Category: Inside Story

Thoughts on (not) shopping

This I Wear | Thoughts on (not) shopping

I’ve been thinking about shopping and not-shopping a lot. And so, a little out of character from my regular posts, I thought I would share a recent experience and give you a little peek into what I’m thinking about since it has inspired a lot of ideas for upcoming posts.

Let me start with a story. I recently moved back to New York City, and in my first few days back, the city welcomed me with unpredictable thunderstorms, cold weather, and the usual insane amount of walking. I’ve talked before about how much I love walking and how hard it is to find a good pair of shoes. Well, my little ballet flats already weren’t cutting it when an unexpected downpour basically ruined them. Finding myself desperate and in a large shoe store, my eyes glazed over as I looked at the sea of shoes: none had the right balance of comfort and style, and they certainly advertised none of the environmental or social considerations that have become so important to me when I’m purchasing something nowadays. (In fact, can you believe that there are actual knock-offs of TOMS Shoes? Think for a second about the concept of knocking off a charitable product and taking away the “charitable” part…) So, as much as I needed a pair of shoes, I left empty-handed.

And this got me thinking: NOT shopping is not an adequate answer to consuming more responsibly.

First, it is not realistic. I firmly believe that we can and should examine how much we consume and try to only buy what we really need and are willing to take care of for the long haul. But at the end of the day, stores exist because, occasionally, we are in true need of certain practical items.

And secondly, when we wait until we are desperately in need of something (like my shoe story), we are more likely to compromise on our shopping standards – whether that means buying from brands that don’t match our values OR just buying something because it is available, in which case, there is less chance we absolutely will LOVE it and use it repeatedly. My shopping mantra has always been if you don’t absolutely love it, don’t buy it, and the only time this gets threatened is during desperate times.

There are several brands on the market that are easy to trust. For example, if I buy from Patagonia, I know that they are making significant investments in understanding and improving their environmental and social impact, so I don’t feel it is necessary to question their products. They are doing the worrying and the research for me and then incorporating those considerations into their products and business.

But particularly in fashion, it is just not that easy yet to find everything you need from a company that openly promotes itself as a socially-responsible company. This means that for now, we all have to do a little legwork if we are trying to find a specific item that meets all of our functional, style, and value-based criteria. And that, my friends, means that we cannot wait until we desperately need something to start “shopping.” We have to get to know the market so that when the time comes to purchase what we need, we know where to go without compromising on what we want.

I’ve actually already started researching a new series to help understand what’s out there now, because I want to prove that we can buy ethically without compromising on function or style. And I sincerely hope that we can reach a point where it’s a no-brainer to buy stylish and ethical goods, because honestly my life would be easier and the world would be a better place.

In the meantime, here is my advice: Plan thoughtfully at the beginning of each season or at life’s transition points to know what you will need to have in your wardrobe AND then start scoping things out at that moment. Allow yourself to start browsing but only buy when you’ve found that item that you know is exactly what you want, that thing that will become a true wardrobe staple and that you will absolutely love and keep for as long as possible.

What do you think? If you totally disagree (or agree!) with me, please let me know by commenting, emailing, or tweeting @ThisIWear. As I gear up to try new things with the site, I’m doing lots of thinking about this and related issues, so feedback is warmly welcomed.

The suitcase experiment: How I accidentally learned to live with less

I’m moving again. In the past year or so, I’ve moved from New York to New Orleans, traveled within the US and to two new continents (including living in India for a few months), and returned to the US only to continue living out of a suitcase, knowing that it still wasn’t time to settle down.

Inspired by author Elizabeth Cline’s closet inventory in her book Overdressed, I took stock of what is in the suitcase I’ve been somewhat living out of for the last five months:

– 8 sweaters
– 11 knit shirts
– 7 blouses
– 3 dresses
– 2 pairs of jeans
– 8 skirts
– 2 pairs of shorts (Hey, it’s New Orleans!)
– 2 coats
– Miscellaneous active wear, pajamas, underthings, and accessories

Somehow, I’ve been living off of under 60 total pieces – nowhere near Elizabeth’s total. And while I might be closer to her number if I counted up all of the clothes I have in storage, I’ve realized one amazing thing: I can live with less.

Let’s get one thing straight, though: At times, living with such a small portion of my wardrobe has felt impossible. I struggled many days to (more literally) find something to wear with most difficulty happening on special occasions or an unexpected event, including weather changes.

