Slow wardrobe

Along with everything else consumption-related that I’ve been considering recently, one other thing I’ve been increasingly interested in on a personal level is the idea of a slow wardrobe.  To my mind, this is a wardrobe that is focused as much as possible on practical, functional, durable, mendable, long-lasting, sustainable, fairly made, and eco-friendly clothing.  I suspect that better-made, longer-lasting clothing that can be altered or mended as needed could help to jumpstart the slowing down of the breakneck consumption that seems to be a function of a modern fashion industry that’s focused on getting clothing out quickly and cheaply with little regard for the consequences.

I’m not exactly a huge shopper or a follower of trends, but I still wear clothes, I still need clothes for different purposes, and I still like to look relatively good and put together.  But I also still buy into the system of consumption by buying things, replacing worn out items, and sometimes shopping as a form of distraction.  Furthermore, I don’t feel that the fact that I happen to shop at the thrift store rather than the mall absolves me of being part of the problem, since my habits are made possible by this kind of problematic consumption.  Given all this, I really like the idea of focusing in and assembling a quality wardrobe that will last for a long time and hopefully drawing back from excessive consumption a bit more.

Deep in consumption-related thought one day, I found my way to this post which discusses developing a wardrobe based on wool that will last a lifetime.  While I’m not about to say that my foresight up to planning out decades worth of functional, long-lasting clothing – much as I’d like to – I appreciate the idea.  I think our society is far too caught up in the instant gratification of low cost, low quality, disposable, and wasteful consumption, and clothing factors heavily into this equation.

I buy into some of these tendencies too, which feels troubling.  It’s easy for me to go out and buy clothes inexpensively.  Perhaps it’s too easy and too inexpensive.  Because I shop exclusively secondhand and aim for thrift store sale days whenever possible, I can usually buy quite a bit of clothing for very low prices.  But…when the items that I’m looking at are very inexpensive, or they look pretty, or I’m in a rush, I don’t always pay as much attention to quality and durability.  While I love some of my thrift store purchases, I also have things that simply didn’t wind up being a very good value, even at only a dollar or two.

The sad extension of this ready availability and low cost is that when I started thinking about the idea of a slow wardrobe, I was tempted to give into the lure of an awesome idea, ditch what I had, go to the thrift store, and start buying myself the components of a new, long-lasting wardrobe as quickly as possible. This was especially tempting after last semester, when a bunch of my clothing started falling apart at once and I was so busy that there were few opportunities to actually do anything about it.  Of course, this is exactly the antithesis of the whole idea.  The smartness, I haz it.

So I made a pot of tea, sat down on the couch, and took a deep breath.  Time for a more measured (slow, if you will) approach.

I gave some real thought to the idea of a slow wardrobe, and came up with a bit of a plan, of sorts, that would allow me to start building the kind of wardrobe that I want, but to do so very slowly and carefully.  Ideally, I’d like a wardrobe that addresses both my professional life and all of the other things that I do, like cooking, gardening, hiking, and biking.  Some overlap would be nice, but I don’t have much of a problem having nicer professional clothes and then other options for the work of home and everyday life.  In terms of unifying principles, what I want is a wardrobe that is serviceable, practical, long-lasting, and as sustainable as possible.  As I build a slower wardrobe, I want to focus on options that will last and be useful for a long time to come, that can be mended or altered, and that won’t often have to be replaced.

The first thing I did was to consider what I already had.  Happily, when I went digging, I found I already had a number of lovely, practical, well-made items that fit into my ideal.  Some well-made wool pants and skirts, many of them vintage.  Sweaters ranging from fine merino to heavy handknits, and a few blazers in nice wools and velvets.  A rather large collection of wool socks in various colours.  Coats, scarves, hats, and gloves for the Canadian winter.  Linen dresses and skirts for the summer.  Leather footwear, bags, and belts that hold up year after year.


That said, there was still a lot of clothing by mass market retailers that had noticeable holes, undone hems, wonky seams, loose insoles, and pilling, all generally signs of questionable quality.  It was all bought used at very low prices so I don’t feel entirely awful about the financial cost.  It’s surprising to see how badly some things have lasted, though (even keeping their secondhand origins in mind, and especially as compared to some older but better made items).  There are some things that are clearly on their way out thanks to shoddy construction, and the quality is so poor that the effects of mending are negligible at best.  As these items become less and less wearable over time (and I do plan keep wearing them until they die), I hope to replace them with fewer, better quality alternatives – in essence, less stuff that will last longer.  Some of these items I’m hoping to make myself, but more on that later.

