In my last post, I finally shared the results of my wardrobe inventory.
I’ve been having another type of wardrobe clear-out recently: launching a Keep & Share sale, to help me clear the cupboards of my ready to wear collection as I shift to becoming a commission-only label, remaking styles from my archive.
But - returning to my own wardrobe - new clothing-related questions are now popping into my head. The question I’d like to focus on this time is: just how long do we keep our clothes? As I've mentioned in my previous wardrobe project posts, there isn’t a whole lot of research on the contents of our wardrobes - and information about the length of time we keep things is particularly scant.
While I have a lot of clothes, I don’t add to my wardrobe very often these days. This is partly because I love many of the things I already have - I know that any new item would have stiff competition. It’s also based on a conscious decision to adopt a slow approach to fashion - informed by my own design philosophy and linked quite specifically to an article I read whilst studying for my MA over ten years ago.
The article was in View on Colour, a trend prediction journal, and argued for a move towards slowness and satisfaction. Here are some excerpts that I found particularly inspiring at the time:
Pollution, over-production, and the possible scarcity of raw materials became a general concern some twenty years ago. The main answer has been recycling … but recycling still demands energy and produces waste. The more definitive solution is to keep.
We want to invest. Buying for now and for the future, designing our own sustainable style as years go by.
Putting together a wardrobe and a home will become a life-long process and something of a quest.
You will not be searching for the perfect object but the perfect object for you. Putting together this alphabet of basic and loyal items will spell out who you are.
These words - particularly the line about a life-long quest - have stayed with me, more than any other book or article about sustainable fashion. I do feel like I have been searching for the perfect ‘Amy pieces’ - and when I find them, I want to hang on to them and keep wearing them for a long, long time.
Flicking through my wardrobe this morning, I tried to figure out the average length of time I’ve owned the contents. It’s hard, because of course, the answer varies - there are recently-acquired items sitting alongside pieces I’ve had for many years. And while I’ve got lots of second-hand/vintage clothes, which might be decades old, I’m interested (right now) in how long they’ve been in my wardrobe, rather than how long it is since they were made.
I reckon I’ve acquired the majority of pieces in the last ten years, and I’d estimate the average at 5-6 years - though this is by no means accurate.
As I browsed the rails, a few older items stood out and so I took them out into the garden for an impromptu washing-line-based photo shoot…
>> The longest-standing pieces are a number of shirts and Indian tops that I’ve had since I was in my early teens (think grunge era). I wore them a lot then, and then didn’t wear them for a long time… but they’ve recently come out of hibernation and feel both emotionally significant and totally right for now, so I’m very glad I kept them.
>> Then there are a few pieces - t-shirts and a sweatshirt - that were handed down to me by family and friends, and so have a longer ‘known life’ (if we include the time worn by the previous owner). The stand-out item here is a well-worn Bob Marley tour t-shirt bought by my parents in 1976. I love to wear it, but keep it for special occasions as it is so delicate, beautifully disintegrating into a constellation of holes.
>> I had a quick look at my shoes, and realised that the older pairs tend to be ‘posh’ heels - I wear them so seldom that they don’t have chance to wear out! The oldest ones still knocking about are a pair of Red or Dead patterned slingbacks - which I loved so much, I bought two pairs. Man, I love those shoes - though I’m not sure I’m ready for that 90s heel again, quite yet.
>> And finally - here I am, wearing what I think is the longest-standing item I have worn continuously, without a break, since acquiring it over fifteen years ago (a Belle & Sebastian band t-shirt), with what I think is the actual oldest item in my wardrobe (a lovely handmade black jacket) - and my most frequently worn garment, my black Old Town trousers.
This post is part X of my ongoing wardrobe project.
You can find an introduction to the project, and links to the first five posts on the Refashioner blog, here. To read parts VI to X on ReFashioner, follow these links:
Part VI - an inventory of my hefty mending pile
Part VII - counting my clothes whilst packing to move house
Part VIII - thinking about the idea of rotating clothes for the changing seasons
Part IX - revealing the grand total of the wardrobe inventory
Part X - about how long I keep my clothes
In October, I was delighted to be asked by the awesome New York-based 'curated fashion eco-mmunity' (and slow fashion champions) ReFashioner to be a guest blogger for their blog. Delighted, because when I read their fab manifesto I saw many links with my own philosophy about fashion, sustainability and the wardrobe.
It was perfect timing, too, as I had just been thinking about doing a new project following on from ideas I developed as part of my PhD research, as I explained in my first reMAG post:
As I read previous wardrobe studies – research which surveys real people’s wardrobes, checking out how many items they own, and what proportion of the items are worn – I realised I really wanted to take some time to look at my own wardrobe. I seem to have a huge amount of clothes, though I don’t buy many nowadays … and there are piles and piles of things I haven’t worn for years…
So, in my reMAG posts I’m going to be blogging about this Wardrobe Project: sharing my thoughts as I review the contents of my wardrobe, repair or rework items in need of rejuvenation, and try to ‘design’ ways of wearing more of this treasured collection of pieces I’ve gathered over the years. Along the way, I’ll pick some tasty wardrobe-related nuggets from existing academic research, and my own research data.
I've done five posts so far, so thought this was a good time to gather the links together in a post on my own blog:
Part I - in which I introduce myself, and the project
Part II - in which I look at existing research about the contents of our wardrobes
Part III - the first phase of my wardrobe inventory (underwear & hosiery)
Part IV - in which I patch some pants and darn some socks
Part V - discussing ways of thinking about unworn clothes in the wardrobe
To keep up with the project, keep an eye on the ReFashioner blog - plus I'll add another summary post here with links to Parts VI-X, in due course!
[Later addition: here's the summary post, for Parts VI-X]