I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. I’m so not-big on them that it’s taken me a fortnight to even get around to writing this post (yes, because I have SUCH a consistent posting schedule normally). They always feel a bit artificial, where on the one hand I am forever setting goals throughout the year, and yet on the other hand when the time comes to think of a new year’s resolution, I can’t come up with anything.
But near the end of 2020, I kept finding myself coming back to the same idea. What if, I asked myself, I didn’t buy any new clothes in 2021. Anything new I’ll have to make myself.
It’s a ludicrous idea. I only started learning to sew last summer, and I’m currently at the stage where I spend a month just making mockups for a basic garment. My knitting skills are better, though somewhat rusty from over a decade in hibernation.
But I kept coming back to this notion. I love the idea of a handmade wardrobe, where everything fits my body and my style, where I have the opportunity to control the details right down to the fibre content of the sewing thread (no polyester, please!).
Besides, 2021 is the perfect time for it. I’m likely not going to be back in the office for months yet, so I don’t need to look presentable. My social calendar is going to be rather sparse for most, if not all, of the year, meaning the likelihood of me having to acquire an outfit for an event is slim to none. And I’m not starting a wardrobe from scratch, either; while I don’t particularly like the majority of the clothing in my closet, I have enough clothes to last me the week when I barely leave the house at the moment.
I started thinking about this back in August, really, when I decided I want to create my own wardrobe from scratch (oh, and for the record, the cardigan I said would take “weeks, if not months”? Still working on it. It’s got a full body and almost one sleeve), but it was only around December that I thought I should just go all-in and not allow myself to buy new clothes in 2021.
Ultimately, the goal is to build a wardrobe of pieces I love and have made myself. There are a handful of pieces in my current wardrobe that I can see myself holding onto in the long term, but for the most part I’m just not very happy with it, and I feel like so many of my clothes have ended up there because I needed more tops or pairs of jeans and got the first ones that seemed serviceable, or because I was fed up of what I had and tried to make a change without thinking it through.
When it comes down to it, this is the main reason I have for not buying any clothes for the next year. If I am restricted to clothes I make, I’m going to be much more thoughtful about what I add to my wardrobe. When it takes me weeks to make a simple blouse and months to make a cardigan, I’m only going to choose pieces I truly love and will wear over and over again.
I want to stop the quick fix of going out and buying something new, and change to critiquing and deciding what exactly it is that I need and what I want to add to my wardrobe the most.
Fast fashion, I know well, is not sustainable, but while I’ve made some changes towards reducing my fast fashion purchases in the last few years, in many ways I’ve just gone from buying too many cheap clothes to buying too many expensive clothes by switching to more ethical brands. I’ve never been a huge shopper, and all my clothes fit into two drawers under my bed and my tiny 1930s closet, so it’s not as though I have reams and reams of clothing, but I definitely do have a lot of clothing I don’t love.
The other side of the sustainability coin is knowing exactly what my clothes are made of, down to the thread and the trim. I’ve long been a fan of natural fibres and make a point of buying clothes made from materials like linen, but I noticed recently how many of my favourite linen clothes seem to use polyester thread and labels.
It’s understandable why. Polyester thread is cheap and plentiful and works well in sewing machines. But if I want garments that don’t shed microplastics in the washing machine, and garments that are made of materials that will compost just like I will eventually, then polyester thread is not ideal.
When I make clothing myself, I can make the decision to hand stitch with fussy linen thread if I want, or pay for more expensive cotton thread for using with my machine. I can shell out for real wood buttons for a cardigan rather than cheaper plastic ones. I can choose cotton lace and silk ribbon instead of their nylon and polyester alternatives.
All of these choices tend to carry a price tag, which is why the synthetic options are so widespread (I had to change my plans for a lacy blouse when I realised it would cost TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS for a single yard of cotton lace fabric, so now it will just have lace trim). And I understand why many of them are not widespread in commercial garment construction, even for smaller and more ethical businesses.
But I honestly kind of love the idea of crafting an entire wardrobe of completely natural and plastic-free materials. When I’m sewing things myself, I’m in control of this. I can make an entire garment out of just linen if I’m willing to hand sew the entire thing with linen thread that doesn’t love the sewing machine. I could never afford to buy something like that with the amount of time it would take, but when I only have to pay for the fabric and thread, I can make something that will entirely decompose one day, and I find that rather appealing.
