In January 2012, Rebecca Smithers gave up buying clothes for 12 months, saved £1,200 – and transformed her life
My friends’ jaws dropped as I told them of my shocking new year’s resolution. To save money, and rein in my often thoughtless and unnecessary spending, I decided not to buy any new clothes for a year. No hosiery, no underwear, no shoes or boots or handbags, not even “pre-loved” or secondhand items from charity shops.
Expecting sisterly support and understanding, I was disappointed. My best friend Jane – who remembers our student days when I would happily starve for a week to buy a must-have sweater – told me I wouldn’t last the month. My chums at the local hairdresser looked pained. “But how will you manage?” they wailed, expressing baffled sympathy and pity rather than solidarity.
Another female friend rather curtly reminded me that I was not the only person to enter such purgatory.
I took the abuse on the chin. Yes, I am interested in fashion and admit that over the years I have acquired a lot of clothes. My late mother was a fashion historian and avid knitter which means I have inherited some prized vintage clothing, such as beaded dresses from the 1920s and frocks from the 1960s as well as intricate hand-knits that Sarah Lund would envy.
And although I’ve never been a slave to designer labels and current fashions, I’m the first to admit that a little retail therapy was always a tonic. But enough was enough. I wanted to stop acquiring more, and enjoy what I already had – maybe even trim it back a bit.
Slowly, friends decided to join in – with no pressure on my part. My neighbour, Kate, decided to take stock and think before she rushed to buy another cache of bargain plain T-shirts to wear to work in her café.
Another friend, Gill, is buying only from charity shops and recently snaffled a classy black single-breasted Italian suit for her eldest son for less than a tenner. And Cal handed over a box containing a brand-new pair of grey MaxMara suede ankle boots (with an eye-watering price tag of £310 on the box) which had never fitted her. I was so grateful: not only are they conveniently my size, but they were absolutely perfect for winter. I’ve also had support and tips through Twitter from some who have tried and failed as well as those who found the exercise a positive and transformational one.
As well as being life-changing, the last year has helped my bank balance. I’ve saved at least £100 a month, while my fashion-conscious daughter, soon to be 15, remarked that when we go shopping I have more time to spend on her. But, unusually for a teenager, she has been taking the message on board, even though she needs new clothes as she is growing at a rate of knots.
Meanwhile I have been discovering new pleasures, such as finding items (things like mohair sweaters and velvet tops) in storage which are so old they are back in fashion again. I admit I am lucky not to have changed in size over the years.
And when it has got boring I’ve been making the most of accessories – rotating bright scarves and gloves rather than always wearing the same items. Belts made from satin and grosgrain ribbons can also help to ring the changes.
And I have honed my rusty sewing skills. Darning tights and socks to extend their life may sound tedious (some friends looked on in disbelief) but it has become part of my regular weekend routine.
I’ve always looked after my clothes, protecting them from moth damage and carrying out repairs sooner rather than later.
Now I do more along those lines. Recently, I took a coat that belonged to my mother to a dry cleaner’s tailor to find out how much it would cost to make some new pockets. Unbelievably, it was £25 per pocket, using cheap lining fabric. Instead, I am having a go myself.
Of course, not everybody can sew. Since I launched my challenge, there have been some useful online initiatives such as Sew It Forward, the brainchild of Zoe Robinson, of sustainable fashion hub thegoodwardrobe.com. Its workshops are designed to show people that sewing is a great way to extend the life of your wardrobe, while having fun and saving money at the same time. Robinson is a champion of the slow fashion movement, which refuses to follow mass-produced seasonal trends and instead focuses on quality and long-lasting garments.
I had set the original rules of my challenge and with an August birthday – having suggested that I might (ahem) be prepared to accept clothing as gifts – I was intrigued to see whether the postman would be weighed down with fancy boxes and garment bags.
It was, sadly, not to be. But I was the lucky recipient of a Mad Men-style zip-necked shift dress bravely chosen and bought by my husband and daughter – who looked nervous as I unwrapped it.
A belated package from my niece Sophia yielded a new pair of tights in a striking psychedelic pink, purple and grey design – bought from a market stall in Nottingham – which had their first outing at a charity fashion show in the autumn. I’m really impressed that she has decided not to splash out on any new clothes for the first three months of 2013 – a step she believes is more realistic and practical than an entire year.
On the last leg of my self-imposed journey I had imagined feeling vaguely excited as the finishing line loomed. I thought I would have drawn up a list of clothing to rush out and buy. I remembered the rush of adrenalin and frisson of excitement at the thought of another new top from Zara.
But the reality is rather different. I have learned there is more to life than constantly adding to my wardrobe. And I have felt liberated by my challenge rather than constrained.
So I’m looking forward to spending this year slimming down my clothing further this year with continuing donations to charity shops. If I do hit the sales, it will be to supervise my daughter’s purchases …
And if I am tempted to spend it will probably be on a new pair of 60-denier tights costing £4.
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