In early September, a friend posted on Facebook a call for volunteers to help with a group of refugees that are currently in the local area while their long term fate is decided. She listed the help that was needed, and surprisingly, they needed people to sort through the piles of donated clothes to get rid of the incredible excess.
Wow. These people had come to our country with literally nothing, and within a few short weeks they were faced with a very American problem. They had too many clothes.
At the time I had a couple big garbage bags of my own clothes I need to get rid of. We’re planning a garage sale, but experience has taught me clothes don’t sell at all at garage sales. So I dumped them off at Goodwill, (in)secure in the knowledge that I wasn’t wasteful, I was charitable. There are poor people who need these clothes, right?
Except that I also had browsed in Goodwill, and had often seen brand new clothes on the rack, with the original store tags still on them. Sometimes even clothes I had seen within the last few months at places like Target. Hmmm.
I remember reading an interview with Kurt Cobain many years ago. He said the reason Nirvana had the look they had in the early 1990s was because they were too poor to buy clothes from anywhere but thrift stores. The thrift stores typically carried the wardrobes of the recently deceased, whose relatives had dumped everything off. Since it was the early 90s, the people who were dying has bought a lot of clothes in the late 60s and throughout the 70s. Hence the signature Cobain cardigan.
Something was amiss in the last couple of years though. Something made me uncomfortable. Why wasn’t I seeing more clothes from the 80s and 90s? If Kurt found 1960s cardigans, shouldn’t I be seeing 1980s stirrup pants? There were too many new clothes. Why were there so many brand new clothes? (And dammit, where can I buy a pair of stirrup pants?)
My personal relationship to clothes has changed a lot in the last 4 years. Two major things have happened. First, I lost 140 pounds, which means I can fit into “normal” sizes now. Stores like Target, Forever 21, Old Navy, previously no-mans-lands for me, suddenly offered racks and racks of cute clothes that made me feel good about myself. Second, I finally started making enough money that I wasn’t worried about paying the electric bill each month. Spending forty unplanned dollars once or twice a week was no longer a problem.
So every time I was out running errands, I’d stop by a bargain store and browse for 45 minutes, usually picking up about $50 worth of clothes. Ross, Burlington Coat Factory, Kohls. Cheap is my favorite, and I love bragging about how little I paid for something. I love dresses for $20, because I don’t feel guilty if I only wear it once. Or never. It’s only $20 after all. I spend that on lunch. Lunch is gone in an hour, and how bad can something be that costs as much as something that is gone in an hour? The only cost of clothes is the money I spend on them right? Shopping replaced eating as my stress relief and self-care. And it was fun.
At first. In the last few months, a tiny voice has been growing louder. Something is amiss here. My attitude toward clothes is not ok. This is bad, and I don’t know why.
For no particularly articulable reason – except I vaguely suspected we were producing a lot of fabric waste – I decided to go on a one year clothing fast, starting September 1. I didn’t announce it on social media, because honestly I wasn’t sure how committed to it I was. I like shopping. I like clothes. And maybe I was just looking for reasons to feel guilty about shit, and I’d get over it.
Then last night I watched “The True Cost” on Netflix. The tiny voice in the back of mind was finally given the vocabulary for what was bothering me. Here is how it is broken! Here is how it is bad! And holy shit, it’s even worse than the voice and I would have guessed.
So I am now firmly committed to my one year new clothing fast. Except for bras and underwear, which I generally only buy if I truly need and clearly will not buy second hand because gross, I will not buy any new clothes at all for at least one year. I should be able to easily get by on what I have, and I am allowed to buy second-hand clothes during the fast if necessary. After my fast, I will drastically change the way I purchase clothes. I will look for either fair trade clothes, or better yet 100% Made-in-America clothes. I will pay more for fewer clothes, and be proud that I did.
In “The True Cost,” an interviewee discusses the notion that our clothes define us to the world. Maybe so. But if my clothes tell the world who I am, instead of my clothes saying I’m cute or fashionable or wealthy, I want my clothes to say I am ethical.
Check out the movie: http://truecostmovie.com/