Reflections on Refraining from Buying Clothes for a Year

In December of 2017 I signed up for the Ready to Wear (RTW) Fast — no buying any clothes during 2018. There is SO MUCH to be learned from a buying fast, and I highly recommend the challenge to anyone, even non-sewists.

My year of not buying clothes

First, a disclaimer. I didn’t get through the whole year without buying RTW clothes. I gained weight in the spring and summer and when school started up in the fall I realized that all of my jeans were too tight. Could I have made jeans? I’m sure I could have, but only given enough time and brain space to do it right. With the crunch of the beginning of the semester I was too time-poor and needed something to wear fairly urgently. For some reason it made sense in my head that if I was going to fall off the wagon, I might as well fall off spectacularly, so not only did I buy the jeans I needed, I bought several more pairs of pants as well. I hate to admit that, but there it is. And here’s what I learned from falling off the wagon so spectacularly: I didn’t need any of those additional pants I bought. The experience of fasting, and breaking the fast, taught me how very little I actually *need* to buy.

Frivolous at Last - Burda Wrap Blouse 04/2014 and Love Notions Sybil Illusion pencil skirt
A favourite me-made outfit: Burda Cross-Over top and Love Notions Sybil Pencil Skirt. Alas, I’ve since outgrown the skirt!

Falling off the wagon also taught me that it’s okay to fail. At first I felt quite ashamed — not being able to fulfil a promise I’d made to myself, feeling embarrassed that I didn’t make it through the whole year, that sort of thing — but then I realized that the world wasn’t going to end and no one was pointing and laughing at me in the streets! Failures are learning opportunities and I did learn from mine so I’m chalking it up to a positive experience.

Frivolous At Last - Linden Sweatshirt / Toaster Sweater
Another favourite me-made of 2018: a hacked Linden Sweatshirt made with bamboo-cotton fleece.

The RTW Fast helped me gain a deeper understanding of my own motivations for shopping for clothes:

  • FOMO — fear of missing out — plays a part: “what if there’s something in that shop that I’m going to love?”
  • Sometimes the need to feel I’m ‘accomplishing’ something makes me head to the shops. When that feeling kicked in, I mollified it with sewing or baking or cleaning or knitting or enjoying a good book instead.
  • Sometimes I used shopping as an emotional balm or a way to soothe the effects of a stressful day. (This one is completely incomprehensible to my dear husband, who strongly dislikes shopping and can’t imagine how heading to a crowded shopping mall would be any kind of balm whatsoever. Can you relate?)
  • Having something new is a good feeling. There seems to be something in our hard-wiring that makes us crave new and novel things, and buying things is an easy, accessible way to satisfy that craving. (It’s what makes our unsustainable capitalist economy tick.) However, we all know that the feeling does not last very long at all, and soon after we’re craving something new again. Here’s something I’ve known for a while now and the RTW Fast helped reinforce for me: accumulating all those ‘things’ causes more stress and anxiety in the long run. It all needs to be maintained, cleaned, stored, shlepped around during a move, and ultimately re-sold or donated (a task that takes up valuable time and energy) or thrown away (which may inspire feelings of guilt and remorse). Those ‘things’ all take up valuable space in our mind and in our homes, and then pile up in a landfill. Ugh. Thinking of all that cures me of the urge to just go ahead and buy that cool top I just spotted on the rack.
Uh, speaking of cool tops….a basic with a twist (literally). Love the colour and the flutter sleeves of this Itch to Stitch Nottingham top I sewed in the spring.

The RTW Fast changed how I sew a little bit. I spent more time this year sewing fairly basic items such as cozy sweaters and T-shirts. It made me think about what I enjoy sewing. Previously, I’d say my biggest motivation for sewing was to be able to make something unusual, something that you couldn’t easily find in a shop. And I definitely still love that! But during the fast I discovered I also really enjoy knocking out a simple t-shirt and being able to wear basics that I have sewn on a daily basis. I have no plans to strive for a completely me-made wardrobe, but fasting pushed me into sewing some things I might not have otherwise.

Frivolous at Last - Sew Over It Heather Dress
Some frosting: I don’t think I’ve even worn this Sew Over It Heather Dress yet, but I count it amongst my faves of 2018 nonetheless. I mean, look at that COLOUR!

All in all, the RTW fast was an excellent experience. Going forward, rather than continuing to try to fast completely from store-bought clothes, I intend to simply keep the spirit of the fast top of mind and resist the urge to shop or make spur-of-the-moment purchases. I will try to avoid the siren call of trendy fast fashion that is doing so much harm to our planet. I will spend more time thinking about what I actually *need*, how often I should treat myself to something I *want*, and whether or not buying that thing will actually turn out to be a positive thing for me in the long run. And this will apply to all potential purchases, not just clothes.

