It has been 23 months since I last purchased an item of clothing. Yes indeed, my self-imposed, one-woman, frugal weirdo clothes shopping ban is still going with the strength of a thousand greyhounds (if you want to catch-up on the entire history of my ban, see part 1, part 2, and part 3).
This absence of sartorial acquisition has followed me through every season (twice now), a slew of fancy events (including weddings, graduations, conferences, family photos, and the like), a number of professional engagements (both for my day job and my Frugalwoods “work”–though it’s hard to call what I do here work since it’s so delightful), and–most notably–an entire pregnancy. At 39 weeks pregnant, with Babywoods due in a mere nine days (!!!), I think it’s pretty darn safe to say I won’t be purchasing any maternity clothes.
When Does The Ban End, Mrs. Frugalwoods?
When I inaugurated this embargo in January 2014, I didn’t have a termination date in mind. I had a vague idea that perhaps it would last a year or so, but I decided not to assign a firm stop on the calendar. My rationale behind leaving the ban undefined stems primarily from the following: If I had an end date, couldn’t I just save up a list of the things I wanted and then buy them all at once the day after the ban ceased?
This seemed like a dangerous proposition and akin to going on a diet for a finite period as opposed to making wholesale changes to lifelong eating habits. The goal here wasn’t to forestall a bunch of shopping for a future time, it was to radically alter the way I think about consumption, stuff, and the need to gratify myself with new threads. Delaying purchases wouldn’t address the core of that goal. While calling it a “clothes shopping ban” is a nifty convention, its much more of a “clothes shopping lifestyle reinvention.”
Although saving money is one outcome of this self-restriction, it’s by no means the most prominent. Since I’ve always shopped used, primarily at thrift stores and garage sales, I wasn’t spending an exorbitant amount on my duds. The broader issue for me to overcome was my preoccupation with my appearance and the role that clothing played in my self-image. As it so often happens with incorporating frugality into my life, the tertiary benefits very often outweigh the merit of the money saved.
How To Not Buy Clothes For Almost Two Years
The mechanics behind not buying clothes are alarmingly straightforward and I’ll tell you my secrets right here and now: I don’t enter clothing stores, thrift shops with lots of clothes, or casually browse outfits online. For me, it’s as though the world has stopped vending clothing. Simple as that.
But the mindset shift behind the ban was far more challenging for me to master. For years–nay, decades–clothes were a hobby and a fixation for me. I’d intrinsically linked my self-worth to how I looked on the exterior, and my outfits were a central component of that. And new clothes (well, new-to-me clothes as I’ve always been a thrift store devotee), were my crowning achievement.
I loved scoping out fashionable deals at Goodwill and assembling adorable outfits on a regular basis. But the result of all this superfluous purchasing was both unnecessary funds expended and, perhaps more crucially, an excessive amount of clothing in my closet(s).
It’s not a good feeling to be overwhelmed by how much clothing you have. I actually found it to be relatively embarrassing. Why do I own all these things? What was I thinking when I kept bringing home more tops and skirts to an already overcrowded dresser? Gah! Thankfully, as part of my
manic mega pre-Babywoods de-cluttering this year, Mr. Frugalwoods and I donated a veritable mountain of clothes to a thrift store and our Buy Nothing* group.
*Buy Nothing is an international organization with hyper-local branches, organized via Facebook, that facilitates giving away things for free to one’s neighbors (check to see if there’s one in your area, and if not, consider starting your own).
I needed to disabuse myself of the notion that clothes shopping is a hobby. It’s not. I needed to transform my conception of clothes shopping into what it really is: a means to procure the threads we need to cover our little human bodies. Much like eating is a way to sustain us, clothes are there to keep us warm, comfortable, and not arrested for indecent exposure (there are practical considerations here, people).
Once I let go of trying to force clothes shopping to fulfill me in ways that it’s not intended to–creatively and as amusement–I was able to step away from it. And the farther I’ve gotten from my last purchase, the easier it is. Giving up shopping is, I imagine, precisely like giving up any other form of unhealthy obsession. The longer I do it, the less I think about it and the more ingrained it is in my personality.
