Buying Things: 2017 & 2018

At the beginning of 2017, I decided to clean up my clothes-buying habits. We vote with our dollars on the future we want to see, and I was feeling like I wasn’t making informed decisions when I bought clothes.

I wasn’t a huge one for disposable fast fashion, but I did have a regular athleisure indulgence. It really was an indulgence, because my running apparel needs are simple thanks to the local weather. However, I loved the latest legging technology and sports bra silhouettes and new brands trying to make it. I would occasionally skim the mission and value statements for the brands that I bought, but I was by no means principled about it. So the goal of 2017 was to buy apparel, both work and athleisure, from companies that fell in line with at least one of my values:

  • Female CEO or Co-founder: Female CEOs are underrepresented in leadership in American companies, diverse teams perform better than homogenous ones, and it's difficult to create great products for women without having the perspective of women.

  • Commitment to the Environment: Resources are finite.

  • Human / Workers' Rights: We can all feel better about buying clothes that are made by people who have food, shelter, living wages.

  • Mindfulness about Buying: As a brand, this is a difficult one. The goal of a company is to sell stuff, so encouraging consumers to buy less seems ridiculous. However, I embraced the companies that were on board with the fewer items, but better items ethos.

This resolution forced me to do a fair amount of research before each purchase, and decisions were more deliberate. There were a few categories that were difficult, like running shoes and denim, and sometimes the best option was still relatively terrible.

A few of my favorite brands during this time were Aday, Cuyana, Rabbit, Girlfriend Collective, Outdoor Voices, Everlane, Grana, and Patagonia.

After a year of cleaning up my buying, my work wife Rebecca decided on a more audacious challenge for 2018. She decided to avoid buying clothes and jewelry for the entire year, and she invited me to join. I considered it for a few days, and thought through the items that I knew I’d need for the upcoming year. After buying those items, I started the challenge on January 9, 2018. I also wrote in a few caveats to the no-buying rule - namely running shoes (say no to injuries) as well as socks / underwear.

As expected, the year was tough at certain points, but this was ultimately a very good exercise. I immediately lost two bad habits that I’d picked up:

  1. Idle Browsing when New Clothes Drop: I knew which brands dropped new clothes on which days of the week, and I would idly browse on the day of the drop, even though I didn’t need anything. When I stopped doing this, I felt like I had SO much more time.

  2. Buying Before Trips / Events: I’m hardwired to think that I should wear a different dress to every wedding we go to, and I have a terrible habit of waiting until the last minute to buy a new outfit. I would play a game with myself to see if the new outfit arrived before the day of the event. If it did, I would feel forced to wear it. If it didn’t, I wore something else and then was entirely disinterested when I returned home to the new outfit.

The urge to buy wasn’t bad most of the time, as both Rebecca and I had strategies for reducing our exposure to brands. She unsubscribed from all emails, I closed my ever-present browser tabs. However, there were a few absolutely miserable times of the year, and these were typically when the seasons were changing. Brands were dropping the newest items, and the old stuff was newly on sale. Other than those seasonal changes, we both nearly had lapses at the end of the year. It was within a few days of finishing the challenge, and it seemed like it wouldn’t matter if we bought an item then or waited a few more days. However, we kept it together individually and resisted.

Some of the results of the challenge:

  • Developing a vocabulary: I would never call this developing a style - I still don’t have style. But when I wasn’t adding new items to my closet, it became very clear which clothes I preferred. It was also easier to tell which clothes helped me to feel powerful and competent at work, and which clothes felt like me.

  • Minimize thinking about clothes: I love efficiency, like most of us. If I know that I’m going to feel good in all of my clothes and I don’t have to think about them, I can use that time to do other things.

  • I also travel for work about once a month, and in the vein of minimizing the time spent thinking about clothes, I became very interested in creating travel capsules. If I was going to be in NY or London for a week, I wanted to have a capsule of five outfits that I could wear to visit customers.

  • Knowing the gaps: the year also quickly illuminated the holes in my wardrobe, and where there were items that I actually needed. One item that I’ve been looking for for a long time is a black hooded puffer that’s packable, and I also realized that I needed another pair of black pants.

Now that I’m all done with the challenge, it’s very exciting to be able to buy things again. It’s hard in some ways, because each decision feels like it has magnitude. Also, now that I’ve determined which clothes I really like, there’s a strong desire to Marie Kondo all of the ones that I don’t like. This feels good because there’s a very clear line between the two sets - there’s nothing that has the veneer of new or sacred to cloud my judgment.

As far as 2019, I’m thinking of the following two resolutions:

  1. I’d like to work on my running wardrobe. I paid careful attention to how I felt in my work clothes this year, but less attention to how I felt when wearing running clothes. I’ll repeat the same process as with my work clothes - paying attention to which items feel and perform best, finding the gaps in what I own, and then buying very specific items for those gaps.

  2. I’d also like to continue to not idly browse or waste time on shopping websites. To do this, I think I might work out some ratio where I can buy things for the first week of each quarter, but not at any other time. That gives me some wiggle room to buy the things I need, but removes the temptation to browse during most weeks.

As mentioned, I’m in the free-for-all phase, and I’m catching up on everyone’s recommendations for clothes. If you have any recent favorites, please send them along!