How to spring clean your wardrobe
Or what we like to call, tidying up without Marie Kondo
Get your own personal stylist to help you find clothes you love. All online, completely free
According to the charity WRAP, the average lifetime for a garment in the UK is around 2.2 years. 2.2 years? Considering it takes hundreds of years for synthetic fabrics like polyester and lycra to biodegrade, that figure seems unreasonably small. In fact, that diminutive number is responsible for the extraordinary amount of textiles we put into landfill each year, and it is driving the demand for an accelerated fashion cycle.
These might seem like strange words coming from a fashion retailer, but as Thread’s very own Head of Styling, Shaunie Brett, continues with her ‘no new clothes’ challenge this year, it seemed apt to share her hard-won wisdom. “I think everyone should do it,” says Shaunie. “One of my friends has just started it too. He has a good set of clothes as well, so I think he will be ok.”
Back in November, when Shaunie started the challenge, she wrote down a list of terms and conditions. For 365 days, she’d swear off buying any clothes, shoes or accessories with the only exception being “if a high-necessity item gives out completely and there are no alternatives (e.g. underwear).” In that scenario, she’s allowed herself to replace like for like, in an effort to avoid the thrill of newness.
How difficult has it been, given that she works in the fashion industry?
“Going cold turkey around the sample sale season at Christmas was agony,” replies Shaunie, who was buying at least one fashion item a week beforehand. “But I’m now finding it much, much easier. It’s changed my perception.”
While everyone has different motivations for giving up clothes shopping, Shaunie’s three reasons are probably familiar to anyone who has considered doing the same. “One, I was just addicted to that constant feeling of ‘Should I get this?’. It was exhausting. Another was financial, but the biggest reason was environmental. One year of not buying clothes would be quite a big positive contribution to that cause.”
Four months in, and Shaunie’s sticking to her guns – only replacing a pair of leggings when they were at the point of falling down in a gym class. Her advice for anyone considering doing the same is to start with a good set of clothes. “I really love the clothes that I have, so it would only work if I feel like I have a full wardrobe,” she says. “That means I can just enjoy and cherish the stuff I have a lot more. It’s hard because being creative with clothes is part of my identity, so it’s a much more challenging form of creativity when you can’t add newness.”
Shaunie also points out that it’s so much easier to say ‘can’t’ than ‘shouldn’t’. “It’s like turning vegan. It’s easier to cut out meat than to cut down on meat, because this way you can’t even deliberate. Now, if I’m in Oxford Circus or Westfield I just exit, there’s just no point me being there.”
Finally, Shaunie’s last piece of advice is to be public about the life change you’re making. “Hold yourself to account. Consuming is something we just do, so tell your friends. Put it on Instagram. That way, it can inspire other people as well. Set your own rules – some people probably need more clothes – so it’s all about deciding what your personal terms and conditions are going to be.”
And if you're still not sure how to go about weaning yourself off new clothes, here are a few ideas.
Get together with a bunch of friends, colleagues or neighbours and take part in a clothes swap. The rules are simple: have everyone bring items from their wardrobe that are in good condition, but which they no longer use. Then get stuck in. Try on products or brands that you might have never considered before, and find new homes for your old stuff in the process. Or, if you don’t think you can organise one, why not just find one to attend?
Necessity is the mother of all invention, and that’s especially the case when it comes to reviving old clothes. But it’s not just about letting out waistbands or hemming trouser legs. A good tailor can also make some subtle adjustments that will modernise your treasured garments. As tastes change through the decades, losing a shoulder pad here or a few inches off your jeans there can be the difference between something hanging in the back of your wardrobe unworn and something becoming your trusty go-to. If you’re feeling brave, you can also experiment with fabric dyes that you chuck into the washing machine to revive or change the colour of your clothes.
While Shaunie banned herself from even a charity shop spree, you don’t have to rule out second-hand goods yourself. “If it was just an environmental thing, then it would be enough to not buy new clothes but because there’s an addiction thing, I wanted to challenge my habit,” says Shaunie. “I can so easily convince myself I need something, but it was probably almost never the case. It was want not need.”
For those who find the process of trawling through stuffed rails both too time-consuming and uninspiring, there are plenty of online sellers now who will do the hard work for you. Find your preferred style genre on sites like Depop, eBay, and Vestiaire Collective.
“I think one of the hardest things when I started this challenge was boredom,” says Shaunie. “Wearing the same thing over and over again gets boring. I found a good way of getting around that was with a fortnightly repertoire. So you have a set of clothes that you wear and two weeks later you pick another set, which means it still feels new and different.”
If you need inspiration for what should go in your repertoire, take a look at our capsule wardrobe ideas.
Not buying new clothes for yourself can really hone your focus for what pieces you actually need. Keep a list, whether that’s by using the 'like' function on Thread or writing notes in your phone. Then, when your birthday, Christmas or even Valentine’s Day comes around, you’ll know exactly what to ask for. This is the time to land those special items that you’d never splash out on yourself, and because they’re gifts, they’ll carry even more sentimental value. Your stylist will be able to advise what’s a worthwhile investment, and also what the quintessential pieces are from different brands.
Words: Theresa Harold
Illustration: Haley Tippmann