You’ve probably heard the term ‘retail therapy’ before. The term was first used by a journalist for the Chicago Tribune in the 1980s. She forewarned that people would measure out their lives in shopping bags and would nurse their psychic ills through shopping.
Four decades later, despite rising costs of living, 86% of Aussies recently admitted to comfort spending. Close to half of these respondents shopped because they were bored, and others because they were stressed or unhappy.
However, unlike actual therapy, retail therapy hardly helps a consumer’s inner well-being. This is why, as part of Green Friday, we suggest you shop mindfully, for yourself and for the planet. From Friday, November 18 to Monday, November 21, Australia’s first sustainability-focused online sale event will showcase deals from brands within the sustainable, re-commerce or circular economy space.
Ahead, The Latch chatted to fashion stylist and founder of Reoutfitter, Sera Murphy, about the steps you can take to shop more mindfully:
Take a Stock Check
First things first, carve out some time to inspect your current wardrobe of clothes. Murphy calls this process a ‘closet re-outfit’ as she helps clients review and assesses every single article of clothing they own.
Some questions she recommends keeping in mind are how much the clothes have been worn, where they’ve been worn, and what they’ve been worn with. These questions help streamline what needs to be kept and what needs to be released. You will also notice patterns that will reveal your style, preferences and buying habits. Most importantly according to Murphy, it will reveal the gaps in your wardrobe so that you can create a very clear-cut shopping list for the future.
This might seem like a Sisyphean task if you already own a lot of clothes, so Murphy advises “going by categories and drilling down to nitty-gritty details.” Some categories she uses are seeing clothes by their end use: “work, weekend, versatile”, by seasons: “summer, autumn” or by fabrics: “cotton, synthetics, lace”. This stock-taking will reveal similarities, and potential duplicates so you understand the glut of your inventory.
As a general guideline, try to do a stock take in line with how often you shop. Murphy suggests, “If you typically buy around 10 new pieces a year, you might not need to do a full stock take for about three to five years.” However, if you buy more than 10 pieces a month, she would recommend doing it annually. Also, anytime you go through any major life changes such as a move, pregnancy or birth, weight loss or gain, is a good time to reassess what you own.
Consider Shopping Alternatives
Shopping mindfully can also look like going against the grain of typical consumption to look for alternatives like renting, thrifting and swapping. Murphy recommends renting for special occasions as a great alternative to buying new pieces. Rental solutions that allow you to keep and wear a fine cocktail dress for a couple of days help to solve the common problem of “I don’t have anything to wear.”
As for thrifting, Murphy recommends keeping a list of coveted designer or premium names that you have seen but are maybe out of your budget when going to secondhand shops. This list can help make the thrifting online or in-person experience more efficient.
Swapping is also an option when you have a close group of friends who you share your size with. You could borrow and share clothes with them, almost like having an extension to your sister’s wardrobe.
Know Your Style and Size
Instead of thinking of yourself as a factory cutout of size 2 or size 16, Murphy suggests taking measurements of your proportions, and not just your body type to find a good fit. These are parts of your body that don’t change with any physical changes like the length of your legs or the width of your shoulders. These measurements could be guiding principles on what styles to look for, regardless of where the trends go.
Style on the other hand might seem like a more amorphous concept, so Murphy suggests pinning Pinterest or look-book boards to gather materials on what appeals to you from street stylers, influencers or celebrities that you like. This should help you come up with a good base and hopefully some overlap of brands, styles or specific pieces that can help you determine which pieces you’re missing. When shopping, search for that item, instead of just going into a store to shop for whatever they have for sale.
Shop for Quality Versus Quantity
There is a special part of our closet that holds memories of sentimental, special pieces that we hold on to. This might be a dress from your mother that you’d like to hand down to your daughter, or maybe a piece you got from a trip that has served you for years. Keeping in mind an attitude that clothes are a form of treasure is one way to shop for quality, well-made clothes, versus buying many things that don’t stay with you for a long time.
Just like other cherished belongings in your home, clothes should be chosen by paying attention to how they are made. Murphy suggests looking closely at the clothing before purchasing. Turn the garment inside out, and take a close look at the seams. If there are strings hanging from the inner seams, it likely means it was made very quickly and rushed. If it’s a printed garment, pay close attention to if the stripes or florals match up where different pieces come together.
Also, take a look at the clothing tag to read what materials are used to make the clothing. Murphy suggests that it is still far better to pick a natural fabric like cotton or linen as they can eventually biodegrade, and they also feel better against your skin than synthetics.
Adopt a ‘Cost Per Wear’ Mindset
Fast fashion is appealing because the clothes are mass-produced and therefore at an affordable cost. Murphy says it is in fact possible to shop fast fashion in a mindful way.
How? If you find a really great fitting item that you will wear over and over and it happens to be from a fast fashion brand, it may or may not stand the test of time. As long as the piece is being used well and it makes you feel good: that’s a huge win. It’s when we buy fast fashion with the intention of only wearing it once or not having a place to wear it — that’s when it becomes mindless, she says.
On the other side of the coin, climate activist, Livia Firth explains the concept, ‘cost per wear’ as an alternative to buying clothing cheaply. This is a way of breaking down how often you’ll wear a garment and therefore how ‘worth it’ the purchase is to you and your wallet.
While this may justify a slightly higher spend on a more expensive, sustainable design, you can equally apply it to a cheaper item. For example, a dress that costs you $10 and that you may only wear three times before it rips has a higher cost per wear ($3.33) than a 45-dollar dress that you’ll wear a minimum of 30 times or more ($1.50 per wear).
Keeping track of how much you use something you buy will help you to shop mindfully. This way, the clothes you buy can have a long runway in your closet, and lesser impact on the planet.
Want to shop more consciously? The Latch has partnered with Green Friday ahead of their four-day sales event, running just before the big shopping dates of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s a challenge for consumers and organisations to do better. They only showcase brands that meet their sustainability framework and direct consumers to products they need that cause the least impact on the planet through purchasing. You can read more stories about Green Friday here.