In the interest of slow, focused acquisition, I set out a few guidelines for use when I’m at the thrift store.  I already have some things that I always look for – natural fibers (wool, silk, linen, leather, cotton), quality construction (even seams, metal zippers, and quality material with extra in the hems and seams for adjustment or mending).  I also check whether there are any obviously disqualifying issues, like tears, stains, or funky smells, and keep my eye on the price as well.  But my new approach also includes what I’m calling the “hide it in the bottom of the cart or take it into the change room” test.  If I find something so wonderful that I feel the need to hide it, lest someone try to take it, it’s a keeper.  Anything less and it simply doesn’t make the cut.

So far, this approach seems to be working. Thrift store visits over the last few months (prior to my March spending ban) have resulted in a few clothing acquisitions that I’m pleased with.  These items have replaced some of what’s falling apart, and I haven’t made any extraneous purchases.  Clearly I’m still buying things, and will probably be doing so for a good while yet.  Although I recognize the necessity of at least some consumption, I still feel conflicted about it and I’m going to keep digging into the idea in an academic and a personal way.  But for now, I’m feeling fairly good.  The questionable clothing is gradually on its way out and better, more considered options are slowly making their way in.  The fact that something fits, is secondhand, and doesn’t cost much simply isn’t enough anymore.  While these are still things that I value, quality and durability are becoming a bigger focus as I try to make my things last longer and continue to buy less overall.

Luz, Girl of the Knowing

A number of years ago, as I was doing research into things like sustainability, transition, and peak oil, I stumbled across Claudia Dávila’s wonderful comic, Luz, Girl of the Knowing.

If you’re not familiar with it, I highly recommend checking it out.  It’s an inspiring look at a young girl who is learning about some of the ways we can learn about and adapt to a changing world with enthusiasm, resourcefulness, and no small degree of intensity.  I’m sure many of us can see ourselves not only in Luz, but in some of the other characters as well.  There are 39 episodes in the series, and they can all be found from the start here.

No spend March – update

So far, no spend March has been going well – I seem to have made it to the halfway point already, although I couldn’t begin to tell you where those two weeks went.  Since the summer’s coming up soon and this is a time when I don’t usually work, I like to start cutting down on my spending a bit just to get myself into gear.  We’d be fine even if I didn’t and we always live within our means, but somehow being more conscious of my consumption and spending less, even if just by a little bit, makes me feel a good deal better about getting through the summer in one piece.

To date, I’ve spent somewhat more than usual on health, but these purchases have been in the works (and in the budget) for a long while – I just haven’t had the time or energy to get to them until now.  We finally got our two-months-overdue haircuts ($8 each), and I ordered a proper trainer tire for the bike so we can exercise indoors with a bit more ease and hopefully a bit more quiet ($68).  In terms of other anticipated purchases, we also ran out of a number of health-related products at once and took advantage of a really good sale at the drugstore to stock up on things like advil, toothpaste, shampoo, and witchhazel ($67).  Finally, we were delighted to spent some time with friends who were visiting from the states ($25), and it was well worth it to go out and have a nice dinner.

These were all purchases that were anticipated and planned for well in advance, so I don’t feel badly about them.  They were also largely health-related, which is something I’ve been making a concerted effort not to skimp on.  I did, however, make one notable slip-up – today, as it happens.  I was at the bank to deposit a cheque, and walked right by the bookstore on my way home.  I really shouldn’t have, but I went in, telling myself that I had a tough week and that I’d just look for the two books that have been on my wishlist for months.  They weren’t there, so I was going to leave empty-handed.  But there, on the shelf, next to some comics and a book about wallpaper, was the compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, complete with slipcase and magnifying glass.  The tag said $9, and I checked it three different times to make sure that there wasn’t a missing digit.  I’ve wanted an OED since I was working on my English degree, and there it was.  The set came home with me, and I’ve been crowing about it all day.