The first few months of this endeavor were marked by me actively thinking about not buying clothes. I would consciously tally up things I was not buying and then mull them over in a ponderous fit. But after those initial cold turkey months, I sort of forgot about it. Now, when people ask if I’m still doing the clothes ban, I think “oh yeah, I guess I am!” Its become such a natural extension of my frugality and my worldview that I don’t have to exert energy or concentration over it anymore. In much the same way as Mr. Frugalwoods and I don’t budget or actively think about our money with regularity, I don’t have to give much thought to the fact that I don’t buy clothes.
Now at some point here, legitimate wardrobe needs will intervene and I’ll have to buy something. And that’s absolutely fine. It’s not reasonable to assume I’ll go through the rest of my life without buying any clothes, but hey, I’ve made it two years thus far! The salient lesson is that, once I do need to acquire clothes again, I won’t feel the emotional pull to overbuy. I’ll get what I need and be done with it.
Maternity Clothes = Christmas Trees
When Mr. FW and I learned the joyful news of our pregnancy last March, I wondered if that would signal the death knell of the clothes-buying ban. But, I decided to bide my time and see just how long I could go without purchasing bump-accommodating fashions. I used to procure clothes well in advance of actually needing them with the thought that I was “planning ahead.”
But here’s the thing, I was never certain what future me would need/want and so I ended up with a lot of unworn summer dresses bought in January and wool coats sourced in July. Not so wise a strategy after all.
And so, I took the tack of wait and see. Sure enough, I was able to wear my regular clothing–especially those items of the loose and stretchy variety–for the first 16 weeks or so of pregnancy. And after that point, I learned the valuable proverb:
Maternity clothes are like Christmas trees: when the time is right, you really want them, but once the season is over, you really want them out of your house.
This lesson was taught to me by the many wonderful women–my sister, colleagues, friends, members of my local Buy Nothing group, and parent email listserves–who handed down their maternity clothes to me. I am deeply grateful to all of them for passing along their no-longer-needed belly-covering outfits and I intend to continue the virtuous cycle once I’m finished wearing them.
In fact, last week I passed along a massive bag of maternity clothes that I won’t need in the future to another member of the Buy Nothing group who is in her first trimester. Makes me very happy to see these clothes worn again and again by so many different pregnant women. There is such a plethora of stuff in the world that it scarcely makes sense to buy anything new. My friend Mr. 1500 pointed out to me that he thinks some products never need to be manufactured again–that’s how saturated our world is with material goods.
If we were to all simply use things when we need them and then pass them along to others, just think how radically different our spending and exploitation of the earth’s resources would be. Plus, Mr. FW and I take judicious care of our clothing, so it lasts for quite awhile.
I also want to point out here that not all of these hand-me-downs are the right size, the right color, the right season, or even remotely my style. But you know what? It just doesn’t matter. I cobbled together plenty of serviceable outfits to be presentable at work every single day, party at a wedding, speak at New York University about frugality, hike, attend a conference, practice yoga, and go on dates with my husband. And at the end of the day, while I enjoy looking nice, I’d rather save money than resemble some hot mama maternity model. It’s all about priorities.
My frugal weirdo pro-tips for making hand-me-down maternity clothes work:
- Summer maternity tops can be worn year-round with a regular-size cardigan thrown over them (just don’t button the cardigan);
- Maternity pants that are too short or too long are totally workable: move the belly band a bit lower or higher on your bump;
- You can wear the same black maternity pants to work every day for a week and no one will notice;
- Pair different cardigans and necklaces with the same tops for entirely new looks;
- You can wear non-maternity undies, PJ pants, yoga pants, and hiking pants for an entire pregnancy (at least I did)–simply position the stretchy waistband below your bump;
- When your winter coat is a great trash find that was a few sizes too big to start with, it’ll fit perfectly at 9 months pregnant;
- Most importantly: wear whatever the heck you want–you’re pregnant!
Coat Tail Thoughts
While I’m sure this ban will conclude out of necessity one day, the shift in my perspective on what it means to be beautiful is permanent. I no longer consider my self-worth or self-esteem tied to how I look. Sure, I enjoy dressing up and presenting myself nicely, but it’s no longer an compulsion. I look the way I look. I’m content not wearing make-up and not obsessing over my wardrobe.
It’s liberating to not feel the self-imposed pressure of appearing perfect in the best outfits I can muster. I save time, I save money, I’m no longer “owned” by my possessions, and I’m just generally a happier gal. I’ve prioritized other things in life above my appearance, and I’m a better person for it.