Frivolous At Last - Megan Nielsen Flint Shorts
Ok, this is boring, but these Megan Neilsen Flint Shorts are probably my most-worn item of 2018.

If you’re thinking of trying a clothes-buying fast yourself, my best advice is just stay away from the shops! Going shopping ‘just to look’ leads to discovering something for which you had no need or desire until you happened to see it in the shop (or online). Here are some other tips:

  • Unsubscribe from all marketing emails from clothing stores. You’ll get over your FOMO faster than you think.
  • When you see a sale: remind yourself that getting a bargain is pointless if it’s not something you need, love, will wear often, and won’t take up your valuable time and emotional energy while it’s in your life.
  • Find some other activity to replace clothes shopping. This may require a bit of stock-taking as to what your personal motivations are for shopping, and finding the right alternate activity that fulfils similar needs. If you’re reading this blog, I can safely assume that sewing your clothes is going to be that alternate activity!
  • Find someone or a group of people to be accountable to. Fast with a friend, or find an online group of people doing the same. Check in with them when you need some motivation to keep going.
  • Decide on a period of time that is comfortable for you. You don’t have to go a whole year (in fact, this might produce a lot of anxiety and a desire to ‘stock up’ before you begin, which seems a bit counter-productive).  Try three months or six months. Maybe you’ll discover it’s easy and want to keep going.
Frivolous at Last - Catalina Dress - at a market in Milan
Nobody said anything about not buying fabric, right??

On a related note, today I heard an interview with David Cain, author of the blog Getting Better at Being Human, who suggested the concept of a “deep dive”: taking a year to “go deeper, not wider”. A year of, say, not acquiring anything new and not starting any new hobbies, but rather using what you already have and exploring it in a deeper way. You might find the interview inspiring, especially as we prepare to begin a new year.

Now over to you. Have you done a clothes-buying fast, and if so, what did you discover? Or are you thinking of trying one? What aspects make you nervous about it?

Thanks for stopping by and being part of this blog in 2018. All the best to you for 2019!

— Lori



30 thoughts on “Reflections on Refraining from Buying Clothes for a Year

  1. I joined the RTW fast this year and much to my surprise I made it through the whole year without buying a single garment. Of course I MORE than made up for that with buying a shocking number of patterns and the fabric! That’s a whole other thing. For 2019 I’m definitely NOT buying any clothes, fabric or patterns. We’ll see how well I manage that. I’m hopeful but not feeling as resolute as I should be 🙂 I can still sense a little too much softening around the edges of that resolution (patterns & fabric bit).

    I agree with you Lori that committing to a RTW fast is helpful in becoming more mindful re our consuming habits. I don’t think I’ll ever just buy clothes again without really considering whether I need it, who made it and where it was made.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I did a RTW Fast a couple of years ago. I discovered that it was mostly fun. I did have some anxiety a time or two when work situations came up and I worried about having something that was right. But…maybe I should do it again this year….I really don’t need to shop and really, I prefer most of the clothes I make myself anyway. I’ll think on it over the next day or two. Thanks for putting the idea into my head. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I participated in the rtw fast this year. Honestly the one who suffered the most was my husband, who did not benefit from me wandering around the store. I did buy a handful of turtle necks in early December, we recently moved to a much colder climate and I was not properly stocked up. Going forum don’t see the need for a totally handmade wardrobe, like you. But I will control fill my closet with pieces I enjoy making and wearing. Thank you for sharing and providing a place to discuss!

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  4. I consider my ‘RTW Fast’ year a success although I wasn’t 100% RTW free. (I’m the one who made the snarky comment about Weight Watchers not expelling me for eating a doughnut.)
    Henceforth (that’s fancy New Years talk) I don’t intend on making all. the. things. Bras, jeans, tech/sports wear I’m looking at you. (Unless, of course, I specifically decide I want the challenge.) Me-made vs RTW is not always the way to go for me. Time, money, and ethical issues are just some of the factors that I consider.
    If we’re talking fast fashion we’re also talking consumerism, so we need to look at what we’re doing individually. Be mindful. Think about everything you buy (its carbon footprint, who it has affected on its journey, etc.). Think about everything you make (what it’s made of, how much you actually need, etc). It’s all a balancing act. And we need to get much better at it. 🙂
    Happy 2019 Lori! I can’t wait to see what you’re up to!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There was some serious shade getting thrown around in the RTW Fast facebook group there for a while, wasn’t there?? I couldn’t believe how some people were all like, oh, you had to buy a pair of pants because the ones you were wearing split down the middle? Okay, buh-bye, you’re not welcome here anymore. Sheesh. I’m GLAD you were snarky.
      And I am with you on the bras/jeans/athletic wear thing — I’d much rather buy those at this point in my life.
      Happy 2019 to you, too, Melody!


