Monday, May 21, 2012

On clothophilia

A little over a year ago, I fancily wrote on this blog that I had a bit of an April resolution: I would not buy any clothes for the duration of the next twelve months. Twelve months later, it would have been natural for me to look back and evaluate the experience, but I hesitated in doing so. The reason? I failed. In fact, I failed so thoroughly that it is questionable whether one can say I even tried.

Making a goal like that in April last year was an easy thing to do. Follow up on it needen't have been so difficult, but for several reasons it was. The most important being the one I stated already in the original resolution post: I might forget about the whole thing. Which is true - I did forget, and the few occasions I've remembered afterwards have never been when I was about to swipe my card at a clothes shop.

In addition, though, a lot of things happened after I wrote that post. First of all, my return to Japan. The idea of limiting my clothes purchases in a situation like I was in while still in Norway - no direction in life, no plans, and no idea what the future might bring as the 3/11 earthquake had effectively shifted everything around for me - was simple enough; possibly this might even be a direction or a goal that could bring back some sense in what I at the moment felt was more existence than life.

Not long after this, though, I did go back to Tokyo. And I found that other things (readjusting to my life in Japan, making new friends, coping with continued aftershocks and the ongoing nuclear scare, workworkWORK) became a lot more consuming than a feeble attempt at limiting my own shopping spree. Furthermore, limiting my clothes purchases while still in Japan made very little sense as I practically didn't buy anything there at all. Being a tall and large Western woman effectively made it unrealistic to find much in terms of clothes and shoes in Tokyo. When I did find certain items that fit, however, a (forgotten) vow from a (seemingly) distant past wasn't going to keep me from finally buying something. Similarly, I went on a real shopping spree the second I got back on European soil - on my layover at the airport in Copenhagen, actually - out of pure joy that I finally could find clothes that fit me again. The thought that finding that sort of joy in material things was perhaps not entirely healthy was not at all on my mind.

In addition to my mind being occupied elsewhere being part of the problem, my body was also contributing to my shopping mania. Call it a welcome side effect of the stress the past year offered, call it a result of life style changes, believe that I am lying when I say I haven't been doing that much for this - I've lost a considerable amount of weight since I made my resolution last year. This naturally affects how my old clothes fit (or rather, they don't). Speaking loudest, perhaps, was the fact that when I tried on my bunad (national costume - sewn to me at the age of fourteen, expected to fit for life), last worn two years ago on the Constitutional Day and then barely - it was so tight I had trouble breathing - I was swimming in fabric. It has never been this big on me, not even when it was made (again, at fourteen. I'm thinner now than I was at fourteen).

Obviously these changes in my body required changes in my wardrobe. And I found, to my great excitement, that the range of clothes I now could buy was much, much larger than it had been before. It's been years since I realized that baggy sweaters wasn't the way to go to hide a "voluptuous" body, but still - the clothes I can wear now (and feel comfortable in) are very different from what I felt the need to capture my body in just a year ago. Also, as more sizes fit I have the luxury of shopping in a wider variety of shops. Add to this, I've also discovered a latent interest in fashion an style, fueled by reading more fashion magazines, and the luring claws of my Pinterest "closet".

The result has been that my year of no shopping has turned into the year of more shopping than ever before. And I love it. The rush I get from trying on new outfits, finding that they fit and look good on me, is magnificent. Buying new clothes has become my new "comfort food".

Why, then, if this is such a rush, do I still toy with the idea of cutting my habit? (This being a clever word play for those of you who speak French. 'ee 'ee...)

Well, even if it might be healthier to overspend than overeat, it's still not good for me (or my wallet). I'm letting consumerism consume me. Also, there are major environmental issues at play - the environmental cost of the entire production chain from materials, through transportation and vending are considerable and worrisome. I don't have any numbers, but I suspect that by calculating the carbon print of each of my new outfits would I'd see a bleak pattern. My shopping isn't just hurting me; it's hurting the planet.

Knowing all this, however, has never hindered me before, and, frankly - even if I wish I was more environmentally conscious, I'm not. I can strive towards becoming so, but I'm never going to be one of those "move to the wilderness and live off the fat of the land"-types. I can, however, improve.