But I also was able to realize a few things:
We aren’t wearing most of what we own anyway. Even within my small suitcase, I never wore HALF of the clothes. Other pieces, however, were worn almost daily.

It is the favorite pieces that help us feel most like ourselves, especially in times of flux. It is hard to live with uncertainty, but the uncertainty will force you to look for things you can trust. In this (suit)case, I felt most like myself wearing my favorite gray sweater and a reliable pair of jeans. When things were unpredictable around me, I felt more need than ever for my clothes to feel like me. The predictability of my accidental daily uniform became a great source of comfort. There’s a reason to stick with what you know works.

Our big closets are keeping us from being creative. Most of us have a color palette in our wardrobe even if we don’t realize it, which makes our clothes infinitely mix-and-match-able. It was a lot easier to to create new outfits with a small portion of my wardrobe that I knew I loved and which coincidentally all worked together than to get creative with an overflowing closet.

A clothing diet is surprisingly easy to stick to. Without a place to put clothes or much money to spend, I just stopped shopping. And now, when out of necessity I add a new piece to my wardrobe, it feels insanely special. But this is not of the addictive “I need to feel this all the time” quality that could lead to binge shopping, but really more of a wake-up call to make sure ALL of my clothes are pieces that I get really excited about and could become part of my daily uniform. And the “thrill” of going shopping? Well, it’s almost totally gone, and it is liberating.

Despite having successfully made it through more than a year of constant transition, I am so excited to put my clothes on hangers and to be able to take better care of my favorite pieces again. Yet no matter how spacious my new closet will be, I think this accidental experiment in living with less has taught me too many lessons to forget the freedom that comes from being able to fit everything you wear into just one single suitcase.

Over the next couple weeks, I will be relocating to a new city and state! And while I change locales, THIS I WEAR is going to be growing too with lots of new and exciting developments. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram to stay in touch!


Swapping 101: Throw a party, get free clothes, + make friends

This I Wear | Swapping 101

Swapping, swishing, shwopping. There are many new buzzwords all pointing to the same idea: exploring alternative ways of adding to our closets without spending money or adding to our environmental footprint. When we need or want something new in our wardrobe, the first impulse might be to head to the store. But what if we could get what we needed without worrying about the sustainability and ethical issues or costs that come with buying new clothes? And we could make some new friends or reconnect with old friends in the process?

Swapping lets you exchange clothes you no longer want for clothes someone else no longer wants, usually for free and often in the context of a swap party. While there are a number of online sites that now let you consign or swap your clothes (I’m personally excited about Bib & Tuck), I still think the best way to swap is in person among friends.

Last month, I attended a swap party hosted by Moishe House, Barrie Schwartz of My House, and Stasia Cymes of Ladies Night Out to figure out the ingredients of a successful swap party. If you’re like many of the party attendees, you’ve just cleaned out your closet and you may have a pile of clothes to share. But a truly successful swap party is a social event and gives guests peace of mind by knowing that even if their contributions don’t get adopted that night, they’ll find a new home through donation.

Stasia Cymes, in addition to founding Ladies Night Out, runs a professional organizing service called Clear the Clutter. When finding your swap contributions, she recommends bringing an item…
– If you haven’t worn the piece in a year
– If you’re holding onto something in hopes that you’ll fit into it again
– If you have multiples of the same item (such as the ubiquitous “black pant”) but only feel good in one or two of your collection
– If you’re holding onto something because of its value in dollars and not its value to you
– If you’re keeping something because it might come back in style, but it doesn’t actually make you feel good or comfortable
– If it fits you physically but no longer fits your personality or where you are in your life right now

If you’re ready to try swapping, here’s how to plan your own party:
1. Clean out your closet and ask your friends (and their friends) to do the same. For a successful party, guests should bring at least 1-3 pieces each. But the more you bring, the more fun everyone will have.
2. Send the invitations. I recommend making the party single sex to make sure you have a good selection for all of your attendees and because stripping down to try on clothes is somewhat inevitable. But don’t worry about inviting guests of different sizes and with different styles. Swapping is about getting creative, and a range of sizes and tastes usually works itself out.
3. Once you’ve got a location, set up the space like you would a shop. Designate a “fitting room” or make sure you have a full-length mirror or two. Create areas for each of the product categories. If you have less than 20 guests, separate items into tops, bottoms, dresses, jackets/outerwear, and accessories/shoes. If you have more than 20 guests, you can break these categories down further (example: “bottoms” becomes denim, dress pants, casual pants, skirts, etc).
4. As guests arrive, ask them to place their items in the different categories. At this point, they can browse the items already there but no swapping yet! Cocktails or snacks will help your guests get comfortable with each other while waiting for the swapping to begin.
5. Once everyone has arrived, start swapping. Guests can begin browsing and trying on items. If you have just a few guests, let guests take as many items as they like. If you have a larger group, perhaps guests can take a piece for every piece they brought in the first round (whether by the honor system or by tickets), and then any leftovers are fair game for all.
6. Donate any remaining items. As an added perk to your guests, take care of making sure any remnants have another chance by dropping them off at a local donation center.

