Clothing Yourself: Rethinking How Much Clothing You Really Need

Clothing Yourself: Rethinking How Much Clothing You Really Need

My biggest piece of frugal advice? Stay out of the stores.

It might be ironic to hear this from an apparel company, but sometimes the gravity of the issue requires actions with a larger vision than just selling more.  While I'm not saying that you should never buy clothes again, I challenge you to think about how much you really need. Do members of your household have sufficient clothing to get between washdays? Does it fit properly? Is it in good repair?

Here are some sobering facts:​​

On average, people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than they did in 2000. Fashion production makes up 10% of humanity's carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams.

The term ‘fast fashion’ refers to cheaply produced and priced garments that copy the latest catwalk styles and get pumped quickly through stores in order to maximize on current trends. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon, but its rapid expansion over a short time is deeply concerning from a sustainability perspective.

What's more, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year. Washing clothes, meanwhile, releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.

Personally, I believe that people in this country tend to have too many clothes. By "too many," I mean "more than they can actually wear regularly." For the next few months, stop thinking about your wardrobe unless it's to replace holey socks or shoes with worn-down soles.

There's no reason to go into a clothing store unless you need something. Clothing has gotten so cheap that sometimes people buy because they can't think of a reason not to do it. (These jeans are only $6! What a steal!)

But if you don't need any jeans, what's the point of buying them? Besides, unless you're in a secondhand store, those $6 jeans may not be such a bargain. Cheaply made "fast fashion" tends not to last as long and demonstrably harms the earth.

New, or New to You?

And if you must replace some wardrobe items? Thrift shops are a great place to begin. Some of us were shopping there long before Macklemore & Ryan Lewis made it hip-hop-cool. Even so, some people still think that la Segunda is low-rent and/or that it has a funny smell.

The smell part may be true. Sometimes the things I get from Value Village or Goodwill do seem a bit musty, but laundering fixes them. As for the low-rent aspect, I think of thrift store shopping like a treasure hunt. You might get a designer-label shirt for a couple of bucks or a good-quality wool sweater for 50 cents.


On the other hand, you may get nothing. The stock changes regularly so you need to keep checking. The bigger the town/metropolitan area, the more choices you're likely you are to have.

The thrift shop's cousin is the consignment store, which offers higher-end stuff as a rule rather than a lucky find. You'll pay more here, but the pickings may be better.

New to You, Part 2

Yard sales and church rummage sales are like temporary thrift stores. For a day or so you can get some great deals on all sorts of stuff – including clothes.

A few tips for getting the most from these venues:

  • Women: Wear tights or leggings and a sports bra under your clothes, in case there's no changing area.
  • Practice asking, "Is this your best price?"; also practice smiling if the sale's organizer replies, "Yes." If you're buying a ton of $1 shirts and pants, you might ask for a discount on the lone $5 item: I'm getting $19 worth of stuff any chance of getting a better deal on this jacket?
  • It doesn't hurt to look at an item for a long time. Sometimes when I hesitate over a purchase, the seller offers me a better deal. Speaking of deals: Stop back by toward the end of the sale if possible, when sellers really want to ditch stuff.

Multi-family sales provide the most bang for the buck, especially when they take place in the tonier parts of town. The rich are different – they have nicer stuff.

New to You, Part 3

When you can't afford even a yard sale, try hosting a swap. Invite a few like-minded friends over and ask them to bring the sweaters they never use, the slacks they swore they'd lose five pounds to fit into and any other clothing items they'd like to trade.

A clothes-swapping party is like a personal consignment store. The difference is that it's all free.

The clothes must be in good condition, and all trades must be mutually agreeable. Let it be known that you will permit no cajoling or whining, even the allegedly good-natured kind. Nobody should be bullied into trading her Michael Kors dress slacks for a "Go Mets!" T-shirt.

Make a bathroom or bedroom available for try-on at your private Freecycle. And set this rule in stone: "Untraded items must leave with their owners."

Buying Retail (If You Must)

Although I've focused thus far on secondhand venues, I don't have anything against traditional stores or websites. It's just that if you're on a tight budget, then you need to be conscious of every dollar. Why spend more than you must?

If you can't find what you need in a non-retail setting, stores like Nordstrom Rack, Ross Dress For Less and TJ Maxx have some pretty skookum deals on well-made clothing. The clearance rack and end-of-season sales at other stores are also good places to look at.

Unless you have mad Jedi self-control, pay cash. Plastic seems to give some shoppers a feeling of invulnerability. Having to take dollars out of your wallet should make you eyeball each purchase very closely indeed.

If you're absolutely sure about your size, check out the clearance sections at online retailers. Keep in mind that if the item doesn't fit, it needs to be returned within a certain amount of time; miss the send-back, and you'll be stuck with something you can't wear.

And again, paying with plastic online could tempt you to tack on those $10 jeans, or maybe a "Frozen" t-shirt for your 4-year-old niece: It's only $3.99, and she loves that movie, and it's been so long since she's had a treat…

Except that $10 here and $4 starts to look like real money if you do it often enough. Think about the opportunity cost of those bucks – especially if you wind up not wearing the jeans much, or if they shred the second time they're washed. Instead of dropping dollars on something you don't truly need, keep your wallet in your pocket. Your budget will thank you. So will your overstuffed closet. Where would you put those jeans, anyway?

Where does éclipse fit in?

As I mentioned, odd that a clothing manufacturer would dissuade a potential customer from buying clothing. But we offer a compelling difference and that is slow fashion: small-batch, durable clothing that is not only US made but locally made, that is in our own community. This assures higher wages, better working conditions and keeps jobs close to home.  We hope that you will see the advantage for yourself and the environment in choosing sustainably made clothing.


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