Because I've arrived back at what caused me to make the radical non-decision one year ago: I already own too much stuff. A few weeks ago I went "shopping" in my own closet at my parents' house, finding old things that either haven't fit in a while, or that was out of fashion, or maybe they just didn't suit my fancy. Trying to think creatively, however, I find that much of what I already own are completely wearable, nice, even chic stuff. Sometimes a jacket can have a whole new life with nothing else done than adding a belt. No need to go shopping when I have these kind of resources at hand!

A new resolution is coming, but this time it isn't avoiding clothes purchases altogether. Rather, I mean to keep doing that, but with an added awareness. First of all, I could definitely improve on what I buy. Ideally, the best for the environment might be not shopping at all, but by focusing on proper materials (eco cotton, anyone?) and quality products I reduce the amount of new stuff I need to buy, and I help support a more aware part of the industry.

Secondly, I could and should reduce what I already own and get rid of stuff I no longer wear. This doesn't have to mean throwing things in the bin - there is a thrift store right across the street from me, and if the items are still wearable (but for someone else than myself), I have no excuse not to give it away (as reuse is also environmentally friendly). Once an item is not wearable anymore, though, for me or anyone else, I should really throw it out. This may not be so environmentally friendly, but it will be friendly to my environment. Having a stuffed closet where you only ever wear half the things makes it cluttered and difficult to handle. I have items in my closet that's probably not been worn in fifteen years. These are typically things I should get rid off once and for all.

Finally, I clearly need to work on my own mind in all of this. Making sure I always have with me that little voice asking "do you need this? When would you wear this? Don't you already own 5 polka-dot dresses?" Sometimes this will mean bringing a friend along (and I know just which one - some of my friends have the shoppoholics just as bad as me...); sometimes it will mean being a little more responsible all on my own.

If you're interested in the environmental part of this post, by the way, I'd like to direct your attention to a very good friend of mine who has devoted her professional life to "conceptual ecology" and "slow fashion". She holds a degree in design, but she has put a very specific spin on this, by focusing on the awareness aspect of fashion. This means consciousness in everything from materials to working conditions (though frankly, I suspect she herself is working too much...), making sure that in every part of the production of her clothes (which are awesome, by the way, did I mention that? She already has designed several items for me, and is in the process of making a dress for a wedding I'm attenting this summer) no more pressure than absolutely necessary is put on the limited resources we have available on this planet. If that means researching what actually happens with silk worms, whether the sheep who provide wool have eaten only organic food, or where one can come by zippers that are as environmentally friendly as possible - she will do it.

You can find her, the magnificent Lisbeth, at Facebook, or her (awesome) website.

1 comment:

Jan Morrison said...

Not sure if you know this or not but I have done two clothing fasts - each a year long. The first one (about four years ago) was hard at the beginning but then I got into the swing of it. I only cheated once - a crazy dress I bought in Boston that makes 112 different outfits - ha! I wish I hadn't bothered though the step-dot enjoys it now. The second year was a complete piece of cake. No falling off the wagon. I bought a coat and boots because I was quite clear with myself that underwear (reasonable) outerwear and foot wear were not included. When the zipper on your one pair of boots goes that is it. When I made up my mind it wasn't too bad - the hardest was ritualistic trips to consignement shops with my best friends. I found a way out of that too - I bought clothes for my step-dot. Now, as I declutter my home for the upcoming sale, I want to get rid of more clothes. I want to say to each piece I keep - I chose you! I will keep my costumes - kimonas, my mum's cocktail dresses etc...but otherwise if I haven't worn it in the past year it is going. I take everything to a charity store. I have one pair of absolutely gorgeous red high heels. I've worn them once. I can't wear heels anymore - my back simply won't allow it. I might put them on the web for sale - what size are your feet?
The thing about being mindful with our purchases is that it is a practice. It was simply easier for me to make a big fat deal of it and do it for a year. Kind of like dieting. Glad you feel good about your bod!
later lovey...

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