The final reason that I’ve decided to make all of my clothes is to develop my skills. I used to be a pretty competent knitter, but I’ve noticed lately I’m not as good as I used to be. And I’ve never been anything other than a beginner sewer. If buying new clothes is going to be easier than making them myself, I’m never going to become a good sewer, because it’ll just be a hobby I dabble in.
I’ve been talking primarily about making clothing, but of course as the title of this post says I’m also not buying any shoes this year. In this case, the logic is very simple: I have enough shoes. While I will at some point need to buy new shoes again, I have plenty to do me for now and I want to discourage myself from buying more until I need them.
This brings me to the reason I’ve limited myself to a year. Part of my problem with resolutions is that, although they’re made on the New Year, there’s often this idea that it’s a permanent thing. There’s a Before You, who didn’t exercise enough, didn’t eat enough vegetables, didn’t read enough books, and an After You, who exercises and eats your veg and reads plenty of books, not just for the upcoming year, but indefinitely.
By limiting myself to a year, I can be stricter than I would be without that time limit. For one thing, at some point I really will need to buy shoes again. The shoes I have will wear out, and I’m already eyeing American Duchess’s Londoner shoes, so if I tried to insist I’d never buy shoes again I’d probably give up at some point to get a pair of those lovely, lovely shoes.
Likewise, I can’t see myself never buying clothing again at this point. I’m still very much a beginner when it comes to sewing, and I really don’t know if, by the end of this year, I’ll have the skills and the wardrobe built up to meet my needs. I might find myself at a point where some of my shop bought tops are needing replaced, but I’ve only made two blouses and both of them have such horribly uneven seams that they can’t be worn in public. However, not buying clothes at all for a single year seems much more manageable.
The rules for this may seem very simple. Just don’t buy clothes or shoes. If I want new clothes, I have to make them myself.
And that is the basic rule. However, I know myself well enough to know that it’s better to set out potential exceptions to the rules now than to assume I’ll follow it 100% and then give up when I encounter a situation I can’t otherwise handle.
So instead, my rule is this: I will not buy any clothes unless they fulfill an essential purpose that cannot be filled by anything else currently in my closet, or anything that I have the skills and time to make.
To break this down, this rules out the majority of everyday clothes and the majority of “problem” clothes, by which I mean the kind of clothes that I buy too many of and then build up in my closet. But it leaves me the opportunity to buy clothes if I really don’t have much choice, without breaking the rules of my challenge.
For instance, I’m not sure my high-impact sports bras will last the rest of the year. There’s nothing else in my closet that could fill their role, and while I thought about buying some in December, I thought that pre-emptively buying extras of an item wasn’t really in keeping with the spirit of the challenge.
However, I also know that I won’t have the skill to make these rather complex pieces of clothing, and they’re essential because without them I’m rather limited in the exercise I can do.
So should my high-impact sports bras bite the dust, I can buy myself more, but only as many as I need.
Which is fine, because those things are ugly and not exactly “fun” shopping.
‘Essential’ purposes here could also be things where there’s a particular dress code. For example, if I have a wedding to go to and realise that none of my dresses fit, then I can buy something to wear so that I don’t look like a jerk showing up underdressed. On the flip side, if I have a wedding to go to and just don’t really like any of my dresses, then I cannot buy a new dress. I can, however, make myself a new dress that I like better than the ones I have. Likewise, if I realise six months before the wedding that I don’t have anything to wear, then my first attempt should be to make something myself. Only if that fails or if there’s not enough time can I buy something.
By allowing myself these carefully-defined exceptions, I’m reducing the likelihood that I’ll run into a situation that causes me to fail and then give up. I’m also planning on keeping track of any time I take advantage of these exceptions, so that at the end of the year I can count them up and critique them.
I’m excited about this challenge. A small wardrobe of carefully-made clothing all handmade by myself carries a certain appeal to me and, while it’s very ambitious for someone who only started sewing six months ago, it’s something that I think will be very worthwhile.