Today for the first time in over a year I bought clothes. There I said it.
As many of you know what really kickstarted my sewing journey was my pledge to completely give up fast fashion and buy no new clothes for a year.
Now, a year on, I find my mindset towards shopping and clothes is completely different. Before I would shop when I was sad or needed a confidence boost but I would get sad when clothes didn’t fit and I would blame my own body, believe me I have cried silently in many a dressing room. So I would try things on until I found something I loved or something that made me feel better and a few hours later I would come home, arms covered in shopping bags and a big smile on my face.
However taking a year away from all types of clothes shopping and focussing on my sewing really has changed the way I feel about clothes and my body and that’s what I want to talk to you about today.
So, what prompted me to shop? Well yesterday I finished my last job and I start my dream job on Monday morning (excited is an understatement) so as a little present to myself I booked in for a manicure and a pedicure which really feels like a luxury when you go at mid-morning on a Wednesday. After my manicure I decided to have a wander through the town centre, I popped in to buy toiletries, I picked up my prescription, I had a mooch in Waterstones and then I walked past GAP.
Now any of my lovely readers who are not based in the UK may not know but GAP is closing down in the UK forever and although the human rights record of GAPs parent company isn’t great I feel genuinely sad that we are losing this pillar of the high street. GAP is one of the shops I grew up with, its where you would go to get basics or holiday clothes as a child, its where my mum would take me to get proper jeans, its where I bought my favourite jumpers and jeans that actually fit my body. I remember when it was the height of cool to have a jumper with the huge GAP letters across the front, I remember them subsequently going out of fashion and now they are back-in [side note: aren’t trends ridiculous?].
Not only was it a big part of my childhood but also GAP had the most consistent sizing, the jeans are done by measurement sizes rather than dress sizes and they have a range of leg lengths. It’s easy to forget the mental impact size consistency or inconsistency can have on you. I have size 10 shorts from River Island bought in 2011 that are still too big for me and now if I tried to buy a size 10 shorts in River Island they wouldn’t even fit on one of my legs. Years ago I would have burst into tears thinking I’d gained weight [another poor side effect of 90s/00s culture] whereas now as an adult I’m outraged that sizing can be so arbitrary.
So when I walked past the shop today and saw a huge red sign saying the store was closing for good in four days’ time I felt a pang of regret and nostalgia and decided to go in for one last shop. The second I stepped in I noticed a difference in my mindset, I was critical of the clothes not myself, I was aware of what I could make and I didn’t even look at items I know I could sew easily and probably make better versions than what was on offer.
For me the one thing I’m still not up to yet with my sewing is jeans and one of the reasons I’m sad to see GAP go is that it was the one shop I could always count on to have good quality denim jeans in my leg length and the range of cuts meant I could always find something flattering. So I picked up a few pairs to try on as well as some denim shorts, a super soft black t-shirt and a nostalgic yellow GAP branded jumper and I headed to the changing rooms.
Again when I tried the clothes on and inevitably some of the jeans didn’t fit I wasn’t sad. I didn’t feel let down by my body because I didn’t fit. Instead I looked at the cut, the fabric and pattern shape and I was critical of the garment. I didn’t want to break my pledge for the sake of it, I thought to myself that if I was going to buy anything I would buy something that fits me well, that makes me feel good and that I like.
I spent about half an hour in that changing room evaluating each garment, I tried them on separately, I tried different combinations of everything together and in the end I bought a pair of light skinny jeans, a really nice pair of dark denim shorts that are a little longer than normal, the comfy black t-shirt (because I loathe sewing basics) and the bright yellow jumper. The yellow jumper is still making me smile as I sit here writing about it because its just so me. I love the super baggy cut, I love the colour palette and I know I will get a huge amount of use out of it because this gal loves a sweatshirt in all seasons.
I was worried I would feel bad for breaking my pledge but I don’t. One of the key reasons I chose to give up fast fashion in the first place was to re-evaluate my relationship with clothes, to understand why I shop and not just to buy clothes I’ll never wear to make me feel better. I like making my own clothes but equally I’m not going to pressure myself too much. Buying fabric is expensive so I shouldn’t be buying that just for the sake of it either and there is nothing wrong with buying something every now and then if it’s something completely out of your technical sewing abilities or something you just don’t want to spend your valuable spare time sewing – no one really wants to sew plain t-shirts do they, but we all need them in our wardrobe.
So will I be going back to shopping now? No, I don’t think so. I love the me-made wardrobe I’m creating, I love the awareness I have of my body and my figure, and I love knowing that my body isn’t the problem, the fashion industry is.
Furthermore I have increased awareness of the labour of others that goes into my clothes. I see the effort that has gone into them and I recognise the need to pressure the fashion industry to tell us who is making our clothes and to provide those workers with fair working conditions and pay.
But at the end of the day it is okay to buy things every now and then if you need to or want to as long as you doing it for the right reasons. Pairing Megan Nielsen Dawn Jeans made in eco-friendly denim with a RTW jumper doesn’t invalidate the effort put into the me-made garment. In the same way that forgetting your reusable water bottle one time and getting a single plastic one doesn’t devalue the effort you make the rest of the time. We’ve all got to find a way that works for us and it doesn’t have to be all one way or all the other. I have taken a step back and I see that the way the fashion industry wants me to shop isn’t good for me, it isn’t good for garment workers and it isn’t good for the planet. But if I want to make a considered purchase every now and then and continue to make the rest of my clothes then that’s fine too.
Clothes should make you feel good and don’t get me wrong my me-made clothes do but so to does my sunny new yellow jumper.