitative, wasteful, and refusing to invest in the planet anymore. What with that and the wealth of charity shops, secondhand stores, vintage markets and rental platforms getting better by the day, I felt spoilt for choice for more sustainable, planet-friendly options.
It's worth saying here that this article comes from a place of privilege - for many, buying new clothes simply isn't a luxury that they can afford. But for many others, it's a part of daily life and something you do without even thinking about the impact it's having on the planet.
Why am I sharing this now? Well, partly because this month marks Secondhand September, an entire month dedicated to rethinking the way you shop. That, and the fact I've learnt some pretty invaluable lessons that I think might benefit you, too. I'm by no means perfect - no one is, we're all just doing our best. But we could all benefit from shopping a little less and reusing a little more. The planet and your bank balance will thank you for it.
I first noticed that I hadn't bought anything new this year when texting a friend to borrow a few items of clothing at the end of February. I knew my attitudes towards fast fashion had been shifting for a while, but from there, it became the norm - and I can't tell you how much fun I've had loaning and borrowing clothes to and from friends and colleagues along the way.
Take the Marie Claire UK Prix awards, for example - one of the biggest events of our working year. Speaking to our Fashion Ed at the time, Zoe Anastasiou, I mentioned that I was thinking of renting an AJE outfit for the occasion. The next day, she brought me a matching AJE two-piece into the office that I then wore to the awards (see below).
Not only does borrowing and lending clothes improve the life cycle of items, but it can provide a really fun bonding experience, too. Needless to say, you'll have to find friends who are a similar size to you to borrow from or loan to, but it can be enjoyable, easy, and free - not to mention, becomes a social occasion if you host a "swap shop" (made all the more fun when accompanied by snacks and wine).
I've lent friends dresses for festivals, weddings, and work events, too, and really recommend this if you're feeling a bit stuck or stagnant about your own wardrobe.
Many have reservations about renting, but I've fallen in love with it this year - especially the Rixo dress rented via By Rotation in the picture below. There's a whole world of options and you can wear brands that you'd never usually be able to afford for a fraction of the price.
Speaking to Eshita Kabra-Davies, founder of rental platform By Rotation on an MC UK panel at The Sustainability Show last year, she touched on how profitable renting your clothes out can be, too. While I'm still yet to list any items myself, I've had several discussions with friends about what a great earner it can be - not to mention, it massively reduces your carbon footprint and impact on the planet.
Worried about an item not fitting, suiting you, or generally wasting money on an item you don't love? I've always rented dresses in similar cuts and styles to ones I already own or have tried on previously. That way, you'll know that that particular style works for you. Rumour also has it that these apps are working around the clock to offer virtual "try on" options to ensure you're happy with how an item looks pre-renting.
While I didn't buy any fast fashion items this year, I did bag a few brilliant secondhand items from my local charity shop or vintage stores (see below, my favourite YSL trench coat that my Mum got me via eBay). This is without a doubt one of my favourite ways to shop now - it's a slower, more mindful approach that makes you think about what you really need. I like that you have to take the time to go through the racks and are never sure what you'll find.
Similarly, apps like Depop, Vinted and eBay have some great steals at a fraction of the price of what you'd usually pay. As Lucy Peacock, Head of Pre-Loved at eBay told me last year, shopping secondhand can actually be cost-effective during a time when money is tight for so many. Not sure how to shop secondhand without feeling overwhelmed? This handy guide from our Fashion Editor will help.
To make sure I don't panic buy anything I won't wear, I have a list on my iPhone Notes app of wardrobe items that I've always wanted and think I will wear time and time again. This includes things like the perfect black blazer, ballet pumps, and Levi jeans - staples that can be worn in different ways and on different occasions and that will never go out of style.
If I find something that isn't on that list, I'll try it on, leave it, and apply the 48-hour rule. That is, if I'm still thinking about it in 48 hours, I'll go back and buy it (permitting it hasn't already been sold). I've been quite amazed at how effective this is for realising how little you need certain things - like the polka dot Ganni dress that was arguably a size too big for me. I fell in love with it but realised I'd likely only wear it once or twice a year.
This has been my biggest learning and something I've really enjoyed this year. Spoiler alert: we all likely have enough clothes to never need to buy anything new again, if we get a little creative.
For me, that meant taking the time to think about how to pair new outfits or make existing wardrobe items look a little different. That might be layering, wearing backwards, or wearing in a way that the item wasn't originally designed for - I'm a big fan of silk scarves as tops or even bandeau tops as skirts during the summer months. At a Harry Style concert earlier this summer (below), I wore a beach cover-up with cowboy boots - mad, fun, and a great sustainable option for a concert where most of the other attendees were draped in environmentally questionable feather boas. Fashion "rules" are made to be broken, after all, and the main thing is that you feel and look your best (while doing good by the planet, too).
Another trick that I've found really useful is following sustainable fashion influencers on social media - the likes of Venetia la Manna, Aditi Mayer and Aja Barber are all great and I take lots of inspiration from them in how to restyle old items and create "fresh" looks from old wardrobe items. I even follow some fast fashion influencers as I find bookmarking their looks and recreating them from my own wardrobe a fun challenge.
One major learning that's reshaped my own approach to fashion is reminding myself that no one will notice if you wear the same looks time and time again. As long as you wear your outfit with confidence, you're good.
If clothes are too big, small or worn through, I'll get them taken in or repaired - in London, there handy apps that'll collect your items from your house like SOJO and The Seam. I've even used a genius TikTok hack that my sister recommended when items are too big (yep, inserting a bangle into the back of a dress that's too big for you and wrapping a hairband around it is, shockingly, a really neat way to make a dress fit better if you haven't had time to get it taken in yet).
While I'm no sewer, getting creative can be really fun and you don't need to have loads of training to give an old item a new lease of life. (I'm a fan of hemming tape, as my sewing, especially if rushed, is questionable). Not sure where to start? Pre-order is now available for Sophie Benson's brilliant book, Sustainable Wardrobe, with upcycling tips that I've loved reading. Just remember - the world's your oyster, if you make the time.
This one's important and was perhaps my biggest hurdle. I feel there's a lot of societal pressure around certain events to wear something "new" - particularly weddings, birthdays, and festivals.
I penned an entire first-person about how I bought nothing new for Glastonbury festival just a few months ago and stand by your best option for big events always being opting for something you already own. Failing that, fall back on renting or borrowing - cheaper, easier, less stressful, and better for the planet.
Sustainability expert Ashlee Piper is a wealth of knowledge on this topic and I love following her on Instagram for tips and tricks. She's the creator of the No New Things challenge and provides daily inspiration on how to upcycle everything, from household items to pieces of clothing.
I know that slowing down and living more consciously takes time, effort and energy and I've no doubt many will read this article and conclude that it's simply not for them. I used to be the same. Just trust this - it is doable, if you reframe the way you approach shopping and spending. Our consumption must change if we're going to slow down climate change. Take the time to work out however that looks to you.2023-09-01T09:02:18Z dg43tfdfdgfd