  5. I’ve been RTW fasting ever since I started sewing again ten years ago…I was indulging in clothes shopping on the way home from work during the final years of my first marriage, as therapy. Now apart from undies and socks, [and shoes, gotta buy shoes] it’s all me made. Once in a while I’ve bought two or three boring t shirts, because making them is SO DULL but that’s it. A wardrobe [and chest of drawers] bulging with lovely me-made coordinating [and mostly fitting] clothes. It does make it harder to get rid of things, as you bond with made clothes more, but on the other hand, I also hate to see lovely fabrics lying on hangers when I’m not wearing them, so many get refashioned [eventually]

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  6. Thank you for doing this reflection on your experience with the RTW Fast! Your thoughts on how fasting (and “failing”) worked for you were very interesting, and I appreciate your perspective.

    Your point about the anxiety caused by an accumulation of things really hits home for me. Between redecorating our guest room and reorganizing my sewing and knitting supplies (which used to live in said guest room), all my “stuff” has caused a fair amount of anxiety for me this year. It’s an unpleasant feeling, even for a confirmed non-minimalist! But on the bright side, the icky feelings have given me a renewed determination to sew and knit from what I already have in 2019. (And do some destashing…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ach, destashing! I can relate. How does the stash grow so much, just, like, all by itself?? I’m going to try to not buy any fabric in 2019, but I am planning to do a lot of travelling so if I see some amazing fabric on my travels I’m not going to beat myself up to much if a meter or two end up in my suitcase. Happy 2019!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve never done a RTW fast because these kinds of things make me anxious. It’s like the way an itch appears only when you have to say still… I also noticed that when I started sewing clothes for myself, I shopped for clothes less but the fabric stash grew. So I didn’t really buy less in the end. So now, I just try to be mindful and only buy what I need. Easier said than done with that little “Ooooh, pretty, I want!” voice in my head but, like you said, it helps to not go to the shops.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s an old Kids in the Hall comedy sketch (remember them, from the late 80s/early 90s?) where a guy is told “don’t put salt in your eye”….and then he keeps repeating “don’t put salt in your eye” over and over until it morphs into “PUT SALT IN YOUR EYE” and he sprinkles salt in his eye and falls down in agony. It was a weird sketch, but I always think of it every time the idea of being told you can’t do something makes you WANT to do it….or at least makes you really anxious about not doing it. So I totally get what you mean! The total fast was a challenge for sure, and I guess the point of a challenge is to really explore the consequences of total immersion in something. But it sounds like you have a really great approach, without needing to do the all-or-nothing thing. Happy new year to you!


  8. It’s really interesting to hear how you got on. And as Mads said, I think the point about excess shopping ultimately leading to more stress and anxiety than not is a great one – and not something that had occurred to me until I read your post… I’m off to ponder the contents of my wardrobe in a new light!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am hoping that a RTW fast in 2019 will force me into upping my sewing game (both in productivity & skill level). Definitely staying away from underwear however!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You go, Shaz! You can do it! I have never sewn underwear either. Although I have a box full of small jersey scraps that I’ve been saving for that purpose. But the thing is, I buy one brand of underwear, and they are *perfect* in every way, so I don’t really know why I’d bother trying to sew them. There are some RTW things that are just better/easier/more cost effective in the long run IMHO.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Janet, I’m glad this was helpful. I hadn’t thought of it in that light either until the last year or two. And when it was pointed out to me, I started to see how much the ‘stuff’ in my life really did take up too much of my mental space.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post – thank you for the link to the Depth Year article – right in line with my thinking for the coming year. Especially right on the heels of our most consumption oriented holiday of the year.
    *also – those shoes!! The black ones in the first picture – what are they? I love them!


  10. Happy new year! This is awesome. Congratulations 🙌🏿 I love the basic pieces you always pair with your looks. I have thought of it or unconsciously…..since grad school I do selective I thought of a deeper dive…my sewing stash..that’s my thing to work on. And of course sewing more of what I wear regularly.😊😍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, I’ll be doing a deep dive into my stash, too, Uta! Hopefully 2019 is the year we finally meet in person, since we live in the same darn neighbourhood! Let’s make a plan.


  11. Thank you for your post! This has been a goal of mine the last few months, but I made it official and am writing it down for 2019! Besides jeans and maybe a bra or two, I am hoping to sew all of my clothing!


    1. That’s awesome, Caitlin! You can do it! I think it’s a great realistic goal to set — sewing *almost* everything you need, except for those things you know you don’t want to have to sew. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so true! I admit I have not yet unsubscribed from all the fabric emails…but when I think about it, they’re just a distraction I don’t really need.


  12. Thanks for the tip on David Cain’s blog! I’m enjoying the podcast and glad you talk about rtw fasting. I think “dieter’s deprivation” is pretty normal where you binge on junk when you break the diet. But then you feel so horrible afterward, and I think it’s reevaluating how to prevent that again in a sustainable way.

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