Friday, 20 February 2015

Thrift Year: 6 Month Mark!

I'll start this post with a big, 'Yaaaaaaay!' We did it!
We are at the half way mark, which means that Chris and I have not purchased any new clothing for the last six months! Since we set out on this personal challenge, beginning August 1st, 2014, our clothing has all been purchased second-hand (footwear and underwear is excluded). It's been a very exciting, trying and informative half year and I am thrilled to finally put into words some of what we have experienced and learned.

First of all, we actually reached our six months on February 1st (obviously), but I had so many Valentine's Day posts to publish that I decided to wait until mid-month to share this post. So here we are: I will start by saying that, like anyone who starts out on a new path (such as a fresh diet, or exercise regime) my first steps were full of excitement and naive anticipation. I was ready for this challenge and didn't really see what, if anything, would be so difficult. That feeling lasted about a month. It was the end of summer and I was busy working and enjoying the nice weather. Then September came, and so did the fall fashions. Suddenly our thrift year seemed ridiculously long and unnecessary. I wanted to go shopping in the malls and I didn't want to wait a year to do it. Not only were the stores full of great autumn looks, but Chris and I were also starting to talk about what our 2015 year might look like, and part of that discussion involved a potential move out of the city of Toronto. Of course, nothing was set in stone, but the idea of being set down somewhere completely alien, and not at least having the immense comfort of shopping in the strange new land, was too much to bear. I started coming up with all kinds augmentations to our thrift year. The main one being that it would not be a full year.

Obviously, I came around. Instead of simply avoiding shopping centres, which is what I had been unconsciously doing for the first 6 weeks of the challenge, I took a proactive approach and started going out on thrift shopping expeditions. I explored all the Value Villages and Vintage Depots that Toronto has to offer. And it didn't take long for me to start seeing the benefits of committed second-hand shopping. I was spending $80 on a Saturday shopping spree and bringing home more clothing than I could carry. And it was really really nice clothing too. Jeans, cashmere sweaters, well cut blazers and leather belts. I should mention that I say 'committed second-hand shopping' because although I had always enjoyed a trip to Value Village, and yes, I'd grab one cute top or something, I had never experienced the immense financial benefit that comes from shopping only second hand. In short, I was beginning to realize that thrift shopping meant more clothing of a higher quality for a LOT less money.

Over the next few months I gained momentum. In no time I had over-hauled my entire wardrobe, something I would never have had the money to do, and was feeling great about every single item in my closet. Oh, and speaking of my closet, my shelves were now jammed packed with so many truly lovely pieces, that I actually began to run out of storage space. In a few too-good-to-be-true months, I saw my wardrobe and my savings begin to grow and mature.

Today, as I think about the last six months, I realize I've gained an appreciation for quality in clothing. I've begun to wrap my head around the brand lie that expense means quality. It doesn't. And you know what else? I don't think that I've ever had such a grown up wardrobe. My knits are all real wool, cashmere, angora, and lambswool; they are much warmer than synthetic blends and they wear very well (meaning they don't pile as easily). My jeans are A. abundant (which, as a timid jeans shopper, I never thought possible) and B. they are perfectly tailored to my frame, because I can finally afford to have them hemmed. In fact, I can afford to have all my new clothing tailored, one more reason that my wardrobe seems so wonderfully adult. And my dresser contains only clothing that actually fits me. (Wow. Can't believe I just wrote that). Now that I have the budget for such an abundance, I feel free, for the first time in my life, to donate those annoying jeans that are never going to zip up. I also have better footwear. Being at a higher price point than clothing, boots and shoes were long overlooked by me. I was caught in a cycle in which I spent all my pocket money on cheap skirts and sweaters from shops like Forever 21, and so I never had the savings needed to go out and buy a nice pair of $200 boots. And in Canada, ya kind of need good boots. I will extend this point to jewellery and purses as well. Now that I am not wrestling with the guilt of impulse purchasing cheap overpriced pants at a Gap 40% off sale, I am free to save up my cash and buy myself a beautiful bracelet from an Etsy artist, or a cool leather purse that will be with me for years. I finally feel put together when I walk out the door. I have a confirmed style that is all my own. My clothing, footwear, and accessories are quality pieces that make me feel good, not guilty. If that's not grown up, I don't know what is.

