Welcome to the 3rd month of my #NoNewClothes challenge. In my first post I discussed my reasons behind my decision to forgo buying new clothes for a year.
Last month I outlined the environmental and human impact of our collective addiction to fashion, especially fast fashion. And this month, I was forced to deal with my own massive overconsumption habits when I was faced with the challenge of moving house.
Two years ago when I moved into my three-level house in the Hollywood Hills I thought I was living the dream. Four closets, including a big walk-in closet, and storage under the house — I had more space than I had ever dreamed of. And so like a good little consumer, I accumulated possessions accordingly.
But two years later and my overflowing closets were starting to give me anxiety. We have all heard the cliche that material wealth does not make you happy. But could it be true that too many ‘things’ can actually make you depressed? The thought of packing up my house and sorting through all my things filled me with dread.
Anyone looking at my perfectly curated closet on IG could not have imagined the existential angst I faced every time I started to sort through my “secret closets” — the ones that I don’t show on Instagram. How had I gotten to this place?
As I sorted through boxes and boxes of clothes I had to admit that my outfit purchases over the years certainly did not reflect my vision of myself as sophisticated and stylish individual. Instead it looked like the closet of someone with distinct split personalities. There were boxes of raving gear, from years of Burning Man. I shuddered to imagine all the micro-plastics I shed from sequined bras and glitter boots. I had a few pieces from every “trend” over the last few years. Athleisure outfits that looked ridiculous on me, my (unnamed favorite) designer bike shorts that gave me a camel toe but I could not let go of because I loved owning a piece by him. Why? Why this attachment to items of clothes that didn’t even look good on me? Why the thousands of dollars wasted on clothes I had hardly or never worn?
When I really gave my attention to this inquiry, the answer surprised me. If not because I genuinely liked these pieces, or because they looked good on me, then the answer must be because I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be seen as cool and important. But underneath that I can admit that I just wanted to be liked.
The desire to be liked and validated by our peers is at the heart of the trillion dollar fashion industry. And because designers know that insecurity is a wonderful motivator to get you to keep buying, they work alongside fashion mags, sites, and influencers to keep cycling through trends. They know that we won’t be able to resist the programming that we won’t be liked if we don’t keep up to date with their imposed set of fashion rules.
The implicit message is that what you wore last year won’t get you the same amount of Instagram likes this year. And for a generation that has bought into the instant gratification and validation that social media brings us, this is a powerful marketing strategy.
Acknowledging this, and the fact that I had actually let myself be programmed in this way, was a huge wake up call. I tried to find compassion for that small part of myself that just wanted to be liked. Had I always been this way, I thought? I remembered being 13 years old, in Sydney, Australia. We had a strict school uniform growing up, and so on the rare “mufti days” when we could wear our own clothes to school, we put a lot of time and effort into planning our outfits. On this one particular day I had felt especially good about myself and my emerging unique style. I had decided to wear a cotton crochet top that my auntie had handmade and sent all the way from Peru.
Even back then I had an affinity for handmade goods and natural fibers. But as the top was see through, in order to protect my adolescent modesty, I paired it with a denim bra underneath and some denim jeans. In retrospect it was a look that would have made Jane Birkin proud. Although at the time I had no idea who she was, I was simply following my inner style compass. I was walking to the park riding a wave of healthy self-love and self-esteem when all of a sudden some older girls stopped me and pointed rudely. “Look at Nathalie, her bra is showing!!!” They gathered round and began to laugh and ridicule me. I defended myself by saying that I was aware, that it had been done on purpose. That was the nature of crochet, it was see through, I said. I had chosen that outfit because I liked it, not for anyone else’s approval. But their disapproval shocked me, their taunts stayed with me, and my little heart was crushed that day.
Fast forward 22 years later and I was still looking for approval through my sartorial choices. And the task of dealing with the repercussions of those purchases took up an entire three weeks!
As I painstakingly sorted, sold, rented, and attempted to thoughtfully give away or discard what amounted to several large boxes of clothes and shoes — I tried to have compassion for the small part of myself that had thoughtlessly made these purchases. And at the same time I told myself “never again.”
I chose my new house very specifically. It’s a third of the size of my old house. It has one-fifth of the storage space. I made this choice because I no longer want to have nightmares of overflowing closets, the ghosts of past insecurities haunting me. Every item that I have brought into this new house I have made a vow to cherish and love until the end of its life cycle. My closet brings me joy now. I have just what I need. Style choices are so much easier to make when your options are limited and when you have a true understanding of who you are and what you want to represent in the world.
I also want to acknowledge that for a few years I was one of the “fashion influencers” encouraging others to buy items of clothing they probably didn’t need in order to fit into an exclusive (imaginary) fashion club. In succumbing to this concept of exclusivity and its implicit judgement of all those who don’t fit in, I had become exactly like the very girls that bullied me when I was younger. That is not the woman I want to be, and that is not the example I want to set for the women who follow me.
I remember how uncomfortable I sometimes felt at fashion shows and parties, a feeling reminiscent of high school when girls wouldn’t let me sit with them. If I felt like that then imagine how the majority of women must feel when they compare themselves to the expansively dressed and cosmetically enhanced women we put up on pedestals in our society? I can’t and I wont keep promoting this ridiculous culture.
Instead I want to “Remake our World” — and conceive of a fashion industry that is INCLUSIVE not exclusive. One where every woman (and man) is valued and represented. Where we don’t worship one group of people while exploiting others.
A year ago that dream might have seemed far-fetched. But Covid-19 has shown us that anything is possible. The old ways are crumbling, and in the rubble we can create a new world of our choosing. Now it’s up to us to imagine what that would look like.
Stay tuned to buy pieces from my closet on Poshmark and rent on OpenClosit. All proceeds go to charity!
Images: c/o Nat Kelley & OpenClosit