What I learned from not buying clothes for 3 months

Real talk: I’ve spent about $300 on clothes, shoes, accessories, and personal care every month in the last 2 years.


I’m generally a pretty frugal person, and typing those numbers actually felt painful. As someone who often has internal debates about whether I should spend $2 on a bus ticket or a $5 Uber ride or just-suck-it-up-and-walk, $300 a month, aka $3600 a year feels like a mind boggling amount of money.

That’s certainly one of my motivations for participating in the Slow Fashion Season this year, a global initiative that aims to reduce consumption and spread awareness of the environmental impact of the fashion industry. Participants commit to not buying any new clothes from June 21 to September 21, though trading and secondhand shopping is allowed. I took it a step further – no clothes, shoes, accessories, or cosmetics for 3 months – new or secondhand – and here’s what I learned.

Image credit: Mica Asato via Pexels

1. Less new clothes = more money for everything else worthwhile.

I’ve been obsessively tracking my finances since 2013, and back then, I spent about $100 a month in the “fashion and beauty” category: clothes, shoes, jewelry, personal care products, cosmetics, and grooming.

I get a haircut once a year, don’t wear a lot of makeup, and don’t get my nails done, so clothes definitely make up the biggest share of spending. But in a weird way, I’m actually buying fewer things than I did back in my post-college days, when a Saturday often involved strolling around Newbury street with friends and going home with a bag of clothes from Forever21 for less than $50. I’m supporting more brands with higher environmental and labor standards now, but they come at a cost. For example, here are the prices of a couple of items I purchased new in the past two years:

  • Veja sneakers: $120
  • Everlane jumpsuit: $120
  • Kjaer Weis eye shadow: $45
  • Reformation dress (my wedding dress): $228 

Basically, one or two new things, some thrifted stuff, the occasional dry clean, plus whatever lotion, sunscreen, shampoo or makeup that I need a refill, and I’m at $300!

A pair of $120 sneakers, or over a year of NYTimes digital subscription?

In the more direct sense, I learned these past 3 months that I can save a lot of money from buying less clothes. But more importantly, I learned that I shouldn’t feel a sense of loss for not buying something, because the money I saved from not buying clothes is all money that I thought “wasn’t in my budget” before –  money that could go towards sustainably produced food, a new media subscription, a charity donation, or paying for the education that I get for free through podcasts or an educator on Instagram. I did each and every one of these things during Slow Fashion Season, and that makes me feel incredibly fulfilled.

2. I spend way too much time and mental energy mindlessly browsing.

If you aren’t someone who enjoys shopping for clothes, you may not think a 3-months shopping hiatus is hard. But for me, it was hard, really hard especially at the beginning.

You see, not only do I like buying, I also enjoy mindlessly looking, debating, and obsessing over things that most of the time I don’t even end up buying. Even when I try to avoid actively browsing, an Instagram ad can send me down a spiral: “Oh this is really cute! Where is it from? How much is it? Would I wear it? How do other people style this? What else does this brand make? What’s their rating on Good on You? Can I find their stuff secondhand?” so on and so forth.

This extremely unhealthy and unproductive habit means that to avoid shopping for 3 months, I also had to avoid browsing for 3 months, which was nearly impossible. I noticed advertising everywhere – from Facebook ads, the fashion influencers on Instagram, to marketing emails, and catalogs that show up at my door.

Scroll, swipe, tap, buy, repeat. Image credit: Kerde Severin via Pexels.

Resisting the urge to buy and browse felt like swimming against the huge forces of consumerism, but committing to Slow Fashion Season helped me take a (small) step back. I minimized time on social media, unfollowed some brands, and stopped going to thrift shops just to browse – which are all habits I hope to carry forward.

3. It’s up to me to define want vs need, and that’s part of the problem

Like many women, I have the nothing-to-wear syndrome, despite having over 300+ articles of clothing in my closet.

Possible causes of my disease might include, according to a 5 min Google search: a) I’ve shopped without thinking about outfits; b) I own things that no longer fit; c) I’ve bought too many trendy pieces instead of staples. The best treatment (prescribed by fashion magazines and bloggers): build a wardrobe with high quality, classic pieces that you love.

LOL. The solution to having too much clothes is to buy more clothes?!

Can we buy our way to minimalistic capsule wardrobe bliss? Image credit: Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash.

I’m no doctor, but I’m going out on a limb to say that it’s my mindset that requires changing. Everyone always says it’s ok to buy as long as it’s something that you need. But do I really need another blazer for work? Or a pair of those wide leg pants that are apparently “the most flattering pants ever”? Nah. I actually think I will survive without buying any new clothes for the next 10 years, but alas I’m an imperfect human that loves fashion.

I’m still going to try to “build a wardrobe with high quality, classic pieces that I love” though – but it’s the “love” part the equation that I should work on.

What’s next?

Slow Fashion Season 2019 ends today, so I’d like to commit to a couple of more principles going forward.

  • Try my darn hardest to buy secondhand before buying new.
  • Secondhand shopping is a time-suck, and tbh it’s nice to have exactly what you want every once in a while. But if I do buy new, I want to support brands that are making strides towards environmental sustainability, fair supply chain, and inclusivity.
  • Be more intentional with my new purchases by instituting at least 30-day “cooling period”. If things sell out, so be it.
  • Continue to learn about the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry, and share with others (irl, not just online).

Did you participate in Slow Fashion Season? What did you learn? Are there other shopping habits you’d like to work on?