At the beginning to this year, I wrote that I hoped to clear a path for myself through the forest of materialism and consumerism. I feel that I am well on my way to this goal. Yet defying our consumer culture is a hard thing to put in to words. What does it mean to be oppressed by the shopping and styling that we take so much pleasure in? And without going so far as to knit all our own pants and shirts, how can we ever know that we've begun to escape this material mouse trap? I think I have an analogy that will help me illustrate where I've come from regarding consumerism and where I've emerged. I hope that my story will sound at least a little bit familiar to some of you, (please feel free to comment below), if not, it's just an embarrassing personal story. Please enjoy!

When I was younger, mainly when I was of high school age, shopping wasn't always fun. Of course, I loved to go to the mall, but it often happened that when I entered a certain store (say, Bootlegger) and took in all the hip new clothing and meticulously styled looks on the effortlessly cool looking mannequins, I would suddenly be struck with the pain of 'realizing' that all the clothes I owned were garbage and did not define me. One moment I was having a nice Thursday evening, the next, I was agonizingly, pitifully, painfully aware that I needed a completely new look. No longer was I the 'blue jeans and Roots hoodie' girl, I was this girl, the girl that stood before me, the cool army jacket, black leggings and Doc Marten's mannequin girl. A girl who was undoubtedly put together by an unseen army of designers, stylists, magazine editors, fashion students, buyers, retailers, store managers and style-obsessed-pimple-faced-minimum-wage-mall-employees, just so that I might set my thirteen year-old eyes on her, and hopefully, if they got it just right, have a personal style crisis and dig out my little pink piggy bank, or what's more likely, have a fit and threaten everything up to and including sudden death until my mom gave in and bought all of it. 

Yes, this was the pain of going shopping. And it's embarrassing to say that it did not end with high school.  The complete and total style crisis was a common mall occurrence through most of my twenties. Okay, maybe I wasn't in Bootlegger anymore, but I was still thoughtlessly buying, overspending, and guiltily carting home meaningless purchases, all in a frantic attempt at self definition.

Today, it is not so much with pride, but with simple relief, that I say, the mall crisis is no longer part of my life. Who knows how many mall crisis happen across North America every day, and how much needless spending is done, not out of joy, fun or even necessity, but out of pangs of inadequacy?

I know that it sounds funny, and honestly, it is funny. It's ridiculous that in a society where so many of us have all of our needs met, that we find ourselves, even as young children, going down this bitter, bottomless rabbit hole of want.  But it's easy to mistake want for need. Because it is a desperate, hunger-like want, encouraged by advertisers and manufacturers in an attempt to get us to buy more. In her book, No Logo, Naomi Campbell highlights the twentieth century marketing shift from information-based advertising (these are elasticized nylons, they stay on your legs without a garter) to want-based advertising (these are Shayda Brand nylons, they make you happier, prettier, and skinnier). This want based advertising, the kind that appeals to us on an emotional level is what we are up against today. It is highly advanced, it is insidious, and it is a multi-million dollar industry aimed at prying our paycheques out of our ever unstylish hands. But what can we do? We want to define ourselves with things.

In fact, I'll tell you something else about No Logo. I was a high school senior the year it was published. And being the little subversive wannabe punk that I was, I could not wait to get my hands on it. Well, I got the book alright, I was in the Toronto airport waiting to board a flight. It was mid August, I had just had my eighteenth birthday, and I was heading to Alaska to complete a week long bike ride.  That's when I saw the book. The counterculture bible. The cynical 90's child's guide to hating on sweatshops, Starbucks and 'authentic' lofts. I had to have it. I rushed into the book store, bought it immediately, and stuffed it into my backpack. For those of you who don't know, No Logo is not a small book. It's quite huge. So to sum up, I was so intent on solidifying my status as a counterculture punk princess that I thought nothing of cycling through a mountain range with this massive book strapped to my back. It might not look exactly like vanity, but I assure you it was.

My point is not that the struggle against our increasingly material marketplace is futile. But maybe I was wrong in describing our consumer and material culture as a forest. It is a jungle, and it is ever more difficult to navigate. It's so difficult, that I believe it is sometimes necessary to remove ourselves completely in order to see a path.  And so, I encourage my reader to take on this challenge for yourself. Do a thrift year, or enjoy a single thrift month! I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the exercise, and who knows what you will discover about your style, your budget and your self!

Happy Thrift Shopping!

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