The perks of a swap party as both a social experience and one that is free of cost makes me think this trend will only continue to grow. And none of the guests seemed too concerned with what they went home with. Guest Annie Jackson found two items to bring home, but it was the social aspect and the opportunity to unload unwanted clothes that drew her to the event. Brittany Hunt was looking forward to getting some clothes for free, especially clothes that might be more interesting than what she’d find in stores, but she was most looking forward to the community aspect too. Brittany also pointed out that she’s more willing to try on things out of her usual style and to take things she isn’t totally sure about. So a swap party can be a fantastic way to play with your own style at literally no cost or risk. And in Brittany’s words, “You can’t really have expectations. I see it as a way to get rid of stuff that you’re not wearing and then if you don’t get anything, at least your closet is a little cleaner.” It doesn’t get anymore win-win than that.

Special thanks to Barrie Schwartz, Stasia Cymes, Annie Jackson, and Brittany Hunt for sharing their insights! And to our readers: I’ve seen the success of swapping among women, but I’m insanely curious to know if this idea can work with the gents too. Comment or tweet @ThisIWear to share if you think this works for both sexes (and if you’ve seen it in action), or if swapping really is a lady thing.

New Year, Clean Closet

This I Wear | New Year, Clean Closet

When my sister graduated college, she had one weekend to move out of her Richmond, VA apartment, sending a limited amount of boxes home with my parents and taking just a suitcase or two to her six-month internship in Paris. Before I even got off the plane in Richmond, I heard she was waiting for me to get there in order to save her from her packing nightmare – how to decide what to get rid off and what to keep. Why was she waiting for me? Because in my family, I am known as the boss of teasing out emotional attachment from items that no longer are doing their job for us. I happen to be quite decisive too.

This could be shocking in the context of this blog. How could I advocate for getting rid of things that mean something to us or tell a part of our story?

And to that I will say: if something is in your closet and it only has a story but no longer a practical use, because you don’t feel good wearing it, it is beyond repair, or you feel too guilty about it to send it off to a new life, then it is time to let it go (responsibly, of course). A story without an accompanying good feeling is just stuff taking up precious space in your closet and your mind.

Whether your resolutions this year involved updating your personal style or just making room for new opportunities, now is the perfect time to take stock of what you have and make sure that what is hanging in your closet matches your values/dreams/goals, without the guilt of holding on to things that are just taking up emotional and physical space. There are items we love to wear everyday that have a story, and then there are items we never wear that have their own story. Today, let’s appreciate the former but take care of the latter.

A closet can be a scary place for some of us, so start by putting on some jams and get ready to shine a light on your stuff:

1. Get organized. I recommend designating three piles to sort your items into:
Keep – For the no-brainer items that are staying in your closet
Share – For the items no longer are working for you, whether they don’t fit, don’t work in your current lifestyle, or are beyond repair
Rescue – For the items that need a little love from a tailor, dry cleaner, or a little DIY help.

2. Start trying things on. I recommend making time to try on everything…literally. It’s a new year and you’re a different person. Try on old things you’ve already written off as well as the pieces you wear everyday. This will give you new ideas for styling recent purchases or gifts with old pieces, ensure each piece ends up in the right pile, and help you catch those sneaky pieces that you secretly hate but that somehow never get cleared out. (This goes for that blouse with the annoying buttons on the sleeve, the itchy sweater, and the pants that stretch out after just one wear).