Happily, even with this slip I’m on track to stay a good deal more under budget than I usually am.  The health purchases have added up, but the fact that I’m not spending money on anything else helps to compensate for that extra spending.  I’m also finding that being busy and making a concerted effort to read through the books that I already have has kept me from making my usual assortment of trips to the thrift store for books and other bits and pieces.  By and large, not spending this month hasn’t been too bad so far (with the exception, of course, of today), and it feels good to be cutting back a bit in an intentional kind of way.

For the last half of the month I have a lot of work to do, which I’m hoping will keep me away from spending.  I’d also like to get some seeds sprouting in the apartment for summer planting, start doing more yoga, get back to regular bread baking, write some more here, make some music, and keep up with exercise, cooking, and pleasure reading.  Logically, I really have no reason to want to go out and spend, but I still find that I do sometimes.  I’m hoping that having more things to do that leave me feeling like I’ve accomplished something tangible and taken some time for myself will help lessen this impulse.  In turn, I’m also hoping that this will help to keep me on track for further reducing my spending and focusing on being more productive and using what I already have.

No spend March

I’m feeling like it’s once again time for me to take a bit of a spending break.  Right now, this is simultaneously a budget-thing, a time-thing, and a stuff-thing. I’m hoping that having three different concerns on my mind will make for a perfect storm of motivation for a solid month off from any extraneous shopping and spending.  The goal?  To live on less money than I currently do, free up some time, and give myself some space to declutter some stuff without bringing even more in.

The situation:

I’ve come in under budget so far this year, but I’d like to focus more on areas where I can cut back even further.  This is the time of year that I really start to remember that the summer’s coming.  Although other summers have required using some savings, this is the first year that I’ll be living off them fully – no teaching, research gigs, or contract work (for which I’m actually really grateful, since I need a solid block of time to work on my own research).  I’m always aware of this, and I always start saving early with this scenario in mind, but it’s usually around March that it really hits home and I start to consider how I can cut down our spending a bit more.

This is also one of those times in the year where I could simply use a bit more time in my days.  March is a busy month of the year for me.  February involved a lot of teaching, but March stacks a larger pile of grading, conference paper writing, meetings, and additional work on top of my regular commitments.  This isn’t a bad thing but any stretch, but it does require a solid investment of time.  My hope is that by completely eliminating the temptation for anything non-essential, I can also free up whatever time I would have allocated to shopping.

Finally, although progress is being made, I still need to get rid of things.  Unsurprisingly, continually bringing stuff home isn’t going to do anything to help with the decluttering.  Cutting out shopping should let me make a bit of headway into the overabundance of things by preventing me from sabotaging my own efforts by regularly hitting the thrift and book stores.  I had myself convinced that I didn’t really buy that much, but looking at last month’s acquisitions gave me a bit of a shock – more on this later – and I’m determined to stem the flow of stuff into the apartment.

The plan:

The plan, such as it is, is pretty simple.  I can still pay for all necessary things – rent, insurance, internet access, bus pass, and utilities.  Although I’ll be trying to cut back where possible, I can also spend money on food and necessary health related items.  What I won’t be buying is anything that isn’t a need.  This means no clothes, books, music, craft supplies, or kitchenware, which are my other semi-regular to regular purchases.

I also have a few things I want to do in conjunction with this no spending month.  As I save more, I’m planning on doing some research about what to do with that money.  This may mean looking into investment opportunities.  Or, it may mean researching a few more tangible and less traditional investment purchases, such as a pressure canner or grain mill, that could help save more money in the long term.  As I save time, I’m going to spend more time doing the research-related work that I’m hoping will make it easier for me to find a permanent position.  Finally, as I cut back on the stuff I bring home, I plan to take a closer look at the things I already own in order to clear some things out and make better use of what I already have.

Initially, I assumed this would be easy.  “No problem,” I thought.  “I don’t buy very much at all – this will be a piece of cake!”  But, looking at the numbers suggests that that’s not entirely true.  Although I don’t spend all that much, apparently I still shop and spend somewhat more than I think that I do.  Consequently, this could very well wind up being more of a challenge than I think.  I relish the opportunity, though, and I suspect that if it’s hard I’ll actually wind up learning a lot, which has a great deal of value in its own right.  So, without further ado, here goes nothing (kind of literally)!