sunday life: my case against shopping*

This week I don’t buy style


Bless me father, for it has been nine weeks since my last resentful, unsatisfying and agitated jaunt to the gaudily adorned shrine that is my local shopping mall. Indeed, it’s been nine weeks since I’ve bought anything, apart from food, petrol and cotton buds.

While I’m confessing, I should point out this is not unusual for me. A while back I wrote in this magazine about going for 279 days without shopping for clothing.  Not even knickers. I did a four-month stint more recently. I know this because my accountant called to tell me, somewhat perplexed. “So what do you actually wear?”

It’s not that I set out to make a point (although I do have a robust anti-consumerist streak). It’s more that as weekends roll around I “give myself permission” not to spend my Saturday looking for the perfect flat-heeled patent leather riding boot, propelled by the insane idea that said boots will lend gravitas to my identity. I give myself a leave pass from getting bogged down in making yet another bloody decision…under the high-pressure gaze of a commission-based sales assistant.

Which brings me to the contentious tenet of this week’s exploration: when you don’t shop, you have better style. Every no-shopping stint I invariably reach a point where I get bored of wearing the same grey marle poo-catchers and All Saints deconstructed hoodie every day. I start to whine that I have nothing to wear. The momentum To Shop builds. And then… I get a grip. Do I really need to make a trek to the mall? I mean, I have a double sliding-doored wardrobe of stuff I haven’t worn in years. And I’ve not chucked it out precisely because I envisaged one day I’d find a creative way to wear it.

And so I plunge, in and around to that awkward, Bermuda Triangle section in the middle of a sliding-doored wardrobe and drag out clothes I haven’t worn since lay-by was still a done thing. It’s always a rewarding experience – with fresh eyes that old tartan skirt or Thai silk matinee jacket looks new and exciting. I immediately see creative ways to wear them. I accessorise like Trinny and Suzannah. I clash prints and mismatch textures. In effect, this necessitated plunge into the annals gets me stylin’.

Not shopping has become quite the sport recently. Earlier this year “shopping dieters” from around the world signed up to, committing to wearing the same six items for a month…just to see how it felt. The Great American Apparel Diet is another such experiment entailing no shopping for a year. But I liked how Sheena Matheiken approached her year-long Uniform Project the most. She wore the same little black dress every day, but reinvented it with layers, jewellery and other “accoutrements”. As she blogged, with choice limited like this, she was forced to work with what she had. Ergo, she got crazy-creative. And the results are inspiring.


This week, having not shopped for eons, I got crazy-creative with my limited options. Every day this week I wore something I hadn’t worn in months (years?) and worked it creatively. I found a canary yellow sweater (it’s definitely a sweater, not a jumper, trust me). And wore it with double denim. Hee-hah! An orange striped singlet with tacky sequins – I teamed it with a floral cardigan. And the Thai silk matinee jacket I’ve carted between seven apartments (seriously)? I wore it again with a leopard print cami that came attached to the front of some magazine years ago.

This mini-experiment was wholly successful. It hoiked me from my grey marle rut, for a start. But it also reminded me how limiting it is to constantly reach for external solutions. Going to The Shops to buy something new and “fashionable” is all about reaching for an external style salve at the expense of playing freely with your own identity. The options are limitless (you’ve been to a mall recently, I presume). So, as the paradox of choice dictates, we dither and compromise and hand over our creativity. But when we work with what we’ve got, we build. And we humans, I believe, are better at adding and building than selecting a single option from the dauntingly vast ether. Ask a kid to build a caterpiller, she’ll stall. Give her an old clingwrap roll and some Perkins Paste and she’ll build the best damn butterfly on the block. Right?

* I write this, fully aware that a) I used to peddle fashion consumption for a living, as editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, b) I continue to work in a field (TV) where I’m dressed in up-to-the-minute fashion and have clothes lent to me for such purposes and c) I am often called upon to support fashion/beauty companies (by MCing at their functions etc). My position is this: I’m not an extremist; I support the creativity of the Australian fashion industry; I make moderate, sustainable and considered style purchases where I see fit. I just like it this way.

Want to do something similar?

1. Join the Salvation Army’s Buy Nothing New campaign, starting October 1 – one month; nothing new. I’m an ambassador for the program and will be involved myself (stay tuned). Make a pledge with friends and visit a Salvos’ Store…Tell me what you get up to…any clever ideas, swap meets, frock exchange links you love etc and I’ll share here and on Twitter.

2. Check out former Instyle Magazine stylist Matt Paroz’s new site how big is your eco…dedicated to sustainable fashion. He posts details of clothes exchanges around Australia. Very sharp site!

3. And here’s a list of upcoming clothing exchanges around Australia.

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