3. When you get stuck on an item, give it your attention. You’ve gone through half of your closet, you feel great, and then you get to a certain piece that you have no idea what to do with. Instead of plunging into despair, start asking questions: When did you buy or receive the piece? When did you last wear it? How does it make you feel when you wear it? What does it make you think of? Any good or bad memories? And the clincher for most people, how much did you pay for it? Perhaps you paid a lot for the item, so it’s supposed to be perfect, right? Wrong. If you don’t feel good in it, let it go and give it a chance to make someone else happy. Perhaps you received it as a gift and you never liked it, but you are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. Let it go. If that person ever asks (which he or she probably won’t), focus on gratitude for the gift rather than lying about its use. Perhaps you’re holding onto something because it has sentimental value. That’s ok, but make sure it’s still serving you and not owning you. If you aren’t wearing it anymore, consider repurposing it with a little DIY or tailoring work. Not the answer for you? Think about why you are keeping the item and then decide if you’ll still have that memory even if the item is gone. If the answer is yes, set it free.

4. Invest in making the clothes and accessories you keep last. Now that you’ve whittled down your wardrobe, make sure the things you keep are taken care of. Add some cedar balls to your sweater drawer or try making homemade sachets to ward off pests. Invest in shoe trees or make your own boot stuffers to help your shoes and boots retain their shape. Take care of clothes and accessories in your “Rescue” pile by taking them to the pros or by repairing and cleaning them on your own with YouTube mending tutorials and laundry tips from The Laundress.

If you’ve generated items in your “Share” pile that you are ready to let go of, click through for tips of what to do with unwanted clothes to make sure your discards are put to good use. In coming weeks, I’ll also give you the details on how to host a swap party to help you share your unwanted closet finds with friends and maybe even take home a few new things for yourself.

And finally, as you return the items from your “Keep” pile to your closet and drawers, enjoy the moment. Our wardrobes change over the years as we change as individuals. The stories our clothes tell of us now are unique to this time. A good closet cleaning ensures that the stories we unconsciously are sharing are true to who we are.

Did you find anything amazing during your closet clean-up? Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear to share your stories of your closet lost-and-found moments.

Shop thoughtfully: Opt out of Black Friday

Merci Paris | This I Wear

How important is the experience of shopping to you? I recently revisited some papers I wrote in a college class on “The History of Shopping,” which focused literally on the history of how shopping went from buying things we need to becoming an experience and a pastime. One class focused solely on how department stores grew to be a family destination of sorts when they first debuted in the nineteenth century: literally the whole family would travel together to the store and spend the day there. It reminds me of a few of my favorite stores – Anthropologie, Liberty of London, MERCI in Paris [pictured], and many small boutiques – where the visual merchandising is so stunning, you not only take your time in the store, but you specifically go out of your way to get there. The experience of shopping almost feels like one of discovery rather than just simply consumption.

Shopping is an experience, and it is ok to enjoy it. Perhaps it is even your only social time with some of your family and friends. For a period of my life, the only time my sister and I said anything nice to each other was when we were shopping (“You look amazing in that dress!”). At present, some of the only time I spend with my grandmother is helping her pick out another pair of white capri pants at her favorite store. I am grateful for that time.

But I think Black Friday is the opposite of the enjoyable social and sensory shopping experience that many of us crave. It just seems really…unpleasant. Instead, I’d like to suggest a few responsible alternatives to indulging in Black Friday shopping that you can even sleep in for and still enjoy.

Choose not to shop.
1. Spend the day “shopping” in your closet: Create a pile of the things you don’t wear anymore and donate them to a local nonprofit (especially those winter coats). Pull out what needs to be repaired and support local small businesses by taking them to your neighborhood tailor or shoe repairman. Challenge yourself to wear anything that still has the tags on it within the next month.
2. Keep it in the family: You’re already over at their house anyway, so dig into the closets of your friends and family. When I’m at home, I have a habit of playing around in my mom’s jewelry box. I love asking her to tell me about the pieces she has, and she is always willing to share the stories (and sometimes the jewelry) with me.

If you must shop, shop thoughtfully.
1. Find a deal on vintage items at local or online vintage retailers and thrift stores (or even eBay) that will give you the thrill of the hunt while keeping previously worn items out of landfills.
2. Give thanks by purchasing items that give back: The one-for-one model started by TOMS is being replicated by tons of young brands, including Warby Parker and newcomer OAK Lifestyle. But make sure to do your research on the brand and make sure they’re giving back as promised.
3. Support the handmade: Spend some time on Etsy and consider reaching out to a seller to make a custom gift for a friend or family member. You’ll be a part of the making process and the recipient will get something extra personal.
4. Shop local: Wait for Small Business Saturday and support your local boutiques.

How are you spending your Black Friday? Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear #AltBlackFriday to share stories and photos of your post-Thanksgiving weekend plans.

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